Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Richard Corcoran says philosophy, facts drive his EFI, VISIT Florida axe

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran made it clear Friday he is sticking to his drive to abolish Enterprise Florida Inc. and VISIT Florida saying the moves are right in philosophy and facts.

“I’m telling you we’re right. We’re absolutely right,” Corcoran declared in a speech before the Central Florida Urban League.

Corcoran described Enterprise Florida as an organization that serves the top 1 percent of companies and most of them did not deliver and  belittled VISIT Florida for paying for Pitbull‘s video that he said essentially declared, “Come to Florida and have sex.”

“Here is what we know about VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. First, Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida didn’t exist in this state until the mid-’90s. Guess what we had before that? I’m going to shock you. We had visitors. I’m going to shock you. We had businesses that came to this state.”

Corcoran, a Republican from Land ‘O Lakes, began Friday by defending his positions against criticism from Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who, in an earlier speech, declared both organizations are valuable to Florida’s economic growth.

Yet Corcoran’s fight has not been with Democrats, and certainly not with mayors, but with Gov. Rick Scott and others in the Republican Party. Corcoran acknowledged that, referring to “my fight with the governor” and “members of my own party.” He then accused them of launching personal and uncivil counter attacks.

“I always try to maintain civility. I’ll stick to the facts. We ought to do that in a civil way. I will tell you that words matter. Words hurt. Words destroy,” Corcoran said. “And you ought to be very careful with your words. Especially now more than ever in this environment. And we ought to be speaking the truth.”

Corcoran also took a shot at the state’s Urban Crime Tax Credit, which has been criticized for creating loopholes that allowed, for example, Universal Orlando to receive the credits because the broad region of Orlando which the park is located qualifies.

“It sounds great, it sounds noble,” he said of the program. “All of your benefactors are the top 1 percent of companies, like Universal. I’ve been there with my family and my six kids. I never felt threatened by high crime.

That’s what happens when you engage in that kind of philosophy. And then you find out they start wasting money; they start spending money, on everything under the sun. Bonuses. High-end furniture.”

He accused Enterprise Florida of sponsoring the arrival of 232 businesses to Florida, but said 124 of them never met their contractual obligations, and that less than 2 percent of the capital obligations and delivering less than 2 percent of the jobs.

“And we just pour more money into it,” he said.

He said he was not offended by Pitbull’s video, saying he went to the University of Florida for three years, “all of them freshmen.”

“That’s not offensive to me. But it’s the philosophy behind that,” he added. “And all of that money that goes to those things that are gratuitous waste of money, is money that could go to education, that could go to infrastructure, or creating a fair and equitable tax structure.”

 

Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine talk governor runs, give campaign speeches

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor  Andrew  Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor  Philip Levine both talked about their interest in running for  governor and gave what  were  essentially campaign speeches in Orlando Friday but both stopped short of  declaring anything.

Gillum and Levine were joined by Florida House Speaker  Richard Corcoran in addressing the Central Florida Urban League’s annual  awards  breakfast in Orlando. While no one declared any formal intentions to run for governor, the two Democratic probable rivals said they were  exploring the prospect for 2018.

“I am strongly considering a run for  governor,” Gillum said. “I  will admit at the very beginning of this that my experience, and my upbringing, certainly do not suggest that I should be thinking about a run or dreaming about a run. But yet we’re here.”

Twenty minutes later, during his turn, Levine did not explicitly say he was  considering  running, but talked about it in a matter of “ifs.”

And speaking to FloridaPolitics.com, Levine said he was considering a run, but was not there yet.

To the Urban League, he spoke of  minimum wages, creating a statewide entrepreneurial atmosphere, and making  college affordable for anyone.

“If I decide to run, something that is going to be a key ingredient, a key focus and a mandate,” Levine said. “Because you can’t create entrepreneurialism, you can’t create a solid state unless you have everyone go to college and get an education.”

The Democrats could be looking at a crowded field. former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando lawyer John Morgan both also have said  they are strongly considering runs, and other candidates appear to be positioning themselves.

 

Aramis Ayala pledges change in how circuit considers death penalty cases

In a debate Thursday between Orlando’s top prosecutor and public defender, new State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she is looking at rethinking how the 9th Judicial Circuit considers death penalty cases, while Public Defender Bob Wesley urged her not to change policies.

