Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 175

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.

Bill Nelson says he’ll campaign on saving Obamacare

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday said he will make saving Obamacare a focus of his 2018 re-election campaign.

“Of course—it is the law,” he told reporters at a press conference at the Tallahassee International Airport. “I want the law to work. And it’s been working: 24 million people have health insurance that never had it before.

“But it needs some fixing,” he added about the Affordable Care Act. One of those fixes is putting money back in to help people afford co-pays, Nelson said.

The state’s senior senator, who met with constituents before meeting with the press, also touched on tax reform, North Korea, and a looming challenge for his seat from current Gov. Rick Scott. The Naples Republican is term-limited next year.

“I know how to campaign,” Nelson said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Below are two Periscope videos, one of Nelson meeting with supporters and another with members of the Capitol Press Corps.

Despite ‘questions,’ grand jury clears Andrew Gillum in email controversy

A Leon County grand jury cleared Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum after an investigation into his use of a city-funded email program used to send private and political messages.

But its report, released Tuesday, also found the “governmentally leased software was used for personal and political purposes outside the scope of legitimate communication with constituents.”

Grand jurors were further “disturb(ed)” that “expenditures by the City of Tallahassee’s elected officials are completely unchecked by internal audit or regulation,” suggesting the city “empower some body” to oversee spending by them and their staffs.

The grand jury returned a ‘no true bill,’ meaning it did not find enough evidence to charge Gillum or his staff with breaking any laws. It reviewed whether Gillum and staff ran afoul of the state’s official misconduct statute.

The report was dated Monday and released Tuesday by Gillum’s mayoral office, ahead of it being released by State Attorney Jack Campbell. Mayoral spokesman Jamie Van Pelt explained later Tuesday that “the State Attorney alerted me when the proper steps were taken to make the grand jury findings a public record.”

“As I have continuously stated during this exhaustive, five-month long investigation, our office used the NGP software to remain in contact with the Tallahassee community about the ambitious agenda we have put forward,” Gillum said in a statement.

“I am pleased that the grand jury found no wrongdoing by myself and my office and I look forward to continuing the important work on behalf of the City of Tallahassee and its residents.”

The report said “no evidence was found to suggest Gillum directed or was personally involved in the decision to send four political emails or any other communications” using the system.

Geoff Burgan, communications director for the Gillum for Governor campaign, later released his own statement, saying the “announcement makes clear what we have said for months — the Mayor did nothing illegal and he has been the victim of a vicious smear campaign by those threatened by the most viable progressive campaign in Florida history.”

Burgan did not say who was doing what smearing.

“This news should put an end to the smears and return the focus to the issues people care about — affordable healthcare, good-paying jobs, and social equality,” he added.

As the Tallahassee Democrat explained in April, “political content was not limited to emails that surfaced earlier this year on software the Mayor’s Office bought from a Democratic Party vendor with city money,” mentioning that emails to and from “the Mayor’s Office show a busy and confusing intersection between the personal, the political and the professional.”

But it wasn’t illegal, the grand jury found.

“While the investigation shows that this software was capable of fundraising and other activities that might not serve a legitimate (government) interest, the only way it was utilized was a client relations management system distributing mass emails,” the report said. “The wisdom or waste of officials in deciding which tools to use is a political issue and not one for criminal prosecution.”

The full report as released by the Mayor’s Office is below:

Over salmon, Rick Scott thanks Seminole Tribe representatives

A month after ending a long-running blackjack dispute, Gov. Rick Scott met with representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Monday in what was called a “social visit.”

A luncheon, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Governor’s Mansion, was posted on Scott’s daily schedule.

A governor’s spokesman said those in attendance included Tribal Council chair Marcellus Osceola, vice-chair Mitchell Cypress, Big Cypress Reservation director and council member Mondo” Tiger, Seminole Gaming CEO and Hard Rock International chairman Jim Allen, and tribal in-house lawyer Jim Shore

Tallahassee-based Greenberg Traurig attorney Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel, and lobbyist Will McKinley of Tallahassee’s PooleMcKinley firm also attended.

The state of Florida last month ended its legal battle with the Tribe over its estimated $2 billion a year gambling operation.

The two sides last month agreed to end an ongoing lawsuit over whether the tribe can keep blackjack tables at its casinos in the state. The settlement will allow the tribe to keep blackjack, but also guarantees that the state will continue to receive payments.

Over salmon, the governor “expressed his appreciation for the Tribe’s working with the Governor’s Office and thanked us for agreeing to settle,” Richard later reported in a telephone interview.

Also there was the Tribe’s D.C.-based lawyer, Joe Webster, who represents the Seminoles on matters before the U.S. Department of the Interior, Richard said.

“There was no discussion of any of the issues,” he added. “It was a social visit.”

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that state regulators allowed dog and horse tracks to host card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

As part of his decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the tribe could keep blackjack tables in place for another 14 years. The state had appealed that decision.

(Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

Lisa Edgar case headed back to court this week

A case management conference has been set for Wednesday on criminal charges against Lisa Edgar, a former Public Service Commissioner and state parks director, who was arrested in Tallahassee after an alleged drunk-driving hit and run.

In June, State Attorney Jack Campbell’s office filed an information, or formal criminal charges, against Edgar for the April 15 incident. Campbell is the elected prosecutor for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Leon County.

Edgar, 53, is charged with driving under the influence causing damage to person or property, a first-degree misdemeanor, and leaving the scene of a crash with damage, a second-degree misdemeanor, court records show. She waived an arraignment hearing and pleaded “not guilty” in April.

Criminal-defense attorney John Leace, who is attorney of record for Edgar, has not responded to requests for comment. Last week, he formally requested a copy of the crash report from the state.

In February, Edgar resigned as director of the Florida Park Service after less than two months on the job, citing “an immediate family emergency.”

Edgar was also a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, the panel that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, and has been a deputy secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush first appointed her to the PSC in January 2005. Last year, Edgar decided not to seek another term on the PSC. She was replaced by water-use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

She switched jobs around the first of the year, saying she wanted to further use her “regulatory and governmental experience.”

Personnel note: Ryan West named CFO’s chief of staff

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis on Monday announced in a press release he had named Ryan West his new Chief of Staff, effective later this month, taking over for the retiring Robert “Budd” Kneip. 

“Ryan has been a trusted member of my team since day one, and there is no one better suited to serve as my second in command,” Patronis said in a statement. “His instincts and experience have afforded him the tools to do the job, and I have full confidence that he will successfully lead our team for years to come.”

West had been Patronis’ chief advisor when he was a commissioner on the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates investor-owned utilities.

Kneip will retire Aug. 31, the office announced Friday.

He had been former CFO Jeff Atwater’s man, a fellow Palm Beach Countian who served as Atwater’s chief of staff when he was Senate President, following him to the CFO’s office in 2010. Atwater stepped down to become CFO for Florida Atlantic University; Gov. Scott tapped Patronis to replace him in June.

Here are excerpts from the rest of the press release:

(At the PSC,) Ryan was charged with overseeing policy areas that included electric energy, water and wastewater systems, natural gas and telecommunications. Additionally, he monitored and advised the Commissioner on significant energy policy shifts in state, national and international arenas. He has also served as Chief Advisor to Commissioners Ronald A. Brisé and Ben “Steve” Stevens III.

Prior to the PSC, West led the Florida House of Representative’s Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee as Policy Chief. 

Ryan honed his economic development skill set early in his career, while serving as the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Director of Economic Development and Education Policy. There he crafted portions of the Chamber’s legislative agenda and served as the Chamber’s lead lobbyist on legislation that included top-tier topics, such as teacher merit pay, digital learning and charter schools, and tax relief packages for Florida businesses.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and a Master’s of Science degree in Applied American Politics and Policy from Florida State University. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Kim, and young son, Parker.

North Fla. congressmen call for hearing on Chinese ‘treachery’

Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn of north Florida announced a town hall later this month on Chinese espionage against American companies, citing a Tallahassee-based business Gov. Rick Scott once promoted as a job-creator.

