Influence – Page 3 – Florida Politics

Personnel note: Ins and outs at Gov. Rick Scott’s press shop

Gov. Rick Scott is making changes to his Capitol communications team as he ramps up a U.S. Senate bid.

With press secretary Lauren Schenone having gone to work on Scott’s Senate campaign, Mara Gambineri has left the Department of Health and joined the Governor’s communications office.

Also, Ashley Cook has come in from the Department of Corrections to work at “Plaza level.”

Taking Gambineri’s place at Health is Devin Galetta, formerly the department’s media and marketing manager.

We’re told Patrick Manderfield is taking Cook’s position at FDOC.

John Tupps remains communications director, and McKinley P. Lewis is still on board.

Bill Galvano: No deal on Special Session for gambling

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano on Friday said there was no “agreement (on) or recommendations” for a Special Legislative Session on gambling.

Legislative leaders, who failed to agree on comprehensive gambling legislation this past Regular Session, have been considering a Special Session after House Speaker Richard Corcoran raised concerns over the potential loss of revenue share from the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Galvano, expected to take over as president after the 2018 election cycle, also is his chamber’s point man on gambling issues.

The Tribe pays $19.5 million monthly, with a balloon—or “true-up”—payment at the end of the state’s fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30. A “forbearance period” that was part of a settlement over blackjack litigation ended on March 31, after which the Tribe was entitled to stop paying.

But the Tribe’s lawyer seemingly took the wind out of the Special Session sails, telling Florida Politics last week that the Seminoles would continue paying the state its monthly share of casino gambling revenue.

“There is no plan to stop the payments,” attorney Barry Richard said. “The Seminoles are perfectly happy with the relationship they have with the state … They don’t want to take advantage of the state economically any more than they want the state to take advantage of them.”

Asked about the latest prospects for a Special Session, Galvano – a Bradenton Republican – said in a text message: “Discussions are continuing (but) there is not an agreement or recommendations at this time.”

The head of an anti-casino gambling organization also has written to top lawmakers, saying the Tribe’s promise to keep paying should shut down further talks on a Special Session.

“Doesn’t (the) commitment by the Seminole Tribe to continue making compact payments resolve the potential revenue loss concern that legislative leaders said was the basis for holding a special session?” No Casinos’ president John Sowinski asked.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican term-limited in the House this year, is expected to announce a run for governor.


Dumpster diving for pot? State continues rule-making for medical marijuana

Calling it a “blue sky opportunity,” the state’s chief medical marijuana regulator opened a rule-making workshop Friday with a twist: No rules.

Agencies usually issue draft rules weeks in advance of a workshop, so there’s something to comment on when interested parties arrive. Many attendees were lobbyists for marijuana providers.

But Christian Bax, head of the Florida Department of Health‘s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, told reporters after the workshop — which lasted barely half of the three hours allotted — that he wanted to start with a blank slate.

That includes addressing the emerging issue of ‘dumpster diving’ behind medical marijuana treatment centers.

“The department certainly has ideas on where we’d like to go … but this has been such a contentious issue, with so many people with so much to say,” Bax said. “We don’t want to get ahead of the process, and come out with (rules that say), ‘this is where the negotiation starts.’

“People get the idea we’re cemented behind a position, and it’s much more difficult to claw changes back,” he added. “We understand there will be pushback … but we want to have at least made a good-faith effort to get everyone’s opinion to have a benchmark to justify the rules.”

There wasn’t exactly a deluge of opinions, however, at the workshop, aimed at regulations on “packaging and labeling,” “solvent-based extraction” processes, retail location “advertising and signage,” and even “waste management.”

For instance, Bax said he’s heard “anecdotes” from other states where people were rifling through dumpsters behind medical marijuana stores looking for “product.”

“People perceive that waste as (containing) medical marijuana, or plant product,” he said. “We see now that waste disposal areas have become highly secure … You want to avoid the appearance of being a soft target.”

Could that result in Florida with a future rule on trash security, including lockable dumpsters? Maybe, Bax said, but that creates more problems.

“If people see a dumpster that’s locked, they’re going to think there’s something inside” worth stealing, he said. “We’ve been told about dumpsters with crowbar marks” because would-be thieves “perceive there’s product in there.”

Bax’s office now begins writing proposed rules, followed by additional public comment on the proposed language.

Florida’s Three Member Panel has three members at last

A key state workers’ compensation oversight board operated at full strength for the first time since 2014 on Tuesday, as its new employee representative took his seat.

Jason Robbins, a workers’ comp attorney from Melbourne, won the appointment from Gov. Rick Scott in June, but hearings in Tallahassee on reimbursement rates for medical providers under the system gave him his first opportunity to participate publicly.

“It was great,” Robbins said of his first meeting. “Very informative. I think the Division (of Workers’ Compensation) does a great job.”

