Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 108

Scott Powers

Amy Mercado, Victor Torres seek ‘parent abuse’ reporting system

Concerned that there are under-the-radar problems with teen children abusing parents, state Rep. Amy Mercado is seeking to create a parent abuse reporting system that could give the parents some of the same protections the state extends to children being abused by parents.

Mercado, an Orlando Democrat, filed House Bill 431 this week, aiming to establish reporting, response and criminal charge protocols that, had they been in place, might have led to an intervention before the 2013 murder of Rosemary Pate  of Ocoee by a teenage son Everett Pate, whom she had complained had abused and terrorized her for years.

“The statutes don’t define [parent] abuse; we’re trying to clarify that,” Mercado said.

And this family matter could be a family matter for the legislation. Mercado’s father, state Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat, intends to file a companion bill in the Florida Senate. It would be a first for them, as Mercado is a freshman in the house and Torres a freshman in the senate, though he had spent four years in the house. And that would make it a first for the Florida Legislature, as Mercado and Torres are the first daughter-father combination to serve together.

This is not the first time around for this effort. While Torres was in the Florida House he introduced a similar bill there, while then-state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando pushed a measure in the Senate. Thompson championed the cause on behalf of the family of Pate, one of her constituents, but the measures died. Torres and Mercado are taking it up.

Torres called it a silent problem, saying that people tend to think, “‘It’s my kid or my child or it’s a family matter; we can take care of it.’ But If you constantly are in fear… we want to make sure we provide the appropriate opportunity for these families and for parents going through what they’re going through.”

HB 431 identifies situations that would be defined as a child’s abuse, aggravated abuse, exploitation, or emotional abuse of a parent. It sets various criminal charges including misdemeanors and felonies. The abuse ranges from physical abuse and threats of physical violence to false imprisonment to financial abuse to false reports of child abuse.

The bill also establishes guidelines for reports, including by third parties, of reasonable suspicions of such abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families, including providing immunity from prosecution for the person who reports.

Mercado said statistics show hundreds of cases of domestic violence by children against other family members reported annually in Orange County alone.

In the case of Pate, she had complained and reported alleged abuses and fear of her son for years, Mercado said. One day she was found murdered in her bedroom. Everett Pate, now 22, was arrested, charged and convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 30-year sentence.

“Miss Pate had tried to reach out, she got a restraining order against her son and a people didn’t pay attention to her concerns and how violent her son is,” Torres said. “It’s sad.”


And it may not have needed to happen, Mercado said.

“People knew, and they called law enforcement, but there never was a mechanism of follow-up,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do through DCF is have a reporting mechanism.”

There would be a fiscal impact, as the bill likely would require additional staff at DCF assigned to handle such complaints, though the amount is undefined.

As for the parent and child taking up the parent and child bill, Torres called it, “an honor.”

Tri-Rail’s half-billion dollar, single-proposal deal raises questions

On Friday, the South Florida Regional Transit Authority will consider awarding a deal to run the state’s largest public commuter railroad, Tri-Rail — worth up to $511 million — after tossing all competing bids, including some asking far less money.

The SFRTA’s board of trustees is being asked Friday to award Tri-Rail’s operations and maintenance contract, which could be good for as long as 10 years with extensions, to the only qualified proposer left, Herzog Transit Services Inc., of Texas, after the agency’s staff disqualified all five other proposals.

Some rejected bidders, including Tri-Rail’s current operator, Maryland’s Transdev Services, are fuming and challenging. This month, Transdev went to court to block the award; initially getting a temporary restraining order.

Two other disqualified bidders, Bombardier Mass Transit and First Transit, joined in. But after a hearing last Friday, Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy of Broward County lifted her order Monday.

The issues the challengers have raised questions on how much latitude the agency’s staff has in deciding whether a proposal meets requirements, how staff members can make judgment calls and assumptions that go beyond stated prices, and how they do so without contacting the bidders for clarification.

In depositions filed in the Transdev court case against the transit authority and obtained by, the agency’s procurement director Christopher Bross testified that he had the power to accept the bid prices at face value, but chose instead to interpret that some bidders had included conditions on their pricing; so he disqualified them.

Bross did so, he testified, without asking the bidders to clarify.

Transdev argued in court that the bid price was, as the law required, clearly stated and not conditional, and would not have been changed as Bross had testified he assumed to be a prospect. The company argued that too much is at stake for the public agency and the public for the process to wind up with a more expensive contract this way.