The meeting, “Wanton Loot: How China Is Stealing Ideas from American Entrepreneurs,” will be held in Florida State University’s Turnbull Conference Center in Tallahassee, 1-2:30 p.m. Aug. 30.

According to a June report by CyberScoop, “Hackers working for the Chinese government again appear to be conducting economic espionage against private U.S. companies and other American organizations, experts told lawmakers during an open Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing.”

“There are too many signs to ignore the likelihood that the Chinese government is behind blatant acts of thievery of technology and systems designed in the United States,” said Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach.

“One glaring example took place right in Tallahassee, and we’re going to hear the details so we can fight back to protect our ideas as much as our people, communities, businesses, and borders in the future,” he added.

That example is Bing Energy, a technology concern that will be “spotlighted as anecdotal evidence of such treachery,” Gaetz said. In 2011, Scott held a press conference at the company, which had moved from California and developed high-tech fuel cells.

“As governor, I am continuing to make it the best place to do business,” Scott said. “Just as Bing Energy was convinced to bring jobs here, I am talking to companies across the nation. I am letting them know that our reduction in the business tax burden, commitment to job creation, and Florida’s world-class work force mean we are open for business.”

Fast forward to this year: The company, led by CEO and co-founder Dean Minardi, last month revived legal action against its one-time collaborators, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Minardi, also a developer, is behind Tallahassee’s Garages on Gaines project, home to Grasslands Brewing Co. and others.

The suit claims “Bing Energy International LLC’s former CEO Yung Chen and others were devising a scheme to avoid being fired and to take the company overseas,” according to the Democrat. “The lawsuit names Chen, his brother Harry Chen, James Zhai, Youngman Car Group, Bing Holdings and Nantong Bing Energy in 12 claims including fraud, breach of contract and conspiracy.”

Chen “clashed with members of the board over funding and the security of the company’s intellectual property and sought to take the company to China without the board’s oversight,” the paper reported.

Another suit by Bing against Jim Zheng, an eminent professor at Florida State University, was dropped: “It claimed Zheng misappropriated, copied or used intellectual property or trade secrets related to research into buckypaper, a light and strong material use in the production of hydrogen fuel cells,” the Democrat report said.

“We in Congress cannot sit by and watch our biggest global competitor try to get an edge by stealing from our creative, inventive and entrepreneurial society to profit from the work being done in the United States,” said Dunn, of Panama City. His district includes part of Tallahassee.

“It is estimated that intellectual property theft in the form of stolen trade secrets, pirated software, counterfeiting, and other nefarious schemes costs the United States more than $225 billion every year—and China is one of the main offenders. These crimes stifle American entrepreneurs and diminish economic growth in our country,” the release said.

Government negligence from the ’90s leads to claim bills

A baby’s death and a flying extension ladder, both happening in the late 1990s, resulted in two of the many claim bills already filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.

The first, filed by Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, is for $2.4 million for the death of 5-month-old Nicholas Patnode, who was seen at the Martin County Health Department’s Indiantown Clinic in 1998.

He developed a bacterial infection in his blood, which wasn’t treated in time, causing him to later die of bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain, according to the bill. The money would go to the boy’s parents, Cristina Alvarez and George Patnode.

The second, filed by Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, is for $650,000 for the estate of Dr. Sherrill Lynn Aversa, who was killed in 1999 when a 12-foot extension ladder flew off a Department of Transportation vehicle on Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County.

Aversa, who was coming from an interview at the University of South Florida Medical School, was struck and killed instantly by another car that swerved to avoid the ladder, the bill says.

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.

Session begins Jan. 9. The first committee week is this Sept. 12-15.

Dania casino shut out in gambling permit case

State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permitholder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state.

The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted.

The department’s “final order” also is a win for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which asked to intervene in the case.

The Seminoles, who operate the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, had said allowing gambling licenses to be moved within a county “would provide out-of-state companies (with) an incentive to (buy) a license, possibly resulting in increased business competition for the Tribe.”

Dania Entertainment Center, the company that owns The Casino @ Dania Beach, asked for a declaratory judgment on its “converted” summer jai alai permit.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet jai alai gaming permits because at a minimum they also allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting. The Casino @ Dania Beach also currently offers slots and electronic table games.

The company has a tentative deal with an unnamed buyer that wants to build a casino at a new location. The terms of the sale require the ability to set up shop elsewhere in the county. The casino is owned by a group of Argentine investors and South Florida’s Havenick family, which also runs the casino.

If the permit can’t be relocated, that limits its “marketability” and “will diminish the tax revenue and opportunity for mass local job creation that could be generated,” the original request said.

John Lockwood, the company’s Tallahassee-based attorney, said his client is considering an appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Ken Lawson to tourism industry: ‘I want to earn your trust’

VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson is telling tourism industry leaders he “want(s) to earn (their) trust” in a Wednesday post on the public-private tourism marketing agency’s blog.

Ken Lawson

“As you know, I have been traveling the state, engaging with our partners, board members, legislators and other stakeholders to listen, learn, and offer VISIT FLORIDA’s support at every stop,” he wrote on “Sunshine Matters.”

“I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us,” he added. “VISIT FLORIDA is your organization, one that each of our industry partners have built over the years. Its value cannot be underestimated.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran had aimed to gut the organization this Legislative Session from nearly $80 million in state funding to $25 million, even suing after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. Pitbull himself published a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron later agreed to a deal that ensured $76 million in state funding with increased transparency measures on spending.

Scott moved Lawson from secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to head VISIT FLORIDA in January. The former Marine went hat in hand to lawmakers this session to ask for funding—a “hard and messy battle,” he called it.

Since then, Lawson has hit the road, going around the state to meet with stakeholders.

“It is now time to heal and come together,” he said Wednesday. “As part of this process, I am humbly reaching out to you to hear your story, learn about your challenges, and determine how VISIT FLORIDA can help with your future success.”

He shared stories of his latest visit to the Miami area, including meetings at Jungle Island and with the Vice Consul General of Germany.

Lawson also met with Democratic state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach and Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens. “They both expressed their continued support of VISIT FLORIDA’s mission, and I updated them on our new marketing plan and exciting opportunities on the horizon,” he wrote.

“As I plan other trips like this in the weeks and months to come, I look forward to engaging with as many of you as I possibly can to better understand the vital role each of you play in the continued success of our industry,” Lawson wrote.

Personnel note: Jonathan Kilman joins Hispanic Chamber board

Foley & Lardner lobbyist and partner Jonathan Kilman has been appointed to the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce‘s Board of Governors and the its newly-formed Strategy Committee, the group announced Wednesday.

“We did our homework and Jonathan is regarded as a widely respected and visionary leader who understands the intersection of business and policy in Florida,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Chamber, in a statement. “FSHCC is proud to welcome Jonathan’s leadership.”

Kilman added: “The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has grown in its status and stature in Florida, representing the interests of hundreds of thousands of small, medium and large businesses throughout the state.

“Last session, the Hispanic chamber was instrumental in passing several high-profile issues such as ridesharing, and is poised to expand its influence upon the Florida policymaking landscape,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of its continued success.”

Kilman, co-chair of the firm’s Florida Public Affairs Practice, was featured on the cover of INFLUENCE magazine’s Lobbying Avengers issue.

He also was behind some of Foley’s recent marquee hires, including former Department of Economic Opportunity head Jesse Panuccio (later tapped by President Donald Trump for a U.S. Department of Justice position), former Environmental Protection secretaries Jon Steverson and Herschel Vinyard, and former state CIO Jason Allison.

“Our strategy committee will be a driving force for the Hispanic chamber’s public education and advocacy efforts,” Fuentes said.  “We are currently one of the largest Hispanic chambers in the nation, but that doesn’t mean we are satisfied. Our appointment of Jonathan will ensure we will continue to grow and prosper on behalf our statewide membership.”

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