Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Doanld Trump administration official admits Florida offshore drilling still ‘on the table’

Florida is not yet “off the table” in a federal plan to expand offshore oil drilling, according to an official of the Donald Trump administration.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) acting director Walter Cruickshank revealed to a congressional committee Friday that Florida could still be included in offshore drilling activities, paving the way for future offshore drilling in Florida.

In attendance at the House Natural Resources Committee meeting was Florida Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

“We have no formal decision yet on what’s in, or out, of the five-year program,” Cruickshank told lawmakers. “We are following the process conducting a full analysis of all areas included in the draft proposed program.”

He added that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s commitment to withdraw Florida from offshore drilling was not a “formal action” and the state “remains subject to the government’s official analysis.”

“So, there’s been no decision to exempt Florida?” California Democrat Jared Huffman asked.

“The secretary’s statement stands for itself,” Cruickshank responded.

The admission stunned many Florida lawmakers, particularly Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who was apprehensive after Zinke made the declaration that the state was exempt from offshore drilling after a brief 20-minute meeting with Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson blasted the move as nothing more than a “political stunt” and not announcing official policy.

Soon after Cruickshank’s admission that there was no formal action to take Florida off the table, Soto asked the administration official for clarification.

The statement “stands on its own,” Cruickshank responded.

 “By ‘stand on its own,’” Soto pressed, “… it’s not an official action, is that what you mean?”

“It is not a formal action, no,” the official admitted.

 “So there has been no formal action to remove Florida from the five-year drilling plan, as of right now?” Soto questioned.

“We will be including it in the analysis,” Cruickshank responded.

Immediately after Zinke made the announcement last week, Nelson shot off a letter to the secretary demanding specific details on what changes will be made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan.

Zinke has not yet responded.

That day, Nelson filed legislation to permanently ban drilling off Florida’s coast, taking to the Senate floor with a warning to his Florida colleagues that the secretary’s promise to take the state off the table is “just empty words” until taking formal steps to publish a new draft plan.

On Wednesday, Nelson he will place the “hold” on three Interior Department nominees slated to work under Zinke, vowing to keep that hold in place until the Secretary rescinds the current draft five-year drilling plan and replaces it with a new draft that fully protects Florida’s coasts.

Cruickshank’s revelation – despite Zinke’s pronouncement – shows that Florida may still face new offshore drilling, which comes just days after Interior held its first public meeting on the plan.

What’s more, Nelson’s office said maps used by Interior officials as part of the meeting also suggested waters off Florida were still open to drilling.

In a statement, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo called the incident further proof that Scott and his “close ally” Trump will “say and do anything to further Scott’ political ambitions, while Floridians pay the price.”

“Scott’s long record of backing drilling off our shores and beaches is well documented, and it’s clear his most recent words were nothing more than a dishonest and self-serving political stunt,” Rizzo added. “Once again, Floridians are seeing they can’t trust Scott to look out for anyone but himself.”

Voting rights proposal advanced by constitutional review board

A proposal to allow the automatic restoration of non-violent ex-felons’ voting rights cleared a Constitution Revision Commission  (CRC) committee on Thursday.

The CRC’s Ethics and Elections Committee OK’d the measure (P7) by a 6-2 vote. 

“If successful, Smith and Joyner’s proposal would bring Florida in line with most of the states in the nation that already allow for automatic restoration of rights following completion of felons’ sentences and repayments of any outstanding fines,” a press release from the Florida Senate Democratic Office said. 

The proposal is backed by commission members Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, both former Senate Democratic Leaders.

“Currently, anyone convicted of a felony is required to wait at least five years, and then appeal to the governor and Cabinet to regain their rights, a cumbersome process that was begun shortly after Gov. Rick Scott began his first term of office,” it added. “His predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist had been the first governor to allow automatic restoration of ex-felons’ rights, with the exception of violent offenders, ending a practice many saw as a continuation of the Jim Crow era.

“Since ending Crist’s automatic restoration of rights, the waiting list of Floridians seeking restoration of their rights has reportedly grown to more than 20,000. That number is part of the more than 1.6 million residents of the Sunshine State disenfranchised as a result of prior convictions, more than a quarter of the total nationwide. Only Iowa and Kentucky join Florida in banning former felons from voting.

“If the full CRC signs off on the measure, the proposal next moves to the voters for approval on the November 2018 ballot, and 60 percent are required to add automatic restoration to the state Constitution.” It has one more committee stop before it comes before the full commission for consideration.

A separate but similar constitutional amendment, backed by a citizen initiative, is called the “The Voting Restoration Amendment.” It now has 750,723 valid signatures toward the required 766,200 needed for ballot placement. 

Aaron Bean, Jason Fischer seek money for autism treatment

More money could be coming to the Jacksonville School for Autism, if legislation carried in the Senate by Aaron Bean and the House by Jason Fischer passes.

The legislators seek $250,000 for the school’s Strategies and Techniques for Effective Practice (STEP) Program.

“Jacksonville School for Autism has impacted numerous lives since its founding and has provided its students with the support they need to become independent, productive members of society,” said Senator Bean. “This appropriation will allow Jacksonville School for Autism to expand and help more students realize that they are truly capable of anything.”

“Autism touches the lives of many Floridians, and it is our responsibility as lawmakers to ensure they have the support they need to reach their full potential,” said Representative Fischer. “This funding request will provide increased vocational training for JSA students, helping them learn essential skills that will prepare them for employment.”

Governor, Cabinet could be banned from fundraising during Session

The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Cabinet members wouldn’t be able to accept political contributions while the Legislature is in session under a bill moving through the House.

Lawmakers are already barred from fundraising while in session, but the bill (HB 707) would place a similar prohibition on the statewide officials during regular, special or extended sessions.

The House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee approved the measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Evan Jenne. Jenne said the bill is not “in any way, shape or form an indictment or finger pointing,” but he said it would remove appearances of impropriety.

An identical bill (SB 1474) has been filed by Sen. Gary Farmer, but has not been heard in Senate committees.

Material from the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida is used in this post.


Ben Crump teams up with Rosen Law on corporate fraud

Ben Crump is branching out.

The Tallahassee-based national civil-rights attorney Tuesday announced his partnership with New York’s Rosen Law Firm “to help institutional investors that have fallen victim to securities fraud and corporate misconduct,” a press release said.

“We are excited to join forces with Larry Rosen and one of the country’s leading securities law firms to expand the services we provide to our clients, and fight for justice for those who have been defrauded,” Crump said. “This partnership will serve the needs of state and local governments and their pension funds that have been taken advantage of by dishonest corporations.”

In this new venture, “Crump and Rosen will work on behalf of institutional investors – including public pension funds, labor unions, and others – by actively monitoring investors’ portfolio holdings at no cost and pursuing litigation, when appropriate, against entities committing securities fraud or taking part in corporate malfeasance,” explained Jenna Box Sarkissian, Crump’s spokeswoman.

Here’s how: The Rosen Law Firm employs a “proprietary suite of monitoring tools to track clients’ portfolios to ensure that companies in which they hold positions are operating within the law. If misconduct is found, it is brought to the client’s attention, and when necessary, a suit is brought to recover losses.”

“We’re thrilled to partner with Ben Crump, who has an unparalleled track record of fighting for people taken advantage of by those in power,” Larry Rosen said. “Together, we will continue that fight, and protect institutional investors that have been harmed by fraud or wrongdoing.”

AFP mailer: Support workers’ rights legislation

Legislation expanding workers’ rights is being pushed by a pro-free market, limited government spending watchdog this Session.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida recently launched a new direct mail piece encouraging Florida voters to support recent bills that would require unions to hold regular elections and obtain 50 percent of their actively paying dues members in order to be certified by the state.

AFP-FL says the reform package would expand union accountability and workers’ rights.

The group is pushing the legislation because most union members in the U.S. are represented by unions they have not voted for, according to a study conducted last year by the Heritage Foundation finding unions covered under the National Labor Relations Act only represented 6 percent of their current members that recently voted.

“Unions need to be accountable and represent the views of their current members,” said Chris Hudson, AFP-FL’s state director. “With over 90 percent of workers represented by a union they never voted for, this legislation ensures unions operating in Florida are more transparent and better serve its members.”

Specifically, the mailers encourage support for Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon’s HB 25, which has a similar version in the Senate in Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube’s SB 1036.

AFP-FL will track votes on the measure and factor them into its annual Economic Freedom Scorecard. Supportive votes will result in favorable scoring.

The recent direct mail launch complements an uptick in the group’s activity this Session. AFP-FL also is active in advocating for HB 13, which “prohibits a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on public land leased from the state or a local government.” The bill passed the House floor last Friday.

In a recent op-ed, Hudson lays out further AFP-FL priorities for the 60-day lawmaking process, something he says Floridians have “much to be excited about.

Fast and furious: House passes slew of bills

Aside from high-profile ‘sanctuary cities’ legislation, the Florida House on Friday also approved a bounty of bills on subjects including red-light cameras and insurance.

Here are a few:

Red-light cameras (HB 6001): The bill “prohibits counties and municipalities from implementing red light camera programs by local ordinance,” according to a summary. It passed 83-18. “It is clear that red light cameras are more about revenue than public safety,” Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a statement.

PIP repeal (HB 19): The measure repeals the state’s no-fault auto insurance system. The vote was 88-15. Also known as personal injury protection insurance, or PIP, it’s long been fraught with fraud. At one point, Florida was the top state for staged accidents, especially in the Tampa and Miami-Dade metropolitan areas. In its place, ‘bodily injury’ coverage will be required at a minimum of $25,000 per accident.

Assignment of benefits (HB 7015): This bill is the House’s overhaul of the contentious insurance issue for 2018. It was OK’d 82-20. Assignment of benefits “allows a third party to be paid for services performed for an insured homeowner who would normally be reimbursed by the insurance company directly after making a claim,” as one website defines it. A long-running dispute has pitted insurers against repair contractors and attorneys. Insurance companies accuse contractors of inflating repair bills; contractors blame insurers for low-balling payout offers. The problem is particularly acute in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. This year’s bill requires an ‘assignment agreement’ to be written, include a 7-day period within which the insured may rescind the agreement, and include an estimate of services, among other things.

Workers’ compensation (HB 7009): The measure, passed 74-30, addresses the workers’ comp issue. It encourages injured workers and carriers – and their attorneys – to attempt to resolve disputes amicably, for example. But workers’ comp insurance premiums have fallen sharply since the spring’s panic over last year’s proposed 14.5 percent increase in rates. The Office of Insurance Regulation later approved a decrease of 9.5 percent.

Stadium financing (HB 13): Passed 75-27, it tackles the issue of using public money to finance privately-owned stadiums. Among other provisions, it “prohibits a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on public land leased from the state or a local government,” the summary says. “Billionaires don’t need handouts—whether it’s direct subsidies, tax abatements, or land leases well-below market value,” bill sponsor Bryan Avila said in a statement.

Ethics: Two bills, HB 11 and HB 7003, impose new or increased ethics and accountability requirements. For instance, elected mayors and city commissioners of larger municipalities will have to file “full and public disclosures of their financial interests in lieu of the less detailed form of disclosure required under current law.” Another measure, HB 5, increases the lobbying ban on former legislators from two years to six years. It passed 96-5.

These bills now head to the Senate for consideration.

Thumbs down: Environmental constitutional amendment defeated

One of the state’s leading business lobbies is cheering the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits.

The Constitution Revision Commission‘s Judicial Committee on Friday unanimously voting against the measure (P23).

“This unnecessary proposal would have opened up not only Florida businesses, but private citizens as well, to endless litigation and harmful uncertainty,” said Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis in a statement.

The language as filed said, “The natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law.”

The last sentence caused the most consternation: “Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.”

Its enforcement provision, however, was later amended to say that “a resident of this state, not including a corporation, may enforce this right.”

