Influence Archives - Florida Politics

Tom Lee may file constitutional amendment to ban dog racing

State Sen. Tom Lee, who also sits on the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), has been gauging support for a constitutional amendment to end greyhound racing, sources told Florida Politics on Tuesday.

Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican running for state chief financial officer in 2018, has called some of the state’s dog track owners to “take their temperature,” said one industry lobbyist, who asked not to be named.

“There’s not many people that know about that,” Lee confirmed after a CRC meeting Tuesday. “It’s something that has been on my mind … There’s no question I’m considering it.”

The details still haven’t been sussed out, he added, including whether to make it immediate or phase it in over time. He’s also still weighing what effect it will have on jobs. Commissioners face an Oct. 31 filing deadline.

“It wouldn’t be optional; this isn’t decoupling,” Lee, a former Senate president, said of his proposal. “This would be a mandatory ban for dog racing in Florida, to just prohibit it.”

“Decoupling” is the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms. Under decoupling, tracks could still choose to run dogs.

Lee also said his amendment wouldn’t affect any other gambling now permitted at tracks.

Efforts to remove the live racing requirement have failed in the Legislature in recent years, including this past session, as lawmakers continually fail to pass comprehensive gambling legislation.

Yet another lobbyist said the Lee amendment “is not an (pari-mutuel) industry thing … We didn’t bring this to him.”

That person added, “My guess? It’s a feel-good animal rights issue that probably polls well.”

Some pari-mutuels want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline every year. Horse and dog interests say ending live racing will kill their business, many of whom have bred dogs for generations.

But track ownership’s reaction to his proposal has been a “mixed bag,” said another racing industry consultant. “Despite what they tell you, some tracks still make quite a bit of money” from dog racing, the consultant said.

Flagler Dog Track, for instance, reported nearly $4 million in revenue from greyhound races for 2015-16, according to state records. And Palm Beach Kennel Club reported close to $9.3 million in revenue from the “handle,” the total amount wagered at a track in a racing season.

Jack Cory, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association in Florida, said “let it roll” when told of the proposal.

“That would be fine,” Cory said. “That is the only proper way to eliminate live pari-mutuels in this state, and that is what we would be talking about. Of course, that would also create mini-casinos throughout Florida.

“… But again, if (the commission) wants to run that amendment, hey, lock and load,” he added.

The Constitution Revision Commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.

The panel is required to wrap up its work by May 10, 2018. 

Regulators deal with FPL nuclear license, costs

Grappling with a long-discussed nuclear project in Miami-Dade County, state regulators Tuesday backed Florida Power & Light continuing to pursue a critical license for two new reactors — but turned down a company request involving costs.

The decisions by the state Public Service Commission were the latest chapter in years of controversy about a 2006 law aimed at increasing nuclear power in the state and FPL’s subsequent proposal to build the reactors at its Turkey Point complex. Julie Brown, who chairs the Public Service Commission, pointed Tuesday to key issues surrounding the project.

“Whether the (2006) statute has worked out for customers is a question that everyone has,” Brown said. “And whether Turkey Point 6 and 7 (the proposed reactors) are going to come online and are feasible, are practical, are realistic is a question that we as regulators have. Like it or not, nuclear power has been (a) very important (part) of our fleet over decades for many, many Floridians. It’s provided clean energy, it’s been reliable.”

The issues confronting the commission Tuesday were rooted, at least in part, in the 2006 law, which allowed utilities to recover money from customers during the early stages of work on nuclear projects. That is different from the way utilities typically recoup money after power plants are finished and start producing electricity.

As of the end of 2016, FPL had spent $260 on licensing efforts for the reactors and is likely within months of receiving a critical federal approval known as a “combined operating license,” according to a Public Service Commission staff recommendation.

But in a filing this year, FPL proposed what it described as a “pause” in recovering project costs incurred after Dec. 31, 2016. The request effectively sought to defer for a number of years costs that customers would pay and temporarily eliminate the need for annual regulatory hearings on the project.

Opponents of the request, however, argued FPL had not submitted a needed study that would show whether the nuclear project is feasible. They contended that the company should not be allowed to continue running up costs and then be able to come back in the future and recover the money from customers under what is known as the “nuclear cost recovery clause.”

Public Service Commission staff members recommended rejection of the utility’s request to defer costs without the feasibility study. Commissioners went along with that recommendation Tuesday, turning down FPL’s proposal in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Gary Clark dissenting.

FPL customers also will not pay any nuclear costs in 2018. Commissioners made clear, however, that FPL might have other avenues in the future to try to recoup the money it is spending on the combined operating license — outside of the nuclear-cost recovery clause. That could include seeking recovery through the process of setting base electric rates.

State Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, whose office represents consumers in utility cases, expressed concern after Tuesday’s meeting that FPL could seek the money through another route. Kelly’s office opposed allowing the deferral of costs.

“Are you giving the utility two bites at the apple?” Kelly said. “And we think that would be inappropriate.”

During the meeting, the commission also unanimously supported a finding that it is reasonable for FPL to continue pursuing the combined operating license. Commissioner Art Graham said the license would provide a long-term option for the utility to eventually build nuclear reactors.

“I think the COL is basically a 20-year option,” Graham said. “Are we going to do it in the foreseeable future? Are we looking to have that option on the table? And I think we’ve come this far, you need to have that option on the table.”

Brown and Clark said the state has become increasingly dependent in recent years on natural gas to fuel power plants, suggesting that it might need nuclear power to help diversify in the future. They also pointed to the large amount of money already spent on seeking the license.

“I think that the continued pursuit of this license is critical from an infrastructure standpoint, from a base-capacity standpoint,” Clark said. “Our current dependence on natural gas is extremely alarming to me.”

FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski released a statement after the meeting saying the utility will continue pursuing the license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We have a responsibility to provide for the energy needs of our customers today and well into the future,” the statement said. “As we invest in high-efficiency natural gas energy and one of the largest solar expansions on the Eastern seaboard, we continue to believe having the option to add clean, zero-emissions nuclear energy is important for Florida’s energy future.

“After nearly a decade of working through lengthy, stringent regulatory processes at the local, state and federal levels, we are on track to receive final approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the coming months, and we intend to complete the licensing process such that the option of new nuclear power is available for our customers for many years into the future.”

The utility also touted a less-controversial move Tuesday by regulators that approved a $7.3 million rate reduction for customers in 2018. That reduction stems from what is known as an “over recovery” of nuclear-project costs from customers in 2015 and 2016.

Tahirih Justice Center thanks lawmakers for bills banning child marriage

An organization dedicated to ending violence against women and girls lauded Florida lawmakers Tuesday for filing bills that would make child marriage illegal under state law.

Republicans Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Frank White filed identical bills in the House and Senate – HB 335 and SB 140 – that would outlaw marriage for anyone under 18.

Democratic Rep. Daisy Baez filed a similar measure, HB 71, earlier this year in response to news reports of a Cutler Bay man who committed suicide rather than face possible legal repercussions for sexually abusing multiple girls — one of whom he married — lured into his home as foreign exchange students.

She also filed a bill, HM 99, that would provide stricter background checks for would-be host families.

The Tahirih Justice Center thanked the lawmakers for putting those bills forward.

“Allowing children to marry robs them of a childhood and forces them into mature situations for which they are not physically, emotionally, or financially prepared,” said Jeanne Smoot, the senior counsel for policy and strategy at Tahirih.

“Once married, they can face abuse and find themselves trapped in a violent relationship for years without the resources or options an adult would have to escape. We are incredibly grateful to Senator Benacquisto and her Senate co-sponsors as well as Representatives Nuñez and White for joining together to tackle this problem and offering well thought out solutions to protect Florida’s children.”

The lawmakers who filed the bills aren’t the only ones on the case. Earlier this year Florida’s child marriage  problem caught the attention of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, who was floored after hearing the story of a constituent who became pregnant at age 10 and was married off to her rapist at age 11.

“When you first watch a story like that, it makes you angry and it’s kind of like, how is this possible?”, Simpson told WTSP, the news outlet that shined a light on the child bride story over the summer, before vowing to push for a law change in 2018. “A 17-year-old can’t buy a house, can’t sign a contract, can’t do anything legally binding, but a 10-year-old can get married. That’s about a ridiculous thing that I have ever heard and sometimes an ounce of common sense goes a long ways.”

Since the turn of the century, more than 16,000 Florida minors have been named in marriage licenses issued and approved by the state. More than 3,000 of those marriages occurred this decade.

Tahirih said sexual contact between the spouses in 400 of those marriages would constitute a sex crime if the pair were not married. It added that more than 100 of the marriages since 2010 featured a minor marrying an adult at least a decade older than them.

The organization also provided a top-10 list of counties where the most child marriages have occurred over the past six years, and it reads like the list of the 10 most populous Florida counties with Jacksonville’s Duval County being the lone exception.

The list accounts for about half of the 3,000-marriages cited by the group since 2010.

Tahirih’s Tuesday statement follows their recent report, “Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America.”

In addition to providing legislative guidance for ending child marriage, the report includes eye-opening data on the practice’s prevalence in the United States: only three states have outlawed the child marriage, while half of the states have no minimum marriage age on the books, and in eight states plus D.C. a clerk can approve a child marriage without the input of a judge.

Cabinet approves protecting Okeechobee ranch land

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet agreed Tuesday to spend about $5.7 million to conserve more than 2,500 acres of ranch land in a deal that nearly depletes this year’s funding for a program used to keep agricultural property from development.

The deal — known as purchasing a conservation easement — allows the owners of the Corona Ranch in Okeechobee County to continue using the land for cattle, but it prevents future development of the property, which drains into the Kissimmee River.

Owned by the Corona family, the land, which is less than five miles south of Kissimmee Prairie State Park, houses species such as gopher tortoises, fox squirrels, and burrowing owls and has had three recent Florida Panther sightings, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

About 34 percent of the land is considered wetlands. The Corona family, which started in the cattle business in the mid-1800s in Cuba, has been ranching in Florida since 1961, including since the 1980s on the Okeechobee property.

Money for the deal comes from the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which has been championed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The program has been used 31 times by the current Cabinet since 2011 to preserve 35,644 acres.

“With more than 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, we must continue to prioritize the conservation of our agricultural lands and world-renowned natural spaces,” Putnam said.

In the 2017-2018 budget, $10 million was set aside for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said after Tuesday’s meeting the deal uses the remaining funding from the program.

“We’re going to go back the Legislature and ask them to put more money in the program,” Draper said. “It’s been so successful it’s already generated 38,000 acres of land that has been conserved (since the program’s start).”

Republicans should at least give Competitive Workforce Act a hearing, business leaders urge

A coalition of Florida business leaders is calling on the GOP-led Legislature to ensure a bill seeking a statewide ban on discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation at least gets heard in the House and Senate in the 2018 Session.

Florida Competes is comprised of 10 Fortune 500 companies, 30 major employers and more than 450 local businesses. The coalition sent a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, demanding the bill — at a minimum — be heard in committee.

HB 347, also known as The Competitive Workforce Act, was introduced in the House Monday by St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond and Titusville Republican Rene Plasencia, and by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens in the Senate.

The 2018 Session will mark the 10th year in a row the bill will be introduced, as it slowly gains more sponsors. During the 2017 Session, a record number of bipartisan co-sponsors — 70, with 19 Republicans and 51 Democrats — joined to support the bill.

Despite that backing, the measure failed to be placed on either the House or Senate calendars.

Signatories include Eric S. Woolworth, the president of the Miami HEAT/American Airlines Arena; Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; Joe York, president of AT&T Florida and Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Absent a statewide law, twelve counties and 30 municipalities have already passed local ordinances banning discrimination. But Florida Competes says that’s not good enough.

“This patchwork system is a hindrance to economic development,” they write. “In fact, a 2015 Chamber-sponsored study revealed that Florida employers were losing $362 million annually in productivity and turnover due to discriminatory practices.”

A complete list of coalition members and more information is also available online at

A poll commissioned by business supporting the bill in the fall of 2015 said that 68 percent of Floridians supported changing the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Jason Fischer, Jeff Brandes introduce self-driving cars bill

Self-driving cars would be able to legally cruise Sunshine State highways under a bill filed by Jacksonville House Republican Jason Fischer.

His legislation (HB 353) would allow for the safe and legal operation of “autonomous vehicles.” The bill also calls for updating sections of Florida’s motor vehicle laws that “require or presume” there’s a human behind the wheel.

In a statement, Fischer stressed the safety that autonomous vehicles will bring to Florida.

“Every year in the United States, tens of thousands of people are killed in motor vehicle-related crashes, and more than 90 percent of those crashes are caused by human error,” he said. “Because autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce or even eliminate this error, I plan to do everything in my power to bring these life-saving technologies to the Sunshine State.”

The bill is being sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who has been a champion for AV technology.

“Transportation technology is poised to radically reshape our lives,” Brandes said. “Florida has been a leader in exploring this technology, and with this bill, we continue our commitment to providing Floridians the best options to increase safety, spur redevelopment in our cities and lower costs.”

The American Council of the Blind is supporting the bill.

“At the American Council of the Blind, the foundation of our work is our belief that it is the right of every blind person in this country to be included in society and it is the responsibility of government at all levels to provide the infrastructure of services and equipment that will allow us to fully participate in our communities,” said Anthony Stephens, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs with the American Council of the Blind.

The U.S. House of Representatives has begin moving legislation that could accelerate the rollout of self-driving technology.

The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, or “SELF DRIVE” Act, quickly cleared the House with unanimous support, and now moves to the Senate. If it passes there, it could become the first national law for self-driving cars in the United States.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has expressed concern about the SELF DRIVE Act, writing a letter to congressional leaders asking for clarification between the federal government and the states when it comes to regulating vehicle safety and operations standards.

More variances sought on nursing home generators

At least 21 more long-term care providers have filed requests for variances with the state Agency for Health Care Administration as they seek additional time to comply with Gov. Rick Scott‘s mandate that they add generators that can power air-conditioning systems.

The latest requests were published Monday in the Florida Administrative Register and are in addition to 33 requests for variances published last week. Scott’s administration issued emergency generator rules in September for nursing homes and assisted living facilities after eight residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died. Six more residents died later after being evacuated.

Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning at the nursing home, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which did not have a backup generator for the cooling system.

Long-term care facilities are seeking the variances because a Nov. 15 compliance deadline is nearing, and facilities that aren’t in compliance face steep penalties, including possible license revocation.

Florida law allows variances, saying that the “strict application of uniformly applicable rule requirements can lead to unreasonable, unfair, and unintended results” and, as a result, agencies are authorized to grant variances and waivers to rules that cause a substantial hardship.

To clarify the process, the Scott administration last week issued another emergency rule that, in part, laid out information the Agency for Health Care Administration wants providers to include in the requests for variances. Meanwhile, three industry groups have challenged the rules in the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

A judge is expected to issue a decision within two weeks.

Americans for Prosperity urges Bill Nelson to support Republican budget bill

The conservative fiscal policy organization Americans for Prosperity-Florida Monday urged Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to vote yes on the U.S. Senate’s Republican budget bill.

AFP-FL stressed that the bill contains a set of parameters for a tax reform package that could pass the U.S. Senate by a simple majority vote. The budget blueprint outlined Sept. 29 by the Senate Budget Committee calls for $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts over the next decade.

“A vote against the budget is a vote to obstruct tax reform,” AFP-FL State Director Chris Hudson stated in a news release. “Tax reform will unrig the economy by making the tax code fairer and simpler, and stopping the politicians and well-connected from gaming the code for their personal benefit. If Senator Nelson is serious about helping middle-class Floridians, he should vote ‘Yes’ on the Senate Budget Resolution.”

On Monday the national Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group founded and heavily funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch, sent a letter to Nelson and other senators urging them to vote yes on the Republican proposal.

AFP-FL also indicated it would begin airing an ad urging voters to urge Nelson to do so.

“We urge you to vote YES on the Senate Republican fiscal year 2018 budget resolution. Americans for Prosperity will include this vote in our congressional scorecard,” the letter opens.

“The Senate budget resolution includes many important reforms that would restore responsibility in our federal finances. It reins in federal non-defense discretionary spending by $632 billion, respects the overall discretionary spending caps established by the Budget Control Act, and includes many other provisions that would incite economic growth. Most notably, it provides a pathway for passing comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform,” the letter states. “The resolution includes reconciliation instructions that give the Senate Finance Committee the flexibility it needs to fix the broken tax code.

“Passing a budget resolution is the first step toward delivering a fairer, flatter, and simpler tax code that works better for everyday Americans,” the letter continues. “A vote against the budget resolution is effectively a vote against tax reform. A vote against the budget resolution is a vote for the status quo and the status quo is unacceptable. Conservatives in Washington should not miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity.”


