Influence – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott names four new circuit judges

Gov. Rick Scott appointed four new judges Monday, including the assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute a South Florida eye doctor linked in a corruption case to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Scott named Carolyn Bell to the 15th Judicial Circuit for Palm Beach County. She was one of the federal prosecutors to work on a case against ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

Prosecutors dropped a bribery case against Melgen and Menendez in January, Roll Call reported, but Melgen was sentenced a month later to 17 years imprisonment in another case on charges of “defrauding Medicare and stealing $73 million from the system.”

Bell, 56, of Palm Beach Gardens, previously served as Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, a press release said. She fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Thomas H. Barkdull III.

In other announcements, Scott named:

James “Lee” Marsh to the 2nd Judicial Circuit for Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties.

Marsh, 44, of Tallahassee, currently serves as Chief Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General, and previously served as Judge Advocate in the United States Navy. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Charles A. Francis.

Chad K. Alvaro to the 9th Judicial Circuit for Orange and Osceola counties.

Alvaro, 41, of Orlando, is board-certified in construction law, and is a shareholder with Mateer & Harbert. He fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Christi L. Underwood.

— Tarlika Nunez Navarro to the 17th Judicial Circuit for Broward County.

Navarro, 35, of Fort Lauderdale, is currently in private practice. She previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. Navarro fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Alfred J. Horowitz.

Looking back at the 10 big issues of the 2018 Legislative Session

The Florida House and Senate ended the 2018 Legislative Session Sunday by passing a budget and a tax-cut package for the upcoming year. The Session became dominated in February by the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. That led to a massive debate about how to improve school safety and whether to revamp the state’s gun laws.

Here is a recap of 10 big issues from the 2018 Session:


Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, though they were forced to extend the Session by two days to finish the spending plan. The budget includes increased funding for education, with per-student spending in the kindergarten through 12th-grade system going up $101.50. The Senate also pushed through increased funding for nursing homes, while the House blocked a Senate attempt to change the way some Medicaid money is distributed to hospitals.

Health care

After years of legal battles in the hospital industry, lawmakers approved a plan to revamp the approval of new trauma centers. They also approved a long-discussed proposal that could lead to the use of “direct primary care” agreements, which involve patients and doctors contracting directly for primary care, reducing the role of insurers. The House, however, was unable to convince the Senate to go along with eliminating the controversial “certificate of need” regulatory process for hospitals.

Higher education

Throughout his term as Senate president, Stuart Republican Joe Negron has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system. Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday signed a wide-ranging bill that includes permanently expanding Bright Future scholarships. The bill also calls for expanding some need-based aid programs and would require the state university system to use a four-year graduation rate as part of its performance-funding formula, instead of the current six-year measure.

Hurricane Irma 

Lawmakers came into the Session still grappling with the effects of Hurricane Irma, which slammed into the state in September and caused billions of dollars in damage. The House and Senate took steps such as ratifying rules for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators and fuel supplies to help keep the facilities cool. Scott’s administration issued the rules after residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died after Irma knocked out the building’s air-conditioning system.


The two highest-profile insurance issues of the Session involved proposals to eliminate the no-fault auto insurance system and revamp a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits.” In the end, however, both issues died. The House approved repealing no-fault, which includes a requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. But the proposal couldn’t get through Senate committees. Similarly, the Senate did not approve changes sought by insurers in assignment of benefits.

K-12 education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other school-choice supporters got a victory Sunday when Scott signed a controversial bill that will expand voucher-like scholarship programs. The bill includes creating the “hope scholarships” program, which will help pay for children who have been bullied in public schools to transfer to private schools. The bill also includes a heavily debated change that targets teachers’ unions whose membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent.

Opioid epidemic

In one of the final issues decided during the Session, lawmakers late Friday approved a bill to stem the opioid epidemic that has caused a surge in overdoses across the state. A key part of the bill calls for placing limits on prescriptions for opioids. In most cases, the bill would place three- or seven-day limits on prescriptions, though it includes exemptions for people who are terminally ill, need palliative care or suffer from major trauma. The idea behind the limits is to prevent patients from getting addicted to painkillers.

Parkland aftermath

The Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland forced lawmakers to quickly deal with school-safety issues and spurred a contentious debate about gun laws. Scott on Friday signed a $400 million package that includes improving mental-health services and allowing trained employees to bring guns to schools. The package also raises the minimum age to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for people buying rifles and other long guns. The National Rifle Association quickly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the age restriction.

Tax cuts

Getting ready to hit the campaign trail, lawmakers Sunday approved a bill that includes about $170 million in tax breaks. The measure includes holding a three-day tax “holiday” in early August to allow back-to-school shoppers to buy clothes and school supplies without paying sales taxes. A similar seven-day “holiday” will be held in early June for residents to buy hurricane supplies. The bill also includes tax breaks for farmers and ranchers who suffered damage in Hurricane Irma and would trim a lease tax paid by many businesses.

Texting while driving

With support from Corcoran, it appeared lawmakers this year could approve a long-discussed idea to toughen Florida’s ban on texting while driving. But the proposal did not make it through the Senate, at least in part because of concerns about racial profiling of minority drivers. Currently, texting while driving is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. The proposal would have made it a primary offense, with police able to pull over motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Florida Realtors laud lawmakers for cutting business rent tax

After the Legislature passed an $88.7 billion budget Sunday, Florida Realtors are heaping praise on lawmakers for including $31 million in cuts to the business rent tax and $110 million for affordable housing projects.

“I’m so proud of our membership for responding to our call for action to cut the business rent tax,” said Bill Martin, the chief executive officer of Florida Realtors. “They stayed engaged throughout the process on this and many other of our key issues,” Martin added, “realtors absolutely rock!”

Martin said thousands of letters were sent to lawmakers urging them to support additional cuts to the business rent tax and tax credits for businesses that pay that tax. And it did.

Other measures passed by the Legislature during the 2018 legislative session that will benefit realtors and property owners include House Bill 1011, which revises flood insurance notices. If signed into law, flood insurers may see more people purchasing flood insurance coverage.

The organization also lauded the Legislature for allocating about $500,000 to prevent unlicensed real estate activity.

Other issues the interest group was pushing but did not get were proposals that would have limited control over vacation rentals, like Airbnb, and would have brought Assignment of Benefits reform to the state.

An issue the organization wants to get next Session has to do with remote notaries, with the intent of allowing documents needed to close a sale to be notarized even when the notary or person signing the documents are not physically in the same room.

Florida Chamber sums up likes, dislikes this Session

The Florida Chamber of Commerce wanted to see the cost of living for Floridians reduced this Session, but after lawmakers’ focus turned to the Parkland school massacre, the measures passed by the Legislature did not impress the organization.

“Rightly so, the last three weeks of Session were focused on school safety following the Parkland tragedy,” said Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“Unfortunately,” Wilson added, “when you look at the other work of the Legislature, on balance they made it a little more expensive for families and a little less competitive for businesses.”

The Florida Chamber worked to defeat efforts that it believed would have “further worsened Florida’s abysmal lawsuit abuse climate,” which included a PIP repeal without accompanying bad faith lawsuit reforms.

Among the proposals the chamber is proud to have helped block in the Republican-controlled Legislature were a ban on plastic bags, increasing the minimum wage, added hurricane-related employer mandates, open-carry liability and gambling expansion.

The chamber was also happy to see the Legislature pass a $10.5 billion transportation budget, funding for computer science classes in state schools, making it easier to decertify public employee unions, and a proposal that will make it harder to raise taxes and fees in the future.

The organization was quick to point the finger at “some in the Florida Senate” for not advancing “pro-job legislation,” it says would have improved the cost of living for Floridians. In other words: the Senate did not push to lower automobile insurance rates and workers’ compensation rates.

“While we’re looking forward to working with future leadership, the Florida Chamber looks forward to ensuring candidates that believe in jobs and growing the economy to support families are elected during the 2018 election cycle,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, who is the chair of the Florida Chamber Political Council.

The Florida Chamber will soon release its annual legislative report card.

Free market fights end in wins for 2018, AFP-Florida says

Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the free market fighters, are celebrating a long list of legislative accomplishments as the 2018 Legislative Session comes to an end.

Among their top priorities this year was a bill to allow direct primary care contracts, SB 80, and the House education package which includes a requirement that teacher unions to have at least 50 percent of eligible members pay dues.

“As Floridians continue to suffer under the restrictions of Obamacare, the passage of Direct Primary Care will expand access to quality care by removing third parties from the doctor-patient relationship. This will ensure Floridians receive the care they need from the providers of their choice,” said AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson.

“And the passage of HB 7055 makes Florida the third state in the country to embrace common sense labor reforms and further expands our state’s reputation as a leader in education choice. Ensuring that teachers have a greater say in who represents them is a paramount right that all workers deserve; and our kids deserve every chance possible to achieve their educational goals.”

The group also celebrated the lack of a funding increase for state economic incentives arm Enterprise Florida and the the defeat of “corporate welfare” proposals, such as the bills to create a new film and television program funding pool (HB 341/SB 1606).

“We commend Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron for delivering common sense solutions to issues that continue to make the Sunshine State the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Hudson said.

“We hope that Governor [Rick] Scott acts quickly to make these key policies law and we will work diligently to communicate across the state for citizens to contact their elected officials as we begin our annual accountability efforts.”

Other bills the group praised were SB 4, which included language from the campus “free speech” bills, and SB 1392, “which includes the most robust and transparent data collection in order to promote and guide common sense criminal justice policy.”

Ballard Partners snags last-minute tax package tweak to help web-based client

The lobbying powerhouse Ballard Partners swayed lawmakers to add a new section to the state’s labor law that mirrors the exact business model of one of its online-based clients.

Handy Technologies, Inc., which hired Ballard Partners, will directly benefit from a last-minute add on to the tax cut package championed by Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley.

The amendment language clarifies that those hired to do work through an online-based or mobile-app company are treated as independent contractors and not employees, and lists the exact household and handyman work services offered by Handy Technologies.

The change will not change workers’ compensation or healthcare requirements for those who currently receive them. It would just clarify that if an online-company is not paying those now to a contract worker, it doesn’t have to pay them in the future.

“We are pleased the Legislature continued to support the emerging marketplace contractor economy,” said Chris Dorworth, who is representing Handy Technologies as a registered lobbyist for Ballard Partners.

Uber is also in support of the change.

Bradley said he did meet with the firm and that the intent of the amendment is meant to clarify a “disguise in existing law” and would encourage “free-flow economic activity” in the state.

“I spoke with that firm, but it is consistent with where I have stood in this issues, like I have with Uber,” Bradley said.

“It was a natural fit for me,” he added.

Legislature approves tax cut package

The Legislature on Sunday gave the final OK of a negotiated tax relief package that would, among other things, allow Floridians to buy tax-free clothes and school supplies during three days in August and tax-free hurricane gear at the start of June.

The roughly $171 million package (HB 7087) was passed by the Senate 31-5, then approved by the House 95-12 at an extended legislative session Sunday to also vote on the state budget.

The size of the tax package is close to the $180 million that Gov. Rick Scott proposed late last year.

The package includes “$71.2 million in recurring tax cuts and $97.4 million in one-year tax cuts,” a Senate summary said. “The legislation creates a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday August 3-5, 2018, and a seven-day disaster preparedness sales tax holiday June 1-7, 2018.

“The legislation permanently lowers the sales tax charged on commercial leases,” it adds. 

The House and Senate scaled back tax cuts as money was shifted after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County.

Money had to come “from everywhere, from tax cuts, from member projects, the K-12 budget,” Republican Rep. Paul Renner of Palm Coast, chair of the Ways & Means Committee, told reporters Sunday. “We did the best we could with available dollars.

“… Priorities change. We were talking about Irma, and then Parkland happened,” he added. “Now you have to stop everything else to deal almost half a billion dollar in new spending.”

The House had initially offered a tax and fee package totaling $339.3 million in reductions next fiscal year. That amount included tax credits for programs that offer voucher-like scholarships to send children to private schools. The programs are in an education bill that has already passed both chambers.

The Senate matched the House proposal in providing tax breaks on agricultural fencing materials purchased for repairs after Hurricane Irma.

Also, both chambers have supported tax breaks for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening and for fuel used to transport agricultural products after the storm.

The final deal includes a property-tax break for homeowners displaced by Irma and a break for nursing homes that purchase electric generators.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Rick Scott surprises Larry Metz: He’s a judge

In a surprise announcement Sunday from the dais of the Florida House, Gov. Rick Scott said he had appointed Republican Rep. Larry Metz as a circuit judge.

Metz, a Yalaha Republican and 62-year-old lawyer in private practice, applied for a judgeship in the 5th Judicial Circuit, covering Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties. He’s term-limited in the House this year.

“This caught me clearly off guard,” he said Sunday. “… It shows that (Scott) has very special trust and confidence in me … I’ll never forget this day and I look forward to being able to uphold the rule of law as a member of the judiciary.”

The former Marine is one of the House’s most reliably conservative members. He chairs the Public Integrity & Ethics committee under House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and has previously chaired the Justice Appropriations subcommittee.

Metz also has backed measures that would stop Florida cities and counties from shielding undocumented immigrants (the “sanctuary cities” bill), ban the use of foreign law in Florida courts, and call for a “convention of states” to consider congressional term limits.

Circuit judges hear civil disputes of more than $15,000 and criminal felonies, as well as probate, juvenile, and other cases.

Metz argued before the Supreme Court in favor of a new evidence law he sponsored, one that toughens the state’s expert witness standard.

He unsuccessfully applied for a seat on that same court in late 2016, for an opening that went to current Justice Alan Lawson. During an interview for the position, Metz revealed he has Parkinson’s disease.

“I disclosed it in a context I thought I needed to,” he said in a 2016 interview. But the disease “hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do.”

Parkinson’s is a “chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time,” according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

The disease, which has an unknown cause, often manifests through trembling of the hands, legs and jaw. There’s no cure, although the symptoms can be managed through medication.

“I have a positive outlook,” he said in 2016. “This is not going to affect my future. I’m going to continue to work hard and do my job.”

Generation Opportunity lauds move to eliminate ‘free-speech zones’

The state’s leadership is drawing praise for removing “free-speech zones” from college campuses.

Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday will sign a sweeping higher education bill (SB 4) into law that includes language preventing state colleges and universities from restricting free speech to certain areas on campuses.

Generation Opportunity, a center-right political advocacy organization, commended Scott and the Legislature for including the provision in the higher education bill this year. Eliminating the free-speech zones, the organization said, will expand First Amendment rights on campuses.

“The bill includes a provision ending wrongly-named ‘free speech zones’ which, in reality, restrict students from exercising their constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights on the state’s publicly funded college and university campuses,” a news release from Generation Opportunity explained.

The group pushed for removing free-speech zones through legislation filed earlier this year by Rep. Bob Rommel and Sen. Dennis Baxley. Those provisions were eventually lumped into the bill Scott will sign on Sunday.

Generation Opportunity cited research from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education showing that one in ten universities maintain free speech zones, described by GO as “space designed to limit your ability to hold ‘rallies, demonstrations, distribute literature, circulate petitions and give speeches.’”

Also cited was a recent study from the Brookings Institute showing that one in five surveyed college students said it is acceptable to use violence against a speaker who makes offensive statements.

“Today is a huge victory for current and future college students across the Sunshine State who will no longer be discouraged from fully expressing their ideas and beliefs,” said GO-FL Coalitions Director Demetrius Minor.

Sunshine State gambling #fails: A short history (updated for 2018)

Just as it always does in recent years, a legislative effort to revisit the state’s gambling laws tanked in the last week of this year’s Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night: “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” they said.

It’s not clear when lawmakers will get another shot: A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. It would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

“The amendment could have a big effect,” Senate-President-designate Bill Galvano told reporters late Friday, mentioning the initiative was polling in the low 70 percent-range. It needs 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

“It could ultimately take off the table the opportunity for certain types of expansion,” added the Bradenton Republican, who’s president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. “It has the potential of narrowing the issues.”

Failing again was an attempt to get a proposed new “Compact” – the gambling agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

Then again, Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. The state’s inaction even caused the Las Vegas Sands Corp. to give up its efforts to build a destination casino resort in Florida.

The inertia is largely because of the fractured vote when it comes to gambling issues, split among anti-gambling-expansion lawmakers, those with a Seminole casino in their district, and those with other pari-mutuel interests among their constituency (i.e., dog or horse tracks).

In 2016, Nick Iarossi, the Sands’ Florida lobbyist, said he “understand(s) their perspective … We’ve been pushing this for six years with no success.”

Four years before that, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

“Nobody wants to address a comprehensive approach to gambling in this state,” she said then. “It’s taboo but it still needs to be fixed.”

The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.

Two years later, House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.

It, too, died during the Legislative Session.

Last year, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, then the House’s point man on gambling, said an impossibility of compromise over slot machines killed a gambling bill.

“We were too far apart and the Senate wanted to bring it in for a landing during budget conference, and we were not going to be able to do that,” he said. “The timing was off.”

Slot machines killed the 2018 attempt as well. A conference committee melting down over an impasse related to expanding slots to eight counties that approved them in local referendums: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

The House’s final proposal — five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slot machines or the ability to offer a certain type of card game, but not both — was deemed “too cute” by Negron, according to one person in the industry.

“He was willing to extend gaming conference over the weekend, but the last House offer killed it. So we’re done,” that person said privately.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who leaves the presidency after this year, had long pushed to expand slots to referendum counties, including St. Lucie, which he represents.

And the House was intransigent on designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, being banned everywhere else besides those areas.

But, as another gaming lobbyist said late Friday, “The status quo isn’t all that bad.”


Parts of this post were published previously.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons