Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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.

Joe Negron resigns from Gunster law firm

Senate President Joe Negron has resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

Negron’s resignation was announced Monday by H. William ‘Bill’ Perry, Gunster’s managing shareholder.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, had been “of counsel” with the firm, usually referring to an attorney who works on a case-to-case basis for a firm, not as an associate or partner.

“Joe has been a great colleague and a valuable member of our litigation team,” Perry said in a statement. “We have accepted Joe’s resignation with both regret and the knowledge he will continue to dedicate his time and talents to the people of Florida as the leader of the Florida Senate.”

Last week, Scott had proposed a series of additional ethics measures to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has focused on heightening ethical standards and government transparency this year.

One provision would ban lawmakers from working for companies, including law firms, that lobby the Legislature. Gunster has a “Government Affairs Law & Lobbying” practice in Tallahassee.

And Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is of counsel in the Tampa office of Broad and Cassel, practicing commercial litigation. That firm too has a government relations practice, including members who lobby in Tallahassee.

Negron’s webpage on the Gunster website, still active as of late Monday morning, showed that he practiced “business litigation” and “corporate law” for the firm, including “the defense of commercial law claims involving millions of dollars at stake.”

His “experience includes claims involving contract law, real estate and construction matters (including construction lien litigation), and insurance coverage,” the site said. “Of particular note, Joe defends litigation claims involving nautical and maritime law matters. He has also represented both for-profit and non-profit corporate directors and officers sued for breach of fiduciary duty.”

In a separate statement Monday, Negron said the “notion of a citizen legislature – people from all walks of life, business, and industry combining their experience and perspectives to form a government of, by, and for the people – has been a guiding principle of our country since its inception.”

“Florida’s part-time legislature, where elected officials, bound by term limits, live and work in the communities they serve, produces results for the people of this state that are far better than we could hope to see from full-time career politicians and bureaucrats,” he said. “Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment,” Negron added. “In the abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of such a difference, and to make certain I can continue to effectively advocate for my community, I have made the decision to step away from my position with the Gunster Law Firm.

“Practicing law at Gunster, a large statewide law firm, has been a tremendous opportunity to work with a very talented team of accomplished professionals. I will continue to practice law for the remainder of my time in the Senate and look forward to continuing to represent the citizens who elected me to serve in the Florida Senate.”

Scott’s move was seen by some as retaliation for Corcoran’s attacks on Scott’s agency heads, including deposed VISIT FLORIDA head Will Seccombe and DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, who quit to go work for a law firm to which he had steered millions in fees for outside legal work.

When asked last week whether Scott was being retaliatory “in any way, shape or form,” Corcoran said, “I always try to impute the best motive.”

Supreme Court orders oral argument in old rock ‘n’ roll lawsuit

The state’s highest court set oral argument in what could be a landmark case regarding who pays whom to play old rock ‘n’ roll.

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday said it will hear argument April 6 in a case pitting Flo & Eddie, two original members of the 1960s band “The Turtles,” against satellite radio operator Sirius XM. Their most famous hit is “Happy Together.”

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year had certified questions of state law to the state Supreme Court in a yearslong class-action suit.

The action came after Sirius XM stopped paying artists to play their music recorded before 1972. Federal copyright protection is only available for recordings made after Feb. 15, 1972, while sound recordings made before then are covered by a hodgepodge of state and common law.

The stakes could be huge.

If Flo & Eddie win, Sirius XM, the internet music service Pandora, and others “would owe damages not only to (them), but potentially all other owners of pre-1972 sound recordings … includ(ing) every recording ever made by The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, not to mention Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey,” according to a 2014 blog post by Nova Southeastern University copyright officer Stephen Carlisle.

Media companies and other concerns have filed “friend of the court” papers, including iHeartMedia, PandoraElectronic Frontier FoundationNational Association Of Broadcasters, as well as the Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law Section of the Florida Bar and a group of copyright and intellectual property law professors.

But it would be a come-from-behind win for Flo & Eddie, at least in Florida. A federal judge already has sided with Sirius XM and granted a summary judgment in favor of the company, which Flo & Eddie appealed. They also filed suit in California and New York.

One question the court was asked to consider: Does widespread popularity and playing of a piece of music cancel out copyright claims in that music?

“Happy Together” has been posted multiple times on YouTube, for example, with one post currently logging 10.7 million views.

 

 

James E.C. Perry’s “senior service” on Supreme Court to end

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry‘s last day as a “senior” justice will be Tuesday, according to a court order released Monday.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed the latest order Jan. 11, modifying his previous order of Dec. 1.

Spokesman Craig Waters previously explained that the court’s “longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement.”

Perry

Perry, who joined the court in 2009, stepped down Dec. 30, having reached the mandatory retirement age. His name appeared on several opinions, including death penalty matters, released by the court since then.

