Influence – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott vetoes ‘toilet-to-tap’ measure

There’ll be no “toilet-to-tap” in Florida this year.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday vetoed a water-related measure (HB 1149) from the 2018 Legislative Session, which includes a contentious provision that’s come to be known as “toilet-to-tap.”

The proposal would have allowed chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifer, an effort supporters say will boost the state’s supply of potable water.

But critics, including the Sierra Club, have said that could contaminate Florida’s supply of drinking water.

The wide-ranging bill (HB 1149) also addresses a variety of water-related issues, including rules regarding rebuilding single-family docks and the operation of the C-51 reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.

“While there are many worthwhile provisions in this bill, they do not outweigh my concerns that this legislation presents toward protecting Florida’s aquifer,” Scott wrote in a veto letter.

Scott, term-limited as governor this year, urged lawmakers to again take up the other parts of the bill next Session. The Naples Republican is widely expected to declare a 2018 run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson on Monday.

He added, “I do not believe that approving HB 1149 is worth risking Floridians’ confidence in our existing water quality regulatory system … Florida has stringent water quality standards, and we are going to keep it that way.”

But Rep. Bobby Payne, the Palatka Republican who sponsored the measure, had said any water being pumped into the aquifer must meet clean water drinking standards.

“Reclaimed water can start out as many different kinds of water,” Payne told members of the House Government Accountability Committee in February. “We often have reclaimed water that we use in irrigation. But this water will be sanitized and reused as (to) the drinking water standard.”

The reclaimed water will help combat saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, Payne said.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, has said his group opposes the measure because of the potential long-term negative impact caused by the use of chemicals. Cullen objected to “stuff we don’t know about” at wastewater treatment plants being used to treat water that would go into the aquifer.

“It’s the Pottery Barn rule,” Cullen said. “You break it, you bought it — for decades, perhaps generations.”

Friday’s veto marks only Scott’s second veto of legislation this year; the first was of a bill that would have expanded the governing board of the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Clearing the desk: Rick Scott signs last bills of 2018, vetoes one

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday acted on the last of the bills passed during the 2018 Legislative Session, signing 17 and vetoing one that had become known as the “toilet-to-tap” bill.

Bills OK’d by the governor will “increase student access to computer science instruction,” increase penalties for trespassing at airports, and devolve reviews of “developments of regional impact” to local governments.

A separate story on the “toilet-to-tap” measure (HB 1149) is here.

Bills signed Friday are below:

HB 55 Sale of Firearms – This bill requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s procedures for firearm background checks to allow electronic payment methods, including credit or debit cards.
HB 141 Transportation – This bill makes several changes within the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), including providing additional categories under which FDOT can contract with local governments for turnpike projects and expanding existing toll exemptions to include law enforcement in unmarked vehicles on official business.
HB 411 Public Records and Public Meetings/Firesafety Systems – This bill creates public record and public meeting exemptions for fire-safety system plans and information relating to fire-safety systems.
HB 417 Public Records/Child Advocacy Center Personnel and Child Protection Team Members – This bill creates a public record exemption for information of current and former employees of Child Advocacy Centers and Child Protection Teams.
HB 449 Children’s Initiatives – This bill codifies two existing children’s initiatives in statute.
HB 483 Unfair Insurance Trade Practices – This bill increases the maximum limit of advertising, promotional gifts and charitable contributions permitted by insurance companies or agents from $25 to $100 in any calendar year.
HB 495 K-12 Public Education – This bill increases student access to computer science instruction and expands protections for students.
HB 523 Trespass on Airport Property – This bill enhances criminal penalties for trespassing with the intent to injure another person, damage property or impede the operation of certain areas of an airport.
HB 529 Florida Fire Prevention Code – This bill revises regulations relating to combustible waste and refuse in apartment buildings.
HB 533 Unfair Insurance Trade Practices – This bill allows a property and casualty insurer to condition the sale of insurance on the purchase of certain motor vehicle services.
HB 577 High School Graduation Requirements – This bill allows students to use apprenticeship and preapprenticeship programs to satisfy elective and arts high school graduation requirements.
HB 703 Water Management District Surplus Land – This bill provides flexibility to water management districts when selling certain surplus lands.
HB 705 Public Records/Water Management District Surplus Lands – This bill authorizes a public records exemption for certain information during the process of selling surplus lands for water management districts.
HB 1009 Closing the Gap Grant Program – This bill adds Lupus as a priority area for the Closing the Gap Grant Program.
HB 1151 Developments of Regional Impact – This bill eliminates state and regional review of existing Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs), eliminates the Florida Quality Development (FQD) program, and transfers the responsibility for DRI and FQD development orders to the local governments in which the developments are located.
HB 1173 Lands Used for Governmental Purposes – This bill prioritizes purchase of available military base buffering lands by the Division of State Lands, adds additional criteria for the selection of lands under the Military Base Protection Program, and creates a way for certain counties to use tourist impact tax revenues for affordable housing.
HB 1383 Tax Deed Sales – This bill makes changes to the tax deed sale process.