Ayala, elected on a judicial reform platform last fall as the top prosecutor for the Orange and Osceola counties’ 9th Circuit, told the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida that she intends to have her office review policies dictating when to pursue death penalty prosecutions, and when to not.

“I think it is something that has to be addressed. I admit that our system is broken and we need to have something in place, a process by which we determine whether or not to proceed,” Ayala said.

Wesley, whose office clearly opposes death penalty prosecutions, responded by defending the recent past practices of the 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office He essentially argued that the system there has not been broken, that he prefers it to what’s going on in other parts of the state, and that he’s very concerned if Ayala intends to change things.

“We’ve had a very, very rational approach to the death penalty in our community for many years,” said Wesley.

“It has not been sought randomly or capriciously here,” Wesley continued. “There’s room for good dialogue. But if the prosecutor tries to ratchet it up and said she is seeking death, she just spent a half million dollars of your money for our preparation. And by doing it as a negotiation ploy, to not pull off it the day before a trial is worrisome. We have not had that culture here.

Ayala takes over from State Attorney Jeff Ashton, a fellow Democrat who also ran on a reform platform when he was elected in 2012. The death penalty cases that Wesley’s office is dealing with, and has dealt with for most of the past four years, came from Ashton’s policies.

‘The cases I have with death penalties right now, are guys that are 50 or older, that have prior homicides,” Wesley told Tiger Bay. “That might be the kind of case that might be, in most any jurisdiction, targeted. And we’re not giving up on any of them, and we’re working them up. But we don’t have 23 year olds that had a bad argument with someone else.”

Ayala did not get a chance to follow up, and when asked later to clarify her statements about a broken system and her expectations for reform, she declined to elaborate for now.

The issue offered what was perhaps the strongest difference between Ayala and Wesley, also a Democrat, though the two dug into their natural confrontational positions on a few other points ranging from domestic violence prosecutions to hit-and-run prosecutions.

Still, the death penalty case may have raised confusing assumptions, based on who Ayala is, and the judicial reform pledges she had made during her 2016 campaign and to which she renewed pledges Thursday.

Ayala is the first African American state attorney in Florida’s history. She has expressed sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement and concern for judicial reform involving minority communities, saying that she cannot un-see, un-unexperience or unlearn all that she has seen, experienced and learned as a black woman.

Yet much of criticism of the death penalty has surrounded its typical disproportionate application to black and other minority suspects. It’s possible the reform Ayala is considering  would amount to reining in its use even more, but she did not say.

During the meeting, she said said that when her office develops new guidelines, she will go public with full disclosure.

“That is something not to be taken lightly. I don’t take it lightly,” she said. “And I will present what our office comes up with when the time permits.”

Stephanie Murphy unites 150+ Congress members calling for response on Jewish centers threats

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy called Wednesday for federal authorities to respond swiftly and strongly to threats made to Jewish centers throughout the nation and got more than 150 of her colleagues to sign on.

Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Conference, sent the letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey expressing “deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish Community Centers” and urged them to swiftly assess the situation and advise Congress about what is going on.

She also called for prosecutions and efforts to deter threats and to assist centers to enhance security.

“This is not an idle concern, given that there have been at least three casualty-causing attacks at JCCs or other Jewish institutions in the last two decades,” she added, referring to the shootings in Kansas, Seattle and California. “This is a national problem and, as such, it requires a national solution.”

The letter makes no explicit reference to rising concerns about a new wave of anti-Semitism in America, nor does it make any criticism of President Donald Trump for not explicitly condemning anti-Semitism, as many of her colleagues have charged.

It notes there have been at least 68 incidents targeting 53 Jewish centers in 26 states, according to the JCC Association of North America.

That includes the Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando, which is one of several centers to have received multiple threats.

Among the signatories are U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Mario Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis, and Kathy Castor of the Florida delegation. The vast majority in a list of the first 116 signatories, provided with an accompanying press release, are Democrats, though at least 15, including Diaz-Balart and Bilirakis, are Republicans.

“These bomb threats are unacceptable,” Murphy stated in the press release. “Federal law enforcement agencies must do everything within their power to punish those responsible for the threats that have already taken place, to prevent future threats from occurring, and to ensure these threats are never converted into action.”

The release notes that her letter received applause from several major Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of North America, the JCC Association of North America and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.

“The Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando is grateful for our representatives coming to our aid in this time of need,” Ronnie Bitman, board president of the Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando stated in the news release. “Our community center’s roots are strong, having provided for the central Florida community for nearly forty-five years, and now, with the advocacy of our elected leaders, we will remain strong and steadfast in implementing our mission of building community, strengthening family life, and promoting Jewish values.”

Tom Goodson bill to expand Central Florida Expressway Authority into Brevard clears house panel

State Rep. Tom Goodson‘s effort to expand the Central Florida Expressway Authority into Brevard County cleared a Florida House subcommittee Wednesday after Goodson told members that roads from the tollroad agency’s region already extend into Brevard County.

Questioning from some committee members appeared to suggest they thought Goodson implied that roads actually controlled by the agency extend into Brevard County.

They don’t.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority, known as CFX, neither owns nor operates any roads within four miles of Brevard, and has no explicit plans to ever do so.

“Today the primary responsibility of the Central Florida Expressway Authority is to construct, maintain and operate Central Florida expressways within the geographic boundaries of Orange, Seminole, and Osceola” counties, Goodson said in introducing his House Bill 299 to the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, leaving out Lake County.

“Sections of the expressway extend from I-4 in Orange County to Cape Canaveral in Brevard County. Major arteries in Brevard County extend into Osceola or Orange, 528, 520 and 192. Right now Brevard does not sit on the board. If this bill passes, it would provide a seat for Brevard County.”

The bill passed the committee 15-0, with at least a couple of the members expressing surprise that the authority was operating in Brevard without Brevard being represented on its board.

But the authority does not operate in Brevard, and does not have any plans to do so, except in undefined, long-range concepts that call for the possibility of one-day doing so.

Last month CFX officials said they knew nothing of any plan to ever add Brevard County to either their service area or their board. The CFX board was advised of Goodson’s bill two weeks ago and intends to discuss it next month.

The expressway Goodson mentioned that starts at I-4 and extends to Cape Canaveral, presumably State Road 528 [also known as the Beachline Expressway] is owned and operated as a toll road by the expressway authority only as far as State Road 520, which is still in Orange, about four miles west of the Brevard line. SR 528 extends from there to Cape Canaveral as a free highway, owned, maintained and operated by the Florida Department of Transportation. None of the other roads operated by CFX come nearly that close to Brevard.

The other two roads he mentioned, SR 520 and U.S. Highway 192, are not in the CFX system.

Still, Goodson indicated the intent of the bill may be to get CFX to extend into Brevard. He noted state studies that showed increased transportation needs between Brevard and Orange, and said the Brevard County Board of Commissioners and regional transportation planning commission both voted to support the bill.

State Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park concurred, declaring, “I think it will be a benefit to us to have you join us.”

George Gainer’s bill would strip Tri-Rail of funding, contracting authority

A new bill from state Sen. George Gainer would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it require state approval of future contracts.

The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118, introduced Tuesday, would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year.

The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

A companion bill, House Bill 865, from Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, does the same thing.

The bills continue an onslaught from Tallahassee that has included deep criticism of the SFRTA contact from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chair of theAppropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development. Brandes has called for an investigation. Scott did not include SFRTA money in his proposed budget.

They’re all criticizing the deal because the SFRTA first threw out five other proposals, all for less money, after concluding every one of the competitors violated bidding requirements.

SFRTA officials have steadfastly defended their actions and the final contract offer to Herzog Transit Services, including during a hearing before Brandes’s committee last week. Gainer is on that committee.

They’ve argued that the agency’s procurement director, with input from the authority’s lawyers and an advisory committee, ruled that the other five proposals all were made conditional, based on language the companies had included in their bids. That meant that the authority could trust none of their bottom-line prices, and was a direct violation of explicit rules the authority had spelled out before the bidding process began.

But their arguments did not allay the concerns Brandes and the others had raised, particularly since the authority’s final choice cost $115 million more than the lowest proposal, which had been rejected before it could be fully considered.

Brightline, Indian River County duke it out before House panel

Brightline railroad supporters and Treasure Coast counties opposing the higher-speed train planned from Orlando to Miami debated their cases Wednesday before a Florida House committee, showing the high stakes of their fight.

