Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 215

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.

Feds still deliberating entering lawsuit over FIU bridge records

The federal government is asking a Tallahassee judge to delay any rulings while it decides whether to get involved in a lawsuit over records on March’s pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University that killed six people.

U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova of north Florida had first sent a notice on June 15 to Circuit Judge John Cooper, saying federal law authorized him to “attend to the interests of the United States in (any state) lawsuit,” records show.

The Miami Herald; its Capital bureau chief, Mary Ellen Klas; and Tallahassee correspondent Elizabeth Koh sued the state’s Department of Transportation in Leon County Circuit Civil court last month, seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction.”

Some of those records “are the subject of a pending accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),” Canova previously said, expecting to decide by this Wednesday whether to enter the case.

In a new notice filed late Thursday, Canova said he needs approval from “the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice” to get involved, and “that process is still ongoing.” (The department’s website shows Chad A. Readler is now acting in that role.)

“The government will provide a further status update on or before July 11, and respectfully requests that the court continue to defer its ruling,” Canova wrote.

The March 15 collapse of the then-recently erected bridge killed six midday motorists or passengers, and injured nine others. The bridge, spanning Tamiami Trail, was meant to connect the campus to student housing in Sweetwater.

It happened “just days after cracks had been observed in the $14.3 million structure,” The Herald has reported.

In another letter reported last month, NTSB assistant general counsel Benjamin T. Allen explained to Cooper that his agency has “prohibited” FDOT from releasing certain investigative information “absent NTSB approval.”

At a hearing in the suit earlier this month, Cooper called the NTSB an “indispensable party” and declined to dismiss the lawsuit.

“He … ordered FDOT to send (a) letter asking NTSB to join the lawsuit as a party or file an amicus brief to defend its legal reasoning,” The Herald reported. If NTSB declines, Cooper added, the state will tell it “we’re going to continue the party without you.”

The Herald is represented by Sandy Bohrer, a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm in Miami and co-chair of the firm’s National Media Team.

Rick Scott, Cabinet delay decision on hiring new OFR head

Despite interviewing five “quality candidates” on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet held off on appointing a new head of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Instead, they decided to keep the application period open through mid-July. Thirty-four people already had applied.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a conference call and interviewed their top five applicants to replace outgoing OFR Commissioner Drew Breakspear.

Meantime, Pam Epting will become interim commissioner at the post’s $135,000 salary. Breakspear’s official last day is June 30.

He recently announced he was stepping down after Patronis pressured him to leave the position. Patronis’ office had said he received numerous calls for a new top regulator from mortgage and security industry leaders who had clashed with the agency.

Any permanent replacement will face a new governor and Cabinet in 2019, as all four positions are up for election in November.

After interviewing the five – including state GOP state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville – Scott balked, saying he wanted more time to make a decision. Scott and the others also agreed to accept more applications and decide at the next Cabinet meeting on Aug. 14.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner.

Fant had been on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

But during his interview Patronis raised the issue of the failure of Fant’s family-run bank amid the recession.

Fant said “community banks” like his family’s were hurt by the federal government’s bailout, which he said benefited only the big banks and left smaller banks in the dust: “Capital wasn’t available to the small companies.”

They were “terrible times for us as Floridians, as Americans,” Fant said, but added he would apply lessons from that experience “to the future.”

Two additional applicants with years of regulatory experience, William Jannace and Kevin Rosen, had been advanced for consideration by Bondi.

Also applying were banking lobbyist Scott Jenkins and Linda Charity, a former OFR official who served as interim commissioner twice.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet. State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

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Ed. Note — A live-reporting Twitter thread with details from the interviews during Wednesday’s meeting is here.

Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski, Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson, and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

Rick Scott won’t say whether he likes Jay Fant as OFR head

Gov. Rick Scott didn’t telegraph his interest in who should be the state’s top financial regulator at a Tuesday campaign stop in Jacksonville for his U.S. Senate campaign.

Earlier, an aide to the Governor at a Cabinet Aides meeting said he would announce his preference later in the day.

When asked whether Republican state Rep. Jay Fant, a political ally, was his pick, Scott said “it goes through the Cabinet process. There are individuals who have applied.

“We’ll go through the interview process and soon as we go through that process, I’m sure (we’ll) pick the right person,” he said, speaking with Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski at a “Make Washington Work” plan rollout event at Bobcat of Jacksonville. 

Scott and Cabinet members will hold a conference call Wednesday morning and are expected to interview applicants and appoint a replacement for Drew Breakspear.

He recently announced he was stepping down as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a member of the Cabinet, pressured Breakspear to leave the post.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner earlier this month. He’s one of five applicants scheduled to be interviewed.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet: Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

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Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

John Morgan hints at ballot initiative for marijuana legalization

John Morgan on Tuesday said he’s “going to look at starting a fund” toward an initiative to legalize marijuana, including recreational use, on the 2020 ballot.

