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AFP mailer: Support workers’ rights legislation

Legislation expanding workers’ rights is being pushed by a pro-free market, limited government spending watchdog this Session.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida recently launched a new direct mail piece encouraging Florida voters to support recent bills that would require unions to hold regular elections and obtain 50 percent of their actively paying dues members in order to be certified by the state.

AFP-FL says the reform package would expand union accountability and workers’ rights.

The group is pushing the legislation because most union members in the U.S. are represented by unions they have not voted for, according to a study conducted last year by the Heritage Foundation finding unions covered under the National Labor Relations Act only represented 6 percent of their current members that recently voted.

“Unions need to be accountable and represent the views of their current members,” said Chris Hudson, AFP-FL’s state director. “With over 90 percent of workers represented by a union they never voted for, this legislation ensures unions operating in Florida are more transparent and better serve its members.”

Specifically, the mailers encourage support for Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon’s HB 25, which has a similar version in the Senate in Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube’s SB 1036.

AFP-FL will track votes on the measure and factor them into its annual Economic Freedom Scorecard. Supportive votes will result in favorable scoring.

The recent direct mail launch complements an uptick in the group’s activity this Session. AFP-FL also is active in advocating for HB 13, which “prohibits a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on public land leased from the state or a local government.” The bill passed the House floor last Friday.

In a recent op-ed, Hudson lays out further AFP-FL priorities for the 60-day lawmaking process, something he says Floridians have “much to be excited about.

Panel approves changes to judicial appointments

The Constitution Revision Commission is considering a measure that could settle future disputes over the appointment of Florida Supreme Court justices, but the proposal will do nothing to resolve a constitutional crisis looming early next year.

At question is whether Gov. Rick Scott or his successor, the winner of the 2018 governor’s race, will pick the replacements for three justices — Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — whose terms end as Scott’s tenure comes to a close in early January 2019.

Scott has asserted the right to appoint the new justices, which could change the ideological balance of the court. The Supreme Court last month dismissed a challenge focused on who has the power to appoint the justices, deciding that it was too early to rule on the issue.

A proposal unanimously approved by the commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee on Friday would resolve that issue for future appointments by changing the mandatory retirement date for members of the Supreme Court, the five state appellate courts and for circuit and county judges.

The measure (Proposal 41), sponsored by Commissioner Bill Schifino of Tampa, would require justices and judges to retire on their birthdays once they reach the age of 75.

It would replace the current system where judges must retire when they reach the age of 70 but are allowed to finish their terms. Under that provision, the three Supreme Court justices have reached their mandatory retirement age but are serving out terms which end Jan. 9, which is also the day the next governor will take office.

However, Schifino’s proposal, if adopted by the full CRC and approved by 60 percent of the voters next fall, would not take effect until July 2019, meaning it would have no impact on the current appointment dispute.

Schifino, a former Florida Bar president, told The News Service of Florida he saw the CRC’s role as considering long-term constitutional changes rather than getting involved in trying to resolve more immediate disputes.

“We’re not here to fix a particular issue that is before us today,” Schifino said. “We’re thinking very long term.”

A major element of Schifino’s proposal would raise the mandatory retirement age for the justices and judges to 75.

Schifino said when the original 70-year-old limit was set in the state constitution decades ago, life expectancy was much shorter than the current projection of about 80 years for U.S. residents.

“I think it makes good, good sense to keep good, experienced judges on the bench,” he said.

Schifino also noted that the federal judicial system has no age limit for judges, including members of the U.S. Supreme Court. There are no age limits for other state government members, he said.

“I can’t think of another elected official or appointed official or anyone in the executive or legislative branches that has a mandatory retirement age,” Schifino said.

And although the proposal would not resolve the existing Supreme Court appointment dispute, Schifino said the imposition of a “drop dead” retirement date on a judge’s birthday would prevent future occurrences of multiple court vacancies on the same day.

“You won’t see this problem again,” he said.

