Staff Reports – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Bill Galvano names Lisa Vickers chief of staff

Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano announced Wednesday that longtime senior policy adviser Lisa Vickers will serve as his chief of staff.

“She brings a wealth of management experience gained from service as executive director of the Department of Revenue under two Governors, combined with a strong and diverse background in public policy,” Galvano said in a statement Wednesday.

Vickers is a well-known figure among senators and Senate staff as she has served as an adviser to the last three Senate presidents. She also worked for the state’s Department of Revenue for more than 20 years. In 2007, she was appointed to be the executive director of the department and served under both Gov. Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott.

“Lisa came to the Senate the same year I was elected … [and] quickly earned a reputation as a problem-solver due to her tireless work ethic and ability to combine institutional knowledge with a thoughtful, innovative approach to public policy,” Galvano said.

Vickers is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Business and the Florida State University College of Law. She was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1990.

The Tallahassee-based chief of staff will work with Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, during his 2018-20 legislative term.


Marco Rubio introduces bills to make daylight savings time permanent

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio introduced two bills that would make daylight savings time permanent.

One bill, the Sunshine Protection Act, would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent across the country.

Meanwhile, his Sunshine State Act would give Florida federal approval to establish permanent DST within its boundaries.

“Last week, Florida’s legislature overwhelmingly voted for permanent Daylight Saving Time for the State of Florida,” said Rubio in a media release. 

“Reflecting the will of the Sunshine State,” Rubio added, “I proudly introduce these bills that would approve Florida’s will and, if made nationally, would also ensure Florida is not out of sync with the rest of the nation.”

The sponsor of the Florida bill, Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, Speaker Pro Tempore of the Florida House of Representatives, offered support for Rubio’s legislation.

“As the 2018 session just recently concluded, I am proud to have sponsored HB 1013 which overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate.We have heard from countless Floridians about the importance of maintaining Daylight Saving Time, including benefits to our economy, public safety and health. I look forward to working with Senator Rubio and his colleagues on addressing this issue. I am confident that the Sunshine State will lead the growing movement across the nation in adopting DST year-round,” Nunez said.

The Rubio media release cites a number of potential benefits of perpetual DST. Among them: economic benefits, including specific benefits for agriculture; improvements in physical fitness; a decrease in robberies and car wrecks involving pedestrians.

Rick Scott signs veterans’ bills, pushes for constitutional amendment in Jacksonville

Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon signing two bills that will help military members get jobs in Florida.

While he was in town, he also lent his support to a potential constitutional amendment that would benefit families of first responders and service members who gave their lives in duty.

HB 29, the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act”, waives professional fees and licensure requirements for military members, both active and retired, and their spouses.

The bill is named after Don Hahnfeldt, a former submarine commander and state representative who died unexpectedly before the 2018 Legislative Session.

Scott noted that the bill “creates a pathway for military officers to become school principals,” among other benefits.

HB 75 will allow Florida state colleges to waive fees for active duty members using military tuition assistance.

This will, Scott said, make “higher education more affordable for military men and women.”

Scott also voiced support for a potential constitutional amendment to give free tuition to families of law enforcement and military members who lost their lives in duty.

“I’m urging every Constitutional Revision Commission member to support the amendment,” Scott said.

Pam Bondi to fight for Winter Haven’s Ritz Theatre

Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a complaint against the non-profit charged “with renovating and operating The Ritz Theatre in downtown Winter Haven,” her office said in a press release Tuesday.

The Ritz Theatre 100, Inc. was named as defendant, as was Stella C. Heath, its executive director.

“The complaint alleges that misconduct and mismanagement by the defendants have placed the future of the Ritz Theatre in jeopardy,” the release says.

“Despite substantial grants, gifts, and funding from the State of Florida, the City of Winter Haven, and others to pay for needed renovations and operating costs, the Ritz Theatre remains underutilized, strapped for cash and in peril of closure,” it adds.

“Efforts by several community members to obtain seats on the Board of Directors to help redress management and financial problems have been rejected by the board, which instead improperly filed an unsubstantiated $250,000 lien against the Ritz Theatre property in favor of Heath.”

Bondi seeks appointment of a receiver to take possession of the non-profit, “determine all outstanding indebtedness, and to report to the Attorney General’s Office and the court all steps needed to enable the theatre to fulfill its longstanding mission.”

Her office “also is seeking an accounting, as well as temporary and permanent injunctive relief, including relief from the improperly-filed lien, to ensure that the theatre’s mission is and will continue to be met.”

The complaint, filed in Polk County, is below. More information is on the Friends of the Ritz Theatre Facebook page. 

Delegation for 3.13.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Tillerson out    

Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump abruptly ousted his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in what is the latest shakeup in his 14-month-old presidency. It is a move that could have serious ramifications for the U.S. economic and foreign policy.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out; Mike Pompeo is in.

According to The New York Times, Tillerson learned of his firing Tuesday morning when an aide showed him a tweet from Trump announcing the change. But an omen came Friday, after White House chief of staff John Kelly called the Secretary, telling him to cut short his African trip, warning “you may get a tweet.”

Replacing Tillerson will be CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former Tea Party congressman close to the president. Some view Pompeo as more in step with Trump’s “America First” philosophy.

Good reasons to pay attention to Pennsylvania special election

The polls are open today in the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania. Normally this might be of little interest to Florida politicos, but in the current atmosphere, several eyes are watching this one.

District 18 represents another opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat currently held by a Republican. The incumbent, Tim Murphy, resigned after reports indicated he encouraged a woman with whom he was involved to seek an abortion. Murphy was an outspoken opponent of abortions.

One to watch: Conor Lamb, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

Republicans should be expected to hold this seat in a district won by Trump by 20 points in 2016, but they are no better than even money this time. By most accounts, the Democrats have fielded a superior candidate in Conor Lamb, while the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, has struggled.

GOP incumbents in South Florida like Carlos Curbelo or Brian Mast are hoping Saccone can pull out a victory, slowing the Democratic momentum, and curbing some of the enthusiasm that is showing up around the country, if only for a while.

Trump tried to do his part with a Saturday campaign stop for Saccone in a Pittsburgh suburb. Donald Trump, Jr. was there on Sunday.

If a Republican could lose a Congressional seat while enjoying the vocal support of a president who won the district by a landslide, then another Republican could lose almost any remotely competitive district anywhere.

Making a potential GOP loss even more devastating is the fact Trump announced his tariffs last week just before visiting steel country. Adding to the mix was a new jobs report on Friday that revealed more than 300,000 new jobs were created in February.

There’s more. Western Pennsylvania is coal country and Trump kept a promise to District 18 voters he would be there with friendly policies for the coal miners and their families.

On Sunday, Trump unveiled his new school safety/gun proposals that stopped short of raising the age limit for purchasing a gun (see below). The NRA is not the boogeyman in Western Pennsylvania as it is in parts of the country.

So, with all that, a Democratic victory would point to a level of intensity for Democrats, and lack thereof for Republicans, that should concern Curbelo, Mast, and maybe even some incumbents whose vulnerability hasn’t yet returned a blip on the radar.

That would include Gov. Rick Scott. While his popularity is at its highest levels since he became governor, he would be forced to deal with a lack of enthusiasm or hatred for Trump should he ultimately choose to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Lamb has outraised Saccone, leaving the Republicans to count on outside expenditures to stay on a level playing field. Saccone is clearly facing headwinds.

If Saccone loses, those winds could begin to blow harder in Florida. On the other hand, if Trump pushes him to a comfortable victory, talk of a November blue wave, might subside somewhat.

The spinmeisters are warming up.

(NOTE: The Delegation will take a long weekend beginning Friday. We will resume publishing with our next issue Tuesday, March 20.)

Rubio demands accountability for VA mistakes on HIV testing

Another day, another controversy for the U.S. Veterans Affairs. The latest comes from the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where leadership failed to take warnings about flawed HIV testing seriously.

After 8 individuals received negative tests for HIV, only to receive different results at an outside facility, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin demanding accountability. A VA facility employee was trying to warn superiors about the unreliability of the tests.

