Influence Archives - Page 5 of 240 - Florida Politics

Florida’s economic development efforts are ‘underperforming’

Florida’s state economic development efforts are “underperforming,” according to a new legislative report.

An undesirable label by any standard, critics and lawmakers already skeptical of providing taxpayer support for private businesses are likely to seize on the bureaucratic euphemism and underlying findings to bolster their anti-incentives position ahead of the March state legislative session.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, a nonpartisan legislative research office, conducted a comprehensive review of Enterprise Florida Inc. and the Department of Economic Opportunity —the state’s two most prominent development organizations— and found the results of their economic development activities wanting when compared with other states.

The analysis spans 10 years and focuses on job creation in targeted industries as well as economic growth. These two areas are the main justifications for awarding taxpayer-funded subsidies to selected businesses, and for their proponents’ significant annual funding requests.

In the report, auditors compared Florida to seven competitor states with tax-incentive agencies and programs: Alabama, California, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Overall, from 2006 to 2015, Florida experienced job growth in only two of six targeted industry sectors, management of companies and enterprises, and professional, scientific and technical services. The state ranked third and seventh in the job categories, respectively, when compared with the other states.

Additionally, Florida ranked fourth out of the eight for high-wage job creation in manufacturing, sixth in both wholesale trade and finance and insurance, and seventh in information services.

“Further analyses showed little or no employment growth in these industries relative to the nation,” the report said.

Texas, a state often compared with Florida because of their comparable size and rapid growth, received first place rankings for employment in five of the six tax-incentive targeted industries.

The report also compares Florida with its competitor states according to several economic indicators commonly used in studies that examine state economic outlooks and business climates — gross domestic product, GDP per capita, unemployment rate, and personal income.

Florida fared best in the area of unemployment, with the third-lowest rate in 2015. However, among large states in the competitor group, New York and Texas outperformed Florida on all four measures, and California outperformed Florida on three measures, auditors determined.

On the whole, Florida ranked fourth out of eight states in economic terms, besting North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

‘Lack of marketing’

Beyond jobs and economic growth, the review highlighted a major flaw with respect to Enterprise Florida’s financing, and noted the stark lack of incentive assistance directed toward small, minority and rural businesses.

According to the report, private-sector cash investments “represent a very small portion of Enterprise Florida’s overall budget.”

However, state law requires that the public-private partnership obtain private-sector financing in the amount equal to its taxpayer appropriations, but it never has — and it’s not even close.

Established in 1996, Enterprise Florida was supposed to achieve public-private match funding by fiscal year 2000-01. It didn’t, and it hasn’t grown its private funding resources over the past decade.

“Private sector cash contributions during OPPAGA’s review period rarely exceeded $2 million, while state appropriations averaged about $20 million per year,” the report says.

Auditors added that by investing $122 million of incentive funding — money committed but not yet spent — in a state trust fund instead of a commercial escrow account, the state could double that return, adding another $2 million to the pot.

Whatever its source, very little of the money is going to small businesses.

Although 96 percent of state businesses employ fewer than 50 employees, auditors found that most state-level economic development programs, particularly business incentives, benefit large companies.

The report says a “lack of marketing may affect participation.”

More glaring is the low rate of participation in the state’s Black Business Loan program, which made only 12 active loans in fiscal 2015.

Participation in the Rural Community Development program has been even lower. Since 1996, the program has made only 17 loans, or just one loan every two years.

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, both Republicans, are currently at odds over the future of Enterprise Florida. Scott wants a new $85 million appropriation. Corcoran helped block a $250 million funding attempt in 2016.

Corcoran is on record saying that if he could, he’d abolish the quasi-state agency.

Last year alone, state officials appropriated $1.08 billion to Enterprise Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity. All but $25 million went to DEO.

Enterprise Florida coordinates its economic development partnerships with the department, which in turn collaborates on development contracts and acts as the contract manager for Enterprise Florida incentive agreements.

A House legislative discussion is scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol, where lawmakers will “review the return on investment” for Florida’s economic incentive programs.

Florida Senate bill would hike penalties for felon movers

A bill filed in the Florida Senate on Wednesday would hike penalties for moving companies who hire felons and give them access to customers’ homes and property.

Senate Bill 336, filed by Elkton Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, would amend statute related to residential movers, penalizing companies that fail to disclose in writing that a moving company employee with access to property has been convicted of a felony.

Each violation of the amended statute would be a Class IV civil penalty, requiring a fine of at least $10,000.

Companies that don’t pay these civil fines could have their registrations not renewed, if they don’t satisfy that obligation.

Former death row prisoner appears before House panel

A House committee considering the future of Florida’s death penalty statute heard Tuesday from a man once sentenced to Death Row.

Henry Brown, who described himself as a capital mitigation consultant in Tallahassee, said he was sentenced to death in 1973 but released after he pleaded to second-degree murder in 1993, although he denied killing anyone.

He urged committee members to consider making any changes to the sentencing guidelines retroactive beyond 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court first ruled that juries must decide whether murders deserve the death penalty.

“Had I still been on death row, I wouldn’t fall under that part of the retroactively. I’d be stuck back there,” he said.

“I’ve done some pretty great things since I’ve been out,” he continued. Florida has one of the country’s largest death rows, but “Florida also has the largest population of exonerees in the country. So consider that also.”

The issue is before the Legislature because in October, in a long-litigated case, the Florida Supreme Court voted, 5-2, to strike down Florida’s death penalty law because it doesn’t require a unanimous jury verdict to put someone to death.

Florida now allows death sentences upon 10-2 votes by juries.

Michael Allen, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, noted a rush by capital defendants and their lawyers to have their cases tried while the death statute remains unsettled.

“If one wanted to make a very quick fix, you change 10-2 to unanimous, and you leave everything else in the statute exactly the same,” Allen said.

“That’s not to say somebody else couldn’t raise an issue down the road, but that solves the issue that’s out there right now, for certain.”

Making changes retroactive to 2002 would probably require the state courts to resentence between 150 and 170 people now on death row, Allen said.

If the state limits retroactivity, Brown predicted, “that’s going to be a problem for the Legislature; that’s going to be a problem for the state; that’s going to be a problem for the death penalty. Because it’s going to be litigated. It’s going to go back to the Supreme Court, and Florida wouldn’t be able to carry out its death penalty statute.”

Charlie Crist lands ‘A-list’ assignment on Financial Services Committee

In just his second official week as a congressman, Charlie Crist lands a plum assignment on the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Known as an “A-list” committee, Financial Services has oversight on several significant issues, including federal monetary policy, banking and financial institutions, insurance and housing.

 “I am deeply thankful for this opportunity to serve in a role directly impacting many of the key issues facing Pinellas County,” said the St. Petersburg Democrat in a statement.

Crist – now representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District – said he has a proven record as both a former Florida governor and Attorney General for advocating consumer protections in the insurance, utilities, housing and banking industries. During his tenure, Crist noted he had issued rules keeping companies from abandoning Florida consumers, as well as vetoing deregulation legislation that would have put the insurance companies “back in charge.”

“From this platform,” Crist said of his new congressional appointment, “I will fight to make flood insurance more affordable, defend and strengthen reform of Wall Street, and provide greater access to capital for aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses – from the local barbershop to technology startups.”

More information of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services is available online.

fireworks

Greg Steube files fireworks legalization bill

Sis-boom-bah: state Sen. Greg Steube has filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida.

Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, filed his bill (SB 324) Tuesday.

The legislation appears to be identical to a bill (HB 4005) filed for the 2014 Legislative Session by then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican. That bill died in committee, records show.

Similar to Gaetz’s effort, Steube’s bill would repeal the prohibition on selling fireworks to the general public.

It also would remove requirements for testing and approval of sparklers and relieve those who make and sell sparklers from having to register with the state.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here. 

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 60-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country. It allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Anyone who has bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

Fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

As recently as 2016, only three states have outright bans on consumer fireworks: Delaware, Maine, and New Jersey, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

Blogger still irate over Justice James E.C. Perry’s continued presence at Supreme Court

Conservative blogger Ed Whelan isn’t giving up his position that retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry continuing to work on pending cases “appears to be in plain violation of Florida law.”

Whelan wrote on National Review Online last week that Perry was wrongly “displac(ing)” Justice C. Alan Lawson, the newest conservative jurist on the state’s high court.

In the court’s defense, spokesman Craig Waters explained that the court’s “longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement.”

He also said “there are serious workload issues involved in processing cases because the work is cumulative … asking a new justice to step in … can greatly slow decision-making in those cases – a result that would impose delay and additional expense on the parties to those cases, some of which are facing the death penalty.”

Whelan’s recent rebuttal said “the proposition that the court has employed this ‘practice for many decades’ does not speak meaningfully to the legality of the practice.

“If the court can’t offer a compelling legal explanation for its practice of allowing a retired justice to continue to decide cases after his retirement, it ought to terminate that practice pronto.”

Moreover, “it’s one thing to decide already-argued cases without the new member. It’s quite another thing to allow the retired justice to displace the new member in those cases,” Whelan wrote.

Any “efficiency gains that Waters touts would be achieved by simply deciding the case without him,” he added.

“To be sure, there may be a small number of cases that would have to be re-argued because Lawson’s participation would break a tie among the six remaining justices who heard oral argument. But those are precisely the cases in which having Perry displace Lawson is most objectionable.”

House budget chairman starts looking for programs to cut

House Appropriations Committee Chair Carlos Trujillo promised Tuesday to get to work this year on attacking budget deficits that loom during the next two years.

Trujillo directed committee members to begin scrutinizing state spending and looking for programs to trim or cut.

At the same time, he reiterated the House leadership’s determination to look for tax cuts, including to local property taxes.

“The House is very interested in that,” he said of cutting local property taxes for schools, with the state providing money to keep schools operating. “It’ll be a real tax cut to all Floridian across the entire state.”

State government revenues are projected to remain essentially flat during the 2017-18 fiscal year, beginning July 1. But state economists project deficits of $1.3 billion the year after that, and of $1.9 billion during the subsequent year.

Trujillo’ counterpart in the Senate, Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, has said he favors letting school districts capture tax revenues derived not from increased rates but from rising property values — rather than using state money in a “buy back,” as the House proposes.

Both Trujillo and Latvala favored spending at least $300 million of the $400 million Florida expects to collect in Deepwater Horizon disaster damages in the counties most affected.

Trujillo, a Republican from Miami, said any policy differences with the Senate or Gov. Rick Scott would be subject to negotiations.

“At some point, there’s compromise in any negotiation,” Trujillo said. “I don’t think this will be any different.”

Of “member projects” — prizes legislators seek for local constituents — he said: “Every single one of those projects will be scrutinized. If there’s not a true state need, or if the money wasn’t properly used, or the money is kind of obsolete for state purposes, there’s no case to be made.”

Given what Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are saying as the Affordable Care Act, Trujillo is prepared for changes to Medicaid. “But it’s something that won’t affect this fiscal year,” he said — and maybe not even the 2018-19 fiscal year.

He expressed willingness to scrutinize tax cuts passed in recent years but didn’t envision raising taxes.

“We have a commitment to not raise taxes,” he said. “But, at the same time, as chairman of the committee, I think every member should have the right to express their concerns. Those concerns will be vetted with the committee, and the committee ultimately will make a determination.”

 

Senate readies this year’s gambling bill

A Senate spokeswoman on Tuesday said the chamber’s legislative package on gambling should be ready for hearing later this month.

A meeting of the Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling policy, had been set for this Thursday but was cancelled.

“Based on conservations with Sen. (Bill) Galvano, President (Joe) Negron anticipates having a bill ready to be heard during the second committee week in January,” Katie Betta said in an email.

“Based on that timetable, President Negron felt that it would be more productive to cancel the workshop scheduled for this week and instead schedule a hearing when the bill is available later this month.”

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.”

That deal would “allow 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 hammering out a deal with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who’s 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.”

Don’t take that bet, said Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos.

“Slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties should be a non-starter,” he said. “It violates the constitution and the promise made to Florida voters when they very narrowly approved the amendment to allow them there in 2004.

“We will strongly oppose any new compact agreement that allows for slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”

Progressive coalition supports Linda Stewart’s assault weapon ban

Democratic lawmakers and representatives of progressive organizations Tuesday stood in support of a gun safety bill (SB 254).

Whether it gets heard this year is an open question. Among other things, it would outlaw the sale, transfer or possession “of an assault weapon or large-capacity magazine” in Florida.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the measure – filed last Thursday – had not yet been assigned to any committees, nor had its House companion.

Democratic state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat who co-introduced the measure with Linda Stewart, an Orange County Democrat, held a press conference at the Capitol with leaders from the League of Women Voters, Equality Florida and a host of other groups.

“I have a meeting scheduled with Senate leadership in the hopes that we will have a hearing,” Farmer said.

But one colleague he’ll have to convince is Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee and is backing a push to allow open carry of firearms in the state. His bill would grant that right to the state’s concealed weapon license holders.

Farmer, Stewart and others mentioned the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and last June’s murders at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, as evidence of the need for change.

Supporters handed out a list of over 120 groups and individuals who say they support the legislation, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida chapter; Florida Council of Churches; the Pinellas County Urban League and Vice Mayor Linda Penniman of Naples, Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown.

Stewart, whose district includes the Pulse nightclub, said elected officials can’t continue to “just say I’m sorry” after gun violence affects a community.

“We need gun safety legislation,” she said. “We’re more than sorry – we need to act.”

In wake of Orlando shooting, Vern Buchanan renews call to pass bill imposing death penalty for cop killers

One day after Debra Clayton was shot and killed, Sarasota area Republican Vern Buchanan is once again calling Congress to pass his bill making it easier to sentence cop killers to death.

Clayton, a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, died Monday morning while attempting to arrest a murder suspect. Hours later, an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy also died in an auto accident during the pursuit of the alleged killer wanted in the slaying of his pregnant former girlfriend.

“These vicious attacks against police must end,” Buchanan said. “My legislation sends a strong message to those who target police — you will be held accountable.”

Buchanan’s “Thin Blue Line Act” (H.R. 115), would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other first responders an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations.

Former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly sponsored a similar bill in 2015.

Deadly shootings and ambush attacks contributed to a five-year high in U.S. law-enforcement fatalities in 2016, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

There were 135 officers killed on the job last year, and gun-related incidents were the leading cause of death, a report released last month indicated.

William J. Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), praised Buchanan’s bill in a statement issued out by the congressman’s office, saying assaults against police have increased sharply in recent years. In 2016 alone, ambush-style killings of law enforcement officers increased by 167 percent, according to NAPO.

“Establishing stricter penalties for those who harm or target law enforcement officers will deter crime,” Johnson said. “Any persons contemplating harming an officer must know that they will face serious punishments.”

The legislation would be applicable when a murdered individual is on duty, in the performance of their duty, or because of their status as a public official.

The proposal covers federal, state, and local police officers, firefighters and first responders. The only requirement is that the homicide involves federal jurisdiction, such as an interstate homicide of an officer, one killed on federal land, or while serving as part of a joint task force.

Buchanan’s press staff said it is unclear at this time if the Thin Blue Line Act would apply in the case of the incident Monday in Orlando.

“We owe a great debt to police officers and first responders across the country,” Buchanan said. “Just as we recently witnessed during the Fort Lauderdale airport attack, these brave individuals put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

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