Influence Archives - Page 5 of 492 - Florida Politics

Lawmakers to consider payment for 2008 fire

After lawmakers have repeatedly scuttled the idea in the past, a Senate Democrat this week proposed a bill that would lead to paying more than $670,000 to a Northwest Florida landowner because of a prescribed burn that got out of control in 2008.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, filed the “claim” bill (SB 36) on Wednesday for consideration during the 2019 legislative session, which starts in March. The bill, if approved, would lead to the state paying $670,493 to landowner Shuler Limited Partnership.

The issue started in April 2008 when the Florida Forest Service conducted a prescribed burn on land in Tate’s Hell State Forest in Franklin County. An ember from the smoldering fire drifted onto nearby property owned by Shuler Limited Partnership and led to a blaze that destroyed 835 acres of trees.

Shuler Limited Partnership filed a lawsuit against the state in Franklin County circuit court and won a $770,493 jury award. But sovereign-immunity laws prevented the state from paying more than $100,000 without legislative approval of a “claim” bill.

Lawmakers have considered a series of bills in recent years to pay Shuler Limited Partnership but have not signed off on the idea.

They will consider the 2019 version after another prescribed burn this year sparked a wildfire that burned about three-dozen homes in Franklin County. A state contractor had been in charge of that prescribed burn in June. Prescribed burns are conducted to help manage forests and, at least in part, to eliminate undergrowth that can serve as fuel for wildfires.

Ethics Commission finds evidence lobbyists filed inaccurate disclosure reports

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that five lobbying firms filed inaccurate financial disclosure reports for 2016. The evidence turned up in random audits of executive branch lobbying firms, the commission said Thursday.

The panel cited evidence that Andrew J. Liles filed an inaccurate compensation report during all four quarters of 2016. State records list his existing clients as the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Seaside Institute.

Lester Abberger, listed as lobbying under his own name and for Florida Lobby Associates Inc., reported compensation from two clients for which his firm was not registered during all four quarters of 2016, the commission found. Additionally, the commission found evidence of incorrect compensation reports from two principals during that year’s first quarter.

Abberger said he had neglected to delist two former clients and reported zero dollars in compensation from them for the year. “I complied completely with the spirit and intent of the requirement, but didn’t realize that I had to take those clients off my list,” he  said.

Pruitt & Associates was cited for what the commission called inaccurate compensation reports for all four quarters of 2016. Registration records for that year listed Kimberli Anne Pruitt of Lady Lake as a lobbyist for A Child is Missing. She is not listed in current lobbyist records.

Pruitt confirmed she had been registered to lobby but had no further comment. Her husband, Will Pruitt, a former lobbyist, said the client was the small nonprofit behind the Amber Alert system. It paid his wife’s fees two years late, he said, and she was unsure how to report that on the disclosure form. “I think it was a couple of hundred bucks,” he said.

Also cited was Wilson & Associates LLC, accused of properly identifying its principal during each quarter of 2016 and overstating and understating compensation. The firm’s website lists Rob Wilson as president.

Finally, the commission found probable cause that TC Wolfe filed inaccurate financial reports during three quarters of 2016. State records show that Terrence Wolfe is no longer registered to lobby in Tallahassee. A website for New Century Government Affairs indicates he is affiliated with that firm, which maintains offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.

None of the others listed have responded thus far to requests for comment.

Dog-racing ban supporters say they’re still ‘full steam ahead’

‘Don’t give up,’ supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending dog racing are telling volunteers.

A Tallahassee judge on Wednesday ruled that Amendment 13 shouldn’t go on the November ballot, calling it “outright ‘trickeration‘ ” — which opponents have since turned into a social media hashtag and rallying cry.

Among other things, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ 27-page order said the amendment’s ballot title and summary were misleading.

But Carey Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide, one of the groups backing the racing ban, wrote in an Thursday email to amendment supporters that the campaign for the measure “is still full steam ahead.”

“We will work with Attorney General Pam Bondi to seek an immediate appeal and are confident that this misguided ruling, which misstates the facts and the law, will be overturned by a higher court,” he said.

Bondi – who supports a dog-racing ban – has said her office “will appeal this decision immediately and seek an expedited review by the Florida Supreme Court.” Time is of the essence; Election Day is a little more than 90 days away.

