Influence Archives - Page 3 of 411 - Florida Politics

Campaign finance reforms advance with bipartisan support

A pair of measures that would reform the state campaign finance system, including barring Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members from raising money during Session, cleared a House panel on Wednesday with bipartisan support.

State Rep. Evan Jenne said his proposal, HB 707, is a “common sense rule” and not “an indictment or finger pointing” at the governor, who is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is running for a another term, or Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“This is no indication of those four individuals, it is simply a matter of what is good for the goose is good for the gander,” Jenne said.

Both the Florida House and Senate prohibit members from accepting contributions during a regular, extended, or special Legislative Session. The proposal would add the same restrictions to statewide elected officials.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor to accept a single political contribution and a felony if an individual solicits or accepts two contributions during Session.

In the vein of reforming the campaign finance system, state Rep. Frank White, who is running for Attorney General, championed a proposal that would repeal a 30-year-old state public campaign financing system.

“Most of you know that I am running for statewide elected office and if this does go on the ballot it would not affect my campaign whatsoever,” White said.

That measure cleared the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee. It would eliminate a system that gives statewide candidates taxpayer-funding matching dollars if they agree to limit their expenditures. Under the current system, outside contributions of up to $250 are matched and contributions above that amount are matched to $250.

“Our system dolls our millions of tax dollars to incumbents and other experienced politicians,” White said.

Speaker Richard Corcoran has pushed to abolish the system with the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years to propose changes to the constitution. Corcoran has called the public campaign financing system a “gross waste of taxpayer money” and “welfare for politicians.”

“You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our school children, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers,” Corcoran has said.

Both measures have one more committee stop before they head to a full House vote.

If the measures are passed by the Legislature, they would be put on the 2018 ballot and would need 60 percent voter approval to go into effect.

Judge could give early win to companies over insurance law

A Tallahassee judge now will consider whether life insurance companies are in the right over a 2016 law requiring them to track down beneficiaries.

After hearing argument Wednesday, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would rule on the companies’ motion for summary judgment “fairly soon.” Such motions allow parties to win a case without a trial.

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — write policies in Florida.

They sued the state over the law, which makes them check which policyholders have died back to 1992, then track down any beneficiaries. If beneficiaries can’t be found, insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

The bill was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The companies say the law’s retroactivity is unfair, making them have to sift through potentially millions of old death records to find beneficiaries. That’s too burdensome, they’ve said, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their search costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Insurance companies’ attorney Carol Lynn Thompson argued the law is unconstitutional because it imposed a “substantive new duty,” with Lewis at least agreeing it was “onerous.”

But Andy Bardos, a GrayRobinson lawyer representing Atwater’s successor, state CFO Jimmy Patronis, noted that searching for beneficiaries was something companies were always supposed to do: “People should be paid.”

At a previous hearing, however, whether insurance companies had that duty under previous law was undecided. Still, Bardos—a former special counsel to the Florida Senate—added that unpaid life insurance policies are by nature “uncompleted transactions.”

The law itself says its changes are “remedial in nature and apply retroactively.” It adds that “fines, penalties, or additional interest” related to non-payment of any unclaimed policies are waived till May 1, 2021.

Six finalists picked for open Tallahassee judgeship

Two veteran prosecutors are among the six finalists that Gov. Rick Scott will choose from to fill an open judicial seat for the Tallahassee region.

The Second Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), after interviewing 12 applicants Tuesday, now sends their list to Scott. He has 60 days to make a decision.

The finalists, according to JNC chair Christi Gray, are:

Georgia Cappleman, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Eddie Evans, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Cedell Garland, a senior assistant attorney general.

Joseph Jones, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Tallahassee office.

James Marsh, chief of corrections litigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

Amanda Wall, administrative magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Among those not making the cut are Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office. This was his third application for a judgeship.

The other unsuccessful applicants are Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office; Acelo “Ace” Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Donna Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee; and Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

The opening was created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Francis. Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

The 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered in Tallahassee, covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

Senate President aspirants Travis Hutson, Dana Young continue to raise money at rapid clip

The frontrunners for the 2022 Florida Senate Presidency have spent the last few months adding funds to their political committees and, more importantly, using that money to help out a handful of potential backers when it comes time to vote in a couple years.

