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State urges dismissal of challenge to gun law

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week urged a circuit judge to dismiss a challenge to a law that imposes strict penalties on local governments and officials who violate a restriction on regulating guns and ammunition.

Numerous local governments and officials are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in April in Leon County circuit court. The case is rooted in a decades-old law that gives the state power to regulate firearms and ammunition and “preempts” the ability of local governments to approve such regulations.

In 2011, the Legislature approved stiff penalties for local governments and officials who violate the state preemption law, including potential removal from office and fines. The municipalities allege in the lawsuit that the penalties are unconstitutional. But Bondi’s office this week filed a motion to dismiss the case on a number of grounds, including that the local governments’ arguments are “speculative” because the state has not threatened to enforce the law against the plaintiffs.

“Plaintiffs do not allege that any of the defendants named in these actions (or any other state official) has ‘actually threatened’ them (or anyone else) with enforcement of the challenged provisions,” the motion said. “Instead, plaintiffs allege only that, because they wish to enact and enforce ordinances that may be preempted … they are concerned that they may, at some indeterminate point in the future, be threatened with enforcement by some entity or individual they do not identify. Accordingly, these actions should be dismissed for a lack of judiciable case or controversy.”

The case has been assigned to Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson.

Charter schools dump cash into school board term limits amendment

For-profit charter school companies are footing most of the bills for a committee backing Amendment 8, which would impose eight-year term limits on school board members, among other things.

According to recent campaign finance reports, 8isGreat.org has taken in $54,532 in contributions since mid-May, with a majority of that money coming in from charter school companies.

Jupiter-based GreenAccess and Sarasota-based Florida Overseas Investment Center each forked over $15,000, while Fort Lauderdale-based Red Apple Development cut the committee a check for $10,000.

In addition to overseeing charters, GreenAccess runs a program that helps immigrants get green cards via the EB-5 program in exchange for an investing in a for-profit charter.

“Using the Immigrant EB 5 Investor Visa Program, GreenAccess delivers foreign individuals and their families successful immigration to the U.S. via safe investing in Florida public schools,” the company’s website states. “GreenAccess defines ultimate success as facilitating clients’ ability to immigrate and remain in the US (including Miami and South Florida) as permanent, legal residents – Green Card holders. GreenAccess’ process melds and maximizes the benefits of both the EB5 loan and equity models.”

Florida Overseas Investment Center runs a similar program.

Amendment 8 was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. It was sponsored by CRC member and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, who also serves as chair of the 8isGreat.org political committee.

Earlier Thursday, the League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Civil court Thursday calling Amendment 8 “affirmatively misleading” and seeking to have it removed from the ballot. Their issue is with another provision that would let for-profit charters avoid having to get approval from local school boards before opening.

Amendment 8 is one of 13 measures that will go before voters in the 2018 general election. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

League of Women Voters sues over education amendment

Calling it “affirmatively misleading,” the League of Women Voters of Florida is seeking to have a proposed constitutional amendment on education tossed off the ballot.

At issue is a section that would let organizers of charter schools avoid having to get an OK from local school boards to open.

The League itself, President Patricia M. Brigham, and second Vice President Shawn Bartelt filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Thursday against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer.

Amendment 8 was approved earlier this year by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and placed on the November statewide ballot. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The suit says its “proposed ballot title and summary fail to inform voters of the chief purpose of the revision, and are affirmatively misleading as to (its) true purpose and effect.”

The League mentioned in its complaint that the amendment’s sponsor, CRC member and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, said she “intentionally drafted (the proposal) … to ‘allow the Legislature flexibility to create alternate processes to authorize the establishment of public schools within our state.’ ”

The amendment’s language “would, therefore, enable the Legislature to devise a method of creating and operating new public schools with no input from or participation by the local school boards, school districts within whose borders the schools are located, or local electors,” the suit said.

“Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that have a contract, or ‘charter,’ to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools,” according to the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools website.

In a separate statement, Brigham said: “The Amendment 8 language is blatantly, and unconstitutionally, misleading.”

Voters “will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” she said.

“We know that Floridians overwhelmingly support the constitutional requirement to make adequate provision for the education of all children that is ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality.’ We are asking the court to ensure that voters aren’t tricked into eliminating those protections.”

The case has not yet been docketed, so it wasn’t known Thursday to which circuit judge it had been assigned.

The League’s copy of the complaint is below.

