Influence Archives - Page 5 of 310 - Florida Politics

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

AFP-FL urges Senate to keep incentives out of Triumph Gulf Coast bill

A Northwest Florida Republican plans to amend the Senate’s version of a bill to send millions of dollars to the Panhandle communities impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill to allow money to be spent on economic incentives.

The Panama City News Herald reported this weekend that Sen. George Gainer said he plans to file an amendment to the bill (SB 364) so that it allows funds to be spent on economic incentives for companies in the region that provide high paying jobs. Gainer, a Panama City Republican, sponsored the Senate bill to funnel $300 million of settlement funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Triumph Gulf Coast.

The House bill (HB 7077) unanimously passed the full House on March 23. Rep. Jay Trumbull, the Panama City Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, told the News Herald that adding economic incentives — something the House has opposed — into the bill could kill the bill.

But Gainer, according to the report, said the Triumph program was meant to help the region and incentives can help spur growth.

The House sponsor isn’t the only one who appears to be critical of the addition of incentives, though. In a statement Monday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida state director Chris Hudson said the Senate would be wrong to “direct disaster relief money towards incentives.”

“That money should be used to help ensure the Panhandle’s affected natural resources, beautiful beaches, and critical infrastructure needs are addressed. Handing that money over to a few select private companies is another form of corporate welfare and is wrong,” said Hudson. “We call on Senator Gainer to not file his amendment and vote on the house bill as it stands. He should put the Gulf Coast ahead of politics and not kill this bill over corporate welfare.”

Gainer’s bill is ready for a vote by the full Senate, and could be heard in the next few days.

Emily Slosberg’s personal, uphill battle for tougher texting laws

Twenty-one years after a car crash that took her twin sister’s life, Emily Slosberg is continuing the fight to make Florida roads safer.

Slosberg, the state representative and daughter of longtime Democratic state lawmaker Irv Slosberg, has picked up her father’s crusade on driver’s safety by championing stronger texting while driving laws statewide.

As reported by WTSP 10Investigates, the issue is deeply personal for both Emily and Irv Slosberg,

On Feb. 23, 1996, seven teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 — including Emily and Dori Slosberg — had been riding in the back seat of a 1995 Honda Civic. In the front seat were a 19-year-old and 17-year-old.

After the car had swerved to miss an oncoming car, the Honda hit a pole and slammed into another vehicle. Five of the teens were killed, others suffered severe spinal injuries. Emily Slosberg spent 10 days in the hospital and missed her sister’s funeral.

Irv Slosberg, who first came to the Florida House in 2000, passed a mandatory seat belt bill in 2009 — the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law — signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Slosberg was also one of first to advocate stronger texting laws in Florida, first enacted in 2013.

Emily Slosberg, CEO of the Dori Slosberg Foundation, is now a Democrat representing District 91, the seat her father held since 2012 and had given up in 2016 for an unsuccessful Senate run.

Emily seeks to continue what her father started.

“We have an epidemic on the roads,” she told WTSP. “I believe that texting and driving, distracted driving, is a major cause of driving fatalities.”

Slosberg said that she is not looking to replace Florida’s existing texting while driving law but to strengthen it.

Current Florida law puts texting while driving as a secondary offense — law enforcement cannot pull a driver over for texting only, and can only do so when they are committing another traffic violation. Even then, a texting ticket is only $20.

Initially, Slosberg sought to use a creative tactic to change the law, by attempting to introduce a bill making texting and driving a primary offense in her Palm Beach County district (known as a “municipality bill”), effectively sidestepping the state law restrictions that consider it a secondary offense.

Slosberg, however, faced stiff opposition from influential members of the Legislature — including some from her own delegation.

“She said on the night she planned to present her bill to her colleagues,” write Donovan Myrie and Noah Pransky of WTSP. “State Sen. Bobby Powell, the chair of the local Palm County delegation, blocked her from speaking to her colleagues. Slosberg was forced to make her presentation during public testimony, and in her words, leadership attempted to ‘add insult to injury’ by adjourning before she had a chance to speak.”

Slosberg also faced a legal challenge for her municipality bill, when Dawn Wynn, the senior assistant attorney for Palm Beach County, issued an opinion (at Powell’s request) confirming that “traffic laws shall be uniform throughout the state” and reinforcing that texting and driving is a secondary offense.

Republicans, many with a Libertarian lean, were also resistant to the idea.

What’s more, Powell suggested making texting while driving a primary offense could have racial overtones — saying that additional laws give law enforcement another opportunity to profile African-Americans and Hispanics.