Officials from the train company, and two other train companies, were joined by officials of one of the counties, Indian River for a panel discussion before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, pitting the local’s concerns for safety versus the companies assurances that safety already is addressed.

“This is going to be a tremendous benefit to the entire state of Florida,” Brightline General Counsel Myles Tobin declared.

“It is a railroad, and the cost of doing business is to make it safe,” declared Kate Cotner, assistant county attorney for Indian River County.

At stake is Brightline’s ability to upgrade a rail line and operate privately-run passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Orlando, which will traverse four counties at speeds up to 110 mph without actually stopping in any of them. Two of those counties, Indian River and Martin, are suing, and pushing the Florida Legislature for safety measures beyond what Brightline has deemed necessary.

That fight is a large reason why Brightline has thrown out its timetable for completing the construction and beginning the service. At one time the company anticipated being able to do so late this year. None of the construction has started, and now the service indefinitely delayed.

Also complicating matters are bills pushed by Treasure Coast lawmakers that would require some additional safety measures – universal four-arm crossing gates at all road crossings, strategic fencing, and other items.

The committee was not explicitly hearing House Bill 269, introduced by Republican state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta. But that bill and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 386 from Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne were often cited by railroad officials as a concern, and by the opponents as important, and both Grall and Magar took part in the discussions.

Cotner said the bill would require four-gate crossings, and fencing where the Florida Department of Transportation deemed it necessary, and that the department was on board with the bill.

Tobin pointed out that all crossing guard devices would adhere to federal railroad standards, and that Brightline was going way beyond by including such technologies as positive train control, a high-tech, computerized-sensor system not yet in use on any other American railroad. As for the fencing, he said studies show it’s a waste of money, that it does not stop trespassers from entering rails or getting hit by trains.

He also predicted the bills, if approved, would be preempted by federal law.

Brightline intends to open up the southern phase of its service, linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami on 27 miles or track later this year. But those trains would run no faster than 79 mph. The 129-mile phase between West Palm and Cocoa would allow for 110 mph trains, and the 38 miles Cocoa to Orlando International Airport the trains would allow trains to run as fast as 125 mph.

“We are going to provide a unique service in the United States, in the sense that it is a privately-funded, privately-operated passenger service,” Tobin said.

There are no stops planned for the counties of Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Brevard. The Indian River contingent participating in the discussion noted that their counties will be facing unique, new risks affecting traffic and emergency first responders, without getting any service.

“Because you’re going to be running trains at 110 mph, this is a risk that doesn’t exist now, and this is something everyone needs to be concerned about,” said George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant hired by Indian River.

 

Jeff Brandes bills keep Enterprise Florida, but with tight leash

State Sen. Jeff Brandes‘s new economic development proposal would continue operations of the embattled Enterprise Florida and state Department of Economic Opportunity, but on tight leashes.

Senate Bills 1110 and 1112 spell out a new way of doing business for two of Florida’s major economic development programs that have been under fire for accountability, particularly through their spending and penchants for luring out-of-state business with incentives in cases that go awry.

Brandes’s bills focus more on fostering small businesses and startups already in Florida, with tighter controls on EFI’s spending and salaries. That includes creating a grant program for new business incubators and accelerators.

The plan behind the bills calls for full funding for Gov. Rick Scott‘s budget recommendations for Enterprise Florida and protection for current incentive programs. After that, though the rules will change.

Brandes’s bills could become the counter offer to what may come out of the House of Representatives, where Speaker Richard Corcoran is targeting Enterprise Florida for elimination due to concerns over its lack of accountability. House Bill 7005, introduced Tuesday, would abolish Enterprise Florida and strip to bare-bones another state-chartered economic development corporation, VISIT Florida.

Brandes is calling for redirection for Enterprise Florida. It does not address VISIT Florida.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes stated in a news release. “Fostering a startup culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive. This legislation provides greater oversight and safeguards over our current economic development programs. This bill recasts our focus on new businesses that breathe the entrepreneurial spirit and diversify Florida’s economy.”

Among the proposals, Brandes’s bills would:

— Require the return of $117 million currently held in escrow for the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund to the State Economic Enhancement and Development (SEED) to increase the rate of return on those funds.