The panel oversees medical reimbursements under the workers’ compensation system. Any increases of more than $1 million must be ratified by the Legislature. The panel OK’d reimbursement increases worth $144 million during the meeting.

As an attorney, Robbins represents workers under the worker’ comp system. He said he replied to an ad seeking candidates for the position, which Scott had left vacant until the Legislature began applying pressure. The approval process required interviews with the governor and his aides, and ratification by the Legislature.

The panel also includes a representative of business interests, plus Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

The commissioner chaired the meeting and welcomed Robbins to the panel.

“With workers’ compensation, there are two very key parties — you have the employers and you have the employees,” Altmaier said. “I think it’s important generally, for decision-making, to have as many perspectives as you can have.”

Stakeholders in the system have expressed the employee perspective, “so I don’t necessarily think we’ve lost anything by not having the employee representative on the panel,” Altmaier said. “But certainly having that position filled is going to be of benefit to us going forward.”

Did Robbins think the lack of someone to speak for workers harmed their interests?

“That might be a strong word,” Robbins said.

“I think it’s important that someone represents their voice. There’s a whole side of the law for the foot soldier that wasn’t discussed in this room. This is about money and efficiency,” he said. “The quicker they get their medical treatment, the quicker they get better, the quicker they get back to work.”

Robbins engaged actively in the hearing, asking a number of questions of division staff and industry representatives who addressed the panel. “As active as he’s been, I feel really good about having that spot filled,” Altmaier said.

State colleges seek spot in Constitution

With the issue poised to go before the Constitution Revision Commission, Florida’s state and community colleges are supporting a measure that would establish constitutional authority for the system of 28 schools.

In a teleconference with college presidents Thursday, Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the state college system, said the Constitution Revision Commission is scheduled to take up the proposal (P6002) when it begins meeting Monday to decide what constitutional changes to present to voters in November.

The college proposal, which was crafted by commission member Nicole Washington, would establish “a system of governance” for the colleges in the state Constitution. It would mandate that each college be governed by a local board of trustees and that the entire system be supervised by the Florida Board of Education, which is how the system works now under state law.

College advocates support the measure because they say it would put the state college system on an equal constitutional footing with the university system and public schools, which are already part of the Constitution.

Pumariega noted the college governance provision is part of a broader Constitutional Revision Commission proposal that includes two other measures. One measure would require supermajority votes by university boards of trustees and the university system’s Board of Governors when raising fees for universities.

The other measure would require the payment of death benefits when law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other first responders are killed “while engaged in the performance of their official duties.” It also would apply to members of the Florida National Guard and active-duty military members stationed in Florida. The death benefit would also allow educational expenses to be waived for surviving spouses and children attending universities and other post-secondary institutions.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. If the college governance proposal goes on the ballot and is ultimately approved by 60 percent of voters, it would resolve part of a challenge the colleges have faced the past two years in the Legislature.

The proposed amendment would keep the 28 colleges under the supervision of the Board of Education as opposed to a Senate bill (SB 540), which would have established a separate State Board of Colleges to oversee the system.

The Senate bill stalled during the 2018 Legislative Session, in part because of opposition from the colleges and Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed a similar bill in 2017.

A key proponent of the legislation was Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is stepping down from his leadership post in November.

Chris Hansen, a lobbyist for the Association of Florida Colleges, told the college presidents Thursday that the system may not face as many policy challenges after the departure of Negron.

But he also warned that some of the other provisions in the failed Senate bill could be revived, although it is uncertain what those would be.

Outside the governance system, other policy changes pushed by the Senate included a cap on baccalaureate degrees awarded by the college system and a revision of performance standards for the schools.

Compared to the past two sessions, Hansen said he doesn’t expect the same scope of proposed policy changes under new legislative leaders, who will take over after the fall elections.

“Blue skies ahead, hopefully, on that matter,” he said during a teleconference of the college system’s Council of Presidents.

State increases Irma insurance loss estimate

Pointing to “human error,” the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation on Thursday increased its latest property-loss estimate from Hurricane Irma by more than $1.2 billion.

The new number is $8.6 billion from the September storm. When updating the number of claims reported by private insurance companies last Friday, the office had posted the estimated losses at $7.38 billion, a drop of more than $600 million from a February estimate.

Department spokeswoman Karen Kees, who called the number in the initial post a “human error,” noted that some information from private insurers had initially been placed in an incorrect column.

The state agency doesn’t release data by individual insurance companies, asserting protection of trade secrets.

Thursday’s update didn’t alter the overall statewide number of 924,439 claims that had been posted last Friday.

Insurance companies have closed 90.1 percent of residential claims but just 58.2 percent of commercial-property claims. Across the state, more than 20,000 claims had been filed in 15 different counties, topped by 120,921 in Miami-Dade, 77,434 in Collier, 77,039 in Broward, 73,314 in Lee and 71,572 in Orange.

