Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

Flags ordered at half-staff for former Rep. Rob Wallace

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday ordered flags at half-staff for former state Rep. Rob Wallace.

Wallace, a Republican, represented House District 47, comprising northwest Hillsborough and northern Pinellas counties, from 1994 to 2002. He lived in Tampa, and owned and operated a civil and environmental engineering company.

The 65-year-old died earlier this week after jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass in Hillsborough County, according to law enforcement.

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, Tampa City Hall, and the State Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Monday.

“He was a true family man who loved and cared deeply for his community,” said Wallace’s daughter, Amber Loper.

In addition to his daughter, Wallace is survived by his sons, Robert, Scott, and Connor Wallace, and his wife, Ann. He had three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz on Monday at 1 p.m.

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott doesn’t hear what Floridians demand on guns

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the guns and schools proposal announced Friday by Republican Gov. Rick Scott has some things he supports but called Scott’s plan inadequate and said that the governor was not listening to what Floridians really want following the latest mass shooting: universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

“Gov. Scott should have been listing to the people of Florida. But instead he has been listening to the NRA. And as a result he has missed the major two components that the people of Florida are demanding, because they don’t want any more massacres, any more slaughters” Nelson told reporters in Orlando Friday.

“And that is a comprehensive criminal background check in the purchase of a gun, as well as get the assault rifles off our streets,” Nelson said.

Scott’s office replied that Nelson is wrong, that the governor did listen carefully to many students, families and others in the days since the Parkland massacre and his proposal is a result of their requests. His office said he has not spoken to the NRA since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, and noted the NRA opposes some of the package, notably the governor’s recommendation to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of assault weapons.

Nelson’s response was sent as U.S. senator to state governor, and was offered from the confines of Nelson’s Orlando U.S. Senate office. But it might as well have come from a campaign stop, as it defines a difference between the two that is likely to be a fundamental election campaign contrast in what likely is the showdown pairing for this year’s U.S. Senate election in Florida. Scott, though, has not yet filed or announced any challenge to Nelson’s job.

Nelson found a few things he liked in the package that Scott and Republican lawmakers rolled out Friday morning in their comprehensive plans for school safety and to address gun violence, following last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and this week’s protest rallies in Tallahassee led by Douglas High students who survived that mass shooting.

Nelson said he appreciates and shares the governor’s desire to “harden” schools, provide funding for school security and mental health, and banning bump stocks, but said the other proposals about guns in Florida were weak, bare-minimum responses, and inadequate.

Nelson is one of the sponsors of a bill in the U.S. Senate seeking to ban more than 200 kinds of semi-automatic weapons.

He repeated his contention that the data is clear and overwhelming that the high-powered, rapid-shooting guns’ availability has led to massive increases in mass killings, noting the periods before, during and after the sales of the guns were banned from 1994-2004. The ten year period before had 19 mass shootings with 155 deaths; the period during the ban, 12 shootings with 89 deaths, and the ten-year period after the ban was lifted, 34 shootings with 302 deaths, according to a Washington Post graphic he cited. And the post-period incidents do not include the Pulse massacre in Orlando, the concert massacre in Las Vegas, the school massacre in Parkland, or several in between, he noted.

Colin Hackley

Rick Scott, lawmakers call for beefed up school security, gun provisions

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday offered a $500 million proposal to address school safety, gun laws and mental-health issues after the mass shooting this month that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.

The proposal, in part, calls for at least one school resource officer to be stationed in every public school in the state. It also calls for requiring that people buying guns be at least 21 years old, a requirement already in place for handguns but not long guns.

It also includes proposed changes designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who are violent or mentally ill and pose threats.

The package does not include a ban on semi-automatic weapons, commonly known as “assault” rifles, and would not lead to arming teachers.

Meantime, House and Senate leaders also Friday outlined proposals that could lead to some armed teachers in public schools and requiring that gun purchasers be at least 21 years old. (Senate’s summary here.)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said at a news conference that lawmakers are expected to spend $400 million to $500 million on the issues, though details were still being worked out.

Lawmakers want to allow teachers who go through extensive training and work under the direction of law-enforcement agencies to be able to carry concealed weapons at schools.

Also, they would increase the age to purchase long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, to 21, which is already the age requirement for purchasing handguns.

Lawmakers will not seek to ban certain semiautomatic weapons, commonly known as assault rifles, such as the one used in the Broward County murders.

The proposals come as legislators still have not gone into the conference process to work out a state budget for 2018-19.

The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end March 9—about two weeks away—but a constitutionally mandated 72 hour “cooling off” period must occur between a spending plan being finalized and a vote of both chambers.

The budget then must be approved by Scott, subject to any line item vetoes.

Florida’s largest teacher union backs Rick Scott school safety plan

The Florida Education Association hasn’t often championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s education proposals, but it is applauding his $500 million plan to address school safety that he announced Friday in Tallahassee.

The suite of proposals most notably does not include arming schoolteachers, an idea that President Donald Trump and other Florida Republican lawmakers have proposed in the wake of last week’s gun massacre in Parkland.

“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun,” Scott said at a news conference unveiling his proposals. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.”

The plan does include spending $450 million to put a law enforcement officer in every public school, and one officer for every 1,000 students by the 2018 school year. It also calls for hiring more mental health counselors to serve every student a school and funding to provide metal detectors, bulletproof glass and steel doors.

Safety plans would be required before the money would be spent.

“Our members’ primary concern right now is to ensure that our students feel safe and cared for in our schools. We are determined that our students never again experience these all too common shootings,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “We thank the governor and all those involved in crafting this proposal, it is very close to what the FEA has been calling for.”

Scott worked with a variety of experts in preparing his school safety plan, including educators.

An “overwhelming majority of citizens are in agreement that weapons designed for war have no place in our society,” McCall said, adding that while legislators can debate gun control regulations, the FEA will continue to focus on educating public school children and protecting students and education employees.

“We call on both sides of the gun debate to come together for our students — especially for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High,” McCall said. “The safety of our students is in the hands of our elected officials. It is time to act. No more excuses.”

In defiance of the National Rifle Association, Scott also backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semi-automatic rifles, to 21 from 18.

Rick Scott stays in sync with the NRA as he faces a reckoning on guns

The governor is planning to roll out his legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

With Florida now at the epicenter of a fast-changing national gun debate, the state’s Republican governor is so far refusing to budge from his long-standing opposition to new limits on firearms.

The approach of Gov. Rick Scott, who holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is preparing to enter what would be a hotly-contested Senate race, stands in contrast to fellow Republicans such as Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump who in recent days have expressed openness to some new gun limits.

In the days since last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school re-energized gun-control activists, Scott has so far responded to questions about the issue with answers that quickly turn to mental health and the need for enhancing safety protocols in schools.

Although he initially told CNN last week “everything’s on the table,” Scott declined an invitation from the network to appear at Wednesday night’s town hall with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio attended the event and said for the first time he was ready to consider some restrictions on assault weapons — while Scott’s potential opponent in the fall, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, hinted guns could be a focal point in the race by taking a swipe at the governor’s decision to skip.

″[Rubio] had guts, coming here,” Nelson said, prompting boos from the crowd of 7,000 moments later when he added: “Our governor did not come here.”

Scott could face a reckoning on the issue in the coming days, with GOP lawmakers engaged in talks with Democrats designed to produce a potentially modest gun restriction bill before the Legislature’s Session ends next week. The measure would go to Scott for his signature — or possible veto.

The governor is planning to roll out his own legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.” The spokesman, John Tupps, said Scott would like to see “swift action,” but he did not specify what that could be.

Scott declined to be interviewed for this story, but several associates this week told The Washington Post he has no intention of softening his views on gun rights.

“He’s committed to Second Amendment rights, and that’s not going to change,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist and Scott supporter. “He’s a strong NRA supporter and knows that you have to be careful about tweaking anything that would affect someone’s right to bear arms.”

Keith Appell, a former Scott campaign adviser, said the governor is highly unlikely to embrace new gun regulations.

“He genuinely feels that you don’t solve a symptom of the problem, you solve the problem,” Appell said. “The problem is that schools aren’t safe and is eroding the Second Amendment going to make one kid safer?”

Appell added, “He’s going to be skeptical about the suggestion that banning guns will make school safer.”

Scott, 65, is a wiry and wealthy former health care executive whose anti-establishment entry into politics eight years ago foreshadowed the rise of his ally, Trump.

Known for an upbeat but scripted style, Scott has not shied away from political drama since last week’s tragedy.

He has placed blame on the FBI for failing to act on a call weeks before the shooting, calling for the resignation of the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray.

He has attended numerous funerals, and he has met with survivors of last week’s deadly rampage that killed 17 people and left scores injured. Even in private discussions, he has avoided talk of gun limits.

“He said there is no way that someone who is mentally deranged, such as [Douglas High School shooting suspect] Nikolas Cruz, should have access to a gun,” said Olivia Feller, 16, a junior at the high school who met with Scott on Wednesday along with other students.

One place for consensus could be a revision of Florida’s Baker Act, a law that determines how far law enforcement can go in restricting the activities or purchases of mentally ill people.

Sheriffs and other leaders were divided on whether a change to the scope of the law would infringe on gun rights. Some officials said it should be left alone and urged the state to concentrate on giving weapons to teachers.

Appearing Tuesday at a policy workshop, Scott steered clear of talk of gun rights and focused on “taking a hard look at security” in Florida schools.

“It’s very important we act with a sense of urgency,” Scott said, sitting with a group of sheriffs and state officials.

The deadline for Scott’s final decision on the changes he could support, if any, is fast approaching. State Republican leaders said Tuesday they are planning for a committee vote on their plans next week.

Scott’s enduring position on gun rights reflects the entrenched support for firearms in Florida, despite several of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history occurring in the state during his tenure.

Florida has a history of taking the lead nationally in legislating concealed-carry permits, and it has passed a “stand your ground” law, which protects citizens who use deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Scott’s stance also underscores just how careful most Republican leaders, especially those eyeing higher office, remain on the issue of guns, knowing the party’s base is wary of any push to limit the usage of guns.

Scott has become one of the NRA’s favorite elected officials. The website for the group’s annual meeting this May in Dallas lists him as a speaker earlier in the week, but his smiling photo disappeared from the website by Wednesday. A flier the NRA sent out in 2014 hailed the governor as a trusted foe of “gun control extremists.”

NRA officials made clear this week they intend to fight back against efforts to curb gun rights. The group said in a statement on Wednesday it would oppose legislation to raise the age requirement for buying rifles.

A bill authored by Florida Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines and some semiautomatic weapons failed Tuesday, as gun-control activists and students watched the vote from the state capitol. State GOP leaders said afterward they would consider more modest bills.

The slow pace of debate is a familiar replay for longtime watchers of Florida politics and its governor, although Scott has shown in the past an occasional willingness to move to the center on issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“Florida is littered with examples of people thinking it’ll be a different moment on guns, but the culture never changes,” Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said. “This is another one of those moments. That cold political calculus is made, and there is zero movement in Tallahassee.”

Democrats have increased their attacks. “Governor Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety,” a narrator says in the latest ad from Giffords PAC, the political-action committee helmed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.

Trump’s allies say presidential action, while at its early stages, could ultimately prod Scott to move further on guns.

“The president’s position goes beyond that, the White House wants stronger background checks,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump ally and the Florida-based chief executive of Newsmax Media. “The smart thing to do politically would be to require stronger background checks not only for mentally ill people but for those with criminal backgrounds and other issues. Rick is a strong conservative but he likes to be in line with the president, and Trump is the standard-bearer.”

Florida lawmakers and consultants point back to Scott’s responses to past shootings as the better way to predict his next steps.

“The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. The evil did this,” Scott told reporters two years ago following a shooting in Fort Myers, where two teenagers were killed outside of a nightclub.

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The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer contributed reporting from Tallahassee.

Republished with permission of the Washington Post.

Jeremy Ring: Divest FRS from gun makers

During his freshman year in the Florida Senate, Democrat Jeremy Ring led the fight to make Florida the first state in the nation to pass a bill to divest from Iran. Under that legislation, $1 billion in state pension funds was screened for holdings in companies doing business with or investing in Iran’s oil sector.

As he now runs to serve as the state’s chief financial officer more than a decade later, Ring says if elected, he would push to have Florida divest in any company that manufactures assault weapons for civilian purchase.

Ring lives in Parkland, the site of last week’s deadly mass shooting. He said the idea came to him this week as he sought what he could positively do as CFO to try to prevent another such event.

“We are market makers; the Florida Retirement System (FRS) is the gold standard,” Ring says. “It can do more to significantly affect the stock price of a company than just about any pension fund in America.”

Ring adds that, as a fiduciary, his job is to make sure the retirement system gets the strongest return for its beneficiaries and makes its annual investment return goals. There is no way, he maintains, that divesting from such companies will hurt Florida’s pension fund.

His idea came after it was reported that the FRS had more than 41,000 shares in American Outdoor Brands Co. with a market value of $528,000, according to a Dec. 31 securities filing posted on its website. American Outdoor Brands is the Massachusetts-based parent company of Smith & Wesson.

Federal law enforcement officials say Nikolas Cruz used an M&P 15, Smith & Wesson’s version of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Along those same lines, Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham released a statement on Thursday calling for the state to divest all Florida’s state interests from gun and ammunition manufacturers.

Ring’s proposal would not be as sweeping, as it’s limited to divesting from companies that manufacture assault weapons for sale to civilians, not to the military.

Florida is just one of at least a dozen states that own stocks issued by the makers of firearms, Bloomberg reported earlier this week.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the largest pension funds in the country, has divested from firearm makers that are illegal in the state.

Flags at half staff for Brevard Deputy Kevin Stanton

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday ordered flags at half-staff to honor Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Stanton.

Stanton, a nearly 11-year veteran of the department, died while on duty Feb. 17.

“His patrol car was struck by a tractor-trailer on I-95,” according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

“The tractor-trailer suffered a tire blow-out, causing the driver to lose control and swerve into the left lane where Deputy Stanton was driving,” the site said. “Stanton’s patrol car then struck the rear of the semi.”

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Brevard County Courthouse, City Hall, and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office North Precinct, all in Titusville, from sunrise to sunset on Friday.

“We pray that his family, fellow officers and loved ones find comfort in knowing that Deputy Stanton will be remembered as a decorated officer and hero,” Scott said in a statement.

“While we saw firsthand the bravery of our law enforcement officers during and after the tragic shooting in Parkland this week, we must remember that Florida’s law enforcement officers make the incredible decision to put their lives on the line every day to protect families across our state.

“I ask that all Floridians take the time to thank their law enforcement officers for their service and also pause to honor the sacrifice of every fallen officer who lost their lives as they courageously served our state.”

FDLE asks for $1 million in federal funding to assist Parkland law enforcement

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement requested $1 million in emergency funding from the U.S. Justice Department this week to reimburse law enforcement agencies that responded to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

Local agencies are facing “significant costs” after responding to the shooting that left 18 people dead, including 15 students. The exact amount that is needed could change in the future, Petrina Tuttle Herring, the bureau chief of FDLE’s Office of Criminal Justice Grants, said in a letter.

Tuttle Herring said the money would go to “reimburse units of state and local government for personnel/overtime for response, investigative, intelligence and custody/supervision activities.”

In addition to the initial response on Feb. 14, law enforcement officers continue to investigate the case and perform “around-the-clock supervision and monitoring of the suspect,” 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and could face the death penalty after he confessed to using an AR-15, which was legally purchased, to slaughter his former classmates and teachers on Valentine’s Day.

Personnel note: Danielle Babilino joins Hard Rock in Florida

Danielle Babilino will become senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Seminole Tribe-controlled Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, the company announced Thursday.

Babilino was most recently executive vice president of sales and marketing for Alon Las Vegas, the proposed luxury hotel and casino on the Strip.

Babilino

She now will have “overall responsibility for the Hard Rock Hotel sales division, as it supports the expanding global portfolio of Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos,” according to a release, and will work out of Hard Rock International corporate offices in Hollywood.

From the release: “From 2008 through 2015, Babilino was senior vice president of sales for Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, the casino, resort, entertainment and retail complexes developed by gaming magnate Steve Wynn.

“Babilino was also vice president of sales and marketing at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and its sister development in Las Vegas.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida in late 2016 consolidated its control over the Hard Rock brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Since then, Hard Rock announced a fourth location in Florida with the addition of the 200-room Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach. Hard Rock-themed properties are now in Tampa, Hollywood (both include casinos) and Orlando.

The company bought the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, and has a deal to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, Canada. The company also wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey, just outside New York City.

Bill Nelson slams Rick Scott for skipping town hall

Gov. Rick Scott’s absence from the CNN town hall on gun reform and his potential refusal to propose an assault weapons ban will not be forgotten by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — especially as the two likely will face each other for Nelson’s seat in the upcoming midterm elections.

On Thursday, Nelson spoke to reporters and criticized Scott for his association with the NRA and for not attending Wednesday night’s town hall. Nelson said he was at the state Capitol “articulating his position” to legislators on what should be done in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

When asked if he’d lent advice to Scott, who plans to release a legislative proposal on Friday that is widely expected to include mental health and school safety measures, Nelson said, “I was hoping Gov. Scott was going to be at the town hall meeting like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, so that we could start having a discussion.”

Scott’s official response for skipping the CNN town hall was that he’d “be in Tallahassee meeting with state leaders to work on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.”

Nelson questioned Scott’s response, noting that the Governor attended a funeral in Broward County earlier on Wednesday.

“That doesn’t wash,” Nelson said.

Late in the evening on Wednesday, Scott met with several groups of Stoneman Douglas students in Tallahassee.

Nelson said Scott’s affiliation with the NRA and his related accolades are the reason why he predicts much of the legislative initiatives proposed on Friday will not include gun restrictions.

“The governor has an A-plus [NRA] rating,” Nelson said. “He’s a darling of the NRA, which means the gun manufacturers.”

Nelson preemptively attacked the concept of arming teachers with guns, a proposed policy solution that’s being floated at the state and national level.

He called it “a terrible idea” and questioned whether armed teachers would be able to halt a shooter equipped with an assault rifle.

Nelson lauded efforts to increase mental health and to provide more security for schools, but said they stop short of what he believes is necessary to prevent future mass shootings.

Nelson said the “root problems” can be fixed by ensuring criminal background checks take place every time a gun changes ownership and by banning assault weapons.

“I mean if you’re going to do something about school shootings — and just think about it, America is the only country on the face of the earth that there are constantly school massacres — if we’re going to do something about this we’ve got to get at the root problem and that is to take the assault rifles off the street,” Nelson said.

Scott’s record on guns is the target of a recent ad airing in four markets across the state. Given Nelson’s comments on Thursday, these attacks on pro-gun stances will persist should Scott opt to run against him.

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