Commissioner John Stemberger of Orlando, who is co-sponsoring the measure, told the CRC’s Judicial Committee earlier on Friday that he had talked to current and retired Supreme Court justices who supported a more orderly retirement and appointment process.

“They explained to me that having two or three justices retire on the same day does not provide the kind of continuity and stability to the court that is really best,” Stemberger said. “A better policy is to have the justices actually retire on their actual birthdays.”

Schifino’s proposal is now ready for consideration by the full commission, where it eventually must garner at least 22 votes to be placed on the November general election ballot.

Three former lawmakers, UCF trustee vie for PSC post

Three former state lawmakers and University of Central Florida trustee are among the applicants vying to fill a Public Service Commission seat left vacant when Gov. Rick Scott’s appointee withdrew last month following a sexual misconduct allegation.

Also applying is the long-time advisor to the last occupant of the $132,000-a-year post.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council is scheduled to discuss the applications on Jan. 18 in the Senate Office Building before inviting finalists for interviews a week later. The council then will submit several names to Scott.

The five-member board regulates the rates charged by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power.

The position is advertised as seeking an individual with knowledge in accounting, economics, energy, engineering, finance, law, natural resource conservation, public affairs, or fields substantially related to the regulation of gas, electric, telecommunications, water and wastewater utilities. The deadline to apply for the job was Friday.

Applications have been submitted by:

Robert Bennett, of Pensacola, a former chairman and chief executive officer with the U.S. Green Energy Corporation.

Stephany Carr, an attorney from Naples whose practice focuses exclusively on bankruptcy matters.

Baldwyn English, who served as the chief advisor to former Public Service Commissioner Ronald Brise for the past seven years.

William Conrad, a former mayor of Newberry and chairman of the Florida Municipal Power Agency.

— Former state Rep. Rich Glorioso, a Republican from Plant City.

— Former state Rep. Ken Littlefield, a Rebplican from Wesley Chapel.

— Former state Rep. Ray Pilon, a Republican from Sarasota who was a county commissioner and spent a decade as government affairs and communications director for the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.

Erik Sayler, an associate public counsel with the state Office of Public Counsel, who has practiced before the commission.

— Former Pasco County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader.

Eric Seidel, a managing partner with the Tampa law firm Mclntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito.

David Walsh, of Winter Springs, who held the top role for Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems in the Western Hemisphere and was appointed by Scott in 2016 to the University of Central Florida Board of Trustees. Walsh, now an advisor to the energy industry, is also a former Westinghouse executive.

Both Glorioso and Littlefield made one of the short lists when three seats on the commission were open this summer.

Scott had appointed Ritch Workman, a former state House member from Melbourne, to the position in September. But Workman but withdrew his name from consideration after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said she would not put his appointment on her committee’s agenda because of what she described as “abhorrent” sexual behavior toward her last year.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, said he did not recall such an incident.

Fast and furious: House passes slew of bills

Aside from high-profile ‘sanctuary cities’ legislation, the Florida House on Friday also approved a bounty of bills on subjects including red-light cameras and insurance.

Here are a few:

Red-light cameras (HB 6001): The bill “prohibits counties and municipalities from implementing red light camera programs by local ordinance,” according to a summary. It passed 83-18. “It is clear that red light cameras are more about revenue than public safety,” Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a statement.

PIP repeal (HB 19): The measure repeals the state’s no-fault auto insurance system. The vote was 88-15. Also known as personal injury protection insurance, or PIP, it’s long been fraught with fraud. At one point, Florida was the top state for staged accidents, especially in the Tampa and Miami-Dade metropolitan areas. In its place, ‘bodily injury’ coverage will be required at a minimum of $25,000 per accident.

Assignment of benefits (HB 7015): This bill is the House’s overhaul of the contentious insurance issue for 2018. It was OK’d 82-20. Assignment of benefits “allows a third party to be paid for services performed for an insured homeowner who would normally be reimbursed by the insurance company directly after making a claim,” as one website defines it. A long-running dispute has pitted insurers against repair contractors and attorneys. Insurance companies accuse contractors of inflating repair bills; contractors blame insurers for low-balling payout offers. The problem is particularly acute in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. This year’s bill requires an ‘assignment agreement’ to be written, include a 7-day period within which the insured may rescind the agreement, and include an estimate of services, among other things.