No Casinos won’t fold ’em: Letter skirmish with lobbyist continues

The war of words between gaming industry lobbyist Marc Dunbar and No Casinos head John Sowinski continued Friday.

Sowinski, the organization’s president, released an “open letter” admonishing Dunbar that he won’t “fool Florida voters” about a gambling-related constitutional amendment on November’s ballot.

Sowinski also chairs Voters In Charge, the political committee behind the proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment, also known as “Amendment 3.” Its aim is to give statewide voters sole authority to approve future expansions of gambling in the state.

Dunbar started it Thursday with his own “open letter” to Sowinski, saying he had “declared war on (the gambling) industry,” was a “bully,” and “lack(ed) candor.”

At issue was a legal opinion that, if passed, the amendment would retroactively undo, or “de-authorize,” any gambling expansion approved by state lawmakers between now and then. Lawmakers recently considered – but are now silent – on a Special Session on gambling after they failed to pass any related legislation this past Regular Session.

Since then, the Seminole Tribe of Florida said it would continue paying the state its share of Indian casino gambling revenue each month, despite a legal right to stop payments.

“You have probably made the most vocal assertions about the possibility that Amendment 3 could have a de-authorizing effect,” Sowinski wrote, addressing his missive to “Marc Dunbar, Gambling Lobbyist.”

“I assume that you agree that it would be misleading for gambling lobbyists to tell legislators that casino gambling they authorize now is immune to Amendment 3.”

“…Contrary to the assertions in your letter, we’ve been open and honest about the effects and intent of Amendment 3 from the beginning,” he wrote. The amendment “was written to discourage ‘buzzer beater’ legislation designed to expand gambling before the voters have their say.”

He added: “Despite your asteroid-hits-earth claims, as we have consistently stated, any de-authorizing effect Amendment 3 may have is largely non-disruptive of the status quo, except closing loopholes that have been the source of much litigation over the years, litigation with which I believe you are intimately familiar.”

Sowinski’s full letter and Dunbar’s Thursday letter are below.

Lawsuit: Legislative videos’ lack of captions discriminates against deaf

A deaf South Florida man is suing the Legislature because it doesn’t provide closed captioning for its “online live streaming and archived videos of legislative proceedings.”

The National Association Of The Deaf and Eddie Sierra filed a federal lawsuit this week in Miami against the state, the Florida Senate and House, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, as well as the Florida State University Board Of Trustees and FSU President John Thrasher.

FSU produces and operates The Florida Channel, a “public affairs programming service,” on which legislative videos are shown. The Legislature funds the channel.

Not offering captions “or any other auxiliary aids or services” violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the suit says.

The plaintiffs seek a court order “to ensure that the live streamed and archived audio/video content of legislative proceedings is fully accessible to, and independently usable by, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.” They also want an unspecified amount of damages and attorney fees.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. A request for comment was left with a House spokesman. FSU and Senate representatives declined comment.

The suit says Sierra had first filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but the Legislature said videos complained about were online and not “on television.”

Most legislative committee meetings, for example, are broadcast as live streams only available online.

Both chambers show video of committee and other proceedings on their respective websites, though those video feeds are from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Channel does “provide captioned content, (but) the live and archived videos of legislative proceedings are not … captioned,” the suit says.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys J. Courtney Cunningham and Scott R. Dinin, both of Miami.

Cunningham, the “father of a son with disabilities,” specializes his practice in “digital discrimination,” defined as “when people with disabilities encounter difficulties interacting or engaging with digital content,” his website says.

Gambling lobbyist to No Casinos head: You’re a ‘bully’

Gambling lobbyist Marc Dunbar is telling anti-gambling activist John Sowinski to lay his cards on the table.

In an open letter released Thursday, Dunbar says Sowinski – president of No Casinos – has “declared war on (the gambling) industry, and in turn our economy, with a proposed constitutional amendment which you now have finally and publicly disclosed is intended to ban retroactively many forms of legal gambling in the state.”

Sowinski also chairs Voters In Charge, the political committee behind the proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment, also known as “Amendment 3,” on the November ballot.   

The idea behind the amendment is to give statewide voters sole authority to approve future expansions of gambling in the state.

But Sowinski earlier this week sent his own letter to lawmakers that “revenue estimators, the Florida Supreme Court and even the gambling industry’s own legal experts agree that the voter approval requirements of Amendment 3 could be applied to any expansion you might now approve.” Legislative leadership had been considering a Special Session on gambling.

“In other words, you must assume that legislation to expand gambling now may be overturned in November with voter approval of Amendment 3,” Sowinski wrote.

Dunbar, in turn, said “this quest to retroactively outlaw legal operations could eliminate large segments of an industry that has contributed billions of dollars to Florida’s economy.”

“Your lack of candor with state economists, lawmakers and even the Florida Supreme Court regarding the true motives behind your proposal (raises) the question whether you similarly respect the rights of Floridians to make an informed decision regarding your proposed Amendment and gambling within their communities,” Dunbar added. 

It is clearly time to meet in the public square and have a candid and truthful dialogue about Amendment 3 and your group’s desired impacts. I am hopeful that this dialogue will allow voters across Florida to make an informed decision on Amendment 3 when they go to the polls in November.”

The Voters In Charge Twitter account later Thursday posted in response, “Nice try, Marc Dunbar. Your letter makes the same misguided arguments you made in front of the Florida Supreme Court. They didn’t work then. They won’t work now.”

And the No Casinos account tweeted, “BREAKING: Gambling lobbyist/pari-mutuel owner doesn’t like Amendment 3 (@VotersInCharge) which puts Florida voters in control of casino gambling decisions (not Mr. Dunbar) #shocker”

Dunbar’s full letter and the tweets are below.

Jose Oliva named to national GOP panel

Preparing to take over as Florida House speaker in November, Rep. Jose Oliva has been named to a national panel seeking to elect Republicans with diverse backgrounds to state-level positions.

Oliva will serve on the executive committee of the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Future Majority Project initiative, the group announced Thursday.

“We started the Future Majority Project in 2011 to support Republican candidates who better reflect the growing diversity of the American electorate,” Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said in a prepared statement.

Oliva was one of 22 officials from 18 states named to the Future Majority Project executive committee and the only one from Florida.

Honor roll: State legislators receive high marks from Florida Chamber

The grades are in, and from the perspective of those pushing for a more fertile business climate in the Sunshine State, the Legislature is getting better — but there’s still work to be done.

Each year the Florida Chamber grades state legislators after tabulating votes on measures backed by the pro-business group. The 2018 Legislative Report Card, released Thursday, showed significant improvement from the 2017 Session.

Forty-seven percent of legislators earned an A — that’s up from a mere 9 percent in 2017. The average GPA for both chambers came in at 78 percent, up from last year’s 73 percent.

The House performed better than the Senate; 64 representatives earned an A and the chamber’s GPA came to 79 percent, compared to eight A-earning senators and an average GPA of 74 percent for the upper chamber. House Speaker Richard Corcoran earned an A. Senate President Joe Negron earned a C.