“With the Judicial Committee’s vote today, Florida’s comprehensive, thoughtfully crafted environmental policy will remain intact, continuing to protect the rights of Floridians and provide much-needed regulatory certainty and stability for businesses moving forward,” Bevis said. “(P)roposals such as this do not belong in the Florida Constitution.”

On Thursday, Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, also opposed the proposal. She wrote a letter to the committee saying it would “undermine environmental gains and rolls out a red carpet to the court system for anyone with an ax to grind, regardless of legal standing or science.”

“Imagine the unintended consequences of freezing permitting processes and clogging the courts with challenges that could paralyze the ability of farms – and all small businesses for that matter – from operating with any shred of predictability,” said Grimsley, chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and a candidate for state Agriculture Commissioner.

Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a CRC appointee of Senate President Joe Negron, filed the language. Both are from Martin County.

In a November meeting, Commissioner Arthenia Joyner – a former Senate Democratic Leader – noted there’s already a right to sue in the state’s Environmental Protection Act.

Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, replied that that right has been “chipped away,” calling Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal “a slight course correction.”

Personnel note: Foreign policy pro James P. Rubin joins Ballard Partners

Brian Ballard continues to cement his status as Master of the Universe.

The veteran Tallahassee lobbyist, Republican fundraiser and friend of President Donald Trump Thursday announced his firm’s hiring of James P. Rubin, Assistant Secretary of State under former President Bill Clinton.

“Our firm is positioned to expand on last year’s dramatic growth in international business, and Jamie’s presence in our Washington office alongside former Congressman Robert Wexler and Ambassador Otto Reich will help us continue to serve clients on both sides of the aisle,” Ballard said in a statement.

Ballard, recently named one of Washington’s 18 Power players by POLITICO, added that Rubin’s “33 years of international affairs experience makes him a tremendous asset to the team.”

Rubin, also Chief Spokesman for Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, joins Ballard as a partner and Senior Counselor for International Affairs.

“I am genuinely excited to return to the United States and Washington for two reasons: One, because D.C. has always been my professional home and two, because of the chance to join Brian’s team, which is made up of some of the best and most successful professionals in the business,” Rubin said in a statement.

“Helping others to work through complex foreign policy challenges is what I have been doing my entire professional life, so I am looking forward to crafting winning solutions that achieve our clients’ policy goals,” he added.

The former diplomat and journalist honed his strategic communication and policy skills working on key presidential campaigns, advising Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 2008, and serving as senior advisor for national security for the Kerry/Edwards campaign in 2004 and director of foreign policy for Clinton/Gore in 1996, the release said.

Rubin also was a visiting professor or visiting scholar at Oxford University’s Rothermere American Institute, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the London School of Economics.

Rubin will continue writing columns on world affairs as a contributing editor to POLITICO. He appears frequently on CNN, BBC, MSNBC and other international news outlets, and has written extensively for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, The New Republic, Foreign Affairs and Newsweek, according to the release.

He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University.

AFP mailer: End public financing of private stadiums

Americans for Prosperity-Florida—the pro-free market, government spending watchdog—is sending out direct mail to urge support for ending “corporate welfare” for billionaire sports-team owners.

Legislation pending in the 2018 Session would “eliminate taxpayer handouts to build stadiums on public lands, and end a program that gives professional sports teams subsidies to expand their stadiums,” the group said in a Wednesday release.

“The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Tom Lee, would repeal the Florida Sports Development Fund and ban Florida sports teams from receiving taxpayer money to renovate stadiums on public land,” it said.

“The second proposal, also sponsored by Rep. Avila, would prohibit sports franchises from developing facilities on public lands without meeting strict fair-market value requirements,” it added. “Sen. Rene Garcia has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.”

“It’s not the role of government to be in the sports and entertainment business,” AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson said in a statement.

“Continuing to use millions of dollars in taxpayer money to build or renovate professional sports stadiums, while there are real infrastructure needs across Florida just doesn’t make sense … We urge the House and Senate to quickly act and pass these bills into law that will finally get taxpayers off the hook from financing private business ventures with little to no return on investment.”

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