He has previously has been on the record supporting marijuana legalization. His latest tweets move him further in terms of personally promising a political solution.

The Orlando attorney and businessman, who was behind the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state, was tweeting in response to a Florida Politics tweet on an appellate court order.

The 1st District Court of Appeal earlier Tuesday denied a request for a case on the state’s marijuana smoking ban to be moved directly to the Supreme Court.

Morgan organized that lawsuit; Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the ban violates the amendment, and the state appealed.

“Maybe it’s just time for full legalization,” Morgan tweeted. “It would pass with flying colors!”

Marijuana has been legalized in nine states, the District of Columbia and, most recently, Canada. Twenty-nine states, including Florida, allow medical use of marijuana. The 2016 amendment was approved by 71 percent of voters.

Morgan already chairs a political committee, Florida For A Fair Wage, that seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. It would Florida’s minimum wage to $10, effective Sept. 30, 2021, and then raise it $1 a year until it is $15 on Sept. 30, 2026.

Morgan’s tweets are below.

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Background from The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

Greyhound racing supporters hit back with ‘cease and desist’ letter

The battle over a proposed constitutional ban on greyhound racing is heating up, as ban opponents served a cease and desist letter on the group promoting an end to dog racing.

The Committee to Support Greyhounds said it hit the Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 campaign with the letter on Monday.

At issue: The “use of and subsequent alteration without permission of video artwork belonging to Jeff Sonksen,” a greyhound racing supporter, in a “Yes on 13” media ad.

“13” refers to Amendment 13, placed on the November statewide ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It would outlaw betting on dog races in Florida beginning in 2021.

Greyhound owners and breeders, who oppose the ban, have challenged the proposed amendment in court; a trial is set for next month in Tallahassee. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The proposal also would allow other gambling at tracks, such as card games, to continue even after dog racing ends. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

Jennifer Rosenblum, an attorney representing Sonksen, explained in a news release that “the owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to control how and where the work, or any derivative thereof, is published.”

“We hope the members of Yes on 13 recognize the importance of respecting Mr. Sonksen’s work and pending copyright and will take all necessary and appropriate steps to cooperate in rectifying this infringement,” said Rosenblum, whose online bio says she also “formed her own charity (to) assist in the placement of retired racing greyhounds.”

Added Sonksen: “I’ve spent six months as an average citizen — an outsider — looking into greyhound racing and how the dogs are treated. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours making these videos. The greyhound videos are my property.

“This group has to steal my videos, slow them down and darken the imagery to make it look sinister,” he said. “They steal my videos because they themselves have not taken the time to see the inside of a racing kennel.”

And Jennifer Newcome, chairman of the Committee to Support Greyhounds, said her group was “happy to support Mr. Sonksen’s measures to get justice not only for himself, but also for all of the greyhounds.”

“The radical animal activists have not only stolen this footage, they have also altered it to deliberately deceive every Floridian who has viewed it,” Newcome said in a statement. “This certainly gives the people of Florida cause to question the integrity and credibility of this Yes on 13 activist group …”

Updated 4:30 p.m. — Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 released the following statement in response to the cease and desist letter.

“This morning, we received a letter from an attorney who claims to represent dog racing promoter Jeff Sonksen. In recent months, Sonksen has documented commercial greyhound racing in Florida, and posted video footage on Facebook.

“We are not surprised that the greyhound industry is now trying to hide evidence of greyhound confinement. This is the industry’s dirty little secret: Greyhounds are confined for 20 to 23 hours per day at Florida racetracks, kept in warehouse-style kennels in rows of stacked metal cages.

“We have an absolute right, protected by the First Amendment, the Fair Use doctrine, and anti-SLAPP laws, to share his footage with Florida voters. In fact, Sonksen himself has stated that his footage is ‘without a doubt …. the truth about greyhound racing,’ and that he wants the public to ‘see the truth’ through his videos.

“Florida voters deserve a full and fair debate, and we are confident that when they have all the facts, they will vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13.”

Proposed medical marijuana rules already bringing challenges

They haven’t even been approved, but proposed rules on medical marijuana have already drawn legal challenges.

Liberty Health Sciences, a licensed medicinal cannabis provider, is challenging two rules, both debuted only two weeks ago. One is on a “supplemental licensing fee” and another covers a “variance procedure” for medical marijuana treatment centers, or MMTCs, as providers as called in Florida.

Both challenges were filed last week in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. “The department will review the challenges,” said Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta in an email.

The fee in question, an “annual payment by a registered (provider) to cover the (state’s) costs of administering” the law governing cannabis, came with a price tag of $174,844.

Liberty’s challenge is that the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, set the fee too high. That’s because the calculation requires the state’s 13 currently licensed MMTCs “to bear the burden of the supplemental licensure fee when the fee should be borne by at least 17 MMTCs.”

The money from the fee would help fund the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. Lawmakers gave it a mission “to conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medical use of marijuana.”

The other rule would “establish a procedure for the Department of Health to grant variances from the representations made in a medical marijuana treatment center’s initial application for registration.”

The idea behind that rule, for one example, was to allow providers who had originally applied to use a certain marijuana processing procedure to later ask to use a newer, better technology.

But Liberty’s challenge suggests it could also cause administrative nightmares by “requiring an MMTC to request a variance before hiring or firing any employee or manager.”

Liberty Health Sciences is a subsidiary of Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which itself is partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products.

With dispensaries in Summerfield, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port St. Lucie, the company is represented by The Lockwood Law Firm of Tallahassee.

“We look forward to working with the department on the substance of both rules,” firm principal John Lockwood told Florida Politics. “We’re not generally opposed to the concept of either rule. We’re just concerned with some of the formalities imposed. We want to accomplish both our goal and the department’s goal as well.”

The filings are below.

Papa John’s withdraws request for warmer pizza sauce

Papa John’s, the takeout and pizza delivery restaurant chain, has told state health regulators ‘never mind’ on its request to store its pizza sauce at higher temperatures.

A “closing order” from the Department of Health shows the company withdrew its petition for a variance — first reported by POLITICO Florida — from the state’s “safe temperature” refrigeration standard of “41 degrees Fahrenheit or below.”

The variance would have permitted Papa John’s sauce to be kept “equal to or less than 85 degrees” for up to 10 hours.

In a previous filing, Rita Palmer, the company’s director of “North American QA (quality assurance) Regulatory” had explained that if “the dough draws up or shrinks due to cold sauce, the overall appearance is not pleasing to our customers.”

But a May 8 letter to the department, released Friday, shows the company took back its request.

“Papa John’s current food safety practices meet the intent of … Florida Administrative Code,” Palmer wrote.

“Perishable food shall be stored at such temperatures as will protect against spoilage,” the state’s regulation says. 

Based on the company’s withdrawal, the Health Department closed the file May 24, spokesman Devin Galleta said.

Henry Parrish

Campaign sign turned ‘flying disc’ causes social media ruckus

Cocoa Mayor and House District 51 candidate Henry Parrish has posted a video on Facebook showing a supporter of his opponent pulling up and flinging a Parrish campaign sign.

What’s raising eyebrows is who did the tossing: Veteran lobbyist Guy Spearman, whose Spearman Management office is right next door.

He supports Republican rival Tyler Sirois, executive director of Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Phil Archer’s office, in the race to succeed termed-out GOP state Rep. Tom Goodson.

“This is a video of our opponent’s main backer and financier illegally removing one of our campaign signs, legally placed with the landowner’s permission,” Parrish’s Facebook post says.

“My opponent and his supporters will do anything to beat us, including engaging in illegal activity,” the post goes on. “Who knows what they will do next. If you see someone removing a Henry Parrish sign or see some slanderous piece of mail, please call us immediately. This illegal behavior is a crime and will be reported.”

Spearman told Florida Politics that Parrish is in the wrong. He “readily admits” to slinging Parrish’s sign, saying it “was on my property. I’m sorry but you can’t put a political sign on my property without asking me.”

Parrish counters he had permission to place the sign, and said he’ll “stick with law and order.”

“My campaign will not tolerate criminal activity and dirty tricks from other campaigns,” he said in a phone interview. “I did file a report with Cocoa police.

” … This isn’t just somebody,” Parrish said of Spearman. “This is somebody politically and financially connected to my opponent. If I let this go, I’m not worth a hoot as mayor.”

Parrish also said the day before the sign removal, someone came into the bed-and-breakfast he operates and stole several campaign items. He said he doesn’t know who’s responsible. 

Spearman, who’s long been aligned with Democrats, noted Parrish’s sign appeared after he let Sirois put one of his signs on the other side of his building: “I mean, right after (Sirois) put up his sign, that other sign came up. Well, duh.”

Parrish is “a little bit desperate,” Spearman added. “Do I send stuff on Tyler to my lobbying friends? Sure I do. Have I sent anything negative on (Parrish)? Not so far. Now, that could all change.”

Meantime, Parrish called the incident “disheartening.” 

“This is definitely different from local politics,” he said. 

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Updated 3:30 p.m. — Parrish Campaign Team Leader David Bradford sends this message:

“I work next door to this building at The Parrish Grove Inn and assist with Mayor Parrish’s campaign. I wanted to provide you with some additional information that we provided to the police department that was not included in the article or on Facebook and led to Spearman admitting it was not his property and changing his story and admitting his wrong. In fact, he retrieved the stolen property from his garage (the stake) and the police returned it to us. Charges were filed yesterday.

“… Mr. Parrish owned this property previously and sold it to the current owner and has obtained permission every election to place it there. This was a temporary yard sign until Mayor Parrish had time to install his large (sign), which will be installed in this exact location tomorrow. It is a high traffic area and Mayor Parrish has had his signs there during his last two elections with no issues, however Spearman is spearheading Mr. Sirois’ campaign and (is) his biggest supporter ….

“… The property Mr. Spearman claims he also ‘owns’ when he refers to Mr. Sirois’ sign on the other side of the building is not owned by Spearman, but in fact by (someone else) who stated he did not give permission for Mr. Sirois to place his sign there and in fact had no knowledge it was there.”

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Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson contributed to this post.

John McKay says ‘no thanks’ to Citizens board chair

John McKay, a former Florida Senate President who serves on the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors, said Thursday he was “misunderstood” about serving as chair.

McKay

McKay told Florida Politics he’d be “honored that anyone would consider me,” but said he has “no interest whatsoever” in chairing the panel. Citizens is the state-run insurer of last resort.

The Bradenton businessman, a Republican who served as Senate President in 2000-02, was on a list of names released by CFO Jimmy Patronis‘ office earlier this week as having expressed interest in serving as chair.

At last week’s Cabinet meeting, the state’s chief financial officer had asked Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to identify board members who’d be interested.

The current chair, now Christopher Gardner, serves at the CFO’s pleasure; Patronis can name a new person at any time.

McKay confirmed he had spoken with Gilway, but said he likely misinterpreted a joking remark he had made. He was put on the board by Patronis last year.

Also on the list is Marc Dunbar, the Tallahassee-based lawyer and gaming lobbyist, whom Patronis only recently appointed to the board.

Gardner, CEO of HUB International Insurance in Orlando, has been chair since his appointment in 2013 by former CFO Jeff Atwater. He has told Patronis he’d like to stay on as chair. Also on the list is former state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, now the vice chair of the board.

Others who “indicated that they would be interested in accepting (the chairmanship) if asked,” include James Holton, president of Holton Companies; and Freddie Schinz, founder of the TIFORP Development Corp.

Family separations bring Tallahassee’s faith community together

Tallahassee faith leaders — in oratory ranging from subdued to fiery — and others on Wednesday prayed for a permanent end to the separation of migrant families crossing the Mexico-U. S. border.

Some, including pediatric cardiologist Louis St. Petery, long outspoken on children’s issues, called it “child abuse.”

But many of the roughly 200 who attended an interfaith prayer vigil at First Presbyterian Church in the city’s downtown were cautiously optimistic about President Donald Trump‘s executive order that for now ends the policy of removing children from their parents.

That order, however, doesn’t change his ‘zero-tolerance’ policy of prosecuting adults caught illegally crossing the border.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump said Wednesday, according to POLITICO. “I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

Copeland

First Presbyterian Pastor Brant Copeland applauded the move but said “a great harm has already been done to thousands of families,” calling the separations “heartless cruelty” and “callous mistreatment.”

 

Added Judith Lyons, a member of Temple Israel: “I don’t trust a momentary executive order. Time will tell … In the meantime, we must do whatever we can to stop this.”

Still others commented on the practice of keeping detained families in chain-link fence cages inside facilities.

Earlier Wednesday, state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who is Jewish, drew an analogy after he tried to visit the federal Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead.

“I came here today to remind myself that children being separated from their parents and being thrown into cages is a practice my people have experienced before,” the Broward County Democrat told reporters there.

Imam Rashid Mujahid of Masjid Al-Nahl also picked up on that theme at the vigil: “We, as Muslims, feel a great pain with this … As my Jewish brothers and sisters say, ‘never again.’ Well, it’s happening again.”

And Lee Johnson, pastor of Loved by Jesus Family Church, lit up the pulpit, telling vigil-goers, “All of us have been asleep at the wheel. We need to wake up.”

The same immigration system that works for everybody else, he said, “ought to work for them. We are our brother’s keeper.”

In an interview before the vigil, St. Petery — who publicly opposed the now-overturned 2011 “docs vs. Glocks” state law that aimed to stop doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes — said “what is happening will have a permanent effect on these kids.

“There’s already been trauma; it should have never happened in the first place,” he said. “It needs to not happen ever again. It constitutes child abuse.

“If a parent puts a kid in a cage, that’s child abuse. Our government is doing the same thing. That’s crazy.”

Former Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant, who also attended the vigil, later said she had asked Copeland to organize the event. She too said she was cheered by Trump’s about-face on the separations but was concerned about those families already torn apart getting back together.

“I, for one, don’t have a lot of confidence in the people running the show up there”— referring to Washington — “to actually care enough to get it right,” she said. “That’s one of the things to pray the most for.”

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