“We have never seen a process in which five of six bids were thrown out because of a staff member’s interpretation. We certainly have never seen a bid of this size in which no questions were asked of proposers and no interviews conducted,” Transdev Executive Vice President Richard Alexander said in a statement to

“Then to find out the remaining bids were $35 to $100 million lower than the one remaining bid raises questions of whether this decision is in the public’s best interest,” Alexander added.

Transit Authority spokeswoman Bonnie Arnold declined to comment Thursday, saying that, as required by law, the whole procurement process is under a “cone of silence” until the board acts.

The contract would take effect July 1, combining four functions now covered by four separate transit authority contracts: operations, equipment maintenance, station maintenance and dispatching.

Tri-Rail runs 50 commuter trains on weekdays and 30 trains on weekends along 72 miles of track through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, with 18 stations, while averaging about 14,000 riders a day on weekdays. The line, the largest, busiest and oldest commuter line in Florida, includes state and federal tax dollars among its revenue.

At 9:30 Friday, the SFRTA board meets in Pompano Beach to consider awarding the operations-maintenance-dispatching contract to Herzog for seven years with options for three annual extensions. The seven-year award is for $344 million. If all three renewals are executed, the total comes to $511 million.

Bombardier’s proposal reportedly was for $269 million for seven years and $396 million for ten years — $115 million less. Transdev’s was for $318 million for seven years and $473 million for 10 — $38 million less. No information was available for the other companies that made pitches, First Transit, Amtrak and SNC-Lavalin Transit.

As is normal, the proposals covered far more than just money, and the price only accounted for 20 percent of the agency’s judging on the bids. Eighty percent of the judgment was to be on the technical merits.

On Monday, after McCarthy lifted the injunction, the SFRTA board’s evaluation committee awarded Herzog all 20 points on pricing, because it was the only proposal considered, and 68 points on technical merits. The other five proposals were not evaluated.

McCarthy’s court ruling concluded that the transit authority, under its rules, had the right to determine entirely on its own that the proposals from Transdev and the other challengers were “conditional,” and then to reject them.

In his deposition, Bross had testified the conditional determinations were made based on reports he received from the transit authority’s technical and commercial committees in December. Those committee meetings and reports were not public.

In Transdev’s case, that condition appeared to be interpreted from the company’s statements in its proposal that it had not yet received or priced insurance, and that it could not know yet the condition of the trains or how much maintenance they might initially need, according to court documents. Bross testified that he interpreted those statements to mean Transdev’s stated bid price could be changed, once the insurance and train maintenance costs were better known.

But Bross also testified that, as procurement director, he had explicit discretion to refuse any and all requests from a winning bidder, to change prices and to hold them to the stated bid price.

The deposition and other court documents do not make clear why the other four proposals also were found to be conditional.

But McCarthy suggested it doesn’t matter.

“SFRTA only conducts competitive procurements pursuant to its own Procurement Policy. Thus, the RFP provided: ‘SFRTA, at its sole and absolute discretion, reserves the right to reject any or all proposals and reserves the right to make an award based solely on the written proposals as submitted,'” she wrote.

She also cited minutes from a pre-proposal meeting in which the agency warned companies that “SFRTA reserves the right to reject any or all proposals including proposals that are conditioned.”

Yet McCarthy also cited timing as a factor in her decision Monday. She noted that there are only just over five months before the new contractor must take over four different duties, all with public safety involved; contract extensions to buy more time might not practical for the transit authority. So she cited public safety of rail passengers as a consideration for no further disruption of the contract process.

Universities, colleges paint depressing picture of dealing with 10 percent cuts

Asked to prepare for 10 percent budget cuts, Florida’s state university and college leaders pledged to try to avoid affecting students but told the House Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations Friday the impacts would still be profound.

“The target reductions are set at 10 percent for each entity,” Subcommittee Chairman Larry Ahern said after spelling out the challenges faced by the larger House Appropriations Committee of possible 10 percent budget cuts this year to deal with a $1.7 billion shortfall.

Florida University System Chancellor Marshall Criser III, Florida Department of Education Secretary Pam Stewart and others laid out preliminary plans that all involved cutting jobs, primarily from administration and support services, delaying programs and expansions and digging in.

If the universities make their own proposed cuts, that will amount to $274 million out of the 12 state universities’ $2.74 billion in annual budgets. Criser said he would hope the cuts would come from there rather than from scholarship programs and other programs to assist students.

Criser also said such cuts could challenge progress the universities are pursuing against the performance standards set three years ago to elevate the quality of Florida’s universities, particularly among the smaller schools.