Despite that, Slosberg stays undeterred, and progress could be coming, although not soon enough for many.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran — typically opposed to greater government intervention — told 10Investigates he will consider a workshop of the issue which could include a national study by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA). That would result in legislative recommendations in late 2017, and the issue of distracted driving would return for the 2018 Session. If passed, tougher laws in Florida could come as soon as summer 2018.

Stop stealing our video, Florida Channel says

The Florida Channel wants you … to stop stealing its videos.

A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!”

It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.”

Florida Channel executive director Beth Switzer on Monday explained the “terms of use” reminder was sparked by the “increasing number of people stealing (videos) for advocacy purposes.” She did not point to specific examples. 

Switzer referred to a state law that she said prohibits such use.

It says, in part, that the “facilities, plant, or personnel of an educational television station that is supported in whole or in part by state funds may not be used directly or indirectly for the promotion, advertisement, or advancement of a political candidate for a municipal, county, legislative, congressional, or state office.”

The law, which doesn’t mention work product such as videos, provides that a violation is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Those parts of the law were added in 2014.

Aside from a “huge number of videos being lifted and put out there,” Switzer also said her office is getting swamped with calls asking her staff to provide edited clips for use in commercials and other promotions.

“Making copies of what we do is not really in our scope of work,” she said.

Joe Negron says no to House’s proposed ‘continuation budget’ as talks stall

Senate President Joe Negron has rejected a House proposal to settle some $4 billion in state budget disagreements with a “continuation budget.”

Negron said in a memo to senators Monday that House negotiators made the proposal over the weekend.

“Despite serving as the Appropriations chair in both the House and Senate, I had never encountered this term in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations,” Negron wrote.

“I understand the concept of a ‘continuation budget’ to be a Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget and then simply carries forward the current budget for years at a time, with additional spending.

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.  Our constituents deserve and expect more.”

This year’s state budget amounts to $82.3 billion.

The move left budget negotiations stalled, at least for the time being, as the Legislative Session entered its final two weeks. House and Senate leaders indicated last week that conference committee members would have to know by early this week how much money they’d get to spend.

By law, any compromise would have to be available for scrutiny for three days before any final vote.

Asked how things were going in his office Monday afternoon, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said: “No comment.”

A continuation budget would be just fine with Broward Democrat Evan Jenne.

“Last year’s budget was widely respected by both chambers and both parties. Grand total, there was 149 yeas and one nay, when you combine the two chambers,” Jenne said.

“Granted, a lot of that means that individual member projects would go by the wayside. But we’re not here for individual member projects. We’re here to get the budget done.”

A Senate aide argued that would not provide for Senate priorities.

“I think it points to the fact that we’re not going to get done on time,” said Jenne, who’s been following progress through member-to-member contact with Republicans knowledgeable about the talks.

“I hope we do, but I don’t have warm feelings about that happening, just given the lack of communication and lack of time at this point. I mean, we’re down to it now.”

Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominick Calabro was gloomy, too. The House and Senate aren’t quibbling over dollars, he said, but over fundamental policy disputes.

“It’s highly unlikely they’ll get done on time,” Calabro said.

The House has passed an $81.2 proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It sets aside $200 million to create a “schools of hope” program that would shift students from failing schools to charter schools; includes $22.8 million for pay increases for corrections officers; includes $25 million for Visit Florida; and funds 46 new counter-terrorism positions.

The House proposal, however, doesn’t fund Enterprise Florida or a host of economic incentive programs associated with the public-private economic development agency, and does not include across the board pay raises for state employees. The Senate’s $85 billion proposal includes both, plus first-year funding for Negron’s $1.5 billion Lake Okeechobee plan.

House and Senate negotiators last week “exchanged meaningful and productive offers on proposed budget allocations and significant policy issues,” Negron wrote in his memo.

“I value the extraordinary amount of creative energy members of the Florida House and Senate have contributed to build their respective budgets over the last six months. I do not wish to set aside that work product and instead settle for last year’s base budget,” he continued.

“I will insist on a budget work product that reflects public testimony from our fellow citizens, input from the constituents we represent and the thousands of informed decisions – big and small – elected legislators have made since November 2016.

“Accordingly, I stand ready, willing, and able to respond to a budget and policy counteroffer from the House, with both the House and Senate negotiating in a principled way to agree on allocations and policy for the upcoming fiscal year.  Before the appearance of the “continuation budget” from the House, many budget and policy issues had been amicably resolved.

Gambling deal may come down to slots question

Seeing it as the “lesser of various evils” to pass a gambling bill this year, the House may give in to the Senate’s position to legislatively approve new slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them, according to those familiar with the negotiations.

As of early Monday, the Conference Committee on Gaming was set to meet later in the day at 1:30 p.m., though an official notice had not yet gone out.