Sens. Travis Hutson and Dana Young are still the top contenders for the job and each has been successful on the fundraising trail since October.

Young has raised nearly $200,000 to Friends of Dana Young since October, including $68,500 in December, which put her with $690,585 cash on hand at the start of the year. The Tampa Republican also spent about $63,000 in committee cash during that span.

Much of that money went toward various consulting contracts and fundraising expenses – she is up for re-election this year, after all – though she still extended a helping hand to a pair of possible supporters.

Back in October she chipped in $10,000 to a committee supporting Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper’s campaign to replace former Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. She followed that up in December with a $1,000 check to Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s re-election campaign for Senate District 25, which isn’t up until 2020.

During the same stretch Hutson pulled in $114,000 for his Sunshine State Conservatives committee, though he capped off the year with $0 in contributions last month. He also spent about $25,000, leaving him with nearly $160,000 to play with as of New Year’s Day.

The St. Augustine lawmaker hit Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield with $1,000 checks in December.

A handful of sources told Florida Politics in October that Perry had already thrown his support behind Hutson in the Senate President race, joining Mayfield as one of his key supporters.

While nothing’s been made public in the interim, Perry’s district has a Democratic lean and his chief opponent is close to the $150,000 mark in fundraising, so getting some support from Hutson’s committee puts a little weight behind the rumors he’s in Hutson’s column.

Hutson had already given Perry $1,000 in August, and last cycle he stepped in with a pair of $1,000 checks during Perry’s bruising 2016 race against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith.

Other current or aspiring senators getting support from Hutson earlier in 2017 include Aaron Bean, Dorothy Hukill and Hooper.

Since Election Day 2016, Young has helped out the campaign account of Sen. George Gainer, as well as Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 this year, and Reps. Jason Brodeur and Jeanette Nuñez, who are running for senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

Counties face increased pension costs

Florida counties will have to contribute an additional $66 million to the state pension fund in the new budget year, according to legislation that has started moving in the Senate.

As a result of a decrease in the assumed rate of investment return on the $160 billion pension fund, counties, school boards, state agencies, universities, state colleges and other government entities will have to increase their contributions in the 2018-2019 budget year to make sure there is enough money to pay retirement benefits in the long term.

The increased payments total $178.5 million, including $66.4 million for county governments, according to legislation (SB 7014) approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee last week.

School districts, whose employees represent about half of the 627,000 active pension participants, will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million.

State agencies will have to contribute another $31 million. Universities will have to contribute $11.8 million and state colleges an additional $4.8 million.

A handful of cities and special districts that participate in the state retirement system will face a $10 million contribution increase.

County governments, which face the largest contribution increase, will have to accommodate the added expense as they shape their 2018-2019 budgets.

“Counties are closely monitoring the FRS (Florida Retirement System) contribution but remain committed to a program that provides retirement security to our dedicated public servants,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties.

The bulk of the other contribution increases are part of overall budget challenges facing House and Senate members as they craft the 2018-2019 state budget, which takes effect July 1.

The $54 million increase for school districts, for example, will be in the mix as lawmakers address overall public-school funding. Lawmakers are already having to accommodate an increase of more than 27,000 new students next academic year, and the House and Senate remain at odds over using increased local property tax collections to boost school spending

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Republican from Fleming Island, said the state pension fund in the Senate budget bill will be “fully funded with the new assumptions.”

“It’s an obligation of the state,” Bradley said. “And we are comfortable with the current level of (pension) benefits in the Senate, with the understanding that when you change the assumptions, that requires more money to go to that area.”

The Florida Retirement System Actuarial Assumption Conference lowered the projected rate of return on the pension fund’s collection of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent last fall.

It was the fourth year in a row that analysts have lowered the assumed rate of return on the fund.

The decision came after new evaluations from independent financial consultants projected a 30-year rate of return for the pension assets in the range of 6.6 percent to 6.81 percent.

With a 7.5 percent assumed rate of return, the Florida pension fund is expected to be able to pay 84.4 percent of its future obligations, with a $27.9 billion long-term unfunded actuarial liability, according to the consultants.

Public employees who participate in the pension plan have been required to contribute 3 percent of their annual salaries to the fund since 2011.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Capitol Reax: Workers’ comp, payday loans, vacation rentals, train safety, AOB

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for a bill by Sen. Lauren Book (SB 376) that would include in the Worker’s Compensation Law benefits for first responders who sustain mental or nervous injuries such as PTSD in the line of duty.

The forward momentum for the bill got the attention of CFO Jimmy Patronis, who put out a statement Tuesday evening:

“The numbers don’t lie. More than 15 percent of firefighters reported having made at least one suicide attempt during their time in the fire service, compared to about 2 percent of the general population. Forty-six percent of firefighters reported having thought about suicide, compared to about 5 percent of the US population. These statistics are alarming and this is what we are fighting to change this session.

Our first responders arrive on any emergency scene without hesitation, without question. We can only imagine how difficult it is to face what they see daily. I’m putting the full weight of my office to increase benefits this legislative session for our first responders who suffer from PTSD. It’s time Florida step up for our fearless first responders.”

The Senate Commerce Committee voted 9-2 in favor of a bill, SB 920, that would authorize up to 208% annual interest rates for loans that are larger and have longer terms than the payday loans Florida law currently allows.

That move drew the ire of the The Florida Alliance of Consumer Protection, which thanked the two no-votes – Sens. Rene Garcia and Annette Taddeo – in a statement from Director Alice Vickers condemning the bill:

“Florida is already flooded with harmful, debt trap loans. The payday lenders believe they can sneak this one in, but we’re not having it. Loans that are designed to trap people in long-term debt at triple-digit interest rates are counter to what any person or group wants if they have the best interests of Floridians at heart. Payday lenders, unfortunately, are not among those groups.”

FACP also included a quote from Rev. James T. Golden, social action director of the AME Church:

“I am extremely disappointed in those Senators who supported a bill today that negatively impacts Black and Brown people in this state. They voted against the interest of Black and Brown people. There are too few people who have too much power to impact the lives of too many people with no power, when you define power as having the money needed to control the outcome. But, I have great faith, that before the end of this legislative session that enough people without money will demonstrate the power of faith.”

Short term rentals, such as those offered by Airbnb, were also a subject of discussion in Tallahassee Tuesday, as dozens of sign-wielding advocates gathered at the state Capitol to demonstrate in favor of bills that would end the ‘patchwork’ of local regulations governing the peer-to-peer business.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association put out its own opinion on the matter via President and CEO Carl Dover:

“FRLA’s more than 10,000 members represent a wide range of lodging accommodations, from bed and breakfasts and independent operators to corporate chains, who all share one common goal – keep visitors coming to Florida. While it’s absolutely critical in this day and age for our industry to embrace modern rental technology, unregulated short-term rentals pose a serious risk to both our tourists and residents. We urge our lawmakers not to put Florida’s world-class lodging reputation at risk for illegal commercial operators. FRLA looks forward to continuing the conversation and working closely with our legislators to protect our visitors and consumers.”

CARE FL, the main group opposing the All Aboard Florida passenger train project, cited the third death in six months of a person struck by an AAF train when it came out in favor of a pair of bills Tuesday (SB 572 and HB 525) that would up safety standards for rail projects in the Sunshine State.

The group also announced plans to hold a Jan. 29 informational meeting in Stuart – smack dab in the middle of AAF’s planned Miami-to-Orlando “Brightline” route.

CARE FL Chairman Brent Hanlon put out the following statement:

“First and foremost, we express our deepest condolences to the family members of all three victims. This is exactly why we are fighting for our communities.  Enough is enough.  We need safety measures in place that will protect our pedestrians, our school children who may walk or bike along the tracks to school, our first responders and members of our community. AAF continues to tout its commitment to safety, but three deaths during test runs indicate something is seriously wrong.”

“How many more deaths or injuries will it take before AAF acknowledges the need for enhanced safety measures?”

When one hears ‘assignment of benefits’ major home damage comes to mind, but AOB is a growing problem for auto insurers according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. To that end the, PCI cheered the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for passing a bill to crack down on fraudulent insurance claims for broken windshields.

PCI regional manager Logan McFaddin said the following in a Tuesday release:

“PCI applauds members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for advancing SB 396 today.  With assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse in the auto glass marketplace rapidly increasing, it is imperative that we curb abusive practices associated with windshield glass repair this session.

“According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, in 2006, approximately 400 auto glass AOB lawsuits were filed against auto insurers. In 2016, nearly 20,000 lawsuits were filed.  These numbers are concerning.  Florida drivers deserve to have insurance benefits they can rely on without having to worry about some auto glass repair shops looking to take advantage of them in vulnerable situations.

“PCI encourages legislators to pass meaningful reforms this session to stop these abusive practices burdening their constituents.”

Bill to legalize fireworks takes off in House committee

A bill that would legalize consumer fireworks cleared a House committee on Tuesday even as it faces strong opposition from the fireworks industry.

Floridians buy and use fireworks just as much as any other state around the 4th of July and New Years Eve even though they can only purchase them after signing a form that says the product will only be used to “frighten birds from agriculture works and fish hatcheries.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jamie Grant, told members of the House Career & Competition Subcommittee that this practice is a loophole that invites the public to actually perjure themselves.

“It’s kind of a a CYA by the industry,” Grant said, adding that the passage of his “repealer” bill (HB 6037) would open up the marketplace for other entrepreneurs to get into the industry.

Tallahassee Democrat Loranne Ausley noted that Grant’s proposal appeared to fly in the face of a task force created by state legislators more than a decade ago that recommended that people obtain a license and receive safety training before they could use aerial fireworks.

Lobbyists representing the firework industry in Florida vehemently objected to Grant’s proposal.

“This framework has worked very well for ten years,” said Ken Pruitt, a former president of the state Senate. “We don’t feel that there’s anything broken here. We feel that if somebody wants to come and if they want to sell fireworks, get registered. Become a bonafide seller of fireworks.

Speaking on behalf of American Promotion Events-TNT Fireworks, veteran lobbyist Ron Book said theoretically, the fireworks industry in Florida should be celebrating Grant’s bill because it opens up the market to sell more products. But he said they strongly opposed it.

He said the bill would repeal a provision in current law that requires companies to take their sparkler products to the state Fire Marshall’s office before they can be approved and distributed. He said such a repeal would put the public at risk by creating a safety problem and would make them vulnerable to prosecution for violating current statue.

“It’s a terrible move!” Book thundered, adding that there is nothing in Grant’s bill that says the form that he objects to would no longer be used by the fireworks industry.

While the measure passed in committee, even supporters said they were troubled by repealing some of the provisions in current law.

“This struck me as things that do protect the public,” said Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine. 

Various lawmakers have tried for years to change the law, with no success.

Venezuela divestment bills moving ahead in Legislature

Lawmakers are trying to put into statute a Scott administration resolution that has blocked state funds from flowing into companies that do business with the Nicolas Maduro regime.

The House bill has rocketed through its committee assignments and is ready for a floor vote and a similar bill in the Senate is now starting its trek through its Senate stops with two committees remaining after a Senate panel advanced it through its first one on Tuesday.

Sen. Rene Garcia says his bill would ensure the state does not “facilitate” business that could fuel the economic and political crisis in Venezuela and would put “financial pressure on Maduro’s brutal regime.”

Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely expected to announce a run for the U.S. Senate this year, has closely monitored the beleaguered country and championed opposition to President Maduro.

“It’s disgusting what’s happening down there,” Scott said.

In response to the country’s political upheaval, Scott and his Cabinet passed a resolution last year that barred state money managers from making investments in organizations whose majority owners are the Venezuelan government and securities issued by the government.

“The governor would have the ability to bring an end to the bill itself if we find out the regime has changed,” Garcia said.

As Garcia’s bill moves ahead in the Senate, a Democrat already has a suggestion. Sen. Kevin Rader, a Broward County Democrat, wants to add language that includes banning all type of state contracts with the Latin American country.

“I don’t think the state should go into any sort of state contract,” Rader said. “We should not have any state contracts, county or city contracts, that do business with the regime.”

Criminal justice report given to legislators will guide reform

A four-volume, plain-spoken treatise on criminal justice reform is available to the public and it’s already caught the eyes of some legislators looking to reform Florida’s criminal justice system.

Reforming Criminal Justice” recently was published by the Academy for Justice, a group of 120 leading criminal justice scholars representing some of the best higher education institutions in the world, including University of California at Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Virginia.

