Influence Archives - Page 3 of 283 - Florida Politics

House committee sends pair of ethics bills to chamber floor

The House Government Accountability Committee approved a pair of bills Wednesday that would add a long list of ethics and reporting requirements into Florida law.

HB 479, sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Metz, would require many agencies to establish internal controls to prevent “fraud, waste and abuse,” force cities and counties to post their proposed budgets online and would require local government auditors to determine whether a city’s or county’s annual financial report match financial statements, among other things.

The committee also voted unanimously in favor if HB 7021, also sponsored by Metz, which would require city and county elected officials be held to the same financial disclosure rules as state lawmakers if the local governments they represent bring in more than $10 million in revenue in three consecutive years.

Unlike lawmakers, however, the rule would only apply to officials once they are in office, instead of during a campaign. That change came about through an amendment put forward by Metz and approved by the committee.

That bill would also create a statewide registry of local government lobbyists.

Boca Raton Democrat Emily Slosberg also offered but ultimately withdrew an amendment to the bill that would make it a third-degree felony for candidates or their surrogates to enter the home of a vote-by-mail voter to intimidate them or solicit them to vote a certain way.

The amendment was inspired by a Palm Beach Post report that found Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet had entered the home of voters and in some cases had their campaign staff hand-deliver completed mail-in ballots.

Both HB 479 and HB 7021 are now ready for a floor vote in the House.

Bill to create interagency workgroup on natural hazards clears final House panel

A bill that would help state agencies work together in preparation for natural hazards was approved by the House Government Accountability Committee Wednesday and is now ready for the House floor.

HB 181, by Coconut Creek Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, would have all executive state agencies, water management districts and the Public Service Commission designate a liaison to serve on an interagency workgroup.

The head of the Division of Emergency Management, or a designee, would serve as the coordinator of the group.

The workgroup would share information about how hazards such as wildfire, sea-level change, high tides, or storm surge could effect their agency as well as what resources the agency has and its plans to combat the natural hazards.

“This bill will allow state agencies to come out of their silos and collaborate to leverage agency resources to prepare for the potential impacts of extreme weather events,” Jacobs said.

The bill cleared the House Government Accountability Committee with a unanimous vote and previously got approval from the Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee.

The Senate companion, SB 464 by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens, has earned unanimous votes from the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, the Community Affairs Committee and the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.

It’s only remaining stop is the Senate Rules Committee.

Tougher texting-and-driving ban sails through Senate committee

Legislation to make texting while driving a primary offense passed Wednesday unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia sponsored the legislation (SB 144).

Florida was one of the later states in the country to adopt anti-texting laws, not doing so until 2013. But the fact that it’s a secondary offense has led critics to call the law toothless. Under Garcia’s bill, police could pull over drivers for texting while driving.

In the past, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that such legislation could allow law enforcement to profile black motorists racially.

“The current Florida ban on texting laws is almost impossible to enforce, and the general public knows this,” said Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore, speaking as a representative of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “If texting while driving was made a primary offense, we believe it would deter this potentially deadly driving behavior.”

“As an industry, we lose between five and ten of our employees are killed nationwide by people who are distracted while driving,” said Charlie Latham, Florida Chair of the National Waste and Recycling Association.

Voting for the bill was Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who outed himself as a chronic abuser of texting while driving, adding that he’s always opposed such bills in the past because it represented another loss of personal freedom.

Baxley said that he didn’t believe texting was a problem per se, but distracted driving is.

There is a companion bill in the House sponsored by Democrat Emily Slosberg (HB 47).

Bill banning steroids for greyhounds headed to House

A bill that would ban injecting racing greyhounds in Florida with anabolic steroids is heading to the House floor.

The House’s Commerce Committee approved the bill (HB 743) on Tuesday.

Florida is home to 12 of 19 tracks in the United States and one of the few places where the use of steroids is permitted. It’s banned in Great Britain and Australia, where the sport remains popular.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith — the Orlando Democrat who is the bill sponsor — says the use of steroids only keeps female greyhounds from going into heat and losing racing days.

He equates the drug use to “pre-game dog doping.”

Representatives from Florida’s greyhound industry argued steroids don’t enhance performance. Some legislators discussed the possibility of an amendment that would allow exemptions when medically necessary.

Senate bill to increase Supreme Court reporting requirements clears second committee

A bill that would increase reporting requirements for Florida Supreme Court cases cleared the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee with a unanimous vote Wednesday.

SB 878, sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would require the court to write up an annual report on cases that the court did not issue a ruling on within 180 days of oral arguments.

“To the extent, the court is having challenges prosecuting its work, I’d like to try to find a way to help them,” Lee said.

Court rules put the 180-day benchmark on issuing a ruling, though there are instances when the Supreme Court is not able to beat the deadline.

Though he didn’t vote against the bill, Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens said he was concerned that the law would interfere with the way the Supreme Court operates.

“To me, it’s potentially stepping over a line between the three branches of government for us to be looking at how the Supreme Court implements its own rule,” Clemens said.

The bill now moves on to the full Senate Appropriations Committee and must also pass the Rules Committee before it is ready for a vote on the Senate floor. Previously, the bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote.

The House version of the bill, HB 301, cleared all of its committee stops before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session and was approved by the full chamber with a 78-37 vote March 10.

Joe Negron adds to committees’ strength during Dorothy Hukill’s recovery

While Sen. Dorothy Hukill recovers from cervical cancer, Senate President Joe Negron has named additional members to committees on which she serves.

In a memo dated Tuesday, Negron said Sen. Anitere Flores will help out in the Education Committee, which Hukill leads.

“Sen. Hukill will remain the chair of the Committee on Education,” Negron aide Katie Betta said. “Under the Senate rules, the chair designates a senator on the committee to serve in her absence on a week by week basis.”

Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala takes a seat on the budget Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will serve on the Health Policy Committee. And Ben Galvano will sit on the Transportation Committee.

The appointments take effect immediately, Negron said.

“I appreciate your willingness to take on this additional responsibility on behalf of the Florida Senate,” he wrote.

“Sen, Hukill is still on all of these committees,” Betta said.

Hukill has been absent from Tallahassee during the Legislative Session, but has been following proceedings remotely.

Bill would require city officials to file state financial disclosures

A bill that would require elected city officials to file detailed financial disclosures got thumbs up Wednesday morning from the Florida House Government Accountability Committee.

House Bill 7021, introduced by Republican state Rep. Larry Metz of Groveland, would require mayors, city council members and other municipal elected officials in perhaps half of Florida’s cities to file full and public disclosure of their public interests on the same forms now used by state and county elected officials.

The bill, which the committee approved unanimously, also creates a statewide registry for local lobbyists.

The municipal financial disclosure provisions, which Metz has sought for several years in similar bills that never quite reached the governor’s desk, would apply only to cities that have annual revenues of at least $10 million. One witness estimated that would eliminate about half of the 412 cities in Florida from the requirements, leading some committee members wondering why. The bill also only applies to elected officials, not candidates.

Metz responded that the disclosure provisions should be brought in incrementally, starting with those cities where more is at stake.

“We should not let pursuit of a perfect ethics reform bill be the enemy of a good ethics reform bill, which this is,” Metz said.

Democratic state Reps. Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach, Joseph Abruzzo of Belle Glade, and Kristin Diane Jacobs of Coconut Creek pushed in vein for broader requirements.

“As past audit chairman, we had numerous cases, and the majority of them were small cities where public corruption was taking place,” Abruzzo said.


whiskey Wheaties

By two votes, House ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill cleared for floor

In another squeaker, the House version of a bill to allow retailers to sell liquor in their main stores cleared its last committee by just two votes.

The House Commerce Committee on Wednesday OK’d the legislation (HB 81) on a 15-13 vote. It’s now ready to be considered by the full House.

It previously cleared the Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee by a 7-6 vote. And it hobbled out of the Careers and Competition Subcommittee on an 8-7 vote.

“Any time you have an issue that revolves around alcohol, you’re bound to expect it to be somewhat controversial for some of the members,” bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, told reporters after the hearing.

The proposal would repeal a Prohibition-era state law requiring retailers to sell distilled spirits in a separate shop. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Avila amended the bill to make it nearly identical with the Senate version (SB 106), which goes to a final vote in that chamber Thursday. For example, it too requires miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and would be phased in over several years.

Lawmakers have been weighing the wishes of big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart, who want a repeal of the liquor “wall of separation,” and independently-owned liquor store operators, who say they will suffer.

