Influence Archives - Page 4 of 240 - Florida Politics

Senate to set marathon 4-hour hearing on gambling bill

The Senate’s gambling legislation for 2017 will be filed Thursday, according to state Sen. Bill Galvano.

Bet on a lot of talk about it: The Regulated Industries Committee has set aside four hours to discuss it at its next meeting.

A tentative schedule posted Wednesday on the Senate’s website shows its Jan. 25 meeting beginning at 2 p.m. and ending at 6 p.m. The committee oversees gambling policy.

Committee chair Travis Hutson, said his members will begin going over the bill being handled by Galvano, one of the lawmakers who helped draft the 2010 Seminole Compact,

The Miami Herald reported late Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal to get approval of a new agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them continued exclusivity to offer blackjack and “banked card games.”

Part of that deal involved “allow(ing) owners of declining pari-mutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida,” the paper reported.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has been working on legislation with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican and the House’s point man on gambling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass … it’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

The deal satisfies that condition, the Herald reported, because it “lead(s) to a net reduction of live, active (dog and horse track) permits throughout the state.”

But gambling opponents are skeptical, saying any new slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties would be unconstitutional.

Voters statewide approved an 2004 amendment to the state constitution legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks, but only in South Florida.

EMTeLink hires David Bishop as legislative lobbyist

EMTeLINK, a leading medical information company, has enlisted the help of Solaris Consulting.

David Bishop, the president of Solaris Consulting, registered as a lobbyist to represent EMTeLink on Dec. 13

A technology company, EMTeLINK provides first responders with information patients medical conditions in the event of an emergency. The technology allows first responders and medical technicians to access a patient’s medical information with the patient’s driver’s license.

The company allows families and individuals to store emergency contacts and medical histories, including medications and allergies.

State records show Richard Watson with Richard Watson & Associates was also registered as a lobbyist to represent the firm before the Legislature in 2016. Watson’s registration went into effect Jan. 6, 2016.

medical marijuana

Treadwell Nursery hires Gunster lobbyists Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams

Treadwell Nursery appears to be sticking with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams registered with the state to lobby the Florida Legislature on behalf of the Central Florida nursery on Dec. 13. The nursery, which was one of several applicants seeking a permit to grow and distribute medical marijuana, enlisted the help of two other Gunster team members earlier in 2016.

State records show Derek Bruce and Cameron Yarbrough registered to lobby the Legislature on the nursery’s behalf in August and July respectively. In October 2016, the nursery also enlisted the help of Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl with Capitol Alliance Group.

In April, Treadwell Nursery filed a petition for formal administrative hearings in response to the Department of Health’s decision to approve San Felasco Nurseries as a northeast Florida dispensing organization.

The nursery challenged how the Department of Health responded to a new state law, saying it had no criteria or timing outlined about how and when it would award additional licenses.

Treadwell Nursery, a more than 40-year-old family owned nursery in Central Florida, was one of eight nurseries in the central region to apply to be a dispensing organization. The nursery lost out to Knox Nursery. A second nursery in the region, San Felasco Nursery, won its administrative challenge and was eventually issued a licenses.

The fight over who can grow and distribute medical marijuana will surely heat up in the coming months, as state lawmakers and health department officials begin to craft rules and implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which went into effect on Jan. 3.

The new law allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use higher strength medical marijuana if recommended by a licensed physician. According to the Associated Press, there are nearly 1,500 patients in the state registry and about 340 physicians have registered.

The industry is also expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. A recent report from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research showed Florida’s market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent. The report notes that the Sunshine State could make up 14 percent of the medical marijuana market by 2020.

House panel stages civilized discussion of assignment of benefits reform

The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee held a calm, measured, largely drama-free discussion of assignment of benefits reform Wednesday.

Nothing was resolved, but the panel appeared to inch toward a compromise. It may include extending regulation to the home repair contractors but perhaps not changing Florida’s attorney fee statute to discourage abusive lawsuits against insurers.

“We got a lot more stuff on the table than I’ve heard before,” ranking Democrat Richard Stark said. “Everybody seems to be on board with four points of the five points we had on there. The attorney fees — that’s the sticking point.”

Chairman Danny Burgess was not prepared to commit to any single approach this early in the debate.

“This has been going on for five years too long,” Burgess said. “We all recognize that there’s a problem. It’s just how do we address what’s really the heart of the issue.”

Assignment of benefits agreements, or AOBs, are contracts in which a policyholder signs away all rights to a claim in exchange for quick repair.

But they can be abused, leading to shoddy or inflated repairs and frivolous lawsuits, according to insurers and the state Office of Insurance Regulation. Trial attorneys argue lawsuits are reactions to insurers that reject claims or offer inadequate settlements.

The debate can turn unpleasant — as happened in the subcommittee’s Senate counterpart Tuesday, when a senator chastised Citizens Property Insurance Corp. president and CEO Barry Gilway for interrupting him.

During his first hearing as chairman, Burgess convened stakeholders in the debate to hash out their positions.

Present were Gilway, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James, Lee Jacobson of the Florida Justice Association, Foyt Ralston of the Florida Association of Restoration Specialists, and American Strategic Insurance Corp. general counsel Angel Conlin.

Altmaier said that, as of 2014, 63 percent of insurers’ rate filings sought decreases or no change. Last year, 73 percent sought increases. He blamed insurance claims for interior water damage, particularly in South Florida, and related AOBs.

Absent reform, he said, the state faces annual insurance rate increases of 10 percent into the foreseeable future.

They discussed five main approaches:

— Establishing minimum standards for AOBs.

— Limiting consumers’ obligations under the agreements, possibly including banning liens against them for repair costs not covered by insurance.

— Requiring contractors to notify the customer and insurer before filing suit, or requiring the customer’s permission to file.

— Regulating contractors, as the state now does with mold remediation contractors.

— Limiting third-party demands for attorney fees in litigation, or allowing the prevailing party to collect fees.

Overall, the debate emitted considerable light. The discussion of attorney fees also generated a modest amount of heat, as advocates for insurers and trial attorneys shared sharply differing views.

Conlin argued that Florida’s liberal attorney-fee law was intended to help David against Golliath.

“That legislative intent and rationale doesn’t apply to a third-party vendor who’s a savvy commercial type. It’s no longer David versus Golliath,” she said. “It’s now a commercial business using (that statute) as an opportunity to profit.”

Jacobson insisted greedy insurance companies had manufactured the crisis. The real problem, he argued, is insurers acting in bad faith to lowball policyholders. He recalled a case in which an insurer offered $500 to settle a claim over $13,000 in roof damage.

“Let’s be clear — the reason why they get sued is because they either don’t pay a claim entirely, they deny claims entirely, or there is a disagreement as to the amount of the bill,” he said.

Comity reappeared when talk turned to regulation. Ralson said his members would welcome greater oversight.

“We believe that those companies that are causing the majority of the problems that we’ve heard about today are not going take that step to become licensed, to become certified, and to invest in their companies,” Ralston said.

“They’re going to move on to whatever else they can find as the path of least resistance.”

James concurred. “Of all of the issues that we’ve talked about, this is one that I’ve found that there may be consensus on,” she said.

She held a four-hour forum on the topic in June, she said, and “most stakeholders agreed that there should be some regulation around the water-remediation program. This is one of the points of vulnerability with consumers, and so I would definitely support regulation.”

Altmaier agreed, although he added that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation would have to weigh in.

Burgess declined to take a position at this early date.

“My philosophy as a principled conservative is that less regulation is a good thing,” he said following the meeting. “But we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

House panel begins discussions about economic incentives

A Florida House subcommittee took its first stab at addressing economic incentives during a panel discussion Wednesday.

While the two-hour House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting gave experts a chance to weigh-in on economic incentives, the crux of the discussion centered around a single question from Rep. Halsey Beshears, the committee’s chairman.

Beshears asked the panel — which included Chris Hart IV, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Development; and Fatima Perez, the regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector — why the House should, or shouldn’t, modify the current economic incentive policies. The response? Well, that was mixed.

“Economic development does not happen without an investment,” said Proctor. “We believe in a strong economic development package, and we have to have (incentives).”

The House blocked an effort in 2016 to create a $250 million business incentive fund under Enterprise Florida. And House Republicans appear to be the poised to do the same in 2017.

Led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House appears poised to oppose economic incentive proposals. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare” and has vowed to lead the effort  to end taxpayer funding to the organization.

“All of the members here, we’ve heard the Speaker passionately argue against corporate welfare and we want to get a better handle on it,” said Beshears, a Monticello Republican, who went on to say the House is having discussions to figure out how to move forward.

Perez said her company supports ending “corporate welfare.” And that should come as no surprise to capital watchers. Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which led the effort against economic incentives last year, is backed by the Koch brothers.

“While Florida lawmakers are continuing to look at this, we believe there is plenty of room for improvement,” she said.

But supporters said incentives are just one tool in the toolbox, and are only one part of the discussion state and local officials have with companies looking to move to Florida.

“They are not an entitlement, (but) they tip the scale in our favor” said Kelly Smallridge, the president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “Incentives are only one policy discussion.”

Bill Galvano files two key elements of Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act

State Sen. Bill Galvano filed two essential bills in the Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Agenda, which seeks to improve Florida colleges and universities while keeping schools accountable to taxpayers.

The Bradenton Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, filed Senate Bills 2 and 4 Wednesday for the 2017 Legislative Session, which begins March 7.

Known collectively as the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act,” SB 2 promotes on-time graduation by expanding financial assistance and support for students, streamlining the “2+2 program” of articulation, student retention and on-time graduation in four years with a baccalaureate degree.

SB 4 also looks to expands policy and funding tools, which will help universities recruit and retain the best faculty, as well as boost professional and graduate schools. Part of the bill will be used to improve aging infrastructure and research laboratories.

“This package of policy enhancements and funding investments will elevate the prominence of our state universities and increase their ability to compete as national destination institutions while preserving access and increasing affordability for Floridians,” Galvano said of the act.

“These bills are key components of a comprehensive higher education agenda that will boost the strength and competitiveness of our state’s higher education system as our primary economic engine to drive vibrant, sustainable economic development and growth in high-paying jobs,” Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said in a statement.

“Florida taxpayers see a return worthy of their investment in our entire PreK-20 system,” Negron added, “when our top Florida students attend our own universities, complete degree programs on time, and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities.”

Included among the initiatives in SB 2 is a reinstatement of the highest tier of Bright Futures Scholarship Program Award (Florida Academic Scholar), covering 100 percent of tuition and certain tuition-indexed fees, including the summer term, plus $300 for textbooks and college-related expenses during the fall and spring terms.

The bill expands the Benacquisto Scholar Program to provide awards for qualified out-of-state students, with funds allotted under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) In an amount equal to the highest cost of resident student attendance at a state university. The student must physically reside in the community of the school he or she is attending. Also, SB 2 revises the First-Generation Matching Grant Program to increase funds to two-to-one (state to local match versus one to one).


Legislation covering Uber, Lyft filed for 2017

Online car services such as Uber and Lyft got a preliminary win in Florida after favorable legislation was filed Wednesday in the Legislature.

The bills (SB 340 and HB 221), which would apply to ridebooking companies like Uber and Lyft, combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

Still, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, pretty much got what they wanted, including a provision for driver background checks that don’t require fingerprints, which are more expensive for the companies.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, however, says the checks provided for in the bills are still rigorous and comprehensive. He and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican who filed the House bill, spoke with reporters Wednesday.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who advocates for ridebooking and other “disruptive technologies,” mentioned running potential drivers through a national sex offender database and searching their driving history records.

Importantly, the bills also prohibit local governments from trying to regulate TNCs, another bugaboo of the companies.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison called the bills “fair and comprehensive.”

The legislation “establishes common-sense guidelines throughout the state, and allows people in Florida to continue benefitting from Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides,” said Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager.

“More than two-thirds of states across the country have embraced modern transportation options like Lyft and we are hopeful Florida will soon join them in creating a framework that benefits drivers and passengers,” she added.

Such legislation has been opposed by taxicab and limo interests, and the head of the Florida Taxicab Association called this year’s bills “another attempt by Uber to have legislation written to codify their exact business practice.”

“The goal for policymakers should be what is in the best interest of the public, including drivers, passengers and third parties,” said Roger Chapin, also the executive vice president of Mears Transportation, Central Florida’s largest taxi and hired-car provider.

“A good start,” he added, “would be an appropriate level of insurance for any and all ‘for hire’ drivers that covers the additional risk associated with the more intensive use of the vehicle,” such as “24/7 commercial insurance.”

But the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out in support of the bills.

“Many drivers believe their personal auto insurance policy will cover them; this is almost never the case, as the majority of personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when a vehicle is being used for hire,” association spokeswoman Logan McFaddin said.

“This legislative solution helps to ensure there are safe transportation options that protect drivers, passengers and the public.”

Among other things, the bills require the companies to insure drivers for at least $1 million when they’re giving a ride.

While drivers are on duty but waiting for a ride, they must insure them for death and bodily injury of $50,000 per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy group, also came out in favor of the bills. He said TNCs “offer economic benefits to the economy by stirring market activity through new good paying jobs consistent with the American Dream.”

Lawmakers “need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” he added. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Colin Tooze, an Uber representative, called the legislation “sound and consistent with the emerging national consensus” on regulating ridebooking.

“The bills have very robust safety, insurance, and consumer protection standards,” said Tooze, Uber’s public affairs director. “That’s what our drivers and riders are looking for.”

He also said the pre-emption language, reserving TNC regulation to the state, also was important to save drivers and riders from a “patchwork of regulations that’s very confusing.”

“We think people ought to have certainty and uniformity so that wherever in Florida you are, you can count on a good experience,” Tooze said.



New Central Florida economic development and chamber group names Tim Giuliani as CEO

Tim Giuliani has been tapped as the new head of Central Florida’s soon-to-be-announced economic development/chamber group.

The organization will be officially named in March, and its purpose will be to oversee “strategic efforts to bring more high-wage jobs to Central Florida while promoting and enhancing the region’s dynamic business climate and quality of life,” according to a press release.

It was created from the merger of the Orlando Economic Development Commission (EDC) and the Central Florida Partnership (CFP), which includes the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, the release states.

Giuliani was most recently the president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina. He was also the president of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce before that.

“Tim brings tremendous leadership experience, particularly in managing a combined economic development/chamber organization, as well as a keen understanding of today’s workforce,” says Robert Utsey, co-chairman of the economic/chamber group and senior vice president of business development for Skanska USA Building Inc.

Giuliani said he’s excited to be returning to the Central Florida area and to helm the initiative to create jobs and a prospering economy for the area.

“Central Florida has reached an exciting and significant stage in its economic progress,” Giuliani says. “This is an amazing community full of promise and talent and ingenuity. Working closely with the Board of Directors and our public/private and civic partners, I am incredibly excited to take a page from the new campaign – Orlando: You don’t know the half of it – and spread the word about all of the dynamic aspects of living and working in Central Florida.”

The campaign he’s referring to is put out by the Economic Development Commission, and aims to show businesses the myriad reasons why they should locate in Central Florida.

House Energy & Utilities chairwoman plans field trips this session

The chairwoman of the House Energy & Utilities subcommittee might need to invest in a hard hat. Her members might want to do that, too.

During the panel’s first meeting Wednesday, Kathleen Peters said she planned to conduct as many visits as possible to facilities operated by the utilities regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission, which the committee oversees.

“I strongly encourage you to contact your local utilities — whether its energy, whether its water, whether its telecommunications — and start setting up some site visits,” Peters said.

The St. Petersburg Republican said she’d be happy to accompany them on such outings and offered: “I hope you will join me on a lot of the tours I plan on taking this year and next.”

The committee convened for a briefing by representatives of the PSC and two major public utilities about the rate-setting process, by which the companies propose and the commission vets rates the public will pay.

Peters billed the session as a way for members — many of them new to utilities regulation — to find their footing.

You can find a document detailing the PSC’s ratemaking process here.

Toward the end of the meeting, Peters asked the industry and regulatory representatives about their conservation goals.

Cayce Hinton, director of industry development and market analysis for the PSC, replied that the commission sets five-year conservation goals for utilities and requires them to update their plans every year.

Javier Portuondo, director for rates and regulatory strategy for Duke Energy, said his company sees growing momentum in that direction.

Carlos Aldazabal, managing director for regulatory affairs at Tampa Electric Co., said vendors bring new products all the time that promise to help the utility exceed its goals.

“Take me 20 years from now: What do you look like?” Peters asked. “When we look at technology and how things are changing, what’s going to have to be in place for Florida to be the best that there is when it comes to energy?”

The future will include apps that let customers monitor their energy use in real time and control household appliances, Aldazabal said.

“In order to do that, it’s going to require quite a bit of infrastructure improvement on utilities’ part” — including smart meters that feed consumption data to consumers.

Portuondo sees an end to energy delivery exclusively from large generating plants.

“It was built as a one-way road from the station to the customers,” he said. “That’s changing. The dynamics of our grid needs to be more two-way,” to accommodate customers’ roof-top solar arrays and other technology.

Systems in the offing will allow utilities to respond better to outages — redirecting distribution to restrict them to as few customers as possible using “intelligent” and “self-healing” grids.

That will change the ways utilities approach the PSC, Portuondo continued.

“In the past, you went along and then you had this big power plant, and that’s what drove your rate case. Now the financial need will be more frequent, but maybe of lesser impact, in order to accommodate that expanding modernization of the grid,” he said.

“Our systems weren’t built for the world of apps and that type of information flow to our customers. That will drive a significant round of investments by the utilities.”

Asked whether conservation would be a priority for her subcommittee, Peters described her question as “just a start and an introduction.”

She has not yet settled on her priorities for the next two years.

“We’re interested in economy. We’re interested in performance. We want to make sure we’re getting the best we can for our customers in this state. We want to be efficient. We’re going to look at a whole lot of things,” she said.

“Conservation isn’t something that’s been a hot topic lately, so I think it’s time we just introduce it and get people acclimated to the conversation of it. Each utility does things differently. I think some do a better job than others.”

The incentives are not always clear for conservation, Peters said.

“Often, the return on investment is in a completely different area than where you would think,” she said.

“If you’re serving low-income, and that’s one less stressor within that family, what’s the return on investment there? A little less stress in their economics, and what other stressors are relieved?” she said

“I do big view. I’m not honed in, and I kind of went on a tangent. But it’s important. There’s a ripple effect when it comes to conservation. There’s a ripple effect within the environment. There’s a ripple effect within the community.”

Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, welcomed the mention of conservation — a topic she said the PSC has been lax about.

“We’ve pretty much gutted conservation goals in the state of Florida,” Glickman said.

“We could do so much more about helping customers save energy, and the utilities are on the front lines communicating with consumers regularly. They are best suited to help implement those kinds of programs,” she said.

“And yet, because demand has gone down naturally with more efficient products, they want to build new infrastructure that they put into the rate base. There is a disincentive for utilities to help consumers use less energy. In fact, they would like to sell more energy, because that’s their business model.”

medical marijuana

Ray Rodrigues: House bill won’t include tax on medical marijuana

The Florida House will push to make medical marijuana tax exempt, according the sponsor of the yet-to-be filed bill implementing Amendment 2.

While lawmakers are in the early stages of drafting an implementing bill, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues said the House does not plan to include a tax on medical marijuana in its proposal. The Estero Republican will be sponsoring the House bill during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Obviously our goal is to honor the intent of the constitutional amendment that more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved,” said Rodrigues. “The only thing I can firmly commit to is, I reviewed the Senate testimony that was offered in the Senate Health committee, and Ben Pollara, who led the organization that put the amendment on the ballot, said … it was his hope that Amendment 2 would be treated with the same seriousness as we treat medicine and all other health care decisions.”

“We respect that and, to that end, the one thing I can say about the House bill is we’re going to treat medical marijuana like medicine and we will not contain a tax on medical marijuana,” he continued.

Rodrigues said he is in the early stages of crafting the legislation, but does not currently have legislation in bill drafting. He said he hopes to meet with all of the stakeholders before drafting the legislation. But when it comes to the legislation, Rodrigues said he thinks everything will be on the table.

“I think the key is to come out with a product that honors the constitutional amendment, but also provides the regulations that are necessary to safeguard Florida citizens,” he said.

Rodrigues’ comments came after a two-hour House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, where lawmakers heard from Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, and other medical marijuana experts.

The constitutional amendment, which received support from 71 percent of Florida voters, allows Floridians with debilitating medical condition, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health are now tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

Bax said the Department of Health will begin the rule-making process in the coming days. The agency, he said, plans to hold workshops in five regions throughout the state to create an open dialogue about the needs.

“The Department of Health remains committed to executing the will of Florida voters,” he told the committee.

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