Florida Smart Justice Alliance endorses Marsy’s Law

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance on Tuesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a crime victims’ bill of rights, according to a press release.

The proposal (P6001), also known as “Marsy’s Law for Florida,” is one of 12 amendments that will be considered by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission when it reconvenes next Monday in Tallahassee.

“Marsy’s Law provides common sense protections for crime victims, ensuring they have the right to be heard, the right to be present, and the right to be informed,” said Barney Bishop, CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

“… All that victims are asking is to be treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to those accused of the crimes that have harmed them,” he added. “By placing Marsy’s Law on the 2018 ballot, voters will have the opportunity to decide if victims should be granted those rights.”

The commission must approve the idea with 22 votes, then it must receive at least 60 percent approval on the November statewide ballot to be added to the state constitution.

From the press release: “Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee ‘Marsy’ Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

“Only one week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family, who had just come from a visit to Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail.

“In an effort to honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corp., has made it his mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights. He formed Marsy’s Law for All in 2009, providing expertise and resources to victims’ rights organizations nationwide.

“Six other states have enacted Marsy’s Law, including California, Illinois, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Montana. Polling conducted in October showed there is strong interest among Florida voters to enact Marsy’s Law in the Sunshine State.

“Eighty-seven percent of likely Florida voters believe victims should have, at the very least, the same protections in the state constitution as those given to those accused of committing crimes.

“When read specific ballot language and informed of the background behind Marsy’s Law, 85 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for a constitutional amendment that guarantees victims’ rights in the Florida Constitution.”

Electoral map scrambles race for Senate presidency

For the first time this decade, a race to one day lead the Florida Senate is not confined to an intra-party scrum among Republican lawmakers.

And while Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo is now the slight front-runner to hold the gavel beginning in 2022, she and her GOP colleagues must first navigate two election cycles in which control of the Senate could be at stake.

Passidomo is emerging as the leading candidate to succeed Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson after Tampa Republican Dana Young declared that she would not pursue the Senate presidency. That left Passidomo and St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson as the two contenders for the position.

Based on not-for-attribution conversations with at least four members of the 2016 class of the Florida Senate, other Senators, and key staff and lobbyists close to Passidomo, Hutson, Galvano, and Simpson, it appears that Passidomo holds a one-  or two-vote lead over Hutson within the nine-member class of Republicans.

In addition to Passidomo, Hutson, and Young, the other Republican members of the 2016 class are Dennis Baxley, Doug Broxson, George Gainer, Debbie Mayfield, Keith Perry and Greg Steube.

Steube is exiting the Senate to run for Congress, so he’s not part of the math here.

Almost all of those tracking the race peg the vote at 5 to 3 for Passidomo with Baxley, Broxson, Gainer and Young behind her. Hutson can count on the support of Perry and Mayfield.

The consensus that Passidomo is leading the race gelled last week when Senate leaders and elite-level lobbyists raised money for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at a series of events in Nashville. According to an itinerary obtained by Florida Politics, lawmakers were treated to a private concert by Phil Vassar at the Loveless Barn and a songwriters luncheon at the famous Bluebird Cafe.

With the twang of country music in the background, a handful of Senators and other Adams Street players talked openly about two factors driving the race in Passidomo’s direction.

The first is Young bowing out of the race and squarely backing Passidomo. Sources close to both Passidomo and Young say that the Tampa Republican has, indeed, signed a pledge card for Passidomo.

The second factor has a tinge of post hoc ergo propter hoc, specifically that since Hutson was not able to win his own class, he could not win the race at large.

“If you can’t even win your own class, your butt has no business being up there [in the president’s rostrum],” said one member aligned with Passidomo, who asked to speak without attribution so as to provide clearer insight into the workings of the Senate.

Hutson has told a handful of Republican lobbyists and donors that he expects the contest between him and Passidomo to be a “long slog” and may involve the votes of members from the incoming class of Senators.

However, Hutson’s position runs counter to what President-designate Galvano and Leader Simpson have reportedly told other members. Fearing a repeat of the kind of race between President Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, which divided the chamber for years, the incoming leaders want the matter settled before the November elections.

This said, Galvano and Simpson are both said to want to be careful about not interfering in the Passidomo vs. Hutson contest. They, like other Senators, prefer not to openly discuss leadership races other than to note that the Senate conducts its business differently than the Florida House, which has endured back-to-back internal conflicts about who will lead the chamber after Jose Oliva.

Yet what is really concerning Galvano, Simpson, and other GOP members is not which Republican will follow them, but whether it will even be a Republican.

With Lantana Democrat Lori Berman‘s unsurprising win Tuesday night in a special election for a seat in the Florida Senate, the chamber is now divided 23 to 16 between Republicans and Democrats.

