Influence Archives - Florida Politics

Kim Daniels files ‘Florida Responsible Parent Act’

Florida State Rep. Kim Daniels filed the “Florida Responsible Parent Act” on Friday, which would protect certain people delinquent in child support payments from being subject to contempt of court.

House Bill 313 amends the section of Florida Statute pertaining to suspending driver’s licenses and motor vehicle registrations for people delinquent in child support payments, adding more categories for exclusion from those penalties.

People “unable to pay support through an Act of God,” through “involuntary unemployment,” or a “medical emergency” would not be subject to those suspensions of driving privileges and car registration.

“If the court finds that the obligor has failed to pay child support due to any of such circumstances, the court may order the obligor to be placed in a work-release program or under supervised home confinement without electronic 133 monitoring,” the bill asserts.

Additionally, Daniels’ bill would extend tax credits, via the Department of Economic Opportunity, to businesses who hired child support scofflaws who are in work-release programs or supervised home confinement.

Alimony reform bill filed for 2017

Update: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, on Friday filed the Senate companion to the House bill, which she says is identical save for  “a few punctuation differences.”


State Rep. Colleen Burton will try again to overhaul the state’s alimony law, filing a bill on Wednesday.

The Lakeland Republican still aims to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed, after last year’s measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Burton said in a phone interview. “It costs families a lot of money to go through a process that has no starting point. This gives judges a starting point, the same in Miami as in Pensacola, and gives predictability to former spouses who are trying to determine alimony.

“I have nothing personal invested in this,” she added. “This is just worth trying again.”

The latest bill (HB 283), however, does not contain child custody provisions that garnered Scott’s disfavor in 2016.

He disapproved of that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

On one side, former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them.

Their exes shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

But Burton’s 26-page bill, among other things, contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

A message for Burton seeking comment was left at her Lakeland district office.

But her Senate counterpart last year, Republican Kelli Stargel also of Lakeland, said in a text message she will not file a companion measure.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in April. “Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.

House bill seeks popular election of president

Timing is everything. And it’s no coincidence that a bill pushing a popular election of the U.S. President was filed by a Florida House Democrat just hours before the runner up in the popular vote was to be inaugurated Friday.

House Bill 311, filed by Broward County Democrat Joe Geller, seeks to enact the Agreement Among the States to Elect President by National Popular Vote.

This agreement has been enacted already by 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The rationale: “shortcomings of the current system of electing the President stem from state winner-take-all statutes (i.e., state laws that award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each separate state).”

Buttressing the argument: the disproportionate amount of attention paid to national campaigns, as we saw in Florida down the stretch in 2016.

Abiding by that agreement, via Geller’s bill, requires a statewide popular election for President & Vice President of United States, and establishes procedure for appointing presidential electors in member states.

The bill would be repealed if the electoral college were abolished.

Geller offered an extended statement, printed in full below.

“Today, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as our next president.

“For the second time since 2000, the winner of the Popular Vote (or as it is called everywhere else in the world, the Vote), will not be sworn in as President. I think that is a problem. My bill will allow Florida to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The bill, if signed into law, would allow the people of Florida to award Florida’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. Florida would be joining 11 other states, along with the District of Columbia, in deciding to award our Electoral College Votes in this manner. The compact would not take effect until a sufficient number of states (including the District of Columbia), possessing a majority of the 270 electoral votes necessary to be elected President, have signed onto the compact.

“The current Electoral College system weakens the effect of each citizen’s voting power in Florida. Florida has 447,202 potential votes for each of its 29 electoral votes, while the state of Wyoming has 70,155 potential votes for each of its 3 electoral votes. As you can see, a vote in Wyoming has more weight and influence than one in Florida.

“The results of the 2016 Presidential Election showed that the Electoral College system is outdated and antiquated, and is anti-democratic, being contrary to the rule of one person, one vote. We do not use a similar system for any other election. Joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would assure that all votes are counted and that they all have the same impact in the election of our most important office.”

Bill would force case reporting requirements on Supreme Court

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida House would force the state Supreme Court to produce a yearly report on how many cases it’s finishing with opinions.

It seems to go against the court’s official Latin motto, “Sat Cito Si Recte,” translated as “Soon enough if done correctly,” or even “Justice takes time.”

“The phrase indicates the importance of taking the time necessary to achieve true justice,” the court’s website says. Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters declined comment on the bill.

The legislation (HB 301), filed by new Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, would require the court to tally in detail “each case on the court’s docket … for which a decision or disposition has not been rendered within 180 days.” 

It then requires a “detailed explanation of the court’s failure to render a decision or disposition” in pending cases older than six months.

The bill also instructs the court to tally cases it decided in the previous year but took longer than six months.

The report “shall be submitted in an electronic spreadsheet format capable of being sorted” and sent to “the Governor, the Attorney General, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

In a phone interview Friday, White – an attorney – said he started hearing from constituents soon after his election about “painfully long wait times for appellate opinions.”

“I thought, let’s just simply ask the court, starting with the Supreme Court, for a modest report,” he said. “A little sunshine and some data will all help us do a better job.”

To those who bring up the court’s motto, he counters with another expression: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Waters did say the court currently has 785 pending cases. “By comparison, the court disposed of 2,432 cases in calendar year 2016,” he said, adding that number “is subject to correction as we routinely audit the final results.”

Coincidentally, the bill is the latest legislation from a Republican-controlled House that’s long been antagonized by rulings its leaders have characterized as “judicial overreach.”

In October, for example, House Speaker Richard Corcoran lambasted a decision invalidating part of the state’s death penalty.

The ruling, requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence, “is just the latest example of the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives,” Corcoran said.

The House also is considering a measure for the 2017 Legislative Session that would impose term limits on judges. At its last hearing, the panel reviewing the legislation also discussed how quickly courts are clearing their caseloads.

Earlier this month, Heather Fitzenhagen – chairwoman of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee – rejected a suggestion that House Republicans want to publish the court for rulings striking down the GOP’s priorities. White also sits on that committee. 

“Absolutely not,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is … (make) sure that all of our branches of government are functioning at the best possible efficiency, and that we’re getting things done in the best manner possible. That justice is served in a timely manner.”

Travis Hutson talks ‘The Process’ and Regulated Industries

In St. Augustine Wednesday for the St. Johns County Delegation meeting, Sen. Travis Hutson discussed a variety of topics with FloridaPolitics.com.

Hutson expects an interesting year.

Among the topics: The Process and his chairmanship of the Senate’s Regulated Industries committee.

***

The ongoing Cold War between Senate and House leadership looms over the session at large.

Hutson isn’t as pessimistic as some media covering it, however.

“Who knows what’s going to happen? There’s no guarantees in Tallahassee,” Hutson said.

“The process has always been, the initial offer’s made from either side and we go through conferencing to kind of balance out those budgets through subcommittees,” Hutson added.

“All I see that the speaker’s really doing is to ask his House members to start that process a little sooner. The House will put up their bills. The Senate, when we go into conferencing, will put up our stuff. And we’ll negotiate the budget. That’s how I anticipate it [working],” Hutson observed.

***

Hutson amplified a Tweet he made earlier this year about an expected active year in his Regulated Industries committee also.

“In Regulated Industries, it’s going to be a really fun year. Stuff’s going to move, and it will move quickly. Stuff that usually dies – if you look at the agenda, some of it’s up there already.”

Already in play: issues like casino gaming, an issue on which consensus has proven elusive in previous sessions.

“A perfect year for Regulated Industries would be those dogfights that usually happen, where bills go to die, it doesn’t turn into that anymore. If I put a bill on the agenda, I expect it to move and get out.

“I’m going to challenge that committee. I think we have a good committee, but I’m going to challenge them with some stuff they may like to vote for and they may not like to vote for. It’s going to be interesting, and hopefully those who are pro or con those bills work those members really hard,” Hutson said.

“I don’t even know what I’m going to put up yet on certain situations, depending on the scenario of what I deem good or bad policy,” Hutson adds.

Amendment 2 implementation bill filed in Florida Senate

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate, if passed, would expand the medical marijuana system in the Sunshine State, complying with 2016’s Amendment 2.

However, some critics — inside the Senate and outside as well — have raised concerns, suggesting the bill will not have the smoothest glide path.

Senate Bill 406, filed by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley, would codify Amendment 2, establishing parameters for prescribing physicians, the treatment of minors, mandated yearly examinations for medical marijuana patients, and a requirement of a caregiver registry.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a press release Thursday.

“Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly,” Bradley added.

Sen. Dana Young, chair of the Senate Health Policy committee, is a co-introducer of the legislation. She also worked closely with Bradley on the bill.

“This bill faithfully honors our solemn obligation to the people of Florida to implement Amendment Two,” Young said. “Suffering Floridians will have now real options with no unreasonable delays.” The Health Policy Committee heard testimony from numerous Floridians at a recent committee meeting in Tallahassee.

The bill would amend language in Section 381.986 of Florida statute, changing the title to “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis and marijuana.”

A definition of “medical cannabis” is stricken from the bill, replaced instead with a statement that “marijuana” means what it says in the Florida Constitution.”

“Medical use” of marijuana, in the language of the bill, does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana that was not purchased or acquired from an MMTC registered with the Department of Health.”

Qualifying doctors are allowed to prescribe medical cannabis and “a delivery device,” if they ascertain that a patient has a qualifying condition, and that the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the risks.

To qualify, they will have to take a four hour course from the Florida Medical Association, or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Patients will be allowed a 90 day supply of marijuana, up from 45 in the previous statutory language.

Prescribing cannabis to non-qualified patients will be a misdemeanor of the first degree for prescribing doctors. That same penalty would be imposed on anyone who “fraudulently” claims the kind of debilitating condition that qualifies.

As well, qualified patients who smoke in public, on school grounds, in school buses or other vehicles also will be found guilty of that first degree misdemeanor.

The bill also has provisions for caregivers, who may help administer the cannabis to patients. Caregivers must be over 21 years of age, and must pass a level 2 screening unless related to the caregiver.

Additionally, a patient may have one caregiver at a time, outside of a hospice or nursing home setting.

The department, meanwhile, will register caregivers, physicians, and patients, and have rules set up by July 3, and a system up and running by Oct. 3. By that date, patient and caregiver identification cards will have been issued.

The bill also has provisions for expanding the industry.

Six months after the threshold of 250,000 patients is hit, five more Medical Marijuan Treatment Centers will be brought on line. The same will happen after 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients, and for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

Rules for processing and dispensing cannabis are also established in this bill.

Among them, that dosage info should be labeled with the recommended dose, and that no recreational-style delivery devices, such as bongs and rolling papers and the like, will be made available by the dispensing organization.

All transactions are to be cataloged and recorded, and MMTCs will have 24 hour video recording with archives kept for 45 days in controlled areas, ranging from grow and storage rooms to point of sale locations.

While the Bradley/Young nexus will be formidable, Sen. Jeff Brandes — an advocate of opening up the MMTC market to more providers — doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“I am encouraged that Senator Bradley’s proposal expands access to medical marijuana for more patients, and I am further encouraged that his proposal begins to chip away at the unnecessary regulatory hurdles burdening Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. However, I believe the voters of Florida voiced their overwhelming support for a new approach to the regulation of medical marijuana in this state, not a revision to the existing framework,” Brandes said in a statement Thursday.

“I am continuing to work on what I believe is the most free-market option to address the implementation of Amendment 2. I look forward to releasing my proposal in the coming weeks and working with Senator Bradley as well as my fellow colleagues to implement the will of the Florida voters,” Brandes added.

Ben Pollara of United for Care also had some thoughts on the legislation.

“Senator Bradley’s bill is an encouraging start to the legislative process of implementing the medical marijuana amendment. His approach certainly stands in stark contrast to the proposed rule issued earlier this week by DOH by respecting the basic elements and language of the constitution,” Pollara noted.

“The two most important elements of implementation are respecting the sanctity and primacy of the doctor-patient relationship under the law,” Pollara added, “and diversifying and expanding the marketplace to best serve patient access.”

The caveats were inevitable, of course.

“Bradley’s bill does a mostly excellent job respecting the doctor-patient relationship. However, the bill doesn’t sufficiently expand the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers to serve the estimated patient population, nor does the proposed expansion occur quickly enough to keep up with a patient population that will quickly boom across the state. It also leaves in place the current requirement of vertical integration that stifles innovation, diversity and ultimately patient access,” Pollara added.

Long story short? The future of medical marijuana in Florida is going to be robustly contested at least through this session.

fontainebleau miami

Bill Galvano, behind gambling expansion, worked for resort seeking slots

The powerful state senator trying to push through a dramatic expansion of gambling in Florida recently was working for the company that owns an iconic Miami Beach hotel interested in adding slot machines.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and attorney, has acknowledged to The Associated Press that he did legal work for Turnberry Associates on a “commercial transaction” as recently as three years ago.

Turnberry Associates is a real-estate development company that owns the famed Fontainebleau Hotel.

In the last several years, the hotel has showered top politicians in the state and the Republican Party with more than $2 million in campaign contributions, including money that went to a political committee controlled by Galvano.

Galvano last week released a major gambling bill that covers everything from legalizing fantasy sports to allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

But the legislation, which will have its first legislative hearing next week, also would allow the addition of slot machines in Miami-Dade County.

Galvano earlier this month said he has no plans to work again for Turnberry and he insisted his past work for them was not influencing how he crafted the bill.

“The reality is whatever is in that bill … is going to be what I believe is the best path for the state of Florida, where I think the Senate wants to go based on the last several years,” Galvano said. “And my legal work has no impact on it.”

Galvano has become one of the most important legislators on gambling. While in the Florida House, he was instrumental in helping shape a 2010 deal with the Seminole Tribe that granted them the right to offer blackjack at most of their casinos and gave them a monopoly on slot machines outside of South Florida.

The state has collected nearly $1.7 billion from the tribe as a result.

But the blackjack provision expired in 2015. And with dog and horse tracks also lobbying hard to expand, the Florida Legislature rejected a new larger deal negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott that would have also allowed the tribe to offer craps and roulette.

Galvano was tapped by Senate President Joe Negron to take the lead on trying to push together a gambling overhaul for the 2017 session.

Galvano’s financial disclosures to the state show that his main source of income comes from his law firm and his legislative salary. Citing attorney-client privilege, he declined to go into detail about his work for Turnberry, although he said it had nothing to do with helping Turnberry seek a gambling license.

Julian Schnee, who works for a public relations agency that represents the Fontainebleau, declined to answer questions about Galvano’s hiring, the hotel’s campaign contributions or the hotel’s interest in acquiring slot machines.

Campaign finance records show that since 2010 the Fontainebleau has donated nearly $2.3 million in contributions, including more than $800,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Political committees run by Galvano have received $90,000 in campaign contributions, while one controlled by Negron has received $75,000.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press

David Wilkins consulting at struggling VISIT FLORIDA

David Wilkins, who led the state’s perennially troubled child welfare agency, is now helping new CEO Ken Lawson right the ship at VISIT FLORIDA.

An internal email sent Wednesday and shared with FloridaPolitics.com says Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families under Gov. Rick Scott in 2011-13, is “assisting VISIT FLORIDA in the review of some of our contracts, processes and procedures.”

The email was sent to staff by Meredith DaSilva, the state tourism agency’s director of executive operations. Wilkins couldn’t be immediately reached Thursday.

Scott also used Wilkins earlier this year to review the budget of Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization, to suggest cuts and savings.

Wilkins resigned from DCF “amid an escalating scandal over the deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child-abuse investigators,” the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller reported in 2013.

Lawson, most recently secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, was brought over after Scott had called on former VISIT FLORIDA CEO Will Seccombe to quit, continuing a shake-up at the organization that saw two other top executives shown the door.

That was from the fallout over how it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull that was vehemently criticized by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Scott then called for an overhaul of how VISIT FLORIDA does business.

Hoping to curb pollution, Randy Fine bill would require inspection of septic tanks

A new bill filed today by Rep. Randy Fine, who represents House District 53, would aim to solve the Indian River Lagoon’s septic tank crisis and help all of Florida’s water quality by requiring the inspection of septic tanks as part of home and other real estate sales.

The Indian River Lagoon was revealed last year to have been polluted by human waste leaking from faulty septic tanks. The number of septic tanks in the area is unknown, but estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands combined in the five counties around the lagoon.

In a news release issued Thursday, Fine says he ran on four issues — solving the Indian River Lagoon problem, improving education, reforming the welfare state, and making Florida the best place in America to start, build, and grow a business.

This bill, called HB 285, would at least get started on the first one.

“There is no question that leaky septic tanks are contributing to water quality challenges across our state, including in our beloved Indian River Lagoon,” he said. “This measure would begin to tackle this issue by ensuring that septic tanks are inspected as part of the suite of inspections that regularly take place during a home sale so that buyers are fully informed about the properties they are considering buying.”

He said the legislation would make sure taxpayers or those on fixed income not planning to sell their homes aren’t burdened.

“Taxpayers will not be responsible for paying for the inspections, or any repairs that result, and those on fixed incomes, with no plans to sell their homes, will not be required to come up with funds for regular inspections,” he said.

Council sees breakdown of trust with Office of Insurance Regulation

Proposed reforms to Florida’s continuing care retirement community regulations ran into heavy flak Wednesday during an advisory council meeting, with the body’s president lamenting a breakdown of trust in the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Joel Anderson, chairman of the Governor’s Continuing Care Advisory Council, complained that office staff unexpectedly unloaded a 61-page rewrite of the statute governing the facilities, also known as CCRCs.

Anderson said he hoped the staff would not view his comments as overly “inflammatory,” saying the council has worked productively with them in the past.

Then he unloaded.

“I promise you that these proposed changes to the law would cause an immediate impact on good-performing CCRCs with proven track records, and also lead to severe consequences for the future of Florida’s CCRCs,” he said.

As an executive at the Village on the Isle retirement community in Venice, he impresses on his colleagues the importance of “trust, rapport, and credibility with each other,” he said.

“These core beliefs apply to us as well, and I am concerned that they do not exist in today’s working relationship with the office and the council and for the Florida CCRCs,” he continued.

“My question is, ‘What has happened … to cause the OIR to act on its own and abandon this approach when it has been proven to work for decades,” Anderson said.

“We won’t survive if we don’t trust each other and trust the process. A unilateral move by any stakeholder, even with the best intentions, can cause a misstep for us as a whole.”

Following hours of testimony and debate, the council voted to encourage the office to continue to investigate increased oversight of ownership changes in financially troubled communities.

But the members turned thumbs-down on proposals to tighten minimum liquidity reserves and other proposed regulations. They wanted emergency repairs where necessary this year, and time to draft broader reforms for the 2018 legislative session.

“We really need a proper vetting of these issues overall, with all the stakeholders involved,” Anderson said in an interview following the meeting.

Of the insurance office staff, he said: “We hope that they will continue to use the council as their resources for advice and support in any of these changes.” He offered to confer with the office via telephone conference call in person.

The dressing-down came during a special meeting of the council, which advises the insurance office about CCRC regulation. It comprises representatives of the industry, accountants and facility residents.

Anderson complained that, during its last meeting in September, office staff said they planned reforms in reaction to a series of CCRC bankruptcies — most notably that of University Village in Tampa.

The office has accused the facility of filing false information, failing to pay more than $4 million in refunds to residents, taking on new residents while being “financially insolvent,” and conducting business in a fraudulent or dishonest manner.

The council asked the office to meet with LeadingAge Florida, a trade organization representing most Florida CCRCs, and the Florida Life Care Residents Association, to come up with a solution.

But council members never had warning of the scale of the changes the office would seek, Anderson said.

“I never believed that we’d end up where we are today,” Anderson said.

Rich Robleto, deputy commissioner for life and health, replied that staff members were trying to solve a threat to senior citizens who place their trust in an insurance product.

“That trust relies in part on the understanding that the office oversees the CCRC industry, and they expect that the office can intervene when the CCRC’s ability to meet its promises is in jeopardy,” Robleto said.

In light of the insolvencies, “further legal protections are needed for us to be able to fulfill that trust that’s put on us. We think it’s dangerous when people think the government can do something for them that it cannot.”

OIR believes the reforms would give the office greater oversight of facility finances, including over dividends and reserves designed to make sure CCRCs meet their obligations to house and care for residents. According to the OIR presentation, such reserves would have to be banked with the state Bureau of Collateral Management.

The office would also oversee ownership changes and facilities expansions. Residents would see improved consumer protections, including notice of any examination reports or legal proceedings.

Anderson and other members of the council — including CCRC representatives and Jacksonville CPA Trey Gunn — worried the regulations would put a financial straitjacket on the facilities. And punish well-run facilities along with the bad.

Ed Kenny, president and CEO of Des Moines-based LCS, which operates CCRCs, said his company has pulled out of plans to acquire a troubled Florida community because of the proposals.

Robleto said the office did confer with LeadingAge Florida and the residents, and planned continued discussions. The draft bill, he said, staff presented for purposes of discussion.

Following the meeting, Robleto said he was grateful for the council’s advice.

“We will take these back, and we will see what we can do without proposed legislation to recognize some of the good points they made,” he said.

“They didn’t direct us to change the bill,” he continued. “They gave us advice. We will continue to work with other parties. We’re still in the gathering-of-information stage, but this has been very helpful for us.”

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