If the proposal becomes law, “we are finished,” said Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay. “There’s no way we can even compete with” big box stores, which will “put pallets and pallets” of booze out in the open.

But state Rep. Tom Goodson questioned that; the Rockledge Republican noted that Patel and other small businesses already compete on selection and price with chains, just with their liquor offerings in a separate store.

Goodson also was skeptical of claims that mixing whiskey and Wheaties would lead to higher rates of theft or teen drinking, including right in the stores: “If you try to open a Jack Daniel’s bottle these days, you need two knives and a screwdriver.”

Target lobbyist Jason Unger of the GrayRobinson firm told lawmakers the bill meets “customers’—and your constituents’—demands” for more convenience, adding that “competition is good.”

Skylar Zander, deputy director for the pro-free market Americans for Prosperity-Florida, said the separation law needs to be “abolished.”

“This is about consumers, allowing businesses to innovate and to make the market more free,” Zander said in an email.

At Florida Chamber gathering, a vigorous defense of economic incentives

Florida is, too, open for business, representatives of the state’s economic development arm and business insisted during a panel discussion organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

“We’re a high performing business that’s open for business. We’ve just temporarily shut down the marketing and sales department. What we’re trying to do is make sure that’s not a permanent situation,” said Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO.

“Florida has a lot going for it. What we need to do is fight to make sure to tell the rest of the world about it. And that we don’t, in the middle of this argument with each other, we don’t accidentally take Florida backward, and let other people brand Florida as something that it’s not.”

Discussion of whether Florida was open for business came on Day 2 of the Chamber’s annual Capitol Days, coinciding with the Legislative Session.

The “argument” is the debate over whether to abolish Enterprise Florida and other state economic incentives programs. The House has already voted to do so, although the Senate is resisting.

The mere debate has already served notice that Florida is withdrawing the welcome mat. Mike Grissom, interim director of Enterprise Florida, said the office recently lost a key prospect over fear of “instability in government.”

The state brings inherent economic advantages to the competition, including a friendly regulatory environment and labor laws, and low taxes, said Florida Power & Light President Eric Silagy.

”But we are now facing some challenges from a standpoint of perception,” he said.

“We have to be very careful managing Florida’s brand — the perception beyond our borders. It’s a fragile kind of system and, if you’re not careful, you can break it.”

Grissom and Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, attempted to refute complaints that these programs constitute “corporate welfare.” Applicants are carefully vetted for economic and reputational strength, Proctor said. Incentive payments go out only after companies have lived up to their promises.

Wilson linked such complaints to the Occupy Wall Street movement, amplified by the libertarian Koch brothers and their Americans for Prosperity.

“Any politician who says, ‘This is just a slush fund that we hand money out to people,’ that’s malpractice. Any reporter who says that’s how it works, that would be fake news,” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, economic development officials in other states are capitalizing on the Florida controversy.

“They love what’s going on right now in Florida, because it’s truly creating an opportunity for them to retain companies that were looking to leave or attract others from other states who are looking to relocate,” Silagy said.

But these programs are the key to diversifying the state’s economy, he continued.

“It is not a question of whether or not there’s going to be another recession. It’s just when, and how deep will it be,” he said.

“What I worry about, if I can be blunt, is this state is going through amnesia. It wasn’t long ago when we had an economy that was absolutely in the tank and leading the country in going down the tubes that way, because our economy was not nearly as diversified as it could have been, should have been.”

Florida needs to learn from Texas, he said, which suffered much less because it had diversified its economy from oil and gas following the collapse of fuel prices during the early 1980s.

“Before I invest capital anywhere, I want to make sure I’m going to a market that wants be to be there, that welcomes me,” Silagy said.

“And that I have a view that it’s going to be good place to do business for a long period of time. One of the best ways to do that is making sure that location is invested in me. So when things do go badly, they’re standing next to me.”

House committee approves $1.8M claims bill for dead FSU player

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would give $1.8 million to the family of Devaughn Darling, who died in a Florida State University football practice in 2001.

Darling’s family has been seeking legislative approval for the money since 2005, when they won a judgment of $2 million in a wrongful death suit.

State law limits the amount that can be paid out in such suits to $200,000, leaving Darling’s family to seek the remaining balance through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, cleared the committee with a unanimous vote and has one stop left before the House floor.

The Senate companion bill has two stops left before it is ready for a vote from the full chamber.

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