— Sanction businesses that relocate from the state within three years of receiving final incentive payments, and prohibit the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) from making material amendments to incentive contracts.

— Restructure Enterprise Florida Inc.’s board to be broader based, including reserving seats for the president of CareerSource Florida and someone from the Small Business Development Network, and requiring it to include at least one member with expertise in rural economic development.

— Prohibit any employees at Enterprise Florida from being paid more than the governor, and restricting bonuses, while requiring Senate confirmation for the president of Enterprise Florida.

— Establish a “Startup Florida Grant Program” within DEO, providing $50 million per year for the development and operation of small business incubators and accelerators throughout the state. The grants would be limited to $5 million a year.

— Establish the Small Business Information Center (SBIC) within the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network Lead Center of the University of West Florida. It would serve as a clearinghouse for small businesses seeking help from DEO.

— Require the DOE to provide, to the governor and the Florida Legislature, annual reports on the estimated contractual obligations of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

— Require two-thirds board votes for any contracts involving any board members who might have conflicts of interest with the companies involved.

— Limiting new incentive contracts to ten years.

 

First responders suffering from PTSD addressed in Vic Torres bill

The Pulse nightclub massacre took its toll on at least one Orlando cop who responded that horrible morning and state Sen. Victor Torres said he’s convinced it’s time the state recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a covered disability for Workers Compensation claims.

Torres filed Senate Bill 1088 Wednesday night to make first responders suffering from PTSD and similar afflictions eligible for lost wages while recovering from a mental disability.

The Orlando Democrat said he was moved to do so by the case of Orlando Police Officer Gerry Realin, as pursued by his wife Jessica Realin. After helping remove some of the 49 bodies of people murdered, and assist the 53 people wounded, in the Pulse nightclub on June 12, the officer struggled through a couple of weeks of work before he had to go home and seek attention for mental illness, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Currently first responders must have a corresponding physical injury to qualify for mental injury Workers Comp. Realin was turned down. Friends have opened a GoFundMe.com account to help as he recovers.

Torres, a retired police detective with the New York Transit Authority, said he knows all too well the toll that officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders often pay for handling tragedies; how they often try to keep it to themselves; and how, when they do seek help, at least in Florida, they can lose wages for their work-related disability.

“The least we can do for those who put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of this state is make sure they have the ability to get the treatment they need and provide for their families while they are recovering from any physical or mental illnesses,” Torres said.

Currently there is no companion bill in the house, though Torres has spoken to Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, whose district includes Pulse, about carrying one in that chamber.

Torres office reported that his bill has the backing of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Professional Firefighters, the Florida State Firemen’s Association and the Florida Fire Chiefs Association.

And the Realins.

“On behalf of the First Responders of Florida, the spouses and families of First Responders and my beloved husband, Officer Gerry Realin, I want to thank Senator Victor Torres for filing SB 1088,” Mrs. Realin stated in a news release issued by the Florida House Democrats. “This measure truly has the first responders in mind, and recognizes that they, too, deserve our support.”

‘Arnold Palmer Expressway’ designation gets committee nod

Driving like Arnold Palmer may soon take on a new meaning in Orlando.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill Tuesday to rename about four miles of State Road 408 as the “Arnold Palmer Expressway,” honoring the legendary golfer and longtime Orlando snowbird resident who died last September.

“As you know Arnold Palmer was not only a larger-than-life figure in golf, he was an incredibly beloved and incredibly charitable member of the Central Florida community,” said state Sen. David Simmons, the Longwood Republican who sponsored Senate Bill 480.

“And as you know, the Arnold Palmer Invitational is March 13-19, 2017, and in preparation for that, this bill is one we’re hoping, since it only has one committee of reference, will recognize the awesome, awesome work and the individual that Arnold Palmer was,” Simmons added. “I’m hoping you can support 480 so that it can be passed the first week of session and be part of Central Florida before the invitational.”

There was no hesitation. With two potential speakers waiving, the entire matter took less than three minutes before the committee voted unanimously to report the bill favorably to the full senate.

The bill, however, technically would not take effect until July 1, as currently written. It would name the stretch of SR 408 from Kirkman Road to Clarke Road after the golfing great, who lived just south of that stretch in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando. That highway already is designated by the Central Florida Expressway Authority as the East-West Expressway.

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