Workers’ compensation (HB 7009): The measure, passed 74-30, addresses the workers’ comp issue. It encourages injured workers and carriers – and their attorneys – to attempt to resolve disputes amicably, for example. But workers’ comp insurance premiums have fallen sharply since the spring’s panic over last year’s proposed 14.5 percent increase in rates. The Office of Insurance Regulation later approved a decrease of 9.5 percent.

Stadium financing (HB 13): Passed 75-27, it tackles the issue of using public money to finance privately-owned stadiums. Among other provisions, it “prohibits a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on public land leased from the state or a local government,” the summary says. “Billionaires don’t need handouts—whether it’s direct subsidies, tax abatements, or land leases well-below market value,” bill sponsor Bryan Avila said in a statement.

Ethics: Two bills, HB 11 and HB 7003, impose new or increased ethics and accountability requirements. For instance, elected mayors and city commissioners of larger municipalities will have to file “full and public disclosures of their financial interests in lieu of the less detailed form of disclosure required under current law.” Another measure, HB 5, increases the lobbying ban on former legislators from two years to six years. It passed 96-5.

These bills now head to the Senate for consideration.

‘Sanctuary city’ ban bill passes House, but will be ‘nail-biter’ in Senate

The Republican-controlled Florida House on Friday passed a bill prioritized by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that threatens local officials with fines and removal from office if they do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities.

The proposal banning sanctuary cities in the state — even though there are none in Florida — is not a new one. This is the third year in a row the measure has been proposed by Republican state Rep. Larry Metz, and while it passed the House last year, it went nowhere in the Senate.

Senate President Joe Negron said this week he hopes the bill, SB 308, filed by Republican Sen. Aaron Bean gets a hearing this year. The bill has no scheduled hearings yet.

It’s first stop is in Judiciary, a committee chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Greg Steube. Bean said he hopes the measure will be heard next week and said the issue will be a “nail-biter” this year, hinting support is not strong in the Senate early in Session.

The controversial bill — passed on a 71-35 vote, along party lines — sparked a fiery two-hour debate in the House with Democrats calling the bill “racist” and that it was “red meat” for Corcoran, who is widely expected to run for governor once Session ends.

Metz said people who say his proposal is a racist one “don’t know any better,” adding that is simply a measure that would “adhere to the rule of law.”

“I grew up in a bi-racial neighborhood and I had black friends at a young age,” Metz said.

“I was in their houses and they were in our house … some of the media articles talk about it and they say that is racist, and I am the sponsor, and when I hear that I think back to those memories.”

Metz says his bill was inspired by the 2015 killing of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, saying he “doesn’t ever want to see that happen in Florida.”

It’s on: Former lawmaker declares ‘Twitter war’ on Trump

“Good Americans” should start “a Twitter war” with President Donald Trump over his comment that the U.S. shouldn’t admit people from Haiti and other “shithole countries,” former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner said Friday.

Joyner, now a member of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), appeared at a press conference of legislative Democrats to express their outrage over Trump’s remark.

In an Oval Office conversation Thursday, the president asked “why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and ‘shithole countries’ in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal,” the AP reported.

“Let’s have a Twitter war,” said Joyner, a Tampa attorney, referring to the president’s fondness for the social media service. “Everybody should be tweeting at him and demand an apology.”

Friday happened to be the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced roughly 1.3 million.

The Trump administration has said “it will end immigration protections for about 59,000 Haitians living in the United States in July 2019, concluding that conditions … have improved enough … for residents to return,” according to USA Today.

Also Friday, the House’s leadership rejected Trump’s comments—if they’re true, they said.

“If the remarks attributed to President Trump are accurate, they have no place in our public discourse,” said the statement from Speaker Richard Corcoran, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez, Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others.

“America’s greatness is self-evident, we do not need to tear down other nations,” they added. “The leadership of the Florida House celebrates our diversity.”