“This lawsuit … was filed because greyhound breeders know that when Amendment 13 appears on the ballot, Floridians will vote ‘yes’ for the dogs,” Theil wrote. “They are trying to silence us, and we can’t let that happen!”

The measure was slated for the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners who oppose Amendment 13, had sued to prevent it from appearing on the statewide ballot. A final hearing was held last Thursday.

“Please continue to fight for Amendment 13,” Theil wrote. “It is in our power to end dog racing, but we must keep working and have faith that the greyhounds will prevail.

“…Remember, if ending dog racing were easy, someone else would have done it. We are all pioneers. Florida has a proud tradition of leading on animal welfare, and we are confident Amendment 13 will pass in November.”

Also, the Committee to Support Greyhounds, which opposes the amendment, said it “will continue its public campaign to fight to ensure greyhounds continue to do what they love (to do) — race — in a safe and loving environment.”

The committee added it was “pleased that the judge saw through this ‘trickeration,’ and (we) will continue the fight to show the truth: That racing greyhounds are loved by their trainers, receive the best of care during their careers, and then go on to homes after their career is finished at a 98 percent adoption rate.”

Personnel note: Mark Kruse named Rick Scott’s new Legislative Affairs Director

Mark Kruse has been elevated from Policy Coordinator to Legislative Affairs Director for Gov. Rick Scott, replacing Kevin Reilly.

As Legislative Affairs Director, he will be Scott’s chief liaison to lawmakers as the term-limited governor prepares to leave office in January.

“Kevin Reilly was instrumental in so many of Gov. Scott’s outstanding legislative achievements over the past two sessions and the governor appreciates his service,” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said.

“Mark Kruse has been on our team since 2012 and he will continue to serve the families of our state in his new role.”

As Policy Coordinator in the Tourism and Economic Development Unit of the Governor’s Office of Policy & Budget, Kruse advised Scott on issues related to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA, Space Florida, CareerSource Florida, and the Department of Transportation, according to his LinkedIn page.

Before that, Kruse was an attorney for the Florida House of Representatives and also was a lawyer and lobbyist in private practice.

He graduated from American University with a degree in International Affairs, and later got a law degree from Florida State University. He was admitted to practice law in Florida in 1999, The Florida Bar records show.

Jared Moskowitz asks governor to ban 3D-printed guns

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz is out with a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, urging him to sign an Executive Order banning 3D-printed guns in the state.

“The threat posed by the distribution of plans for these weapons, and the possession of the weapons themselves, is a true public emergency,” said Moskowitz.

The “emergency,” as Moskowitz called it, was kicked into full swing after a company called Defense Distributed settled with the federal government to allow the posting of blueprints on how to make the guns online.

A judge has since blocked the release of those plans, but it’s not clear whether that restraining order will hold, or for how long.

Should the plans be available online, that would allow someone with a 3D-printer to create objects based on “plans” contained in a digital file, to create a plastic gun in their own home.

“These homemade 3D firearms can be mass produced and possessed by felons, terrorists, domestic abusers, and children with absolutely no oversight and can easily bypass many of our traditional public safety measures such as metal detectors,” warns Moskowitz.

It’s true these plastic guns could provoke safety concerns, given that they are less detectable and untraceable. However, as the technology stands today, they are also extremely unreliable. The 3D-printed weapons are susceptible to exploding during an attempt to fire, and most only contain one or two shots.

That’s not to say the technology won’t improve, but right now a criminal is likely better off buying a gun illegally or manufacturing a regular, metal gun from home.

That’s right; it is currently legal to manufacture your own working gun from your home. While Moskowitz is concerned about the danger these 3D-printed guns pose, the same risks are arguably already posed by the ability to manufacture an actual, metal weapon that will work even better.

Still, the concern about bypassing metal detectors is a real one. That’s why the manufacturing or possession of undetectable guns is already illegal under federal law, a fact noted and supported by representatives for Gov. Scott.

“Undetectable firearms were outlawed by the federal government in 1988,” said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott.

“Gov. Scott believes that they should remain illegal.

While the creation of an undetectable 3D-printed gun would be against the law, it could be tough to enforce if the plans become publicly available. Moskowitz argues that fact should prompt action from the governor.