As previously reported on Florida Politics, state Democrats are systematically laying out a plan to recapture the upper chamber. They hope to win at least four of seven battleground seats on the ballot in 2018.

To that end, Rep. Janet Cruz has entered the race for SD 18, where she will try to pick off Young and trial lawyer Carrie Pilon has filed to challenge incumbent Jeff Brandes in SD 24. The party likes its chances with the campaigns of Kayser Enneking and Bob Doyel, two first-time candidates challenging Republican incumbents Keith Perry and Kelli Stargel, respectively.

It is also recruiting former state Rep. Amanda Murphy to run for the open seat in Senate District 16, once held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala and Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, to run for SD 36, where Republican Rene Garcia is term-limited.

On Wednesday, Democrats were relieved to learn that Jose Javier Rodriguez will remain in SD 37, giving the party a better shot of funding those campaigns.

Even if Democrats fall short of winning control of the Florida Senate, the results in these competitive seats could impact Passidomo vs. Hutson (assuming Passidomo doesn’t have the race locked-up by November. If Perry loses his re-election bid, Passidomo would have a hammer-lock on the contest, but her chances could be hurt if Young were to lose.

All the more reason for Passidomo to conclude her business by the summer.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

On: Holly Maxwell is the committee receptionist for Senate Appropriations.

Off: Jay Shannon and Jacob Flaherty are no longer legislative assistants for Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer.

Off: Marilyn Barnes is no longer legislative assistant to Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford. Barnes retired after spending her career serving the Legislature, which included the Speaker’s Office in the 70s, many years of service on Joint Committees, and more recently several years with the Senate and Montford.

Off: Ali Kurnaz is no longer a legislative assistant to Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart.

Off and on: Kenneth Thomas is no longer district secretary in Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Ramon Alexander‘s office. Navael Fontus has become a new district secretary.

Off: Stephany Montano is no longer district secretary for Miami Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio.

Off: Abby Ross is no longer chief legislative assistant for Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman.

Off: Nutoshia Carr is no longer district secretary for Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown.

Off: Charlotte Codie is no longer legislative assistant for North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell.

Off and on: Carlos Ramos is no longer legislative assistant; Erika Flores moved from district secretary to legislative assistant and Margie Ramirez is the new district secretary for Tampa Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz.

Off and on: Clarence James is no longer executive secretary and Consqailla Toney is a new district secretary for Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels.

Off: Chesten Goodman is no longer legislative assistant for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

Off: Sadie Haire is no longer district secretary for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fisher.

Off and on: Kay Mathers replaced Susan Neaves as district secretary for Sarasota Democratic Rep. Margaret Good.

Off and on: Jerrick Leonard is no longer legislative assistant and Jessica Garafola moved from district secretary to legislative assistant for West Park Democratic Rep. Shev Jones.

Off and on: Lisa Kauffman is out, and Katie Siciliano is in as legislative assistant for Hutson Republican Rep. Amber Mariano.

Off and on: Grace Moseley is no longer a district secretary and Cyrus Calhoun moved from district secretary to legislative assistant in St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton‘s office.

Off: Samantha Surdin is no longer district secretary for Winter Garden Republican Rep. Robert Olszewski.

Off: Jesika Davis is no longer district secretary for Key Largo Republican Rep. Holly Raschein.

Off: Leilani Gonzalez is no longer district secretary for Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues.

Off and on: John Brown is no longer district secretary; Jasmine Mattear filled a vacant legislative assistant position after being district secretary for Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw.

On: Sarah Johnson is a new legislative assistant for Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg.

Off: Dottie Acosta is no longer district secretary for St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson.

Off and on: Cooper Harrison is out, and Brian Pierce is in as district secretary for Panama City Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Off: Mamie Rubottom is no longer district secretary for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough.

Report dives into the weeds on workers’ compensation medical cost containment

Want to find out how Florida’s workers’ compensation system regulates pharmacy fees, as compared to other states? Provides treatment for PTSD? Manages the cost of hospital inpatient and outpatient fees?

The annual report from the Workers Compensation Research Institute, released this week, spells out all of that and more.

It’s intended as a one-stop resource for regulators, journalists, and other parties grappling with the messy details of workers’ comp policy.

The document comprises a series of tables containing state-by-state comparisons of the cost-containment policies, including medical fee schedules, choice of provider, treatment guidelines, and medical dispute regulations. Medical benefits represent the largest slice of workers’ comp costs.

It includes data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and federal compensation programs for longshoremen and federal employees.

“This study provides a basic understanding of the cost containment initiatives adopted nationally, and provides additional references for those who want more detail,” said Ramona Tanabe, the institute’s executive vice president and counsel.

“We don’t make any recommendations,” spokesman Andrew Kenneally said. “Our role is to provide information to help policymakers make decisions.”

The proprietary report is available here. The institute’s members include insurers, labor organizations, state regulators, business groups, and ratings organizations.

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