Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 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.

House panel OK’s lobbying ban extensions, won’t impeach judge

A new House ethics panel on Tuesday unanimously approved two measures as part of Speaker Richard Corcoran’s new “culture of transparency.”

One (PIE 17-01) would increase the ban on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office from two years to six years by way of a constitutional amendment.

The other (PIE 17-02) “extend(s) the prohibition on legislators lobbying the executive branch” from two to six years after leaving office.

Also Tuesday, Larry Metz—who chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committeetold members he had been quietly looking into articles of impeachment against a Jacksonville judge.

The news seemed to confirm rumors this week that Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III had gotten wind of the House’s investigation; he resigned Monday, mooting any impeachment.

Only vice-chair Jennifer Sullivan and Democratic ranking member David Richardson knew about the preparations, Metz said.

Hulsey had been charged, among other things, with referring to a woman attorney by using a vulgar term for female genitalia, mistreating courthouse staff attorneys and judicial assistants, and saying that African Americans “should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa,” according to a JQC report. Hulsey denied the allegations.

Though judicial misconduct cases normally are handled by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), the state constitution empowers the House to impeach the “governor, lieutenant governor, members of the cabinet, justices of the supreme court, judges of district courts of appeal, judges of circuit courts, and judges of county courts” for any “misdemeanor in office.”

Metz said it was his idea to pursue impeaching Hulsey, for which Corcoran gave his OK. An impeachment would have had to be tried in the Senate.

“The speaker, I think, deserves a lot of credit for leading us in this direction and having higher standards of conduct and not allowing credible allegations of misconduct to go unanswered by the Florida House,” Metz told reporters.

He also declined to clarify whether any other impeachment investigations were open.

The last time the House considered impeachment proceedings against a sitting judge was in the 1970s.

A scandal engulfed the state Supreme Court, leading to two justices resigning. A third, Joseph Boyd, “avoided impeachment only by agreeing to have a psychiatric exam; he is famous for later boasting that he was the only officeholder in Tallahassee to be certified sane,” according to a 2012 Washington Post story.

drone

Jeff Brandes bill would legalize delivery drones

A bill filed Tuesday would allow delivery drones to operate in Florida.

The legislation (SB 460), however, focuses on ground drones, or “personal delivery devices.”

Such a unit is defined as a “motorized device for use primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, which weighs 50 pounds or less excluding cargo.”

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies makes a six-wheeled model that is beginning to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C.

“With this legislation, Florida continues to lead in transportation policy,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who filed it.

He long has embraced “disruptive technologies,” such as ridebooking apps, for example.

“This technology could revolutionize home delivery and will usher in new business models,” Brandes said. “This type of innovative technology should be embraced by policymakers, and I am excited to focus Florida on the future.”

His bill also requires drone operators to carry insurance coverage, among other things, and prohibits drones on the state’s shared-use nonmotorized trail network, or SUNtrails.

Some of Brandes’ fellow lawmakers have not always been as receptive to drones.

In 2013, the Legislature limited Florida law enforcement’s use of flying drones, or remotely-controlled aircraft, in the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.”

That measure was backed by Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is now the Senate President.

Rick Scott not bothered by Jon Steverson’s departure

Gov. Rick Scott suggested he wasn’t bothered by one of his agency heads overseeing the flow of millions of dollars to a law firm that he’s now going to work for.

Scott spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Florida Cabinet meeting.

“We have people that come to work for the state and they work hard,” Scott told reporters. “And (then) they find opportunities. That’s just part of the process.”

Jon Steverson, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, 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 a nearly two-decades-old court fight with Georgia over river water use.

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.

Steverson’s department is asking the Legislature for $13 million more to pay expected legal bills from the still-unresolved case. A joint committee is scheduled to take up the request later Tuesday.

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

The governor said he’s “appreciative of the people that are willing to come work with me … I know they work really hard. But when they have opportunities, they ought to go pursue them.”

Scott also defended the costs of the litigation, now approaching $100 million.

As The Associated Press has explained: “Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.”

“The flow of water into our state is very important,” Scott said. “Now, we have to do everything we can to keep the cost of that issue as low as we can. But it’s important to make sure Florida gets the water it deserves.”

Added Scott on Steverson: “It’s hard to be an agency head. Sometimes the media isn’t very nice to them. One thing that surprises a lot of them is how much media attention they get.”

FanDuel calls on Florida fans to support fantasy sports

FanDuel, the national fantasy sports website, has sent a “call to action” email to its Florida users, asking them to contact lawmakers in support of their hobby.

“With the Big Game just around the corner, we have an important message to share with every Florida fantasy sports player,” the email says.

“A new bill has been introduced that would update Florida’s laws to recognize what we all know to be true—that fantasy sports are games of skill and should be kept legal for all eligible Floridians to enjoy,” it says.

A Senate committee on Wednesday is set to discuss a major gambling overhaul bill (SB 8) that, among other things, would expressly legalize fantasy sports play.

“The fact is that current laws have not kept pace with technology,” the FanDuel email says. “Unless legislators are willing to deny millions of Floridians the right to play America’s newest national pastime, they must act quickly to update the law by passing legislation that protects your right to play.”

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports.

In Florida, however, a 1991 opinion by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

The FanDuel email includes a link to a site where users can send a message to their state legislators to urge them to vote for this year’s bill.

Florida struggled with fantasy sports last legislative session, ultimately letting die a measure that would have explicitly legalized online fantasy play.

FanDuel and its rival, DraftKings, agreed late last year to merge amid increasing regulatory scrutiny. The merger requires federal approval.

 

Richard Corcoran: House won’t OK legal money for DEP

House Speaker Richard Corcoran late Monday said his chamber won’t agree to hand over any more money for the Department of Environmental Protection to pay its legal bills until the agency gives a full accounting of what’s already been spent.

Corcoran was reacting to the DEP’s request to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission for an additional $13 million to pay outside legal counsel in an ongoing court fight between Georgia and Florida over water use. (Earlier story here.)

The commission is scheduled to take up the request Tuesday.

Coincidentally, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson resigned Friday and is going to work for one of the law firms, Foley & Lardner, that’s representing the state in the matter. Steverson is an attorney.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan.

It’s made up of seven members of the state House and seven of the Senate. Of those House members, five belong to the House’s controlling Republican caucus, including commission co-chair Carlos Trujillo, who also heads the House Appropriations committee.

Earlier Monday, Trujillo told FloridaPolitics.com he would “need additional information before we can even consider approval,” noting the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case if the latest dollars are OK’d.

The nearly two-decade 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.

river

“Water wars” could cost the state another $13M in legal fees

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has busted its outside legal expenses budget over the ongoing ‘water war’ between Georgia and Florida, legislative records show.

It’s asking for an additional $13 million from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which meets Tuesday — and even that may not be enough.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office approved the request to the commission, made up of House and Senate members, for “litigation costs.”

“This increase is necessary to meet projected expenditures for outside counsel as it relates to the ongoing litigation in the Florida v. Georgia Supreme Court case for equitable apportionment of the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin,” the request says.

If the extra money is approved, the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case, said state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the Miami-Dade Republican who co-chairs the commission.

“I’m very concerned about the costs of this litigation and we need additional information before we can even consider approval,” added Trujillo, the House Appropriations chair. “It’s been somewhat of a surprise.”

Commission co-chair Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, was not immediately available.

The request was submitted before DEP Secretary Jon Steverson suddenly resigned his post on Friday, giving no reason in his resignation letter to Scott, to whom he reported. His official departure date is Feb. 3.

A spokeswoman for Scott Monday evening said there was “no connection” between the escalating legal costs and Steverson’s resignation.

His leaving “will be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, but since it was not properly noticed, no action is scheduled to be taken,” Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email.

Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times that Steverson was going to work for the lobbying team at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of four firms representing the state in the water use case. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legal dispute focuses on water use from a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.

Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.

Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use.

A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for Florida and Georgia to try again to settle the yearslong disagreement.

According to budget documents, the DEP was given $18.6 million in the 2016-17 budget year to pay for legal expenses.

“The department utilized $2.4 million in base funding and processed a budget amendment to increase base funding by $3.0 million for litigation expenses, for a total of $23.9 million in available funding,” its request explains.

“The DEP carried over $11.7 million in expenditures from Fiscal Year 2015-16, has $7.1 million in actual billings for July and August of 2016, and the projected expenses from September 2016 through June 2017 are $22.2 million, for a total of $41.1 million in projected costs,” it says. “The estimated additional need in excess of current appropriations is $17.1 million.”

The added $13 million would be made of $9 million from the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund and another $4 million from the Permit Fee Trust Fund, according to the request.

“The remaining projected deficit is $4.1 million,” it says.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Jon Steverson resigns as DEP secretary

Jon Steverson, the Secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, has resigned.

His departure was confirmed Friday night by McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director, who provided a copy of the resignation letter.

Steverson is set to join the legal-lobbying firm Foley & Lardner, sources tell FloridaPolitics.com. Herschel Vineyard, who also served as a DEP Secretary, is a part of Foley’s governmental relations team.

Steverson, whose last day will be Feb. 3, did not mention reasons for his leaving in the letter.

“I want to thank Jon Steverson for his hard work,” Scott said in a statement. “Jon has devoted his career to protecting Florida’s pristine environment and I am proud of the tremendous and historic strides we have made toward safeguarding Florida’s natural resources during his time at DEP.

“Under his leadership, we have invested in Florida’s natural lands and completed projects which will ensure protection of our springs, restoration of the Everglades and the continued enhancement of our award-winning state parks for years to come.”

Lewis said the Governor’s Office will have “further announcements on this next week.”

Among the leading candidates to replace Steverson are Karl Rasmussen, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Governor’s Office, and Ryan Matthews, the Deputy Secretary of Regulatory Programs at DEP.

Steverson raised hackles for, among other things, suggesting that the state allow timber harvesting and cattle grazing to help state parks boost their income.

More recently, his department did not immediately notify the public that a huge sinkhole formed under a fertilizer plant and sent contaminated water and fertilizer into Florida’s main drinking water aquifer.

He began as interim DEP Secretary in December 2014. The Florida Senate declined to confirm him and other agency heads in 2015, though he finally won confirmation January of last year.

Steverson was previously executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Before that, he was DEP’s Special Counsel on Policy and Legislative Affairs and an acting Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, according to his bio.

Steverson also served in the Executive Office of the Governor in 2005-09 in several positions, including Environmental Policy Coordinator.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Alimony reform bill filed for 2017

Update: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, on Friday filed the Senate companion to the House bill, which she says is identical save for  “a few punctuation differences.”


State Rep. Colleen Burton will try again to overhaul the state’s alimony law, filing a bill on Wednesday.

The Lakeland Republican still aims to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed, after last year’s measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Burton said in a phone interview. “It costs families a lot of money to go through a process that has no starting point. This gives judges a starting point, the same in Miami as in Pensacola, and gives predictability to former spouses who are trying to determine alimony.

“I have nothing personal invested in this,” she added. “This is just worth trying again.”

The latest bill (HB 283), however, does not contain child custody provisions that garnered Scott’s disfavor in 2016.

He disapproved of that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

On one side, former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them.

Their exes shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

But Burton’s 26-page bill, among other things, contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

A message for Burton seeking comment was left at her Lakeland district office.

But her Senate counterpart last year, Republican Kelli Stargel also of Lakeland, said in a text message she will not file a companion measure.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in April. “Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.

Bill would force case reporting requirements on Supreme Court

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida House would force the state Supreme Court to produce a yearly report on how many cases it’s finishing with opinions.

It seems to go against the court’s official Latin motto, “Sat Cito Si Recte,” translated as “Soon enough if done correctly,” or even “Justice takes time.”

“The phrase indicates the importance of taking the time necessary to achieve true justice,” the court’s website says. Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters declined comment on the bill.

The legislation (HB 301), filed by new Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, would require the court to tally in detail “each case on the court’s docket … for which a decision or disposition has not been rendered within 180 days.” 

It then requires a “detailed explanation of the court’s failure to render a decision or disposition” in pending cases older than six months.

The bill also instructs the court to tally cases it decided in the previous year but took longer than six months.

The report “shall be submitted in an electronic spreadsheet format capable of being sorted” and sent to “the Governor, the Attorney General, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

In a phone interview Friday, White – an attorney – said he started hearing from constituents soon after his election about “painfully long wait times for appellate opinions.”

“I thought, let’s just simply ask the court, starting with the Supreme Court, for a modest report,” he said. “A little sunshine and some data will all help us do a better job.”

To those who bring up the court’s motto, he counters with another expression: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Waters did say the court currently has 785 pending cases. “By comparison, the court disposed of 2,432 cases in calendar year 2016,” he said, adding that number “is subject to correction as we routinely audit the final results.”

Coincidentally, the bill is the latest legislation from a Republican-controlled House that’s long been antagonized by rulings its leaders have characterized as “judicial overreach.”

In October, for example, House Speaker Richard Corcoran lambasted a decision invalidating part of the state’s death penalty.

The ruling, requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence, “is just the latest example of the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives,” Corcoran said.

The House also is considering a measure for the 2017 Legislative Session that would impose term limits on judges. At its last hearing, the panel reviewing the legislation also discussed how quickly courts are clearing their caseloads.

Earlier this month, Heather Fitzenhagen – chairwoman of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee – rejected a suggestion that House Republicans want to publish the court for rulings striking down the GOP’s priorities. White also sits on that committee. 

“Absolutely not,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is … (make) sure that all of our branches of government are functioning at the best possible efficiency, and that we’re getting things done in the best manner possible. That justice is served in a timely manner.”

State appeals federal ruling on Seminole Tribe blackjack

The state of Florida has filed an appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to keep offering blackjack at its casinos.

The 7-page “notice of appeal” to the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals was filed Thursday by Jason Maine, general counsel to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling.

The filing did not preview any arguments the state intends to make to get the decision reversed.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in November had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed select Florida dog and horse tracks to offer card games that were too similar to ones that were supposed to be exclusive to Tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

The judge decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired in 2015.

Scott’s office did not immediately comment on the appeal.

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s Tallahassee-based attorney, suggested that the state was working against its own financial interest: Without blackjack, there’s no money from it to share with the state.

The previous agreement generated well over $1 billion in blackjack revenue share. The Seminoles offer blackjack at five of their seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

“As I told the lawyer for the state, I don’t recall in my career an opposing party working so hard to keep my client from paying it hundreds of million of dollars – and it still is,” Richard said.

But the tribe is still paying, most recently putting nearly $20 million into state coffers as a show of good faith. A state economist last week said that money is being held effectively in reserve in the General Revenue fund.

And the tribe still wants a new blackjack deal worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

Also this year, lawmakers will begin considering an omnibus gambling bill that includes that deal but also would allow for more slot machines across the state, legalize fantasy sports and even open up lottery ticket sales at gas pumps.

In addition, the bill would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

“In a sense, the Tribe has been fighting to pay the state and the state has been fighting to stop it,” said Richard, with the Greenberg Traurig law firm. “As far as the issue of whether the Tribe still has to pay, it’s not an issue because the Tribe has chosen not to make it an issue.”

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