Baxter Troutman endorsed by Miami-Dade officials

Baxter Troutman, one of four Republicans running in the race for Agriculture Commissioner, is adding three more endorsements from South Florida officials.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid and Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia all say they’re supporting Troutman, who spent the week meeting voters in Miami-Dade County.

“Today I’m proud to announce my support for Baxter Troutman in the Republican Primary for Agriculture Commissioner,” Hernandez said in a statement Thursday.

“He’s a true conservative who’s spent a lifetime farming and ranching in Central Florida. His experience in agriculture, and business, make him the most qualified candidate in this race.”

Troutman is a fourth generation Florida farmer who’s worked in citrus and cattle. He has also worked as the chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a personnel services company with five locations in Central Florida.

“Baxter has spent 21 years helping people find jobs,” Cid added.

“That perspective is what we need in public servants: someone who understands that government doesn’t produce anything. Entrepreneurship is what fuels Florida’s economy. His private sector success coupled with his experience in Agriculture, make him the best choice for Florida’s next Ag. Commissioner.”

Garcia, elected as the county’s property appraiser with nearly 60 percent of the vote, echoed those sentiments by the mayors.

“Baxter is exactly what the state of Florida needs. He will arrive in Tallahassee and do what’s right for Florida’s consumers, not its special interests.”

“Having spent time with these influential leaders in Miami-Dade County, I’m grateful of their willingness to join our team,” Troutman said in response.

“They recognize the importance of production agriculture experience from our elected Ag. Commissioner, and I’m the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who’s spent a lifetime farming.”

Frank White now leads Ashley Moody in AG race, poll says

A new poll of the Republican primary for Attorney General finds Pensacola state Rep. Frank White with an outside-the-margin-of-error lead over former circuit court judge Ashley Moody.

The St. Pete Polls survey, commissioned by Florida Politics, showed White with 26 percent support among active Republican primary voters compared to 19 percent support for Moody.

The results represent a major shift over last month, when the same pollster found Moody in the lead with 15 percent support with White one point behind. That poll was taken when Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant was still a contender in the race to replace Pam Bondi. He has since bowed out to apply to be commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

The new poll also found that White has measurable advantages in favorability and name recognition.

Nearly two-fifths of GOP voters knew enough to give an opinion on White, who was seen favorably by 32 percent of GOP compared to 7 percent who said they found him unfavorable. Moody registered 10 percentage points behind in name recognition, though her favorability score was still very positive at plus-17.

Part of the shift in the Cabinet race is likely attributable to White’s TV ads. Last month, White’s campaign announced a $1 million ad buy and an “80 day strategy” that would keep his ads running through the primary election.

The first ad claims “liberal judges and elites threaten the constitution and mock our values.” The second touts his support from the National Rifle Association and “100 percent pro-life” views.

White has put more than $2.7 million of his own money behind his campaign. As of June 22, White had about $2.4 million banked, while Moody had about $2.2 million.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary will likely face Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw in the Nov. 6 general election. Two recent polls show Shaw leading both Moody and White among likely general election voters.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted through an automated phone call polling system. It took responses from 1,387 registered Republicans which were then weighted to account for proportional differences between the respondents’ demographics and the demographics of the active Republican primary voter population.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

‘Getting It Done’: New Philip Levine $1M ad buy hits education, health care notes

Televisions throughout Florida will be treated, starting Thursday, to a new ad from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democratic candidate for Governor.

Via the Levine campaign press shop: “With less than fifty days left until the primary election, backed by a more than $1 million ad buy airing in markets across Florida, the Levine for Governor campaign is releasing a new TV spot today, ‘Getting It Done’.”

The spot “highlights Mayor Levine’s bold, progressive vision for Florida’s future, including plans to implement an Education Security Administration to protect schools, raise teachers’ salaries, and expand Medicaid coverage—all without raising new taxes.”

Democrats in the race continue to highlight their commitment to public education, but the Education Security Administration proposal is unique branding for Levine.

The ad features Levine’s mother and some demographic peers bowling, with the parties having a casual conversation about the candidate’s policy proposals.

The Democratic primary is Aug. 28.

‘Bastion of principle’ Nat Reed, longtime environmental advocate, dies

NathanielNatReed, an environmental advisor for six Florida governors and assistant secretary of the interior to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford who was considered one of the founders of the modern conservation movement, died Wednesday. He was 84.

The Jupiter Island resident who started his career in the family real estate and hotel business, the Hobe Sound Company, began his state work under Republican Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. in 1967. He later was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bob Graham to the South Florida Water Management District, where he served for 14 years.

Reed’s son, Adrian, told The Tampa Bay Times his father died a week after falling on a gravel riverbank while fishing in Canada.

The environmental icon received bipartisan accolades as news of his death spread Wednesday.

“Floridians for generations to come are indebted to Nathaniel Reed for protecting our beautiful environment and our Florida Everglades,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who served as Florida governor as a Republican, said in a statement. “We will honor his memory by recommitting ourselves to being good stewards of our environment.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican who at one time represented the Treasure Coast, tweeted that Reed was “a great man and mentor.”

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican whose district includes Jupiter Island, called Reed “a resolute force of nature who devoted his life to protecting the environment of Florida and the United States.”

“I will personally never forget his unwavering support for the Senate Bill 10 EAA Southern Reservoir and his lifelong commitment to Everglades restoration,” Negron said in a statement. “Mr. Reed loved Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound and Martin County. His prominent standing in the modern history of Florida is secure and irreplaceable.”

And U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, praised Reed on the Senate floor Wednesday, after hailing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ support for the $1.6 billion reservoir project.

Reed was “one of Florida’s greatest environmental advocates,” Nelson said, adding that the state should name the new reservoir in Reed’s honor.

“It saddens me so much to announce this good news at the same time of announcing the death of one of the nation’s true environmental champions,” Nelson said. “Nat and I have been so focused on advancing this new reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee … It would be a fitting tribute to name that project in Nat Reed’s honor.”

In 2017, the National Audubon Society awarded Reed its Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership “for his lifelong commitment to conservation and role in protecting America’s Everglades.”

“Nat was a giant in conservation — that phrase is used a lot but in Nat’s case it’s true. His scientific knowledge and his passion for birds and wild places made him a hero for decades and Audubon will miss him dearly,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society,.

Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell called Reed “a giant of a conservationist, with his fingerprints on many of the most significant national conservation accomplishments of the last 60 years.”

As assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and National Parks, a post he held until 1977, Reed is credited with the crafting and passage of the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts.

In Florida, he played a pivotal role in the late 1960s in the successful fight to block construction of a new jetport in the Big Cypress Swamp, successfully convincing Nixon to withdraw funding for the project.

Author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen tweeted that “the Everglades has lost a great friend and champion. Nat Reed was literally a force of nature.”

Among his many achievements in the Sunshine State, Reed helped found both 1000 Friends of Florida and the Everglades Foundation.

“He was an avid fisherman and golfer with an unparalleled passion for restoring the Everglades,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a press release Wednesday. “Personally, I’ve been privileged to know and work with Nathaniel over the last 16 years, and I am proud to have called him my friend. He was a master of words, bastion of principle, and a constant provider of sound counsel.”

Reed also served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society and Yellowstone National Park.

The Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida noted on Twitter: “Mourning the loss of our friend, board member and inaugural Citizen of the Year Nathaniel Reed. Nat dedicated his life to public service and working to protect the environment.”

Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Lawmakers want judge tossed off environmental funding suit

Saying he violated their constitutional rights “in multiple ways, and over repeated objections,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron asked a Tallahassee judge to remove himself from future proceedings in an environmental funding case.

The legislative leaders filed their disqualification request with Circuit Judge Charles Dodson earlier this week.

On June 28, Dodson had granted a “final (summary) judgment for (the) plaintiffs” in a lawsuit over how lawmakers fund environmental conservation. Summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

A notice of appeal has not yet been filed, according to court dockets. But attorneys sometimes move for disqualification to avoid having the same judge if a suit on appeal gets kicked back down to the lower-court judge for further action.

The case, first filed in 2015, was over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The 2014 constitutional change, mandating state spending for land and water conservation, garnered a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club — sued, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

Dodson agreed, declaring a laundry list of 2015 and 2016 appropriations unconstitutional.

“The clear intent was to create a trust fund to purchase new conservation lands and take care of them,” he wrote. “The conservation lands the state already owned were to be taken care of, certainly, but from non-trust money.”

But Andy Bardos, the GrayRobinson lawyer representing Corcoran and Negron, said in his filing the plaintiffs never asked for a final judgment, “but only for partial summary judgment as to nine of 114 appropriations challenged in (the) complaint—or eight percent of its case.”

That violated lawmakers’ right to due process, Bardos said, which has now “eliminated the Legislative Parties’ confidence in the fairness and impartiality of this proceeding.”

In response, David Guest – one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers – said “the alleged bias is based entirely on Judge Dodson’s rejection of their legal arguments, all of which were squarely presented at various points in the proceedings.

“That a judge finds a party’s legal argument unpersuasive cannot be the basis of a motion to recuse the judge – only the basis for an appeal,” he added.

This sets a very low bar for what counsel for the Legislature considers to be acceptable conduct. Expect more of this kind of play before this case is over.”

As of June 21, the Senate spent $229,172 in total “litigation expenses” defending the suit, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Similar information was not immediately available from the House.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, also a defendant named in his official capacity, said his department “did not obtain outside counsel on this case.”

The full filing, with exhibits, is below:

Marco Rubio backs Matt Caldwell for Ag Commissioner

Wednesday saw Sen. Marco Rubio endorse Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell in the GOP primary for Agriculture Commissioner.

The media release stressed each man’s conservative credentials, a logical move ahead of the August election.

“As the most conservative candidate in the race for Commissioner of Agriculture,” Rubio said, “Matt Caldwell has been an unwavering supporter of the Second Amendment, consistently voted to cut taxes and reduce the size of government, and is a staunch supporter of the right-to-life.”

It’s uncertain what abortion politics have to do with the position at hand. However, Rubio added that “there is no harder working or more qualified candidate in the race for Commissioner of Agriculture.”

Caldwell, “proud to have Senator Rubio’s endorsement,” asserted that he is “working from the winning playbook of Senator Marco Rubio in 2010 when he was the underdog candidate and won because he was the most conservative and the hardest working..”

“Unlike my opponents, I have never voted against our Second Amendment rights, to expand Obamacare in Florida, or to raise taxes on hard working Florida families,” Caldwell said, even as it likewise is uncertain what the connection is between Medicaid expansion and the position at hand.

“As the true conservative candidate in the race,” Caldwell added, “I am battle-tested and ready to stand on principle for Florida’s families.”

The primary election is Aug. 28.

The Rubio endorsement is a key get given the crowded and expensive GOP primary battle.

Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman are all in the mix, with Caldwell, Grimsley and Troutman each having raised more than a million dollars.

Material from Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson was used in this post.

Gwen Graham accepts NARAL endorsement

“As with every election year, all eyes are on Florida.”

That was the message regarding a potential future fight for abortion rights at Wednesday’s Gwen Graham event in Miami.

Graham gathered with supporters to accept the endorsement of NARAL, one of the nation’s largest pro-choice political action committees.

NARAL National Political Director Nicole Brener-Schmitz spoke at the event, emphasizing the group’s focus on Florida. She called the gubernatorial race “one of the most important elections in the 2018 cycle.”

That’s due in part to the recent retirement announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

His decision to retire led some to fear a justice appointed by President Donald Trump would join the court’s other four conservative justices in overturning Roe v. Wade. Indeed, Graham spoke out about that concern in the days following his announcement.

On Monday, Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his selection to replace Kennedy.

Graham responded to that selection on Twitter, writing “Florida: this is not a drill. has nominated another Supreme Court justice who does not believe women have the right to make our own health care decisions. If Brett Kavanaugh is appointed to the court, Roe v. Wade is gravely at risk of being overturned.”

She followed up at Monday’s event, saying, “So where does the fight turn to after that? It turns to the states. And I as governor, the first woman governor of Florida, will make sure that we do not return to the days of backroom abortions.”

Brener-Schmitz also explained why NARAL chose to endorse Graham over her Democratic primary opponents.

“Gwen has been a tireless and a passionate advocate for women’s rights to choose from the start.” Brener-Schmitz referenced Graham’s support in Congress for the Equal Rights Amendment and opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood.

She also attacked state Republicans for passing laws attempting to restrict abortion access in the past. Brener-Schmitz accused Republicans of “making attacking our rights their priority over helping hardworking women get ahead.”

Graham also had strong words for the leading Republican candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I’m going to put a stop to both of you,” she said.

Graham added, “A woman’s right to have control over her own reproductive decisions is on the line.”

She promised to block any efforts to reduce abortion access for women. “Any bill that limits the right to choose that comes across my desk, I will veto it immediately.”

Graham is competing with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach real estate billionaire Jeff Greene, Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King, and former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Recent polling has showed Levine and Graham at the head of the field but with large numbers of undecided voters.

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