“However, it is axiomatic that continued service is not without limit,” Labarga wrote.

“…At the time that the Dec. 1 order was entered, it was not known when a new justice would be appointed to replace him,” he wrote. “That issue now has been resolved.”

Gov. Rick Scott on Dec. 16 appointed conservative appellate judge C. Alan Lawson to replace Perry. Lawson had been chief judge of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

Perry has since “expressed his desire that his senior service not be protracted for a lengthy period of time,” Labarga said.

The senior status recently piqued the ire of conservative blogger Ed Whelan, who opined on National Review Online that Perry’s continuing to work on pending cases was wrongly “displac(ing)” Lawson.

 

Federal judge sounds dubious on abortion counseling registration

The state’s new abortion law sparked a contentious dialogue between a federal judge and a lawyer for the state on Friday.

Part of that law requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. They say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

“It intervenes in pastoral counseling,” the Rev. Bryan Fulwider of Orlando, the lead plaintiff, told reporters after the hearing. “You don’t want to presume any speech in such a setting.”

Attorney Wes Powell told Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle that a footnote in the state’s brief makes clear one intent of the provision: To invite prosecution of those who do not register.

Hinkle

Sparks flew, however, when Hinkle started questioning Blaine Winship, special counsel to Attorney General Pam Bondi. Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

Winship argued that instead of suing AHCA and the Attorney General, the ACLU should have gone after the state attorneys, who would actually bring criminal charges under the registration part of the law.

“So when (all) the state attorneys come in here and want to know who let them be sued, I can tell them the attorney general?” Hinkle said.

Hinkle also was smarting from the state’s decision to appeal his ruling in a case brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There, he ruled that the Tribe could keep offering blackjack because the state promulgated a gambling rule that he found broke the state’s promise of blackjack exclusivity to the Seminoles.

Because an agency rule went against the state’s case, the state’s lawyers said “you should ignore that rule,” Hinkle said.

Winship

The judge also noted that a staff analysis for the bill (HB 1411) that became the abortion law didn’t have a “constitutional issues” section. (Actually, it did, including noting that “AHCA currently has sufficient rule-making authority to implement the provisions of the bill.”)

“Did someone tell staff, ‘we don’t want your opinion on the constitutional issues?’ ” he asked, quickly adding, “Well, that’s probably an unfair question.”

Hinkle also drilled into who was required to register, suggesting it was aimed only toward those who would counsel about abortions, not against them.

The judge asked Winship what Fulwider would have to say in a counseling session to comply with the law. Winship said he didn’t know.

“Then how is he to know? Isn’t that the point?” Hinkle said, adding that Winship seemed to “confess” he didn’t have a winning defense of the registration provision.

Abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak,” the judge said.

Hinkle did not immediately rule on the injunction.

Richard Corcoran already vexed by Senate gambling plan

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is saving the profanities—for now.

At a Thursday press availability, Corcoran was asked about comments by a lobbyist involved in this year’s gambling legislation, which the Senate has taken the lead on with an omnibus bill (SB 8).

The person was overheard in a Capitol corridor saying he had spoken with the Speaker about the bill: “He’s not going for this free-for-all … He is going to let [the Senate] have their kitchen-sink charade for now.”

“Those aren’t words that I would use,” Corcoran told reporters. “I probably would have used more profanity.”

He quickly added with a smile: “I’m just kidding.”

The Senate’s first panel to hear the bill, the Regulated Industries committee, OK’d it unanimously one hour into a meeting that had been scheduled to last four.

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, chair of the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, said his panel would tackle any gambling overhaul “differently.” His group discussed the pari-mutuel industry Thursday, for example.

“We’re here to have individual meetings so we can hear everything about the issues that are in a bill, not just have one committee hearing  and talk about it for an hour,” La Rosa said. “We’re going to stick to a schedule.”

State Sen. Bill Galvano‘s 112-page bill would allow for more slot machines across the state, approve the sale of lottery tickets at gas pumps, and legalize fantasy sports, but also would pare down the number of state gambling licenses known as pari-mutuel permits. 

Most significantly, it includes a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that allows the Seminoles to offer blackjack at all their casinos in return for a $3 billion cut over seven years in card game revenue share to the state.

“I’ve seen the bill, and look, it’s not where we’re at,” Corcoran said. “The three things we’ve said are, it has to be a contraction (of gambling) … we want a constitutional amendment that bans the expansion of gaming; the Senate’s said they have no interest … and we have courts that keep encroaching upon our ability to make those decisions.”

Corcoran mentioned a federal court ruling that allows the Tribe to keep blackjack till 2030 even though an original provision limited them to five years and that expired in 2015. He also brought up a pending case before the Florida Supreme Court that could extend slot machines to counties across the state.

“We need a long-term solution that we could make, the representatives who are closest to the people, and not seven judges … then that’s a victory for the state,” Corcoran said.

Richard Corcoran: Rick Scott’s ethics proposals not personal

House Speaker Richard Corcoran Thursday told reporters he took no personal offense at ethics suggestions sent by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott’s office earlier in the day sent Corcoran, who is on an ethics reform tear this year, more ideas, including a provision that would ban lawmakers from working for companies, including law firms, that lobby the Legislature.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is of counsel in the Tampa office of Broad and Cassel, practicing commercial litigation. The firm also has a government relations practice, including members who lobby in Tallahassee.

Scott also wants a ban on lawmakers working for companies that sue the state.

“I read the letter,” Corcoran said in an afternoon media availability. “Clearly, they have somebody in mind, it seems like. Somebody’s suing somebody; to my knowledge, it’s not me … but if that kind of behavior is taking the process in a place it shouldn’t be, then let’s have at it.”

Scott’s letter, sent from chief of staff Kim McDougal to Corcoran chief of staff Matt Bahl, outlines four suggestions:

— Immediately disclosing “all contracts legislators advocate for between state agencies, businesses, not for profit organizations, and/or any other entity that receives tax dollars.”

— Immediately banning lawmakers and staff involved in the state budget, “including the law firms they may work for or own, from suing state agencies…”

— Banning lawmakers from riding in airplanes “paid for by political committees and party executive committees.” A new House rule already prohibits House members from flying in lobbyists’ planes.

—”Shutting the revolving door to prohibit the employment of legislators by entities, including law firms, that employ lobbyists.”

“The power of the Legislature to appropriate funds allows individual legislators great influence over the actions of state agencies and other entities,” the letter says. “Therefore, the public deserves safeguards … to ensure that all funding decisions are made free of any undue influence, real or perceived.”

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee on Tuesday cleared two measures as part of Corcoran’s new “culture of transparency.”

One would increase the ban on former lawmakers and statewide officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office from two years to six years by way of a constitutional amendment. The other “extend(s) the prohibition on legislators lobbying the executive branch” from two to six years after leaving office.

When asked whether Scott was being retaliatory “in any way, shape or form,” Corcoran said, “I always try to impute the best motive.”

whiskey Wheaties

Anitere Flores: Gas stations will be carved out of ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

Even though the bill sailed through its first committee, state Sen. Anitere Flores Thursday said she would tweak her “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation to make sure it wouldn’t apply to gas station convenience stores.

The Senate Regulated Industries committee cleared the bill (SB 106) to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

After critics and committee members raised concerns, Flores – the Senate President pro tempore – said she wanted to make clear it wouldn’t apply to gas station stores, but ran out of time before Thursday’s hearing. This is the fourth year lawmakers have tried to run a bill.

“We were going to do it today, but the definition (of ‘gas station’) is not quite as simple,” she told reporters. “We have to look at what the gas station convenience store issue is, but I am 100 percent committed that at the next committee stop we will exempt” them from being able to sell hard liquor.

The bill was amended in committee, however, to ensure it would not apply to stores within 1,000 feet of a school.

The legislation this year made it out of its first stop with only one ‘no’ vote from state Sen. Keith Perry. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

“I have teenage daughters,” the Gainesville Republican said. “I have a sophomore in college. Alcohol now is pretty available, even with walls, so I certainly have concerns. But it’s not about big business vs. small business.”

As they have before, pure-play liquor store concerns, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, denounced the legislation. They said the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

“There’s no question why this issue keeps coming up: The big box model is suffering as online retailers cannabalize their sales,” Charles Bailes, ABC’s chief executive, told the committee. “They’re looking for things to fill the shelves and liquor is the current thing they’re looking at.”

But Jason Unger, a lobbyist for Target, which supports the change, said “the more Florida is more pro-consumer, the better it is for us and our business.”

When committee chair Travis Hutson asked if Target keeps its booze “next to the Barbie dolls” in states where its sells liquor, Unger said, “We have our spirits where our beer and wine is. We’re very responsible.”

But law enforcement and others still fear increased accessibility. In a statement after the hearing, Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith, said the “harder we can make it for young people to get their hands on alcohol, the more lives we can save.”

“We know we can save lives by keeping alcohol out of reach from our youth,” he said. “If we can save one life as a matter of keeping the wall up, then it is worthwhile.”

But state Sen. Greg Steube earlier had cited state enforcement statistics showing that big box chains and stand alone liquor stores “are pretty dead even” when it comes to minors who sneak past safeguards to buy booze. The Sarasota Republican sponsored a version of the bill in 2015 when he was in the Florida House. 

The Senate bill must next clear the Rules committee before it can be heard on the floor during the 2017 Legislative Session. A House companion (HB 81) has not yet had a hearing.

If passed, Florida would be the 30th state to allows sales of hard liquor in general retail space, advocates say.