“I implore you to take the reasonable and constitutional step of banning 3D firearms and the plans for their production until the Legislature can consider the appropriate permanent response to this unprecedented threat to public safety.”

Chuck Clemons appealing in social media ‘blocking’ case

State Rep. Chuck Clemons is appealing a federal judge’s decision not to toss out a lawsuit against him because he blocked a constituent from his official social media. 

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida had denied the Newberry Republican’s motion to dismiss in May.


While Clemons appeals Walker’s ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of AppealsMorgan Attwood‘s civil-rights lawsuit is on hold. 

To compare, another federal judge has held that President Donald Trump‘s blocking of critics on Twitter is unconstitutional.

In February, Attwood, of Gainesville, had tweeted at Clemons to ask why he voted against a motion to take up debate on a bill to ban assault weapons.

In doing so, Attwood subtweeted Emma González, who as a high school senior survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County.

In response, Clemons blocked Attwood from Clemons’ official Twitter and Facebook accounts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is representing Attwood. 

“I was just trying to understand why my state representative didn’t support the assault weapon ban,” Attwood said in a statement. “I was shocked when he responded by blocking me from his accounts.”


His suit alleges Clemons engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment by excluding him from official social media accounts, or “otherwise publicly accessible forums.”

Eric Lindstrom, another of Attwood’s attorneys, likened it to getting “kicked out of a public official’s town hall event … for asking a tough question.”

In an email earlier this year, Clemons countered that Twitter and Facebook “are not government entities, nor are pages paid for by government.”

“Any legislator, or any citizen, has the right to decide who they will or won’t allow to interact with them online,” he said. “I would no more allow someone to be hostile or abusive online than I would if they were standing on my front porch. This is still America and I feel confident that reason, common sense, and freedom will prevail.”

In part, Walker had said Clemons wasn’t immune against being sued because he “controlled his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He was responsible for blocking Attwood. Therefore, he was responsible for the challenged action.” Clemons is represented by Florida House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum.

Claim bills emerge for 2019 Session

A handcuffed man shot twice after being put into the back of a patrol car in Pinellas County and a bicyclist hit by a school bus in Miami-Dade County are among the subjects of “claim” bills filed Wednesday in the state Senate.

The bills are the first to be filed for the 2019 legislative session, which begins March 5.

As of 5 p.m., senators had filed at least 16 bills, seeking more than $28.9 million, for incidents in which state or local government agencies played a role in people dying or getting harmed, according to measures posted on the Senate website.

A legal concept known as “sovereign immunity” typically shields agencies from paying large amounts in lawsuits. But claim bills, if passed, direct agencies to pay more than sovereign-immunity caps, which are often $200,000 or $300,000.

Lawmakers approved eight claim bills during the 2018 session, including measures that paid $360,000 to the parents of Palm Beach County middle school student Jean Pierre Kamel who reported being bullied before being fatally shot by another student in 1997; $500,000 to Christopher Cannon, a motorcyclist who suffered extensive injuries in 2015 when hit by a Tallahassee “Dial-A-Ride” bus; and $5 million to a motorcyclist, Ramiro Companioni Jr., hit by a Tampa water-department pickup truck in 1996.

Some of the bills filed Wednesday have previously been introduced in the Capitol only to struggle through the legislative process.

For example, Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republicans, has reintroduced legislation (SB 24) that seeks $1.45 million for the family of Eric Scott Tenner.

Tenner, 45, died after being hit on his bicycle by a Miami-Dade County school bus in 2014. The bill said the bus driver “breached his duty to use reasonable care when his bus struck Mr. Tenner from behind.”

Earlier this year, the House voted 111-4 to support a measure for Tenner, but the proposal failed to get through the Senate committee process.

Another proposal that has failed repeatedly seeks $1.9 million for Barney Brown.

Brown had a 1970 conviction of rape and robbery vacated by a circuit judge in 2008. Brown had been convicted despite an earlier acquittal of the same charges in juvenile court.

The bill (SB 26), filed by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said “significant doubt existed as to (Brown’s) guilt.”

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg, has filed a bill (SB 22) requesting $750,000 for Dylan Tompkins-Holmes.

The bill said that Tompkins-Holmes was being arrested for obstruction of justice in 2015 when, after being searched, handcuffed and put in the back of a Pinellas County Sheriff’s patrol car, he was shot twice.