Joyner, who was in Tallahassee for CRC meetings, called for a backlash from “organizations and individuals, black and white, Jewish, Muslim, everybody.”

“It’s time now for him to get the message from Americans that they will not tolerate the bigotry and hatred that he emits every time and every day,” she said. “It’s time to speak up. This has reached a crescendo.”

A Periscope video of the press conference is below:

Anti-smoking campaign could be trimmed

Nearly 12 years after Florida voters overwhelmingly agreed to guarantee funding for an anti-smoking advertising and education campaign, a state panel this week approved a proposal that would ask Floridians to reconsider the commitment when they go to the polls in November.

By a 3-2 vote, the Finance and Tax Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission backed a proposal that would eliminate from the state Constitution a requirement that 15 percent of the funds from a landmark tobacco settlement be used for Tobacco Free Florida. The proposal would instead direct money toward cancer research.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association testified against the proposal, offered by state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican who serves on the Constitution Revision Commission.

Also opposed was 57-year-old Patricia Beall, a longtime smoker with terminal cancer and a life expectancy prognosis of between eight and 18 months.

“If there had been advertising geared toward me as a youngster that showed how stupid, unhealthy and uncool it was to smoke, I’d like to think I’d pay attention,” she said. “My parents certainly preached that to me, but it wasn’t enough.”

Chris Smith, a Constitution Revision Commission member and former state lawmaker, said he is sympathetic to the people who spoke. However, he said he didn’t think it was appropriate to place spending requirements for an advertising and education campaigns in the state Constitution. Smith said he considers each proposed constitutional amendment by asking himself the question: “Can this be done legislatively?”

“This can’t be done legislatively because you are taking something out of the Constitution,” he said, explaining his support for Nunez’s proposed amendment Thursday.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets 20 years and can put proposed constitutional amendments directly on the November ballot. The tobacco proposal would have to be approved by the full commission before going to voters.

American Heart Association lobbyist Rivers Buford said Florida voters had already weighed in on the tobacco issue and stressed the importance of having the money for advertising.

“For those of you that are elected officials or have been elected officials, you know that 60-plus percent of your campaign dollars are used to go to buy media, and that’s because it works. It gets your message out, and it’s received,” he said. “To cut that money for your campaign would cut your message of what you’re trying to get to your constituents. By doing it for this program also, you’re cutting the message that’s going out to the potential smokers to help them avoid smoking altogether.”

In August 1997, Florida entered into a landmark settlement with several big tobacco companies for past, present and future claims by the state, including reimbursement of Medicaid expenses, fraud, and punitive damages. As a result of that, the state launched an anti-smoking campaign that included edgy advertisements. Though initially funded at $70 million, the program was trimmed back to $39 million and then reduced to just $1 million by state fiscal year 2003-2004.

In 2006 voters overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment directing that 15 percent of the annual settlement funds be targeted to Tobacco Free Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the anti-smoking initiative has been a success. In 2006, the adult smoking rate was 21 percent, and in 2015 it was 15.8 percent, the lowest it has ever been.

Fewer young people have started smoking since Tobacco Free Florida was created. The youth smoking rate has decreased from 10.6 percent in 2006 to 3 percent in 2016.

Nunez committed to continue to work with those who are opposed to the measure ”to perhaps see if we can come up with a solution that would be palatable to them.”

Thumbs down: Environmental constitutional amendment defeated

One of the state’s leading business lobbies is cheering the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits.

The Constitution Revision Commission‘s Judicial Committee on Friday unanimously voting against the measure (P23).

“This unnecessary proposal would have opened up not only Florida businesses, but private citizens as well, to endless litigation and harmful uncertainty,” said Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis in a statement.

The language as filed said, “The natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law.”

The last sentence caused the most consternation: “Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.”

Its enforcement provision, however, was later amended to say that “a resident of this state, not including a corporation, may enforce this right.”

“With the Judicial Committee’s vote today, Florida’s comprehensive, thoughtfully crafted environmental policy will remain intact, continuing to protect the rights of Floridians and provide much-needed regulatory certainty and stability for businesses moving forward,” Bevis said. “(P)roposals such as this do not belong in the Florida Constitution.”

On Thursday, Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, also opposed the proposal. She wrote a letter to the committee saying it would “undermine environmental gains and rolls out a red carpet to the court system for anyone with an ax to grind, regardless of legal standing or science.”

“Imagine the unintended consequences of freezing permitting processes and clogging the courts with challenges that could paralyze the ability of farms – and all small businesses for that matter – from operating with any shred of predictability,” said Grimsley, chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and a candidate for state Agriculture Commissioner.

Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a CRC appointee of Senate President Joe Negron, filed the language. Both are from Martin County.

In a November meeting, Commissioner Arthenia Joyner – a former Senate Democratic Leader – noted there’s already a right to sue in the state’s Environmental Protection Act.

Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, replied that that right has been “chipped away,” calling Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal “a slight course correction.”

There’s little doubting what a Florida lawmaker meant in this message

The message begins innocuous enough.

“Hope this week has gone well for you! I do hope you can pull together the support we discussed and join me on (date redacted).”

That’s the beginning of a text message from a Republican state Senator to a respected member of the lobby corps obtained by Florida Politics. The names of those involved have been redacted to protect the source who provided the information.

“Would really mean a lot for you to make it work.”

Wait, what?

“Would really mean a lot for you to make it work.”

No, we don’t think that message has anything to do with sex scandals which have engulfed the Florida Senate. What this message is is an old fashioned trading of campaign donations for, presumably, access.

It’s pay-to-play in its elemental form, so much so that I am surprised the lawmaker put the terms in writing.

There’s a lot of behavior in the Florida Senate which needs to change and it’s not just about the #MeToo movement.

House targets stadiums, cameras, car insurance

A measure intended to keep professional sports teams from building or renovating stadiums on publicly owned land and a separate proposal to repeal Florida’s red-light camera law were among numerous bills set up Thursday for House votes.

The House also teed up proposals that would place new lobbying restrictions on state and local lawmakers as they leave office (HB 5 and HB 7003) and eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system (HB 19).

Each measure moved forward Thursday after the Republican-dominated House also set up a proposal (HB 9) that would ban so-called “sanctuary cities” despite the objections of Democrats, immigrant advocates and civil-rights groups.

Each proposal must still pass the Senate — where many of the proposals failed in the 2017 Legislative Session — to reach Gov. Rick Scott.

Eliminating the red-light camera law (HB 6001) has been a target for lawmakers since the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010 was created.

Bill sponsor Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, said nearly half the money collected from red-light violations goes to vendors that provide the cameras. He also said driving behavior has not been shown to have changed.

“The bill started off with a noble cause, but I think the data is showing it’s not so noble,” Ingoglia said. “It’s actually creating an environment at these intersections … where it’s contributing to more crashes.”

A repeal would prevent the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and local governments from using the cameras for traffic enforcement.

The effort to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to help professional sports stadiums has also been a target of House leaders in recent years.

The measure (HB 13) would prohibit sports franchises from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving facilities on public lands. The bill also would require leases of facilities on public land to sports franchises to be made at fair market value, preventing local communities from donating land for sports complexes.

The lobbying restrictions, meanwhile, would extend to six years an existing two-year ban on lawmakers and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former agencies.

The bill debated Thursday that likely would affect the most Floridians would be the elimination of the no-fault auto insurance system, which requires motorists to carry $10,000 in personal-injury protection coverage.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican, would move more auto-crash cases into the courts and require motorists to have bodily-injury coverage. It is projected to save motorists on average $81 a year.

The minimum bodily-injury coverage would be $25,000 for damages for injury or death of one person and $50,000 for injury or death of two or more people.

Lawmakers in 2012 passed a bill — championed by Scott and then-state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — to try to reform the no-fault system, which they said was riddled by fraud.

But efforts have increased recently to repeal no fault and replace it with a tort-based system.

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