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Poll: Voters unsure on offshore drilling ban, ballot amendment rules

A new poll found Florida voters have mixed feelings on Constitution Revision Commission proposals that would ban offshore drilling and move the goal posts on ballot amendments.

The Clearview Research poll found 54 percent of voters were on board for a constitutional amendment to ban offshore oil and gas drilling, while 42 percent were against the measure, contained in CRC Proposal 91.

“Somewhat surprisingly, a ban on offshore oil drilling does not poll as high as one might have guessed given Florida’s history on this issue,” said Clearview President Steve Vancore. “At 54 percent – 42 percent and a very low number of undecided voters (only 4 percent), this would have a hard time crossing the 60 percent threshold.”

Still, the poll found most in favor of the idea were resolute in their support – 43 percent said they would definitely vote yes, while 11 percent said they would probably support the amendment.

The opposition was a little softer.

Of the 42 percent who said they were against the ban, just 14 percent said they were firm no-voters, while 28 percent said they were leaning in that direction.

Another proposal that would change the rules on how constitutional amendments are approved received a similarly tepid response in the poll.

CRC Proposal 97 would require ballot amendments to get 60 percent of the total vote in an election to pass, rather than 60 percent of those who mark their opinion on their ballot.

In the 2016 election, Floridians cast nearly 9.5 million votes yet only 9.1 million marked “yes” or “no” on the medical marijuana amendment.

Under Prop 96, the amendment would need to achieve 60 percent support among the 9.5 million voters who participated in the election rather than the 9.1 million who voted for or against it – a difference of nearly a quarter million votes.

The poll found 55 percent supported the change, while 27 percent were opposed.

Among the backers, 26 percent were strongly in favor and 29 percent were leans. About one in six voters said they were strongly against the proposal, while 11 percent were leaning toward voting against it and 18 percent were unsure.

Vancore said the breakdown puts it “on the cusp of passing.”

The poll contacted 750 likely Florida voters between March 1 and March 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.58 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The firm has also released polls this week measuring the Rick Scott v. Bill Nelson U.S. Senate race and two others, each measuring voter sentiment on three CRC proposals.

Clearview Research assumes 41 percent of voters in November will be registered Republicans and 39 percent will be Democrats.

Poll: Florida voters overwhelmingly want ‘Marsy’s Law’

Voters are overwhelmingly in favor of a Constitution Revision Commission proposal that would add victims’ rights to the Florida Constitution.

The proposal, known as “Marsy’s Law,” establishes a Victim Bill of Rights which would require crime victims to be told about their rights as well as services available to them and entitles them to updates on criminal proceedings, to be informed of meetings between the accused and state attorneys before plea deals are handed out, and gives them the option to attend and speak during court proceedings.

The proposal is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. All but 15 states, including Florida, enumerate victims’ rights in their constitutions.

A Clearview Research poll, released Thursday, found more than three-quarters of voters would vote for such an amendment if it was on the 2018 ballot.

Marsy’s Law is contained in CRC Proposal 96, sponsored by Commissioner Timothy Cerio. The proposal scored similarly high marks in past polls Florida voters and on Tuesday a pair of state attorneys offered their endorsement.

“The so-called Marsy’s Law proposal is a near lock to pass as it sits at 78 percent support and voters seem to clearly want the rights of crime victims to be expanded,” Clearview Research President Steve Vancore said. “In fact, both ‘rights’ proposals lead the pack in term of support, with the nursing home residents’ rights drawing 86 percent and expanded victims’ rights pulling 78 percent.”

Of those who were in favor, 52 percent said they would definitely vote in favor of Marsy’s Law, while 26 percent said they would likely vote for the amendment.

Only 13 percent of those polled said they were against the proposal, including 7 percent put themselves down as definitely voting no, while 9 percent said they were unsure how they would vote.

The Clearview Research poll contacted 750 likely Florida voters between March 1 and March 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.58 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The firm has also released polls this week measuring the Rick Scott v. Bill Nelson U.S. Senate race and two others, each measuring voter sentiment on three CRC proposals.

The poll estimates 41 percent of voters in November will be registered Republicans and 39 percent will be Democrats.