Dept. of Financial Services

Personnel note: Elizabeth Boyd named state’s Deputy CFO

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis on Monday announced that the Department of Financial Services’ long-time legislative affairs director, Elizabeth Boyd, has been promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer.

In this new role, Elizabeth will oversee the Department’s legislative affairs, research and planning, cabinet and communications offices, as well as the Division of Consumer Services and the Division of Unclaimed Property, according to a press release. 

“For six years, Elizabeth has advanced the Department’s legislative priorities and secured great success on initiatives important to enhancing the lives of all Floridians,” Patronis said in a statement. “Her expansive knowledge on insurance, finance and regulatory matters, as well as a broad understanding of the legislative process, makes her well-suited to lead our Department in this capacity.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Boyd joined the Department of Financial Services in September 2011 as Deputy Legislative Affairs Director. As deputy director, she aided in the development of the Department’s legislative agenda and advocated for the Department’s initiatives in front of the Florida Legislature and other stakeholders.

In this capacity, she assisted in the successful passing of legislation that included the creation of a homeowner claims bill of rights and the implementation of sweeping transparency reforms to Florida’s state contracting laws.

Her legislative accomplishments led to her promotion to Legislative Affairs Director in December 2014, where she’s since served as the Chief Financial Officer’s principal legislative advisor and lead lobbyist.

As director, Boyd has been instrumental in securing several legislative victories, including a ban on a medical billing practice known as “balance billing” in which health care providers bill patients for out-of-pockets costs not covered by health insurance and securing the end of a pervasive insurance business practice that derailed the proper payment of life insurance policies to beneficiaries.

Prior to joining the Department, Elizabeth held legislative roles with the Department of Management Services, within the Executive Office of Gov. Jeb Bush, and for the Florida Lottery. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida State University.

The Department’s current Deputy Legislative Affairs Director, BG Murphy, has been promoted to Legislative Affairs Director.

Murphy joined the Department in February 2015, following his service as legislative assistant to Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican. In 2014, Murphy led the successful campaign of Rep. Brad Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican.

Murphy has also worked in management and corporate relations in the private sector. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University.

Both promotions became effective Monday, October 16.

To learn more about the Department of Financial Services, visit

Linda Stewart, Bruce Antone push for day care van alarms

State Sen. Linda Stewart and state Rep. Bruce Antone announced Monday they are pushing legislation that would require day care centers to install sensor alarms on their transport vans and other vehicles that would alert workers if a child was left inside.

Joined by other Democratic members of the Orange County Legislative Caucus, many of whom signed on as co-sponsors. Stewart and Antone expressed strong confidence that the legislation would pass, and would create a technological answer to horrible incidents including child deaths involving children left in vans.

In particular, Orlando still is emotionally reeling from the Aug. 7 tragedy in which 3-year-old Myles Hill died after being forgotten inside a day care transport van at Little Miracles Academy in Orlando.

“We need to make sure that everyone in a commercial day care van is removed from the van,” Stewart said.

“Too many have died. And we have ways of making these vehicles safer,” she added.

Stewart, of Orlando, filed SB 486, co-sponsored by state Sens. Randolph Bracy of Oakland and Victor Torres of Orlando. Antone, of Orlando, filed HB 305, co-sponsored by Orlando state Reps. Kamia Brown, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Amy Mercado.

“We need to make sure that no child gets left behind,” Antone said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Both bills require that child care facilities and large family child care homes equip vans and other vehicles used to transport children with alarm systems that would prompt the drivers to inspect the vehicles for children. The bills also would require the Florida Department of Children and Families to maintain a list of approved alarm systems.

Both Stewart and Antone said they have discussed their bills with key committee chairs who indicated support, and both do not expect any opposition.

Stewart said the devices cost between $99 and $700, depending on the technology selected.

Mercado insisted that any day care centers that have trouble affording them undoubtedly will find parents offering to pitch in.

“As a mom, no amount of money is going to replace my child left in a car,” said Mercado, mother of six grown children. “As far as the parents are concerned, this is one extra layer of protection for their children. When they drop them off in the morning they want to make sure they get them back, safe and sound. The last thing any parent wants to is it was their child that was forgotten, it was their child that died in that seat because someone was too busy or too careless or distracted.”

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