Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 167

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.

Pam Bondi’s net worth rises to $1.7 million, report shows

Attorney General Pam Bondi has reported her latest net worth at nearly $1.7 million, according to her 2016 financial disclosure filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her net worth now has risen from the $1.4 million reported in 2015 and from the almost $781,000 she reported for 2012, the earliest disclosure still publicly available on the commission’s website.

Her net worth jumped significantly in 2013 after she inherited from the estate of her father, 

Among assets, her disclosure for 2016 shows roughly $540,000 in “household goods and personal effects” and her “personal residence” now valued at $1.06 million. Her home’s value rose from $825,000 in 2015—a 28.5 percent increase.

She also lists a one-third share in a condominium worth $342,000.

Her liabilities consist of two loans from Tampa’s Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union totaling almost $255,000.

Bondi also lists her yearly attorney general’s salary from the state—$128,871.

The latest financial disclosures for Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner and GOP candidate for governor Adam Putnam, and departing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not yet filed, according to the website. Atwater is stepping down June 30 to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 

Hearing set in lawsuit against Pam Bondi over unregistered charities

A Leon County judge has set a hearing in a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that says she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ordered the hearing for July 10 in Tallahassee, court records show.

The plaintiff, Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He argues that some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Bondi, through Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, responded that some of the organizations criticized by Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

She further said Seniors vs. Crime “was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth (and) since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board.

“In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, also rebutted claims that Smith had settled his case with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Many companies choose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”

“Apart from their initial threat letter to Storm Stoppers, the OAG never took any other action, and never sent a letter to Mr. Smith informing him that their investigation was concluded,” he said in a statement.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.”

Progressive groups sue over Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power

When Gov. Rick Scott appointed a conservative jurist to the state’s Supreme Court in December, he made clear he wasn’t done.

“I will appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” he said, referring to the mandatory retirement in early 2019 of the court’s liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis.

Now, two progressive organizations are saying to Scott: Prove you can. They say he can’t.

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause on Wednesday sued Scott in the Supreme Court, saying he doesn’t have the power to name their successors—only the governor elected after Scott does.

They filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

The upshot of their argument is that Scott can’t replace the justices in question because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

“The Florida Constitution prohibits a governor from making a prospective appointment of an appellate judge to an existing seat before that seat becomes vacant,” the writ argues.

It adds: “A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations.”

“Our office has not officially received the suit,” said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis, declining comment.

Scott’s addition of former appellate judge C. Alan Lawson to the bench created a three-judge conservative minority, including Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, whose name was on a list of then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s “potential Supreme Court picks.”

Assuming the Republican Scott appoints three more conservatives in 2019, the seven-justice court could tilt 6-1 to the right, with current Chief Justice Jorge Labarga remaining. His mandatory retirement is in 2023.

“The Florida Constitution establishes a mandatory retirement age for justices that occurs on or after their 70th birthdays,” the court’s website explains.

Three more conservative judges may well be appointed anyway, even if left to the next governor: Florida hasn’t chosen a Democrat for the Governor’s Mansion since Lawton Chiles was re-elected in 1994.

The lawsuit, however, sticks to a “constitutional question that has plagued this State for decades: When a judicial seat opens on a Florida appellate court due to an expired term coinciding with the election of a new governor, whom does our Constitution authorize to appoint the successor, the outgoing governor or the newly elected governor?”

In December 1998, days before Chiles died in office, he and then Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican, avoided a crisis by jointly appointing Quince to the court to replace Ben F. Overton.

In 2014, lawmakers placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, backed by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee, that would have given Scott the power to name the new justices. But it failed to gain the required 60 percent approval.

“There may be many reasons voters rejected the amendment, there can be no doubt one reason was that a newly-elected governor is not only more accountable, but also better represents the will of the people who just voted than someone elected four years ago,” the writ says.

Ultimately, Scott “lacks authority because the expiring judicial terms run through the last second of the evening of January 8, 2019, by which time his successor will have begun his or her term or, alternatively, if the vacancies occurred earlier in the day, his successor’s term still will have already begun by that time,” it says.

“… (I)f any ambiguity existed in our constitutional scheme, it should be resolved in favor of allowing the incoming governor, who best represents the will of the people, to fill judicial vacancies arising the same day he or she is set to take office.”

The plaintiffs also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida. They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Rick Scott: No hard feelings between him and Richard Corcoran

Chalk it up to “passion.” Or politics.

Gov. Rick Scott, speaking to reporters after a Wednesday bill signing, explained away the open tension between him and House Speaker Richard Corcoran after the House this year tried to gut VISIT FLORIDA and do away with economic development organization Enterprise Florida, his two favored state agencies.

By the end of the recent Special Session, however, lawmakers agreed to the creation of an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to be controlled by Scott, full funding for tourism marketing, and $50 million to help kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

That deal is said to be in return for Scott’s approval of a controversial education funding policy bill (HB 7069), pushed by the House, that critics say slights traditional public schools in favor of privately-managed charter schools. Scott says he’s still “reviewing” that bill.

“What’s great is that people have passion for what they believe in,” he said. “I know the Speaker has passion for what he believes in; I have passion for what I believe in. Both of us went out there and tried to explain to others (our positions) … but we came together for what is a win for our state.”

Scott in fact went to the districts of House members who supported Corcoran’s plan to defund the agencies and more or less publicly shamed them.

Cut to this week, when Corcoran joined Scott on a “victory tour” to several cities to “celebrate the major wins for Florida families and students during (the) legislative Special Session.”

“I’m proud of the fact we’re able to fully fund VISIT FLORIDA; I’m proud of the fact we have this new development tool, $85 million that’s going to work to get more jobs here; I’m proud that we’re going to partner with the (Donald) Trump administration to help finish the dike,” he said.

Scott was at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to sign a bill (SB 7022) “which provides pay raises for Florida’s sworn state law enforcement officers, correctional officers and state employees,” according to a press release.

“… I’m glad the Speaker believed in all those things and we went to five cities to celebrate that success,” Scott added.

As far as any fight next year for business incentives, which Corcoran calls “corporate welfare,” Scott said he’ll decide then—his last year in office. He’s term limited in 2018.

Till then, “I’m going to keep working hard to get more jobs … I’ll use the tools that we have to call on companies … and I think it’s going to work,” he said.

Gary Farmer to Rick Scott: Veto ‘dreadful’ HB 7069

A new state senator who is also a prominent trial attorney is telling Gov. Rick Scott to veto a contentious education policy bill, saying it’s a brew of “bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency.”

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Parkland Democrat, wrote a 2-page letter to Scott Tuesday on HB 7069, which critics have said will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools.

“This dreadful piece of legislation, if signed into law, would dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education,” Farmer wrote.

The bill “would force school districts to give an even split of locally derived capital outlay funds to charter schools.”

Farmer also mentioned how “the process through which this bill was passed also raises some serious transparency issues.”

He said the bill “was fundamentally changed into a 278-page amendment that slashes funding for struggling schools and requires school districts to pay for charter school projects that they cannot afford.”

Moreover, the final product “included provisions that were the subject of some 55 other bills, the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled,” he said.

The bill “also hijacked unrelated issues, such as recess and Gardiner Scholarships for students with special abilities, in a blatant attempt to borrow support,” Farmer added. “That may be the most offensive part of this process, as these issues enjoyed broad, bipartisan support—unlike the other controversial provisions” of the bill.

“… While there are small pockets of good policy hidden within this bill, it is a monstrosity when coupled with the multitude of bad policies that have been included,” Farmer concluded.

Scott was in a Cabinet meeting Wednesday morning, but was expected to meet with reporters later in the day.

Personnel note: Kent Perez departing Attorney General’s Office

Kent Perez, chief of staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi and a veteran of the office, Tuesday said he’s accepted an offer to become the State Board of Administration‘s deputy executive director.

Perez

Perez, who’s been with the state off and on since 1978, told FloridaPolitics.com he expects to start the new job by the end of the month.

He’ll report to SBA chief Ash Williams. Perez said he and Williams are still “working out” his precise job responsibilities. The agency acts as the state’s investment manager.

“I’m flattered that anybody thinks this is news,” Perez said.

He’s been described by the Tampa Bay Times as a “steady hand and political survivor,” serving under six different attorneys general. He also holds the title of general counsel to Bondi.

Perez’s name recently was floated as a possible appointed successor to Bondi amid speculations she was joining President Donald Trump‘s administration.

Pre-reveal game makers bemoan state’s ‘heavy-handed tactics’

The companies behind what are known as “pre-reveal” games say they’re “losing money every day” even after a Tallahassee judge ruled the stand-alone consoles aren’t illegal slot machines.

Gator Coin II and Blue Sky Games are asking Circuit Judge John Cooper to lift an automatic stay of his March decision. Cooper, however, already has agreed to reconsider the ruling, setting a hearing next Monday in the Leon County Courthouse.

The devices—offered mostly at bars and taverns—look and play like a slot machine, Cooper had reasoned, but don’t fit the legal definition of gambling because the player always knows whether he or she is a winner or loser.

Still, the companies say the continuing insistence of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) that the games are illegal is killing their bottom line.

The department regulates gambling, but has been going after the games through its Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT).

“Customers fear legal repercussions (and) most have decided not to offer the game, fearing (the department’s) wrath,” their motion says, referring to ABT’s “confusing and heavy-handed tactics.” They include threats of criminal prosecution and loss of liquor licenses, according to the motion.

“This court has recognized that if the state and ABT unhappy with the ruling, they can afford themselves a legislative fix,” it adds. “The very simple fact here is (that the pre-reveal games in question are) not gambling under any known definition; that is why there is no regulatory scheme.”

Lawmakers in fact failed to agree on comprehensive gambling legislation this year, including addressing pre-reveal regulation. Many were concerned the games would inundate bars, restaurants and even “family fun centers,” where they could be played by children.

Moreover, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has asked to intervene in the case, arguing that Cooper’s decision “upends the Compact,” the 2010 agreement between the Tribe and the state for exclusive rights to offer certain gambling in return for a cut of the revenue.

The Tribe believes the machine are slots, which violates its exclusivity. That could cost the state “multi-billions of dollars” by entitling the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue.

Poppycock, said the motion by the companies’ attorney, Robert E. Turffs of Sarasota: “This is not about gambling – it is a cynical attempt to appease Seminole Gaming, which fears it is losing money to this non-gambling game … gambling is just fine in Florida, but only if the ‘right people’ receive a benefit.”

But the Tribe’s outside attorney previously argued Cooper misunderstood the game play: “The player is not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown,” Barry Richard said.

For its part, DBPR’s attorneys added that Cooper’s decision created a “grey market gaming industry” that can’t be regulated, since pre-reveal machines aren’t classified as slot machines or amusement machines, and can’t be taxed.

“The stay is necessary to help prevent the very likely proliferation of potentially illegal conduct and unauthorized gaming throughout the state,” the department’s motion says.

Because the machines “operate upon the insertion of money and award prizes through the element of chance, it is substantially likely (the department) will prevail on appeal.”

 

Lottery gets more time to file brief in contract case appeal

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week OK’d the Florida Lottery’s request for more time to file its initial brief in an appeal over its invalidated $700 million contract for new equipment.

The agency now has till “on or before July 7,” according to an online docket.

The Lottery filed its challenge after Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in March struck down a $700 million multiple-year contract involving, in part, new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets.

She essentially agreed with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year.

Because then-Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT (International Game Technology) contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers said.

She agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the deal broke state law by going “beyond (the Lottery’s) existing budget limitations.”

The deal also included provisions for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

The Lottery has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts,” saying the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the contract discloses that any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers. Such a disclosure is required under state law.

Lawmakers finally pass medical marijuana implementation bill

After a false start during the regular Legislative Session, lawmakers Friday passed a medical marijuana implementation bill on the last day of the Special Session, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.

The wide-ranging legislation (SB 8-A) will give guidance to state regulators as they put the state’s constitutional amendment medical marijuana into effect.

Gov. Rick Scott said later on Friday he will sign the bill into law.

According to the bill analysis’ summary, the measure among other things:

— Grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department of Health to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

— Limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

A fight over the retail location cap hung up the bill during the session that ended in May.

— Requires laboratory testing of marijuana products and creates a certification program for medical marijuana testing laboratories.

— Exempts the sale of “marijuana and marijuana delivery devices” from state sales tax.

— Establishes “qualifications required to become a caregiver including requiring the Department of Health (DOH) to create a caregiver certification course that each caregiver must take.”

An accompanying public records bill exempts the personal identifying information of patient caregivers that is in the state’s “Compassionate Use Registry.”

The oranges

Latest forecast: Oranges up, grapefruit steady

Florida orange production went up a bit and grapefruit production leveled off, according to the latest forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Florida Department of Citrus announced the estimates Friday.

“The June report projects the state’s orange crop to increase by 500,000 boxes to 68.5 million for the 2016-17 season,” its press release said. “The grapefruit crop held steady at 7.8 million boxes and tangelos dipped slightly by 10,000 to 1.62 million.”

The monthly forecasts, however, are best guesses. The real numbers come after the growing season ends; it’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

“This has been a particularly tough season for Florida citrus growers with greening and other traditional crop challenges,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.

“An increase in 500,000 boxes could be easily dismissed, but in this context it is a celebration, and shows that these growers are still fighting with everything they’ve got,” Shepp added.

The state’s citrus industry has been hurt by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Greening is caused by a jumping plant louse and the bacteria it hosts. The tiny bugs feed on citrus leaves and infect the trees with the bacteria as they go. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure the disease or to grow a strain of citrus resistant to the bacteria.

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