Of the 120 scholars, some contributed directly and others peer-reviewed the work. The team was assembled and led by Erik Luna, an Amelia D. Lewis professor of constitutional & criminal law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. 

The volume breakdown: criminalization, policing, pretrial and trial processes, and punishment, incarceration and release. Each of the 57 chapters explores policy issues and provides actionable recommendations. 

The work was applauded Tuesday at the Capitol by Right on Crime and the Charles Koch Institute. The two groups typically advocate for right-leaning policies but their work on criminal justice has drawn unfamiliar allies — such as the ACLU and the NAACP — making it mostly a nonpartisan effort. 

Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at CKI, said Florida is the “most important state in the country on (criminal justice reform).” He said the state’s size and conservative leadership make it distinct from many other states, while an example for others with red leadership.

“When Florida moves on criminal justice reform, people across the country will take it very, very seriously.” Reddy said.

And it looks like Florida is ready to move. Available to the public online, the report also is being distributed to some members of the Legislature.

Criminal justice power players Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and state Rep. Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, attended the press conference. Byrd is vice chair of Justice Appropriations in his chamber. Brandes chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

On the report, Brandes said, “This document will become very important as we continue to build a foundation of policies to move the state forward in criminal justice reform.”

Brandes this Session is championing pre-arrest diversion programs, which are designed to lower incarceration rates, along with other reform bills.

With emotion, legislators and relatives of late firefighters push PTSD bill

“Recovering a toddler’s body from the river, pulling bodies from a car that ended up in a canal and carrying a decapitated teen’s body across the sand who was the victim of a shark attack would certainly take a toll on anyone,” Leslie Dangerfield said behind teary eyes.

She was describing the atrocities her husband, Indian River Battalion Chief David Dangerfield, had witnessed before he ultimately took his life. Leading up to her husband’s suicide, Leslie Dangerfield said his behavior had changed. He had succumbed to the “beast of PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Leslie Dangerfield told her story during a press conference Wednesday aiming to alert the public on bills in the Legislature this year that would provide workers’ compensation for first responders suffering from PTSD.

Currently, workers’ compensation laws do not provide for benefits in cases of first responders suffering from mental health-related injuries, unless they are accompanied by physical injury.

The issue has permeated the judiciary branch. 

Compensation Judge Neal Pitts denied workers’ compensation for former Orlando Police officer Gerry Realin last week. Realin responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting, which left 49 massacred and 58 others injured in June 2016.

Realin is one of the many who would benefit from a series of workers’ compensation reform bills this Session.

SB 376, filed by Sen. Lauren Book, and HB 227, filed by Reps. Rene Plasencia and Matt Willhite — who also is a firefighter — would include in the Worker’s Compensation Law benefits for first responders who sustain mental or nervous injuries.

Book said the issue was brought to her attention when her neighbor confided in her the horrors she experiences through PTSD, a mental health issue that Book also copes with.

“She had gone out on a series of very, very bad calls, dealing with several child deaths,” recalled Book. “This is what our first responder families see every day.”

“The numbers don’t lie,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state marshal said. He cited research from 2015 that showed 15 percent of firefighters had made at least one attempt at suicide during their career, while 46 percent of firefighters had thought about taking their lives.

“In this Session, we are fighting to change those numbers,” added Patronis.

Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, explained the issue was personal for her. One of Young’s constituents, Megan Vila, lost her brother, Tampa firefighter/paramedic Stevie LaDue, to suicide.

Vila visited Young and told her about the lack of workers’ compensation for firefighters suffering from PTSD, she then shared her brother’s story. Young said she was heartbroken, but then turned angry at how the system had failed LaDue. Young co-introduced Book’s SB 376.

The initiative appears to enjoy healthy support, both between parties and branches of government. Democrats and Republicans are supporting a bulk of the legislation, including Sen. Victor TorresSB 126, which lowers the burden of proof for mental injuries. The accompanying legislation for SB 126, Reps. Amy Mercado‘s and Robert Ascencio’s HB 629, is the only first-responder workers’ compensation bill without bipartisan sponsorship. In the executive branch, Cabinet member Patronis has promised to throw the “full weight” of his office behind the measures.

Book’s bill will be heard by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism Tuesday afternoon.

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