Marco Rubio is demanding accountability from VA Secretary David Shulkin.

“This is unacceptable and our nation’s veterans deserve better,” Rubio wrote. “I request that you initiate an investigation into the Miami VAMC’s response and hold the appropriate officials accountable.”

The findings were revealed by the Office of Special Counsel (not the one looking into Russian election meddling), which looks into noncompliance with laws or regulations by government employees or agencies. In this case, the Special Counsel offered harsh criticism of the VA.

“I am incredulous that compliance with (a directive requiring the use of the latest testing methods) and implementation of fourth generation HIV testing occurred only after (a whistleblower’s) disclosure’s and OSC’s intercession,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner in a report of his findings.

After the latest testing was finally made available, two of the 8 veterans who were retested at the Miami facility were determined to be HIV positive and began treatment. The other 6 retested and again came up negative for HIV.

Nelson seeks assurance Venezuela is not skirting sanctions

When the subject turns to Venezuela, Rubio can often be heard railing against President Nicolas Maduro and his regime. This time, Florida’s senior Senator is writing letters to the Trump administration on the matter.

On Monday, Nelson sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking what steps the Trump administration is taking to ensure Maduro is not sidestepping U.S. sanctions. Specifically, Nelson asks if Maduro is using methods to avoid the crippling measures imposed on the regime.

Bill Nelson is pressuring Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Venezuela sanctions.

“What is the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) doing to prevent Maduro and other sanctioned entities from avoiding or undermining U.S. sanctions by using or creating cryptocurrencies?” Nelson asked. “What does the Department plan to do to crack down on rogue cryptocurrency exchanges that flaunt U.S. sanctions?”

Nelson feels that Maduro’s launched the cryptocurrency is a sign the sanctions are having their desired effect.

“Maduro must not be permitted to circumvent increasing economic sanctions. He is responsible for persistent human rights violations, political repression and the jailing of opponents, undermining democratic institutions, corruption, and widespread economic deprivation,” Nelson wrote.

Poll: Scott holds slight lead over Nelson

According to a new poll, Gov. Scott holds a slim two-point lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Nelson. According to a Clearview Research poll of 750 likely voters, Scott was the choice of 43 percent, to 41 percent for Nelson. Another 15 percent were undecided.

This poll differs from other recent surveys because it relies on likely voters, while some others sample registered voters or sometimes “adults.” In the Clearview turnout model, Republicans made up 41 percent of the sample with 39 percent Democrats and no party or “others” make up the rest.

Rick Scott is holding a slight lead over Bill Nelson in hypothetical Senate matchup.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“A few recent polls released to the media have shown samples that seem to anticipate more Democrats voting than Republicans,” said Steve Vancore of Clearview Research. “While that could possibly be the case, we see little evidence for it at this time.”

In midterm elections, Florida Republicans often outperform Democrats, but some pundits and media analysts believe Democrats are sufficiently energized to make history. If the Democratic energy is there, Clearview points to new voter registrations, which show the GOP with more registrations than Democrats.

Nelson and his party are hoping the poll’s methodology is wrong.

Trump’s school safety and gun proposals receive mixed reviews

Two weeks ago, Trump held a “surreal” meeting in the White House to talk about guns and school safety. During that meeting, attended by 5 members of the Florida delegation, Trump talked about raising the age to buy firearms, expanded background checks, and taking guns away from those with mental health problems.

After chiding lawmakers about being afraid of the NRA, Trump met with the powerful group shortly afterward. On Sunday, the president released his suggestion for gun policy and keeping schools safe.

After meeting with the NRA, Donald Trump backtracks on gun control.

The proposal to raise the limit to buy guns was not part of that package. Instead, Trump would leave that up to the states to match what Florida did last with last week’s bill signed by Gov. Scott.

Trump also urged states to follow Florida’s lead and pass authority for “risk protection orders” that would allow courts to order law enforcement to confiscate firearms of individuals deemed a threat.

He did announce his support for two bills, including the Stop School Violence Act sponsored by Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe community surrounded by a loving family and to have a future filled with opportunity and with hope,” Trump said in a prepared statement.

Predictably, the response to Trump’s proposal was mixed.

“I applaud the President for supporting many of the initiatives I have offered that will promote gun safety, including incentivizing states to adopt Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) and the Stop School Violence Act,” Republican Rubio said in a statement.

The Senate version of Rutherford’s bill, sponsored by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Rubio, has not yet been scheduled for debate.

Democrat Nelson said even providing the authority for states to arm teachers is “a terrible idea.”

Parkland student survivor David Hogg, who is becoming the go-to source for banning assault weapons, accused Trump on CNN of being “no better than all of the other politicians because he’s owned by (the NRA) too.”

The House will take up Rutherford’s bill this week.

Assignment Editors 

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton will co-host a conference call to demand that GOP Sen. Marco Rubio withdraw his bill they say will eliminate nearly all the District of Columbia’s gun laws. Joining Deutch is Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. The briefing is 2 p.m.

Gaetz hosts Western Hemisphere Field Hearing

On Monday, the Republican Congressman from Fort Walton Beach hosted a forum on drug trafficking and terrorism. Joining Gaetz were policy experts, law enforcement, and local elected officials to discuss the roles of countries like Venezuela and terror organizations like Hezbollah in drug trafficking.

Matt Gaetz hosted an event to ” engage in meaningful discussion relating to drug trafficking and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.”

Gaetz’s goals are to identify main threats, receive recommendations to target those threats and to develop and execute a plan on how Congress can assist in combating and eliminating those threats.

The “Western Hemisphere Field Hearing” was held at the National Naval Aviation Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Lawson co-hosts small business hearing in Jacksonville

The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was in the far eastern part of his district Monday talking about small businesses gaining access to capital. Specifically, women and minority-owned businesses.

Lawson was joined in Jacksonville by Kentucky Republican James Comer for a Congressional Field hearing to discuss discrepancies in access to capital. They discussed a variety of remedies.

Virginia Republican James Comer joined Al Lawson for a Congressional Field Hearing on small business. 

“Capital is the lifeblood of any business,” Lawson said, noting that the average African-American startup is 18 percent less likely than white business owners to get help from the lending industry.

“Investors are predisposed to a preference to people who are similar to them,” Lawson added, and to that end, Monday’s hearing was intended to help women and minority-owned businesses voice their needs in the marketplace.

Presenters spoke of the difficulties facing women and minorities. While the Small Business Administration offers some assistance, local banks “tend to shy away” from providing capital.

This leads business owners to seek risky loans out of necessity.

The field hearing was hosted by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Soto nabs progressive group’s endorsement

The Congressional Progressive Caucus Political Action Committee has weighed in on the race for Congressional District 9. Last week, they gave their endorsement and support to first-term Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando.

“Darren Soto is a fighter for economic justice. He works tirelessly for working Americans, and he always has. He marches for civil rights and civil liberties — for Dreamers, for Muslims, for LGBTQ Americans,” Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC Co-Chair Mark Pecan said in a news release issued by Soto’s re-election campaign.

Darren Soto gets the nod from a major progressive group.

Soto’s Republican opponent, Wayne Liebnitzky, criticized Soto for working more for his party and not the citizens of the district.

“He has only done what party leader [NancyPelosi directed him to do, instead of taking care of the area,” Liebnitzky said. “I guess I won’t lose any sleep tonight awaiting their endorsement.”

Soto defeated Liebnitzky in 2016.

T. Rooney disagrees with key finding of Intel Committee

Late Monday afternoon, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee effectively ended their investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. The GOP majority held that Russia tried to create chaos, but there was no collusion with, or specific help directed toward, Trump.

Tom Rooney discusses Russia Investigation on CNN.

To no one’s surprise, Democrats slammed the committee’s decision. Among those with a different view of the majority was Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney, a member of the committee, who said there was evidence the Russians sought to help Trump.

“I certainly think there is evidence of that. I don’t know that necessarily there was a full-fledged campaign to do everything that they could to help elect Donald Trump,” Rooney told host Erin Burnett on CNN’s “OutFront.” “I think that their goal was chaos.”

When Burnett pointed out that intelligence officials indicated a goal of Russia was “to hurt Hillary Clinton,” Rooney said he believed “there was evidence of everything you just said.”

At the same time, Rooney agreed with the decision to end the investigation, but for different reasons.

“We’ve gone completely off the rails and now we are just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news,” Rooney told Burnett. “We’ve lost all credibility and we are going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.”

With the fall elections approaching, Rooney believes any recommendations the committee might issue to prevent further Russian interference need to be issued quickly.

“If we don’t get any of these recommendations out before this cycle gets fully underway, then we have really just completely wasted a year of everybody’s time,” he said.

Mast introducing bill temporarily banning some assault weapons

Gun control advocates say any legislation that does not ban assault rifles does not go far enough. Palm City Republican Mast agrees with them — sort of.

This week, Mast is introducing legislation that calls for a 60-day “pause” on the sales of guns like the AR-15, which was the rifle used to murder 17 students and school personnel on February 14. The combat veteran and longtime member of the National Rifle Association started the conversation with a February 23 op-ed in The New York Times.

Mast is looking to establish a deadline, which he believes will create the urgency needed to bring sides together to develop comprehensive legislation. His op-ed explained that he is in favor of a permanent ban on “tactical weapons.”

Brian Mast begins his push to control assault weapons.

He suggests his proposal will stir the pot and justifies it by saying “hey, we’re going to pause the sales of these gas-operated, semi-automatic rifles for 60 days, you can be sure there’s going to be a fire under the people here.”

Mast is speaking of his Republican colleagues, many of which are opposed to any sort of ban. One of Mast’s colleagues in the Florida delegation supports his efforts.

Retiring Okeechobee Republican Rooney praised Mast, but also said only Trump can take on the NRA and win. Rooney cautioned Mast about going too far unless he is certain he has Trump’s support.

“I don’t want him to get so far out there, and then the president leaves him at the alter,” Rooney told TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Mast says he is not thinking about political risks, only about bringing people together to solve problems.

“Whether we’re lifelong Democrats or lifelong Republicans, or lifelong NRA members, or never thought about the NRA in our life,” Mast said, “if we’re willing to say there’s a line, we’re not that far apart.

Deutch joins Nelson seeking federal involvement in state water rules

With the Florida Department of Environmental Protection tweaking the rules involving pollutants in state surface waters, some are calling for the federal Environmental Protection to get involved. Democrat Nelson and Democrat Deutch of Boca Raton wrote to EPA Administration Scott Pruitt calling on his agency to ensure Florida residents are protected from toxins in their water supply.

“We wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to express concern that DEP’s proposal did not adequately consider potential health impacts, especially for vulnerable populations like children and the elderly,” they wrote.

Bill Nelson and Ted Deutch join local leaders to question changes in Florida water pollution rules.

Nearly two years ago, the Environmental Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to revise state water quality standards that critics say endangers the public. The criticism from environmentalists was harsh and DEP ultimately withdrew the rule “to ensure the department is relying on the latest science.”

“DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water,” said DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. “Since these rules were not yet submitted to the EPA, Florida’s current water standards remain in place and we will keep fighting to protect our environment and ensure clean water for Florida families.”

“We sought EPA’s engagement as this process unfolded in 2016, since the chemical standards will ultimately require EPA approval,” the congressmen wrote. “In addition to monitoring the state’s use of inadequate standards and questionable methodology, we urge you to ensure there is sufficient transparency and opportunity for public engagement.”

Nelson and Deutch are asking EPA to keep a skeptical eye on state efforts.

“Lastly, we hope the new proposal better reflects science, including fish consumption levels for the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes, among others.”

Positive reports from Obama/Fugate era scrubbed from FEMA website

Under former President Barack Obama, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) faced disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes and weather-related catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately for all concerned, they did not have a Katrina-type storm, which defined the agency (rightly or wrongly) in the minds of the public during the era of President George W. Bush.

Some reports chronicling the good works of FEMA during the Obama era have now been scrubbed by the agency. FEMA’s Office of Inspector General removed 12 largely positive reports because “they may have not adequately answered objectives, and in some cases, may have lacked sufficient and appropriate evidence to support the conclusions.”

Craig Fugate is ‘puzzled’ by the Trump administration’s FEMA scrubbing.

This has puzzled Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator during the Obama presidency. Fugate took over the leadership at FEMA in 2009 after serving as Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management from 2001-2009.

“For the life of me, I have no idea why they are rescinding them. I guess the Obama administration didn’t do anything right then,” he quipped.

FEMA spokesman Arlen Morales said FEMA has developed a new approach that provides real-time feedback to the agency as they battle the effects of an emergency. It was used during the multiple hurricane and wildfire disasters during the first year of the Trump administration.

If that is true, Fugate is fine with that approach instead of one that provides after the fact “punitive reports” or actions.

“If they’re moving to where (they give FEMA) a chance to address those as they see them, particularly in the disaster environments, that would be helpful,” he said.

Backers push for Marsy’s Law—a crime victims’ ‘bill of rights’

Before the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) convened its final public hearing Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Gov. Rick Scott joined others to support Marsy’s Law for Florida

A proposed constitutional amendment would grant equal rights to defendants and convicted criminals, and to victims and their family members.

“It’s very important that Marsy’s Law becomes the law of the land,” Scott said.

Most states have taken steps to amend their constitutions to enumerate victims’ rights. Fifteen have not – including Florida. 

Marys’s Law takes its namesake from Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

Later, Marsy’s brother and mother were confronted by the accused murderer in a grocery store. The two had not been told the ex-boyfriend had been released on bail.

The amendment includes the rights “to refuse an interview, deposition, or other … request by the defense,” “to be heard in any public proceeding involving pretrial or other release,” and to “full and timely restitution in every case.”

State Attorneys Katherine Rundle of the 11th Circuit and Andrew Warren of the 13th Circuit said Monday they were in favor of the proposal.

It’s also supported by Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat and child sexual abuse survivor who founded “Lauren’s Kids,” an organization to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help other survivors.

“Victims should be treated with respect and humanity,” she said Tuesday.

Now, the full CRC has to approve the proposal by no less than 22 votes out of its 37 members.

If cleared by the CRC, Marsy’s Law would be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot, where it needs 60 percent approval to become a part of the constitution.

The Commission meets every 20 years to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution.

A link to the press conference video is here.

Retailers say blocking criminal justice proposal was among ‘biggest successes’

The head of the Florida Retail Federation said Tuesday that one of the trade association’s “biggest successes” was helping block a criminal justice reform that would have raised the threshold for a felony theft charge.

“Keeping the threshold at its current limit of $300 will help to protect retailed by deterring theft, discouraging criminals from stealing larger amounts of merchandise and reducing the impact of organized retail crime,” said R. Scott Shalley, FRF’s president and CEO.

The bipartisan measure was championed by Sen. Randolph Bracy and state Rep. Byron Donalds. The proposal intended to raise the threshold for a felony theft charge from $300 to $1,500. Florida has three of the lowest thresholds in the country and has not raised the amount since 1986.

Advocates of the measure said it would have helped reduce the population at adult and juvenile detention facilities and helped lower the number of convicted felons in the state who are stripped from their right to vote, hold public office or sit on a jury.

But Shalley viewed the proposal as one that would have made retail more vulnerable.

“Keeping the threshold at its current limit of $300 will help to protect retailed by deterring theft, discouraging criminals from stealing larger amounts of merchandise and reducing the impact of organized retail crime,” he said.

FRF’s members range from grocers to pharmacists to general retail stores.

“I’m proud of the success out External Affairs team had this session in convincing legislators, stakeholders and our members the importance of these priorities and bringing so many of them across the finish line to benefit our membership,” Shalley said.

Other legislation Shalley touted were the back-to-school tax holidays and holidays for disaster preparedness, along with a bill that cut the business rent tax.

“The .1 percent reduction in the business rent tax will help a number of our members who rent their spaces yet continue to pay this tax, which remains the only one of its kind in the nation,” Shalley said.

Rick Scott names four new circuit judges

Gov. Rick Scott appointed four new judges Monday, including the assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute a South Florida eye doctor linked in a corruption case to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Scott named Carolyn Bell to the 15th Judicial Circuit for Palm Beach County. She was one of the federal prosecutors to work on a case against ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

Prosecutors dropped a bribery case against Melgen and Menendez in January, Roll Call reported, but Melgen was sentenced a month later to 17 years imprisonment in another case on charges of “defrauding Medicare and stealing $73 million from the system.”

Bell, 56, of Palm Beach Gardens, previously served as Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, a press release said. She fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Thomas H. Barkdull III.

In other announcements, Scott named:

James “Lee” Marsh to the 2nd Judicial Circuit for Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties.

Marsh, 44, of Tallahassee, currently serves as Chief Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General, and previously served as Judge Advocate in the United States Navy. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Charles A. Francis.

Chad K. Alvaro to the 9th Judicial Circuit for Orange and Osceola counties.

Alvaro, 41, of Orlando, is board-certified in construction law, and is a shareholder with Mateer & Harbert. He fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Christi L. Underwood.

— Tarlika Nunez Navarro to the 17th Judicial Circuit for Broward County.

Navarro, 35, of Fort Lauderdale, is currently in private practice. She previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. Navarro fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Alfred J. Horowitz.

Florida Realtors laud lawmakers for cutting business rent tax

After the Legislature passed an $88.7 billion budget Sunday, Florida Realtors are heaping praise on lawmakers for including $31 million in cuts to the business rent tax and $110 million for affordable housing projects.

“I’m so proud of our membership for responding to our call for action to cut the business rent tax,” said Bill Martin, the chief executive officer of Florida Realtors. “They stayed engaged throughout the process on this and many other of our key issues,” Martin added, “realtors absolutely rock!”

Martin said thousands of letters were sent to lawmakers urging them to support additional cuts to the business rent tax and tax credits for businesses that pay that tax. And it did.

Other measures passed by the Legislature during the 2018 legislative session that will benefit realtors and property owners include House Bill 1011, which revises flood insurance notices. If signed into law, flood insurers may see more people purchasing flood insurance coverage.

The organization also lauded the Legislature for allocating about $500,000 to prevent unlicensed real estate activity.

Other issues the interest group was pushing but did not get were proposals that would have limited control over vacation rentals, like Airbnb, and would have brought Assignment of Benefits reform to the state.

An issue the organization wants to get next Session has to do with remote notaries, with the intent of allowing documents needed to close a sale to be notarized even when the notary or person signing the documents are not physically in the same room.

Florida Chamber sums up likes, dislikes this Session

The Florida Chamber of Commerce wanted to see the cost of living for Floridians reduced this Session, but after lawmakers’ focus turned to the Parkland school massacre, the measures passed by the Legislature did not impress the organization.

“Rightly so, the last three weeks of Session were focused on school safety following the Parkland tragedy,” said Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“Unfortunately,” Wilson added, “when you look at the other work of the Legislature, on balance they made it a little more expensive for families and a little less competitive for businesses.”

The Florida Chamber worked to defeat efforts that it believed would have “further worsened Florida’s abysmal lawsuit abuse climate,” which included a PIP repeal without accompanying bad faith lawsuit reforms.

Among the proposals the chamber is proud to have helped block in the Republican-controlled Legislature were a ban on plastic bags, increasing the minimum wage, added hurricane-related employer mandates, open-carry liability and gambling expansion.

The chamber was also happy to see the Legislature pass a $10.5 billion transportation budget, funding for computer science classes in state schools, making it easier to decertify public employee unions, and a proposal that will make it harder to raise taxes and fees in the future.

The organization was quick to point the finger at “some in the Florida Senate” for not advancing “pro-job legislation,” it says would have improved the cost of living for Floridians. In other words: the Senate did not push to lower automobile insurance rates and workers’ compensation rates.

“While we’re looking forward to working with future leadership, the Florida Chamber looks forward to ensuring candidates that believe in jobs and growing the economy to support families are elected during the 2018 election cycle,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, who is the chair of the Florida Chamber Political Council.

The Florida Chamber will soon release its annual legislative report card.

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