 

 

Senate panel OKs gambling overhaul bill, including Seminole provisions

The Florida Senate has seemingly fast-tracked the chamber’s gambling overhaul for this year, as its first panel gave unanimous thumbs up to the measure one hour into a meeting that had been scheduled to last four.

The bill (SB 8) was cleared Wednesday by the Regulated Industries committee, which oversees gambling policy. It has only one more stop, Appropriations, before it can be heard on the floor. The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

The measure ensures “substantial positive impacts for many years,” said bill sponsor Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20. He cited a figure of $375 million in “net economic impact” to state coffers, which could use the extra cash in what may be a tight budget year. 

“It’s about creating stability in a dubious marketplace,” he added. 

Though the Senate may be poised to finally pass gambling legislation after years of inaction, wild cards remain in the form of the House, which remains to averse to anything looking like gambling expansion, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The bill folded in a new agreement with the Tribe that allows them to offer blackjack at all their casinos in return for a $3 billion cut over seven years in card game revenue share to the state.

“I’ve not received a formal response from the Seminole Tribe,” Galvano, the new president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming Stateslater told reporters.

He helped craft the first gambling deal with the Tribe in 2010 when he was in the House. “I would expect that we will probably soon.”

Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment when reached later Wednesday.

Indeed, the Seminole Compact was supposed to be “a firewall against the further expansion of gambling,” No Casinos head John Sowinski told the panel. His group opposes the legislation.

Among a slew of provisions, the 112-page bill would allow for more slot machines across the state, approve the sale of lottery tickets at gas pumps, and legalize fantasy sports, but also would pare down the number of state gambling licenses, or pari-mutuel permits. 

Proponents who spoke Wednesday include Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III. He spoke in favor of the bill’s allowance for “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. 

Pari-mutuels say they want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline. But horse and dog interests dispute that and say it will kill their industry.

Without thoroughbred decoupling, however, the city’s Calder race track can’t sell its land to developers, and Gilbert says his city needs the potential development.

Despite being a city of 112,000, Miami Gardens has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Gilbert told the committee.

“Having a community takes more, and allowing gaming without racing does that,” he said. 

But former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, now a lobbyist for Florida Greyhound Association, said the bill “breaks the public trust.”

“It was never contemplated that racetracks would be turned into casinos,” he said, referring to a provision that would expand slot machines to qualified tracks in the eight counties where voters OK’d them by referendum, including Brevard, Duval and Palm Beach.

“We’re looking at 24 hours a day, more games, more slots,” Kottkamp said, mentioning another section of the bill that increases hours gambling places can be open. He also told senators the industry purposefully designs slot machines “to be addictive.” 

“The last time a business made its product addictive was the tobacco industry,” he said.

balloons Publix

State says no to balloons, lip balm in Publix liquor stores

Sorry, Publix customers: You won’t be able to buy “lip balm, sunglasses, gift cards, balloons, mosquito repellant (or) sunscreen” in the supermarket chain’s liquor shops anytime soon.

The Lakeland-based chain had sought permission from the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to add those items to those its sells in its separate stores that offer hard liquor.

“It is self-evident that balloons are party-type supplies,” its request says, and gift cards, for example, “are a ubiquitous part of party attendance.”

Nope, state regulators said earlier this month.

Spokeswoman Maria Brous would only say that the company put in the request “based on customer requests we’ve received.”

State law limits what can be sold in such liquor shops to, among other things, nonalcoholic mixers, tobacco products and “party supplies.”

The division has further defined party supplies to include things like chips, dip, cold cuts, napkins and plates, corkscrews and ice.

Balloons and lip balm don’t rate, and Publix’s request was shot down. The state called Publix’s arguments that the items also qualify as party supplies “unpersuasive.”

In one section, the state’s response says that though “sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses … may reduce an individual’s exposure to the elements, their outdoor utility does not transform” them into party supplies.

No word yet if Publix plans an appeal.

water

DEP withdraws request to pay lawyers in ‘water war’

The Department of Environmental Protection has withdrawn a request to lawmakers for more money to pay lawyers waging a water use fight against Georgia, its spokeswoman says.

The department had planned to ask lawmakers for an additional $13 million to pay expected legal bills from the still-unresolved case. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission was scheduled to take up the request, among several others, at a 5 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

The litigation already has cost the state tens of millions of dollars—with no end in sight. A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for the two states to try again to settle the disagreement.

“DEP is working with members to provide more information on the costs associated with this litigation,” spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in a statement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday night said his chamber wouldn’t entertain the request without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

“We remain committed to being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “The state of Florida has been fighting for nearly two decades to protect the historic flows of the Apalachicola River, and we will continue to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water.”

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson quit last Friday, reportedly for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, according to a Scott spokesman. The firm still has not publicly confirmed the hire.

Foley & Lardner also is one of the firms representing the state in the 16-year long court fight over river water.

The dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

 

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