A news release from the Chamber attributed the higher overall scores to “cutting red tape, chipping away at Florida-only taxes, funding for economic development, tourism marketing and infrastructure investments, and targeted education reforms.”

Unresolved matters, the Chamber contends, include reforming assignment of benefits and lawsuit abuses, stabilizing workers’ compensation and increasing investments in Florida’s workforce colleges.

“While there is always room for improvement and more work to be done, this legislative session’s grades showed many legislators took steps in the right direction on several policy fronts and voted to prevent harmful ideas from becoming law. We look forward to a session when every legislator earns an ‘A’ and Florida’s competitiveness outranks every other state,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Chamber. 

The grades shouldn’t come as a surprise to lawmakers. The Chamber released its legislative priorities ahead of the 2018 Session and hand-delivered its agenda to every legislator. The group alerted lawmakers prior to each time it intended to factor a vote into its report card. In total, the Chamber scored 2,900 votes.

Along with the report card, the chamber announced its Distinguished Advocate award winners. The recognition is reserved for a handful of legislators who fought tirelessly for the passage of pro-business legislation – no matter how difficult – and furthered the Florida Chamber’s goals of securing Florida’s future through job creation and economic development,” according to the Chamber. 

Fifteen lawmakers received the distinction this year. Most were recognized for their pro-business efforts. St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond, the lone Democrat on the list, was honored for championing a lawsuit-limiting amendment. Incoming chamber leaders, Republicans Rep. Jose Oliva and Sen. Bill Galvanowere recognized for their roles in championing school safety measures in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.

“We’re pleased to recognize members of the Florida Legislature with Distinguished Advocate awards who had the courage to put free enterprise principles for job creation above special interest,” said Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson.

Other honorees include:

– Rep. Manny Diaz

– Rep. Joe Gruters

– Rep. Clay Ingram

– Rep. Mike La Rosa

– Rep. Scott Plakon

– Rep. Holly Raschein

– Rep. Paul Renner

– Rep. Jay Trumbull

– Sen. Dennis Baxley

– Sen. David Simmons

– Sen. Wilton Simpson

– Sen. Kelli Stargel

12 more proposals could land on ballot

When they go to the polls in November, voters could face a dozen ballot measures from the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, under a plan advanced Wednesday.

The plan, which received preliminary approval from the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, groups 24 proposed changes to the state Constitution into 12 ballot measures for the Nov. 6 general election.

The proposed ballot measures, if approved by the full commission, would be added to five proposed constitutional amendments already on the 2018 ballot.

The preliminary groupings combine:

— A ban (Proposal 65) on workplace vaping or electronic cigarettes with a ban (P91) on offshore drilling for gas and oil in state waters.

— Three public-school issues, including an eight-year term limit (P43) for school board members and a requirement (P10) that students be educated in “civic literacy.”

— Three judicial or criminal justice issues, including a measure focused on victims’ rights (P96) and a proposal (P41) that would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

— Two higher-education measures combined with a proposal (P49) to provide survivor benefits to families of police officers, other first responders and Florida-based military members who are killed in the line of duty.

— Four “government structure” measures, including a proposed requirement (P13) that constitutional officers such as sheriffs be elected officials in charter counties and a proposal (P103) for the annual legislative session to begin in January in even-numbered years.

— Three “clean up” measures, including eliminating a defunct reference in the Constitution to a high-speed rail system (P12) and the repeal (P3) of language aimed at preventing “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning land. The land-owning provision, which was aimed at Asian immigrants in the 1920s, was never enforced.

The 37-member Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the ballot. Each of the issues considered by the Style and Drafting Committee received an initial approval from the full commission but will ultimately need backing of 22 commission members to go on the ballot.

Along with the issues that have been grouped, the Style and Drafting Committee also decided to let six other constitutional changes remain as “stand-alone” proposals.

Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the committee, said two measures were left as separate proposals because they may be amended. One proposal (P39) is an ethics measure, which includes a six-year lobbying ban for former public officials, while the other (P93) would allow the creation of “innovation” school districts.

Four other measures were left as stand-alone proposals because they were initially endorsed by the commission in votes that fell short of the 22 that will be necessary for any constitutional change to be placed on the ballot.

Those measures include a proposed ban (P67) on greyhound racing and a requirement (P29) that employers use a federal verification system to determine the immigration eligibility of workers.

Carey Theil, a lobbyist for Grey2K USA Worldwide, an animal-welfare advocacy group, said his organization supports the racing ban as a separate ballot proposal, while expressing confidence the final vote by the commission will exceed the 18 votes that proposal originally received.

“We’re comfortable being by ourselves,” Theil said. “We do not believe we are at 18. We believe we are in excess of 22 votes today.”

Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, which opposes the racing ban, said his group also supports leaving the measure as a separate ballot item. Cory said the proposal “does not belong in the Constitution” and that it should be a decision made by the full commission.

The Style and Drafting Committee also approved the “ordering” of the dozen ballot measures, beginning with the measure dealing with victims’ rights and judicial retirement ages and ending with the proposed greyhound-racing ban.

Heuchan said he looked back over the voting history of ballot proposals since 1998 and could not find any correlation between the ballot position and the fate of the measures, although he acknowledged it was an informal survey. He said other factors seemed to impact the amendments more, including the visibility of the issues with voters and whether advocacy groups were campaigning for or against the proposals.

With the prospect of the commission advancing a dozen additional ballot measures, Heuchan said “decision fatigue” by voters is a factor that the commission will have to consider before its final decisions.

“This whole notion of fatigue is real. It’s a real thing,” Heuchan said.

The five proposed constitutional changes already on the November ballot include a measure to expand the homestead-exemption property tax break, a measure to restore voting rights to former felons and a measure to give voters the final authority in deciding whether to allow casino-style gambling.

The next major task facing the Style and Drafting Committee will be approving the ballot-title and summary language for each of the dozen measures. The titles are limited to 15 words, and summaries cannot exceed 75 words. Courts have held both must not mislead voters.

Ballot measures endorsed by the committee are scheduled to move to the full commission beginning on April 16. The full commission can amend the measures with support from at least 22 of the 37 members.

The commission faces a May 10 deadline for finishing its work.

Dorothy Hukill picks up second challenger in SD 14

A second candidate filed Tuesday to run for the Senate District 14 seat currently held by Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Democrat Brandon Wayne Maggard is a 21-year-old resident of Cocoa. He joins Democrat Melissa Martin, also of Cocoa, in the race to unseat Hukill, who is running for her final term in the Senate.

SD 14 covers the southern half of Volusia County and the northern half of Brevard. It was one of the districts to see substantial changes after Florida courts approved new maps at the end of 2015.

Prior to the 2016 election, Hukill’s home base in Port Orange was in the old SD 8, which covered southern Volusia and stretched inland to include parts of Lake and Marion counties, including a large portion of Ocala.

SD 14 has a a stronger Republican lean than the old SD 8, were registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by a couple points.

Mitt Romney carried SD 14 by 7 points in 2012, and in 2016 it voted plus-18 for Donald Trump. Hukill’s opponent two years ago was no-party candidate Richard Paul Dembinsky, whom she beat 68-32 on Election Day.

Through the end of February, Hukill had raised $120,650 and had about $87,000 in the bank. Martin has raised a little over $18,000 since filing in August, and had about $15,300 on hand heading into March.

No Casinos: With Tribe’s decision, no need for Special Session on gambling

The head of an anti-casino gambling organization has again written to top lawmakers, saying the Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s commitment to keep paying gambling revenue share should shut down further talks on a Special Session.

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

The Tribe’s lawyer told Florida Politics earlier Wednesday his client would continue paying the state its share of Indian casino gambling revenue each month. It paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year.

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

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

A previous story Wednesday is here. The letter and a fact sheet Sowinski sent to legislative leaders is below.

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