Tompkins-Holmes had been the passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend.

The bill said the car was pulled over for a welfare check. News reports indicate the woman was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving and that Tompkins-Holmes told her not to comply with sobriety tests.

In May, fired Pinellas sheriff’s deputy Timothy Virden pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter and was given a sentence of three years of probation.

While the sheriff’s office settled with Tompkins-Holmes, it did not admit fault.

Over 60 greyhound adoption groups oppose racing ban

More than five dozen greyhound adoption groups in the U.S. and Canada — including 14 in Florida — have formally opposed a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending commercial dog racing in the state.

Greyhound Adopters for Racing, which also opposes the ban, released the announcement Wednesday. Its statement said the number of groups “reflects the breadth and depth of support for greyhound racing in the adoption community.”

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign has been promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, would end betting on dog racing in the state. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 11 tracks.

Greyhound owners and breeders, who oppose the ban, have challenged the proposed amendment in court; a Tallahassee judge has yet to rule on whether the measure can stay on the ballot.

Dr. Jennifer Ng, the South Carolina veterinarian who is president of the adoption coalition, said “no amount of money can buy the expertise of greyhound adoption groups, which are on the front lines of greyhound welfare.

“That so many greyhound adoption groups from around the country — who know racing greyhounds and deal with them every day of the year — would come out in support of racing, speaks volumes about whether racing is ‘cruel’ or ‘inhumane’ to the dogs as the animal rights activists claim,” she added.

The 61 greyhound adoption groups now opposing Amendment 13 are below. More are expected “in the near future,” Ng said:

— ACT Greyhounds, Adopt A Greyhound Atlanta, Adoptable Greyhounds of Florida, Alabama Greyhound Rescue and Adoption Center, Allies for Greyhounds, Arizona Adopt A Greyhound, Awesome Greyhound Adoptions, Bay Area Greyhound Adoptions, Bluegrass Greyhound Adoption, Box to the Wire Greyhound Adoptions, California Greyhound Adoption Promotion, Camp Greyhound, Crazy for Greyhounds Adoptions, Everything Grey Greyhound Haven, Everything Greyt, Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption Sarasota, FastK9’s Greyhound Adoption, Forever Home Greyhound Adoption, Gemini’s Pampered Greyhounds, God’s Greyts Greyhound Group, Greyed A Greyhound Assistance and Placement Services, Greyhound Action League of Buffalo, Greyhound Adoption of Ohio, Greyhound Angels Adoption of New Jersey, Greyhound Crossroads, Greyhound Friends of North Carolina, Greyhound Pet Adoption of Florida Southeast, GPA Massachusetts Adoption Center, GPA Tampa Bay, Greyhound Pets of Arizona, Greyhound Placement Service of New Hampshire, Greyhound Rescue Foundation of Tennessee, Greyhound Rescue of New York, Greyhound Support Transport, Greyhounds As Pets of Northeast Florida, Greyhounds Pets of Atlantic Canada, Greytful Hearts Greyhound Rescue, GST’s Sun State Greyhound Adoption, Halfway Home Greyhound Adoption, Hounds of the Heartland, Iowa Greyhound Park Adoption Program, It’s a Grey Area Greyhound Adoption, Keystone Greyhounds, Northern Greyhound Adoptions, Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption, Northern Sky Greyhound League, Northwest Canadian Greyhound League, Paws on the Mountain Greyhound Adoption, Personalized Greyhounds, PRO Greyhound, Project Racing Home Greyhound Adoptions, Pups Without Partners Greyhound Adoption, Pure Michigan Greyhound Adoption, Racing Home Greyhound Adoption, Rainbow’s End Greyhound Adoption, Running the Rail Greyhound Adoption, Southern California Greyhound Adoption Legion, Star City Greyhound Adoptions, The League of Extraordinary Greyhounds, Triangle Greyhound Society, Wheeling Island Greyhound Adoption Center.

Randy Fine requests Rick Scott’s help to investigate local commissioner

After requesting State Attorney Phil Archer investigate and potentially prosecute a Brevard County Commissioner for campaigning while on duty, state Rep. Randy Fine is following up with Gov. Rick Scott‘s office, requesting Scott appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.

The reason? Fine now understands Archer already had endorsed the commissioner in question, Curt Smith, for his re-election bid.

“I was not aware when I sent my letter to Phil Archer yesterday that he had just days earlier joined Curt Smith’s campaign team,” Fine said in a Tuesday follow-up. “It puts Mr. Archer in an untenable position, which is why the Governor has the ability to appoint Special Prosecutors.

“The public deserves an objective and unbiased investigation into Curt Smith’s potential criminal conduct.”

Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, is accusing Smith, also a Republican, of misusing his position to campaign while on duty as commissioner. That’s a violation of Florida law: “An employee of the state or any political subdivision may not participate in any political campaign for an elective office while on duty.”

In a Monday letter addressed to Archer of the 18th Judicial Circuit, Fine details an incident that occurred during a July 10 board meeting. Fine writes that Smith, from the commission dais, said: “I want to thank all of my supporters for coming out to the Brevard Republican Picnic this past Sunday and voting me as the Brevard Republican District 4 straw poll winner and in fact I [sic] they did such a good job I got more votes than anybody else in the entire room.”

“There can be no question Commissioner Smith was participating in a political campaign through his comments,” Fine wrote in the letter. “He was, literally, talking about winning votes at an event designed for candidates to campaign for an upcoming election. His comments had nothing to do with his official duties.

“Short of showing up to a Board meeting with a sign reading ‘Vote for Curt Smith,’ it is hard to imagine a more obvious case of an employee campaigning while on duty.”

After realizing Archer had endorsed Smith, Fine followed up with a letter Tuesday addressed to Scott requesting a special prosecutor be appointed to look into the described incident.

“It is not fair to Mr. Archer, Commissioner Smith, or the public to be in that position,” Fine wrote to Scott. He supplied the Governor with his original letter to Archer. 

The Florida law cited by Fine is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Smith is challenged in the race for his District 4 seat by Republican Trudie Infantini and Democrat Matthew Fleming.

Smith was recently the subject of an ethics complaint accusing him of failing to fully detail his financial disclosure form. The January 2017 complaint was settled this year, and Smith will pay a $1,750 for the violation that he described as a “clerical error,” according to Florida Today.

Fine, although a member of the Legislature, has made a point of criticizing local governments in or around his district. He told Florida Today in January that there is an “avalanche of corruption” at the county level.

That sentiment is reiterated in a statement provided with Fine’s letter.

“We cannot allow commissioners to campaign from the dais,” Fine said. “This kind of blatant misuse of office reinforces the culture of corruption that pervades Brevard County.”

Florida’s property tax outlook: ‘No bad news coming’

Property tax revenues will remain stable during the next few years, according to state economic forecasters — meaning no big surprises there when the Legislature gets to work on the next state budget.

The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference met Tuesday morning to review trends in “ad valorem” tax receipts. Final numbers were expected later in the day.

“We went through all the components in the forecast, and even though some of them shifted a little bit, the result’s going to be pretty much similar to what we forecast back in January,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“In terms of legislative expectations, there’s not big changes coming out of today,” she said. “At least for ad valorem, there’s no bad news coming.”

The panel concentrated on “a lot of little adjustments,” Baker said.

“Population growth continues to feed in. We’re not seeing any big changes in terms of our expectations on home ownership rates. We’re not seeing big adjustments in any of the categories. It was really fine-tuning today of everything.”

As for home ownership, its rate continues to lag behind the historical trend of more than 66 percent, following the Great Recession and housing market collapse. It’s running about 64 percent.

“We’re not seeing that break loose yet,” Baker said. “It was slightly lower than the year before. We fed that view through the forecast today — that we aren’t going to see a massive switch in the near term.”

Baker doesn’t expect massive increases in rents, given that the supply of rental properties remains stable, as homes previously occupied by owners have entered the rental market.

The trend will depress collections of the documentary tax on property transfers, she said. The conference’s forecasts of school tax receipts were off by only 0.2 percent.

“We’ve got real good faith that we’re hitting the right statewide number. What we continue to wrestle with is how to make sure our county-by-county estimates are even tighter than they are.

That matters for legislative expectations of what they’re doing with the distributions of the FEFP,” referring to the state contribution to fund local schools, Baker said.

“Now that we’ve got a good track record of getting the statewide number correct, it’s time to turn our attention to getting the distribution between counties a little better than what it’s been.”

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