New state budget lands on Rick Scott’s desk

The clock is now ticking on Gov. Rick Scott to act on his final state budget.

The Legislature sent a newly passed $88.7 billion fiscal plan to the governor’s office Wednesday, giving Scott 15 days to decide the line-by-line fate of how lawmakers want to spend money, from big-ticket items such as education and health care to numerous local projects backed by individual lawmakers.

Asked when Scott might act on the budget, a spokesman responded Wednesday in an email, “We’ll keep you updated on this.”

The budget (HB 5001), which was approved by the House and Senate on Sunday, was among 47 bills formally sent Wednesday to Scott, who cannot seek a third term in November.

The 452-page budget, among other things, would increase public-school funding by $101.50 per student, provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. The spending plan will take effect July 1, the start of the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Last year, Scott used his line-item veto pen to slash $410 million in projects across the state, saying they failed to “provide a great return for Florida families.”

Included on the 2017 chopping block were $20.9 million for citrus-canker payments in Broward County and $16.5 million for similar payments in Lee County.

Legislators had agreed to pay the money to compensate residents in a class-action suit who had lost orange, grapefruit and other citrus trees as part of a Florida Department of Agriculture program to stop the spread of deadly citrus-canker disease. Attorneys for the homeowners raised property-rights arguments in challenging the department’s actions, and a judgment was entered in 2008.

Scott wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that he vetoed the citrus-canker money due to ongoing litigation.

Legislators this year included $22 million for citrus-canker payments in Broward County and $30 million for similar payments in Palm Beach County.

Along with the budget, other bills that reached Scott desk on Wednesday included:

– HB 21, which would take a series of steps to try to curb the state’s opioid crisis. The bill includes limiting opioid prescriptions to three or seven days for many patients.

– HB 1165, which would revamp state laws about approving trauma centers. The bill comes after years of legal and regulatory fights about new trauma centers.

– HB 1011, which would require homeowners’ insurance policies to make clear that they do not cover flood damages and that policyholders might need to consider buying flood insurance.

– HB 7099, which would ratify a rule requiring nursing homes to have generators and 72 hours of fuel. The Scott administration issued the rule after the deaths of Broward County nursing-home residents following Hurricane Irma.

– HB 1013, which would seek to keep Florida on daylight saving time throughout the year.

– HB 155, which would designate Florida cracker cattle as the official state heritage cattle breed.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Lauren Book’s ‘Walk in My Shoes’ takes to the streets of St. Pete

Survivors, advocates, elected officials and law enforcement turned out in St. Petersburg Wednesday to rally for an end to sexual abuse, taking added significance in light of the growing #MeToo movement.

Hosted by the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids, the rally was part of the 8th Annual Walk in My Shoes, a 13-day Tallahassee-to-Key-West advocacy event led by founder and CEO Lauren Book.

With Wednesday’s 4.8-mile walk, which began at the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters, protesters wanted to send a message: “Enough is enough!”

Since 2010, Book — herself a sexual abuse survivor, advocate, mother of twins and now state Senator from Plantation — has walked throughout Florida every year to raise awareness and eradicate sexual abuse.

In 2018, Walk in My Shoes — along with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — illustrates there is still more to do to remove the shame surrounding sexual abuse, protect Floridians, support survivors and hold abusers accountable.

According to statistics cited on the Lauren’s Kids website, a sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds in the U.S. One in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys in America will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday by someone they know, love and trust.

However, since statistics also show that 95 percent of child sexual abuse can be prevented through education and awareness, Lauren’s Kids has made it a mission to walk through cities across Florida to educate the public.

“We are proud to share the road with the St. Petersburg Police Department, along with survivors, advocates and elected officials all committed to increasing awareness and protecting children,” Book said a statement.  “Our law enforcement partners set the tone as the first responders to abuse reports. This department has long sent a strong message that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse in the St. Petersburg community.”

Walk in My Shoes — which crisscrosses the state every year — began Saturday in Tallahassee, a departure from its traditional starting point in Key West, which is still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

Since she also serves as a state lawmaker, Book postponed the walk until after the recently ended Legislative Session.

During this year’s 60-day work period, Book had sponsored several bills to combat sexual abuse and assault — including those aiming to hold hotels accountable if they turn a blind eye to human trafficking (SB 1044) as well as legislation to combat sexual harassment in state government (CS/SB 1628).

“We recognize that one way to foster a safe community is by proactively aligning ourselves with organizations committed to crime prevention and keeping our citizens safe,” said Sgt. Jason Deary of the St. Petersburg Police Department Crime Watch Unit. “Lauren’s Kids has done a tremendous job increasing awareness about the threat of sexual abuse while empowering children and adults with tools to keep themselves aware and informed.”

While in Pinellas County, the Lauren’s Kids team also visited the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to refresh a children’s intake room with a Dr. Seuss theme. The intake room is designed to be a safe place for children involved in a crime. Participants updated the area to help it become more comfortable and friendly for children experiencing trauma.

After traversing the state, 2018’s Walk in My Shoes will conclude with a celebration in Key West on Mallory Square Friday, March 23.

For a full schedule or learn more, visit LaurensKids.org.

‘It was time for a sabbatical’: Scandals drive Brian Pitts away

After years of being a persistent—sometimes annoying—presence in committee rooms across the Capitol, only one thing was able to make Tallahassee’s best-known gadfly hang up his corduroy jacket: a snowball of scandals.

“Latvala, Clemens, Artiles—all this happened in one year. In one year! No, that is not acceptable and it was too much. It was time for a sabbatical,” said Brian Pitts, a self-described “civil activist” for Justice 2 Jesus.

Former Sen. Frank Artiles stepped down after using the n-word to refer to one of his colleagues in an alcohol-fueled night out in downtown Tallahassee.

Ousted Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Clemens resigned late last year after being accused of having extra-marital affairs with women in their political orbit. Latvala is currently under criminal investigation on accusations that he may have traded votes for sex.

“Latvala was an old fool trying to play with the young bucks as they do,” Pitts said. “Instead of using that institutional knowledge, he goes and acts like the young bucks, and he got caught.”

But Pitts said cases of misconduct began to take a toll on him early last year, before the sex scandals.

First was state Rep. Cary Pigman, who was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Then came former state Rep. Daisy Baez, who resigned for violating residency rules, and later what he calls an “abuse of leadership” by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The last drop, though, was Sen. Oscar Braynon, he said.

The Miami Democrat was sponsoring his claims bill and after Braynon apologized for having a relationship with Sen. Anitere Flores that “evolved to a level [they] deeply regret,” he considered his bill tainted. Both senators are married.

“The Braynon and Flores affair, that was it,” Pitts said. “I gave the Legislature the opportunity to do without Mr. Gadfly or Mr. Preacher.”

That’s why Pitts said he vanished this Session. It wasn’t an illness. Or money issues, he assures. It was the pervasive misconduct that “came short of breaking the law” that pushed him out.

If he would’ve stayed, he didn’t know if he would be able to conduct himself appropriately in committee.

“I would have had to be dealing with them publicly in between their bills to say, ‘y’all got so many issues and are not in the position to deal with Floridians right now,’ and that would have been disrespectful,” the St. Petersburg resident said.

In his absence, the Capitol was stripped from his classic phrases that include “if the bill is too long, you know there’s somethin’ wrong,” “Jesus wouldn’t agree with this,” or “I’m telling you right now, before you shoot yourself in the foot.”

There were also no sightings of Pitts doing research on the lone computer in the corner of the Capitol’s fifth floor, diligently taking notes.

In place of his absence, he left a Twitter rant in all caps—as is his style—as a message ahead of the 2018 legislative session start. And once gone, another person took over his gadfly role: Greg Pound.

Pound, like Pitts, is a man who uniquely testifies on many topics and in many committees. But Pitts is more tame at the podium than Pound, something the Justice 2 Jesus activist says he is trying to teach him how to do.

“I tell him, ‘you still have to have respect for them’ and I say, ‘you are dealing with issues on the bill, this is not a soap box,’” Pitts said. “But he gets whacked out because he doesn’t follow the process.”

One classic example was when Pound marched to the podium and name-dropped an InfoWars article citing Parkland shooting victims as actors. This was said during the first Senate committee hearing on the controversial gun and school safety measure that was crafted in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre where 17 were killed and many others were injured.

His testimony was heard in a room packed with opponents of the bill, including Parkland student survivors and parents who lost their children in the school shooting.

“He gets too emotional, he is a class of his own,” Pitts said.

Whether Pitts will be back next session is unclear, but regardless of what happens, he said he is still keeping an eye on what goes on in Tallahassee. His job is to fight for “whatever is right for Floridians.”

“I continue to watch because I am not done with it. I have to watch because I need to know what is going up there because I need to know how it affect the locals,” Pitts said.

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.


Mike McCalister enters Agriculture Commissioner race

Mike McCalister entered the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, setting up a four-way Republican primary to replace Adam Putnam, who is termed-out and running for Governor.

Florida Politics previously reported that McCalister, a retired Army Colonel, was eyeing a run for the seat with a decision to come in early spring.

McCalister got some name recognition when he ran for governor in 2010, the same year Rick Scott won his first term, and when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2012. He took 10 percent in the Republican Primary for governor — more than 130,000 votes — despite spending less than $10,000 on his campaign.

Chatter about McCalister launching another campaign for statewide office grew loud early in the year as he made stops at Republican clubs and town hall meetings.

His efficiency in 2010 will come in handy in the Ag Commissioner race, where each of his three primary opponents has crossed the $1 million mark in total fundraising.

McCalister joins Lehigh Acres Rep Matt Caldwell, Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican Primary for the Cabinet position. Also running are Democrats Jeffrey Porter, David Walker and Thomas White.

Troutman leads the field in fundraising due to a $2.5 million self-contribution. He has $2.7 million on hand, followed by Caldwell with $1.11 million and Grimsley with about $910,000.

The primary election is in late August.

Poll: Voters favor tax supermajority, ALF resident rights proposals

A new poll on measures being considered by the Constitution Revision Commission found Florida voters were in favor of requiring a legislative supermajority for any tax increases and want enumerated rights for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The Clearview Research poll also found voters were split on a proposal that would outlaw betting on greyhound races.

The nursing home and ALF resident rights measure, Proposal 88, was viewed favorably by 86 percent of those polled, with more than two-thirds of respondents saying they would definitely vote yes if it was on the ballot.

Only 10 percent said they were against the proposal, including 5 percent who said they were strongly against it.

“While there has been much talk about what should or should not be in the Florida Constitution, we see consistent support for the notion that ‘rights’ of citizens should be included,” the pollster said. “If placed on the ballot and worded even closely to the language drafted by [Commissioner Brecht Heuchan], we are confident this will pass by a comfortable margin.”

Proposal 72, which would require two-thirds of state lawmakers to vote in favor of a tax increase for it to pass muster, also broke the 60 percent threshold needed for constitutional amendments with 64 percent saying they were in favor.

Of those who said they were leaning toward voting for the amendment, more than two-fifths said their support was resolute. Another 29 percent said they were against the proposal, with 15 percent saying their opposition was firm.

Clearview said Prop 72 is “a clear and easy-to-understand measure that seems to have enough support to pass, and without an organized campaign to defeat it, likely will.”

The third measure voters were queried on was the greyhound wagering ban, Proposal 67, which has the support of 45 percent of voters and is opposed by 44 percent. Just one-third of those polled said they were firmly in favor of such a ban, while 19 percent said they were firmly against it.

Clearview chalked up the split, at least partially, to the proposal’s language. Prop 67 wouldn’t outlaw dog tracks in the Sunshine State, just betting on the races.

“Given this confusion, versus the stated intent during committee discussions, we are relatively confident that changing this approach will have a profound impact on the results.”

The Clearview Research poll contacted 750 likely Florida voters between March 1 and March 7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.58 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The firm has also released polls this week measuring the Rick Scott v. Bill Nelson U.S. Senate race and another trio of CRC proposals.

The poll estimates 41 percent of voters in November will be registered Republicans and 39 percent will be Democrats.

In the face of NRA lawsuit, Rick Scott proud of gun control bill

The Legislative Session ended with a flourish from the National Rifle Association: a lawsuit against the state for the newly-passed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The law bars most groups of people under 21 from buying guns, mandates a three-day waiting period before buying a firearm, bans bump stocks, could arm some school personnel, mandates a law enforcement presence in schools, and allows police to confiscate guns from people perceived to be a threat.

Gov. Rick Scott, up until the bill passed, enjoyed NRA acclamation; in the wake of the bill signing, Scott has been criticized from the right for what is perceived to be gun control legislation.

In Jacksonville on Tuesday, Scott stood his ground.

“I’m proud of what the Legislature did,” Scott told reporters. “I worked with the Legislature to pass a bill that would improve school safety. I asked them to come back with a bill that is going to increase the amount of law enforcement officers at schools. All schools will have law enforcement officers. They did that.”

“I said I need a bill that’s going to increase hardening in our schools, safety in our schools; they did that. I said I need a bill that’s going to say we’re going to have more mental health counselors to help the individuals struggling with mental illness in our schools. They did that,” Scott said.

“I also said that if you are an individual struggling with mental illness, or you threatened others or yourself, you shouldn’t have access to a gun. They did that,” Scott added.

“I’m an NRA member. I’m going to continue to be an NRA member. I believe in the Second Amendment,” Scott continued. “There’s three branches of government. I’m going to continue to fight for this legislation.”

In addition to fighting for the legislation despite the NRA legal challenge, Scott is also attempting to get help from U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee members today regarding inaction on tips about Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz.

“The Governor spoke to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to push for answers from the FBI on their inaction after receiving multiple, credible tips regarding Nikolas Cruz. The FBI has failed to hold anyone accountable. The Governor strongly believes that victims and their families deserve answers,” said McKinley P. Lewis, Scott’s Deputy Communications Director

Also on hand at the Jacksonville event: Rep. Jay Fant, a candidate for Attorney General who opposed the bill in the Legislature.

Fant said the bill presents a “true constitutional question.”

“As Attorney General, my policy would be to see that portion of the law rescinded,” Fant said.

The age restrictions strike Fant as the most “inflammatory” part of the legislation.

“From a leadership standpoint, I’ve not been a big fan of that aspect of the school safety bill. We’ll have to see what happens,” Fant said,

Fant noted that, as opposed to his position on the legislation, the current Attorney General was “quite favorable toward the bill” before it became law.

“These are true constitutional issues. These aren’t regular bills. These are the Bill of Rights. So it’s a different stratosphere for analysis,” Fant added.

Six days after saying he was out, Larry Lee reconsiders re-election

In the midst of an emotional last week of Session, a tearful state Rep. Larry Lee Jr. told his colleagues in the Florida House in a 40-minute speech that he would not seek re-election.

Six days later, he is reconsidering that decision.

He is rethinking things because he says his phone has not stopped ringing. And now, his mother has recommended to “close his ears” to those talking to him, search for solitude and figure out what to do.

Lee told Florida Politics he was not in the “best frame of mind” when he decided to pull the plug on his political career last week.

The Port St. Lucie Democrat was emotional and frustrated with the legislative process in the wake of the Parkland school massacre that left 17 dead and several wounded. Lee was one of the lawmakers who wanted to vote down the controversial gun and school safety measure and have Gov. Rick Scott call for a special session to resolve the issue.

He told colleagues he was resigning on the day the House would vote on the contentious proposal.

“That morning it all culminated,” Lee said. “It took those kids from Parkland to push me. I felt like we let them down. Some of our members said we should give them something, but I wanted to give them more.”

Two days before he made the public decision on the House floor, House Speaker Richard Corcoran called him into his office and asked him to take some time to consider not leaving his post.

Corcoran also gave him homework: to read the Book of Romans and the Bible verse John 8:32, which reads: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But Lee never did his homework.

“I was afraid that it might touch me and that I might want to stay,” said Lee, a religious man.

He then took a couple of days to mull it over, and with a “heavy heart” he sent a letter to Corcoran and told colleagues it was time for him to leave. A move he said lifted “tremendous weight off his shoulders.”

Lee has served in the Legislature since 2012 and admits that he has never wanted to be a politician, and even says he was naive to believe he could spark change from Tallahassee. But here he is, debating whether he should stay in the game.

He expects to reach a final decision in a couple of weeks, but admits that he has read the verse Corcoran asked him to read and he “still does not know the truth.”

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