At some schools, that would mean slicing through administration and services ranging from computer support, to institutes and research, said Martha Saunders, newly-installed president of the University of West Florida, which could have to deal with a $10 million annual cut. Everything from mentoring programs to faculty recruitment would be at risk, she said.

“I would much rather be here to talk to you today about spending money instead of not spending money,” she said.

Both she and University of Central Florida Provost Dale Whittaker expressed a deeper concern that their universities and many others already have been striving for more and more efficiency over recent years by serving more and more students without raising tuition.

For UCF a 10 percent cut would equal $26 million.

“We can’t absorb a 10 percent cut simply by enhancing efficiencies,” Whittaker said.

“This reduction would interrupt the momentum that you helped us build toward achieving several of the state’s key impact measures, including providing broad access to high-quality academic degrees, meeting the state’s workforce needs, and driving innovation and economic development,” Whittaker said.

Under questioning from Ahern, Whittaker did allow that the university could perhaps absorb a 10 percent cut by delaying new programs and expansions, but said that would only work for a year.

The presentations brought forth concerns from some subcommittee members about the prospect of cutting education, particularly higher education.

“I’m not for these cuts, and your presentation has made me even more convinced,” said state Rep. Larry Lee Jr., a Democrat from Port St. Lucie. “We need to look at other ways to deal with this budget situation. Education is key to our economy, our way of life in America.”

Ahern, a Republican from Seminole, advised Lee that he may be right but that those decisions and debates would have to take place on the full House Appropriations Committee, which would have the opportunity to weigh priorities from one state agency or system to another.

The prospect steered some of the discussion toward the absurd. Noting that the campus is just a few miles from the Alabama border, state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Republican from Venice, asked Saunders whether the university has many students from Alabama, and wondered if the University of West Florida ought to seek funding from Alabama.

“Never thought about going to the Alabama Legislature,” Saunders replied. “We could do that.”


Tourism business up 4 percent in 2015 to $108 billion, VISIT Florida reports

Florida’s tourism economy grew by nearly 4 percent in 2015 and brought almost $109 billion worth of economic activity to the Sunshine State, according to a new survey released by VISIT Florida Wednesday.

The growth was slower than was seen in the previous five years but still added $4.1 billion in new money to the state’s economy, according to the “Economic Impact of Out of State Tourist Spending In Florida” study produced for VISIT Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company.

Still, the 3.9 percent growth in the tourism economy for Florida exceeded the full state’s economic growth, just as the sector has run ahead of the statewide economic growth every year since at least 2010, according to the report.

New VISIT Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said the study offers a “much more comprehensive and accurate picture of the true economic impact of Florida’s out-of-state visitor spending, and what it tells us is that the tourism industry is driving the growth of the Florida economy.”

Among the specific highlights of looking at 2015 compared to previous years:

– The direct, indirect and induced impacts of out-of-state tourism in Florida generated $11.3 billion in state and local taxes and $13.1 billion in federal taxes in 2015.

– Out-of-state visitor spending supported an estimated 1.4 million Florida jobs directly or indirectly, generating $50.7 billion in activity. The sector represented 17.3 percent of the state’s total non-farm employment. Of those jobs, 852,000 are directly supported by tourism. That was also up 3.9 percent in 2015, or an additional 32,000 jobs.

– All business sectors of the Florida economy benefited from tourism activity either directly or indirectly through increased sales to local firms who supply the tourism industry or through increased sales to local firms by resident spending of income they earned in tourism.

– Per-tourist spending also increased, requiring fewer total tourists per tourism job.

There were a few small clouds mixed in with the sunshine.

The growth declined slightly in 2015 compared with that of previous years; the increase was 6 percent in 2014 and 8 percent in 2013. Visitors cut back on retail spending and local transportation, the latter partly due to the drop in gas prices; both of those sub-sectors declined in 2015. Spending by international visitors, particularly those from Canada, fell sharply in 2015, partly due to the value of the U.S. dollar.

The tourism jobs also continued to be typically low-paying. Across the four largest sub-sectors that directly benefited from out-of-state tourism – the food and beverage industry, the recreation and entertainment industry, the lodging industry, and the retail industry, which combined for 748,000 of the 852,000 direct jobs – the average job provided just under $28,400 apiece in annual pay, according to data in the study.

Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and a VISIT Florida board member, credited Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature, the private sector and VISIT Florida for spurring the growth in the tourism industry, saying it is not a fluke.

“The study proves collective investment and collaboration amongst public and private sectors effectively promotes economic prosperity for all Floridians,” Dover stated in the news release.

Red-light camera ban passes House subcommittee

This year’s effort to ban red-light cameras in Florida was approved by the Florida House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee after testimony that the records shows the cameras don’t appear to be reducing traffic accidents and their primary purpose seems to be revenue that’s not doing much to improve highway safety.

House Bill 6007 is the house’s fifth attempt to ban the cameras since the Florida Legislature authorized them in 2010. Previous repeal attempts passed the house in 2011 and 2016, only to die in the Florida Senate.

This year’s primary sponsor state Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, laid out crash statistics from a Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles study that showed that reports of crashes at intersections with red-light cameras have actually increased; that the $158 fines are actually doing more to enrich the private vendors and fill state and local general fund coffers than go toward highway safety or research; and that the number of repeat offenders is not going down, meaning the camera are not deterring people.

“Members, this may have been a well-intentioned program when it was authorized in 2010. However the numbers indicate that the program is less about public safety and more about revenue,” Avila said.

Despite opposition to HB 6007 by representatives of law enforcement agencies and cities, and an impassioned, personal plea by Melissa Wandall, whose husband’s 2003 death in an accident caused by a red-light runner helped inspire the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program Act, the subcommittee overwhelmingly voted in agreement with Avila. The panel approved the bill, and sent it along to the full House Government Accountability Committee.

Avila’s position was backed most clearly by Liberty First Network representative Paul Henry of Monticello, who is a retired state trooper, a traffic homicide investigator, who corroborated the notion that red-light cameras may be doing more harm than good.

“I have worked many, many traffic crashes,” Henry said. “What causes red-light traffic crashes generally are two things: inattentive drivers and impaired drivers. There is not a camera or device on the face of this Earth that can prevent that from happening the way that is happening.”

Yet the highway safety data leave some uncertainty about whether the presence of red-light cameras might be preventing some of the more horrific crashes that happen at high-speeds in the middle of intersections. Wandall and other law enforcement officers, including Capt. Dennis Strange of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, urged the panel members to look closely at they data. They testified they are convinced that the presence of red-light cameras are improving safety.

Wandall was nine-months pregnant when her husband was killed by a driver who flew threw a red light and struck them at high speed in the middle of the intersection.

“I am telling you right now they save lives.” she said of the cameras. “And at the end of the day, 12 years later – 13 years later, because my daughter just turned 13 – there still is an empty seat at our table. And I don’t want that for other people in other families.”


Seminole elections chief Mike Ertel takes to social media to defend voting integrity

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel wants voters to know that that the voting process is sound and he believes it was not corrupted by millions of illegal votes in November as President Donald Trump has alleged.

Ertel, a Republican, took to social media Wednesday morning to spread that message. He conceded there may be problems to be fixed and attempts by some to manipulate voting. But he sought in a Facebook post Wednesday morning to explain that the system should ensure voter trust. He also said trust in the democratic process hangs in the balance.

Ertel tagged 25 other Florida supervisors of elections as well as Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, assuring that his post would be seen by their followers as well as his own. Among those he tagged was Clay County Supervisor Chris Chambless, who is president of the Florida State Supervisors of Election Association [Ertel is not a member.]

Ertel said he also would be tweeting out a similar message today on Twitter.

“President Trump has created quite the kerfuffle with today’s tweets concerning voter fraud,” Ertel wrote in his post. “To be clear: voter fraud is likely one of the least committed felonies in America, and barring system-wide collusion, it is simply not the case that ‘millions voted illegally.’

“However, there are always political operatives who attempt to manipulate the process throughout, and to pretend it doesn’t exist at all, is to either be putting your head in the sand or to exercise an extreme naïveté of the presence of dirty political tactics,” he continued. “There is good news: Florida’s system, while not perfect, is among the best at ensuring voter trust. We have hard-working, ethical supervisors of elections, and Seminole County is home to pollworkers and staff who together constitute America’s Finest Elections Team.”

Ertel then pointed out a number of issues he believes can and should be addressed, including many that already are, including strong enforcement of existing laws, “realistic voter registration guidelines,” “common sense photo ID laws with non-arguous provisions for those without an ID,” and savvy, prepared local officials.

“Like with any endeavor, we can’t stop all bad actors from attempts, but we can work together to ensure their efforts are thwarted. An honest appraisal of the process is fair, and if done in a dignified, professional manner, could certainly bear positive results,” Ertel concluded.

“Because after this new discussion, the trust in the democratic process of electing our republic’s leaders now hangs in the balance.”

Bills would restrict local regulation of vacation rentals

Proposals from state Rep. Mike La Rosa and state Sen. Greg Steube would restrict how local governments may regulate vacation rentals, a move that could help preserve that market for the rapidly-expanding Airbnb phenomenon and similar home-sharing services.

On Tuesday La Rosa introduced House Bill 425. Like Steube’s Senate Bill 188, introduced earlier, it would prevent cities, towns and counties from adopting local laws, ordinances and regulations of vacation rentals, leaving their oversight largely to the state.

Both La Rosa’s House District 42, which covers Osceola and Polk counties, and Steube’s Senate District 23, which covers much of Sarasota and Charlotte counties, are home to huge numbers of vacation rentals — houses, condominium units and apartments that are rented out short-term, usually to tourists.

La Rosa said he is not aiming his proposal at Airbnb or any other operator, but at local officials whom he said appear to have, in too many cases, gone too far in trying to regulate vacation rentals, imperiling a segment of Florida’s tourist industry. He said the local governments often identify a specific concern but rather than try to deal with the matter, they just restrict vacation rentals in broad ways.

“It’s not just in my district, I’ve watched closely of local governments around the state. I get concerned when they discuss, or pass, frankly overreaching ordinances. I don’t know where it’s going to go next. I’m surprised every day with something new,” La Rosa said.

The vacation rental market has existed a long time in Florida, primary through investors who purchased houses or other residences, renovated them into vacation rentals and applied for state lodging licenses and other authorities to operate them. Especially in parts of Osceola and Polk counties, there are thousands of such properties, typically offering multiweek vacation housing options to Walt Disney World visitors who can afford extended stays and prefer more homelike environs. It’s quite common for European and other international tourists.

However, the market took a whole new twist in recent years with the emergence of Airbnb and other services that allow ordinary homeowners to list their properties or even their spare bedrooms on the internet. In some cases, the new phenomenon has frustrated and stymied local jurisdictions because it is so easy for the homeowners to do so without pursuing licenses or zoning or other local requirements.

Airbnb, in particular, has been working with its clients and county tax collectors to close that window, but primarily for tax collection purposes.

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for AirbnbWATCH Florida, a group seeking tighter oversight of the service and other operators like it, said her organization would be closely monitoring HB 425 and SB 188 this session.

“While these bills might serve well the interests of out-of-state websites wanting to inject commercial lodging activity into every corner of this state, their impact on Florida communities could be very serious,” she said in a statement sent to “AirbnbWATCH Florida’s focus will be on encouraging lawmakers to protect the safety and well-being of local neighborhoods, which includes having Airbnb pay its fair share of taxes in a verifiable manner. Florida residents have serious concerns over the unchecked growth of unlawful short-term rentals, which can upset long-standing investments in real estate and the profitability of existing legal businesses, including small bed-and-breakfasts.”

Airbnb’s business in Florida has doubled in each of the past two years, and last year saw 1.5 million visitors at 32,000 guest homes.

Airbnb Florida spokesman Benjamin Breit said the bills were not theirs, but that “Airbnb is proud to support Florida’s tourism agenda as well as to engage with policymakers at the state and local levels about the economic and community benefits of home sharing.”

Bill Nelson, Democrats, unveil their $1 trillion infrastructure plan

If President Donald Trump wants to spend big on America’s infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democratic leaders are offering their plan: $1 trillion, with money included possibly for Florida rail, seaports, highways and Everglades restoration.

Nelson and the Democrats unveiled their “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure” Tuesday afternoon, proposing $1 trillion in spending over the next ten years.

Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and a key sponsor of the proposal, said in a news release issued by his office that, if approved, the plan would likely fund several important projects in Florida.

Specifically, Nelson said the plan includes $180 billion to improve and expand bus and rail systems, which could be used to restore Amtrak service along Florida’s Gulf Coast and extend SunRail service in Orlando. It also includes $10 billion to modernize ports and waterways, which could be used to speed up repairs being made to the Herbert Hoover Dike needed for Everglades restoration, and deepen the seaports in Jacksonville and Ft. Lauderdale to accommodate the new mega ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal, and $210 billion to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

The plan also provides, among other things, $30 billion for airport improvements, $10 billion to construct new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and $75 billion to modernize public schools.

“Florida is growing at a rate of nearly 1,000 people per day,” Nelson stated in the release. “You can imagine the toll that’s taking on our state’s infrastructure. This is our chance to make some much-needed repairs and create millions of new jobs in the process.”

He and the Democrats also claim their plan would spur 15 million jobs in construction, and they call for specific protections for American workers and goods, with recommendations that the program have:

–  “Buy America” provisions to use American products.

–  Strong protections for workers, including Davis-Bacon prevailing wages.

–  Strengthened participation of minority- and women-owned businesses.

–  Accelerated project delivery while adhering to important environmental protections.

It also calls for “closing tax loopholes used by corporations and super- wealthy individuals to offset associated costs.”

The plan would set aside $100 billion for reconstruction of roads and bridges; $100 billion for revitalizing Main Street; $10 billion for expanding the TIGER local transportation grants program; $110 billion for rehabilitating water and sewer infrastructure; $50 billion to modernize rail; $130 billion to repair and expand transit; $200 billion for “vital infrastructure;’ $75 billion for public schools; $30 billion for airports; $10 billion for seaports and waterways; $25 billion to build “resilient communities;” $100 billion for “21st century energy infrastructure;” $10 billion to expand broadband; $20 billion for public lands and tribal infrastructure; $10 billion for  VA hospitals; and $10 billion to provide innovative financing tools.

Darren Soto appointed to subcommittee overseeing Puerto Rico

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, whose district oversees one of the largest and fastest growing Puerto Rican diasporas in the states, has been appointed a seat on a Congressional subcommittee that oversees Puerto Rican affairs.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat who is of Puerto Rican descent himself – a first for Florida’s congressional representatives – announced Tuesday he’s been granted a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs

That subcommittee keeps tabs on the federal territories, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It also is the launching point for congressional actions regarding the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. PROMESA was adopted last year in an effort to resolve the most pressing of challenges in the current economic meltdown in Puerto Rico.

Soto’s Florida’s 9th Congressional District, covering southern Orange County, Osceola County and eastern Polk County, includes the heart of the Puerto Rican population in Central Florida, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands. That community has been growing rapidly in the past two or three years as thousands of islanders flee Puerto Rico every month. Soto campaigned with Puerto Rico as a big part of his platform.

He also was assigned to the Energy & Mineral Resources, and Oversight & Investigations subcommittees on the Natural Resources Committee.

Scott Arceneaux out as Florida Democrats’ chief

The first shoe has fallen in newly-elected chairman Stephen Bittel‘s reorganization of the Florida Democratic Party with executive director Scott Arceneaux on his way out.

The party announced Tuesday that Arceneaux, who has served in that role through the tenures of three previous state party chairs, is stepping down, though not immediately.

When Bittel won a resounding election Jan. 14, the tone that the Miami Beach developer established set the expectation that there would be a shake-up at the party, and he said he’d spend last week evaluating the staff.

Bittel also is bringing in some of his loyalists, with the announcement that Juan Penalosa of Mercury LLC and Reggie Cardozo and Tessa Bay, who both had key roles in the Hillary For America Florida campaign, are being hired to the office staff.

The transition may look more sweeping at this point than those of Bittel’s predecessors, Allison Tant, Rod Smith and Karen Thurman, but looks nothing like when Blaise Ingoglia took the chair of the Republican Party of Florida two years ago. Ingoglia locked out the staff from the office on his first day, and only a few returned.

In this case, Bittel and Arceneaux exchanged best wishes, as the rest of the staff remains, awaiting any future changes.

In a release issued by the Florida Democrats, Bittel praised Arceneaux for setting fundraising records, professionalizing and expanding the staff and building “the strongest digital and communications program of any state party in the country.

What Arceneaux could not do was win many statewide elections despite having a voter-registration advantage, and that record led as much as anything to the ascension of Bittel, a wealthy Democratic donor, to the chair.

“We wish him all the best,” Bittel said of Arceneaux.

“Our goal is to build the strongest statewide grassroots operation in FDP history, and I know Juan, Reggie and Tessa will help put us in the position to do just that. They bring a wealth of grassroots organizing experience and deep Florida connections to the FDP, and I’m thrilled to have them on the team,” Bittel added.

Arceneaux was first hired by Thurman in 2009 and stayed on through the tenures of Smith and Tant.

In the release, he thanked them and then said: “I am excited to help Stephen begin his tenure as Chair and look forward to the energy and vision he brings to the job. I know he will take the state party to the next level.”

The party is launching a nationwide search for a replacement and Arceneaux expects to stay on until one his hired, said party spokesman Max Steele.


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