The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. Both sides also want to see some new agreement with the Seminole Tribe on continued exclusivity to offer blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

What’s becoming clearer as the 2017 Legislative Session’s May 5th end looms is House leadership’s distress at recent court decisions, the practical effect of which is opening up more gambling opportunities without legislative say.

Sources had said conference chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano had gotten “spooked” by a Supreme Court decision last Thursday that cleared for the 2018 ballot a “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, giving voters the power to OK or veto future casino gambling in the state.

Vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz confirmed that Galvano, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, wanted to make sure the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer.”

But one representative of gambling interests throughout the state, who asked not to be named, said the House “was very careful in not taking the referendum counties issue off the table.”

A second person said that “(a)ll things considered, that was way down on the list of things that gave them heartburn.”

More concerning was a 1st District Court of Appeal opinion earlier this month against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulated gambling, ordering the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit.

Taken to one logical extension, the ruling could lead to “mini-casinos” in hotels, they say. Miami-Dade lawmakers in particular have been concerned about Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel pursuing slot machines in the last few years. At a minimum, such permits allow a pari-mutuel facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

Another circuit court ruling last month against the department said entertainment devices that look and play like slot machines, called “pre-reveal” games, were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Judge John Cooper reasoned that was because players “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated.”

That ruling’s applicability was, at first, unclear: Because Cooper is a circuit judge, some state officials said his order only applied in north Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit of Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

Later, attorneys in the industry argued Cooper’s decision applied all over Florida, because it was against the department that regulates gambling statewide. That had House leaders “freaked out” that pre-reveal games would start appearing in bars, restaurants, and even in family fun centers.

Meantime, Galvano and others in the Senate fixated on the dissent in the gambling amendment case, and its implication on what’s known as the “Gretna case.”

Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis said the amendment’s “ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by county-wide (referendums).”

With Lewis signing on to the dissent, “that made us think there was another vote in favor of Gretna that we didn’t think was there,” said yet another person in the gambling industry.

The court has not yet ruled in a case, pending since oral argument was given last June, on Gretna Racing. That’s the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines; pari-mutuel interests have said Gretna and other facilities in counties where voters approved slots should be allowed to offer them.

If the court rules in favor, that could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

“I think the House is fed up with it,” said the first industry consultant, referring to gambling-related court decisions. “The only way they can get a handle on (gambling expansion) is to get a bill done, and if that means throwing in the towel on slots in referendum counties, that’s the lesser of the various evils.”

Is this ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ last hurrah for 2017?

A troubled measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week.

But a number of amendments were filed Friday night that could continue to muddle the legislation’s path to passage.

The House on Tuesday will again consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81), after postponing it twice in recent weeks. The Senate’s version passed last month. 

The most recent snag came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said their reading of state law suggested teenage employees would no longer be allowed to work in stores if hard booze was sold there. Publix’s opposition has been rooted in its investment in separate stores.

Indeed, one amendment filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, would clearly make it “unlawful for any vendor licensed (to sell hard liquor for consumption off premises) to employ any person under 21 years of age.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, raised concerns as early as February that the bill would allow retail employees under 18 to be around liquor.

Moreover, “I just don’t see the fervor,” he added, during a Senate Rules Committee meeting. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.”

Another Friday amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, says no business can sell booze if it “received, or continues to receive, state subsidies such as tax credits, tax incentives, sales tax refunds, or grants … , has at least 10,000 square feet of retail space …  and is located in a slum or blighted area.”

That would include locations of Wal-Mart, one of the corporations pushing the repeal.

A version of the bill—which started as a one-line repealer—has been filed for four years running.

It aims to do away with the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Pure-play alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have complained the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

But Wal-Mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

As Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, the House sponsor, said recently: “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill.”

Business rent tax cuts still in play in House, Senate

Florida’s business rent tax is one of the outstanding issues at play as lawmakers crawl toward sine die of the 2017 Legislative Session, set for May 5.

As the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire nation, a pair of bills now making way through the Florida Capitol that attempt to lighten the load on commercial businesses, which pay more than $1.7 billion in rent taxes every year.

Included in the House’s tax package is HB 7109, a reduction of the business rent tax — lowering it from 6 percent to 4.5 percent for two years. If approved, the tax cut would begin January 1, 2018, and then supporting a permanent tax rate reduction from 6 percent to 5.5 percent beginning January 1, 2020.

HB 7109 is on the House’s Special Order Calendar for Tuesday.

While the Senate has not yet put together a package, there are two bills in the upper chamber that seek to give businesses a break.

Sponsored by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, SB 704 seeks to provide tenants with relief from the Florida’s “double taxation” — a “tax on tax” that occurs when tenants pay property taxes for property owners.

The bill is a proposed alternate business rent tax cut, targeted to commercial tenants who have leases that separately state they pay their landlord’s property taxes as part of their lease payments.

Another bill (SB 484), put forth by Port Orange Republican Dorothy Hukill, would reduce the state sales tax rate charged on commercial leases from 6 percent to 5 percent.

Supporters of tax cuts say Florida’s business rent tax puts the state at a distinct competitive disadvantage, one that is unique in the country. Commercial rent taxes makes Florida’s competitors more attractive to business since companies are naturally more resistant to move to the state if they can get similar benefits elsewhere without paying a tax on rents.

Florida comes in at No. 20 in distracted driving study

Florida is the 20th most distracted state according to a nationwide driver safety study released by driver safety company Zendrive Monday.

The study took in data from 3.1 million drivers over 5.6 million miles of driving and found that nationwide drivers spent an average of 3.5 minute an hour using their phone or other device.

Only 12 percent of road trips tracked in the study featured no phone use.

Floridians came in slightly under that average with about 5 percent of drive time – or 3 minutes an hour – spent using a device, despite their being no statewide ban on handheld device use on the road.

On the local level, Miami was the third most distracted city in the country, with drivers spending about 5.2 percent of their time on the phone. The only major metros coming in higher were Los Angeles, which is under a statewide ban on phone use, and Austin, TX, which is not.

Traffic deaths are on the rise after a decade of decline and Zendrive points to a study from the National Safety Institute that estimates more than 40,000 traffic deaths last year were preventable.

The company said tracking phone use and getting an accurate reading on its effect on drivers presents some challenges, such as the lack of a “phone use” check box on most forms police use to report crashes.

“Standard fields include factors such as unsafe speed, failure to yield and a generic ‘driver distraction/inattention,’ which could be used to report anything from changing the radio station to eating to a driver’s statement of ‘I just didn’t see her,’” the report said.

Zendrive, however, uses technology built into smartphones to measure driving, so by virtue of running on a smartphone, the company can measure phone use while driving.

The study is based on driver data collected through the app between December 2016 and February 2017. The data set includes more than 570 million trips and detects phone use when a driver handles a phone for a certain amount of time.

For privacy reasons, the company did not differentiate between talking, texting and the use of apps in the study.

Kim Syfrett: Senate workers’ comp plan provides balance for businesses, workers

Kim Syfrett

Reforming Florida’s workers’ compensation system has been one of the most contentious issues discussed this legislative session. Numerous players have weighed in on this often-complex legislation, including representatives from big business, corporate insurers, and the legal community.

However, the “Grand Bargain” – and its implications for the workers this system was meant to protect – seems to be forgotten in the version of the bill advocated for by insurance lobbyists and recently passed by the Florida House. Thankfully, the Senate version of workers’ comp reform, championed by Sen. Rob Bradley, offers a significant step in the right direction.

The Senate version (SB 1582) strikes an appropriate balance by keeping costs down for businesses. It does this by creating a competitive ratemaking system that would allow employers to shop for affordable coverage, requiring insurance companies to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage, and capping claimants’ attorney fees at a constitutionally-valid amount, which are only paid when benefits are wrongfully denied.

Unlike the insurance industry’s bill in the House, the Senate bill rightfully provides the injured worker with greater access to the courts. It streamlines the authorization of medical care, which speeds up treatment and avoids the need for unnecessary litigation.  Finally, the Senate bill removes incentives for insurance companies to deny advancing necessary medical care for a worker.

These meaningful reforms have the ultimate result of creating a more predictable and stable market for workers’ comp insurance. What employers really need is more certainty over the course of the system rather than a new crisis every few years with rate peaks and valleys because of the lack of a constitutional law. It also benefits everyone when injured workers can get the care they need and get back to work quickly, rather than a system that doesn’t return skilled workers to their jobs.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. If the House version of this bill somehow made its way into Florida law, we would see the courts rule it unconstitutional once again. This happened with the workers’ comp laws passed by the Legislature in 2003 and 2009, and would continue the same rollercoaster ride of rates for businesses that stifles job growth and creates market uncertainty.

I’ve worked with hundreds of injured workers throughout my career and can speak firsthand about how, without a working law, we ALL end up paying the costs because so many end up on social programs funded by taxpayer dollars when they can’t get an insurance company to approve a course of care.

Florida finally has a chance to get this right by passing comprehensive reform found in Sen. Rob Bradley’s legislation.  These reforms are simply too costly to us all not to get it right.

___

Kim Syfrett is a Panama City attorney who represents injured workers. She also serves as secretary of Florida’s Workers’ Advocates.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons