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Jose Javier Rodriguez: We’re being called back to bless backroom deal

Democrats staked out their contempt for the stated purpose of the Legislature’s Special Session today with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez saying lawmakers are being called in to bless a backroom deal to give the governor a slush fund.

Rodriguez, of Miami, and state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park decried what they described as a cynical process for Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders to get what they want in exchange for $2015 million in education funding that already had been stripped away from public schools and routed to charter schools in House Bill 7069.

The special session begins this afternoon and is scheduled to run through Friday. Scott called the session to also establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for VISIT Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

Rodriguez called the Florida Job Growth Fund a “slush fund” for the governor.

“We’re coming up here basically because we’re being asked to bless a deal that has been cut,” Rodriguez charged.

“One of the things being done with respect to our economic development program is creating this job growth program, which looks more like a slush fund than anything else, $85 million, that is not subject to scrutiny that we are going to be increasing on Enterprise Florida,” Rodriguez added. “It basically is the governor’s pot of money to do with what he will.”

Jones took aim at the education funding and HB 7069, which was passed on the last day of the Legislative Session and awaits transmittal to the governor’s office. That bill, he charged, was created without transparency “at its worst.”

He and Rodriguez characterized the Special Session as a waste of time and money and not good for Florida residents. But Rodriguez acknowledged that could change if medical marijuana is scheduled, as FloridaPolitics.com reported earlier Wednesday will happen.

“If we are being called up here to enact the will of the voters, yeah, sure, that’s a reason to have a Special Session,” he said.

Florida colleges to Rick Scott: ‘Urge legislative leaders to restore our cuts’

As state lawmakers head back to Tallahassee for a special session this week, the Florida College System is are asking Gov. Rick Scott to reconsider millions upon millions of cuts to their base budgets.

Thomas LoBasso, the president of Daytona State College and the chairman of the Council of Presidents, sent a letter to Scott asking the governor to “reconsider the proposed Florida College System budget, which includes $30.2 million in recurring base cuts to one of Florida’ most critical economic engines.” The letter asks Scott to urge legislative leaders to restore cuts and “make the FCS whole again.”

“We are all focused on developing a world-class higher education system and building the workforce pipeline — continuing Florida’s course of outpacing the nation as you continue to build our economy, jobs, and education to be the best in the nation,” wrote LoBasso in his letter. “The $30.2 million in permanent funding reduction to the Florida College System will be detrimental to our state and local communities and could take years to restore and even longer to recover. The range of reductions at each college is between $190,000 at our smallest institution to over $4.6 million at our largest with the average a little under $1.1 million.”

LoBasso said the services that will be cut help the state’s “most vulnerable and underserved students succeed, and these budget cuts will hurt them the most — many of whom are first-generation college students, minorities, veterans, students from families with low incomes or nontraditional students returning to the classroom.”

“The Florida College System is essential in the seamless connection between K-12 and our university system,” wrote LoBasso. “As we all work together to boldly ensure student success for our 800,00 students, we urge you to reconsider the Florida College System budget during this special session.”

Scott signed the fiscal 2017-18 budget on Friday, vetoing nearly $11.9 billion, including the main state account that goes to public schools and $410 million in projects.

However, Scott has not yet signed a sweeping higher education bill, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. That bill (SB 374) calls for several reforms of the state college and university system. The bill, among other things, modifies oversight and operations of colleges, sets limits on what four-year degrees colleges can offer, and renames the state college system the Florida Community College System.

The Senate sent Scott the bill on June 5, and he has until June 20 to act on it.

 

Some lawmakers bowing out of Special Session

(Originally published Tuesday, June 6, 2017)

At least eight House members and one senator won’t be attending some or all of this week’s Special Session, set for Wednesday-Friday. 

The June meeting is conflicting with some lawmakers’ plans, including one whose brother is getting married out of state.

Below is a list, as of Tuesday afternoon, of lawmakers asking for and receiving excused absences for part or all of the three-day session, with reasons given:

— Rep. Bruce Antone, an Orlando Democrat, excused Wednesday for a “previously scheduled commitment.”

— Rep. Larry Lee Jr., a Port St. Lucie Democrat, excused Friday to host an annual “Restoring the Village” community event “that was planned a year in advance.” (As of Wednesday evening, Lee told FloridaPolitics.com he had later decided to pass on attending the event during the Special Session, and instead planned on being in Tallahassee all three days.) 

— Rep. Alex Miller, a Sarasota Republican, excused all three days as she recovers from surgery.

— Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican, excused Wednesday and Thursday because he’s “out of the country.”

— Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican, excused Friday morning for a “prior engagement.”

— Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, excused Friday because of “previous commitments.”

— Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, excused Wednesday and Thursday because he’ll be in Washington, D.C. with a Pulse nightclub shooting survivor speaking to members of Congress, and then attending the unveiling of a mural at the University of Central Florida commemorating Pulse victims, survivors and first responders.

— Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican, excused all three days because her “brother is getting married in Arkansas.”

— Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, excused all three days as she continues to recover from cancer treatment and surgery.

We’ll add any more names as we receive them.

Updated Wednesday: 

— Rep. Joe AbruzzoBoynton Beach Democrat, excused Wednesday because of a “previously scheduled conflict in my district.”

Report: Mailers from Illinois PAC targeting Joe Negron over education bill

A mailer from an Illinois based political committee targeting Senate President Joe Negron is landing in Treasure Coast mailboxes.

The Palm Beach Post reported voters living in Negron’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are receiving mailers from SunshinePAC, a newly formed Illinois-based PAC, criticizing the Stuart Republican over his support of a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069).

The mailer, according to the Palm Beach Post, calls Negron out for making making “backroom deals” and says “our schools are paying the price.”

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the mailer says, according to the Palm Beach Post.

It also urges voters to call Gov. Rick Scott and encourage him to veto the measure, a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill, according to House records, has not yet been sent to Scott for his consideration. However, Scott is largely expected to sign the bill once he receives it.

According to the Federal Election Commission, SunshinePAC formed on May 26 and is headed by John Hennelly. Hennelly is a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union, and now serves as a consultant with Democracy Partners, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Legislature still debating medical marijuana legislation

Simmering frustration with the Florida Legislature’s inability to agree on a framework for the state’s constitutional amendment expanding medical marijuana could build if it’s not addressed at this week’s special session.

Gov. Rick Scott called the session that begins Wednesday because of an ongoing feud over the state budget. Although observers expected medical marijuana to be added to the agenda, lawmakers continue to disagree over key elements: how many retail dispensaries a treatment center could open and whether cannabis would be subject to sales tax.

“I’m surprised it is not on the agenda. I think it will eventually get addressed because people will be angry if they don’t,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, an organization that advocates for medical marijuana.

The amendment, which was passed by 71 percent of voters in November, expands legal use beyond the limited prescriptions for low-strength marijuana allowed under a 2014 law. It also would expand the eligible ailments beyond the current list of cancer, epilepsy and chronic muscle spasms to include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and similar conditions.

When the bill implementing the amendment fell apart late in session, the Senate wanted to limit each treatment center to 15 locations; the House wanted no caps and no sales tax.

Those issues mean little to the 14,700 patients on the state registry like Michael Bowen, who has epilepsy. The Pensacola native can receive low-THC cannabis under legislation passed in 2014 but would like to be able to use higher-strength medical marijuana and see more product variety than he has now.

“Right now, they are playing with people’s lives,” he said.

Patients and caregivers say the proposed rules remain too restrictive, including not allowing smoking. Training for doctors would drop from eight hours to two but they would still have to stringently document patients’ conditions before prescribing marijuana.

If nothing gets resolved this week, lawmakers could return for another special session. If legislators don’t agree on a marijuana plan, it would be up to the Department of Health to set the rules.

“Clearly, there are discussions behind the scenes and offers being made. The Legislature recognizes that their constituents would like them to find a resolution,” said Taylor Patrick Biehl, who help runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

Biehl said it would be easier for the Legislature to establish the framework of rules instead of the Department of Health, which went through several rounds of litigation when trying to determine who would be licensed to produce and distribute pot.

Department rules are likely to be even more restrictive based on its draft proposal in February. Patients would likely have a 90-day waiting period to get cannabis after seeing a certified physician. That could mean prolonged legal challenges, especially because it would prohibit smoking.

What everyone does agree about is that time is running out to get a structure in place for an amendment, which requires new laws to be in place by July 3 and enacted by October. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.

“There’s that saying about having something done is better than perfect. People are counting on something getting done,” said John Morgan, the architect behind getting the amendment on the ballot and passed.

Jack Latvala: ‘Cooling-off’ period applies to Special Session bills

Sen. Jack Latvala is telling fellow senators that funding bills planned for this week’s Special Session will be subject to the state’s constitutionally-mandated “cooling off” period.

That potentially means, if the bills are changed, that lawmakers could be stuck in Tallahassee past Friday, when the session is scheduled to end.

The Clearwater Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Tuesday memo that he and Senate President Joe Negron, an attorney, had “reviewed relevant legal precedent and accepted the advice of our professional staff regarding the application of the 72-hour cooling off period.”

A House spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Florida Constitution requires that “all general appropriation bills shall be furnished to each member of the legislature, each member of the cabinet, the governor, and the chief justice of the supreme court at least seventy-two hours before final passage by either house of the legislature of the bill in the form that will be presented to the governor.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Senate will allow its bills funding public education, tourism marketing agency and economic development “to rest in final form for 72 hours prior to a vote,” Latvala wrote.

“For this reason, the Secretary (of the Senate) has distributed the filed versions to each member of the Legislature, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and each member of the Cabinet,” he said.

More significantly, he said that “if amendments are adopted in Committee or on the Floor, the Secretary will issue a new distribution indicating the start of a new 72-hour cooling off period.”

“Thank you for your time and consideration of these important matters,” Latvala added.

The full memo is below:

Joe Negron: Senate will consider veto overrides

Senate President Joe Negron, in advance of the Legislature’s 3-day Special Session this week, told members in a Tuesday memo he expects “a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding.”

The Stuart Republican also left the door open for medical marijuana implementation to be added to the call, saying he had made no deal “limit(ing) the subject matter to the issues listed in the Governor’s proclamation.” They are education, tourism marketing and economic development funding.

Legislative negotiators are reportedly close to striking a deal regarding marijuana dispensary caps, limiting the number of retail locations, that hamstrung lawmakers during this year’s regular session that ended in May. Introducing marijuana legislation would require a two-thirds vote.

The state’s medical cannabis amendment was passed in 2016 by just over 71 percent of statewide voters. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

In the memo, Negron tells senators the House “has indicated a willingness to move toward the Senate position on a number of issues, including the level of public school per-student funding and the amount of state investment in tourism marketing and economic development” and added he “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this Special Session.”

The “additional spending of approximately $350 million for K-12 funding, Visit Florida, and EFI (Enterprise Florida) would largely originate from the funds made available from vetoed projects originally funded with non-recurring general revenue,” Negron said.

“This use of non-recurring revenue to fund next year’s recurring needs negatively impacts our budget, and potentially our bond rating, in future years,” he added. “Here are some early ideas that have emerged in the Senate:

“Our Appropriations Chair, Sen. (Jack) Latvala, will file legislation this afternoon that will provide an additional $215 million to the (state’s) student funding formula. This funding will originate from $72 million in state funds ($66 million recurring; $6 million non-recurring) and $143 million (required local effort) increase (new construction only).

“Chair Latvala will also file legislation to address policy changes with regard to Visit Florida and EFI. This legislation will include a requirement that (the Department of Economic Opportunity) return to the state funds (approximately $107 million) held in escrow outside the state treasury to the SEED Trust Fund, which has been a bipartisan priority of the Senate for many years.

“In addition, Sen. (Anitere) Flores will file a bill today that will reduce the general revenue cut to Florida’s hospitals by $100 million, down from the $200 million cut passed in the 2017-18 (budget). This $100 million will come from reserves.

“This is consistent with the Senate’s earlier action during 2017 Regular Session to reduce the anticipated $250 million general revenue cut to $200 million. Once approved, our Working Capital Reserve Account would remain over $1.2 billion and our total reserves would exceed $3.2 billion.

“I also expect that the Senate will consider a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding that represent major priorities of senators.”

Personnel note: Beth Vecchioli rejoins Carlton Fields’s insurance regulatory practice

Welcome back, Beth Vecchioli.

The veteran lobbyist has rejoined the firm of Carlton Fields to serve as a Senior Director — Government Consulting. In this position, Vecchioli will serve as co-chair of the firm’s property and casualty regulatory group.

Before joining Carlton Fields, Vecchioli served as a senior policy advisor and member of Holland & Knight’s Florida government advocacy team.

A former member of Carlton Fields for nine years, serving as a government consultant from 2003-2012, Vecchioli advises clients in the areas of insurance regulation, lobbying, and financial services matters. She has extensive experience in the regulation of all types of insurance, reinsurance, and specialty insurance products.

“Beth has a skill set that will directly support our growing insurance practice,” said Steven J. Brodie, co-chair of Carlton Fields’ insurance industry group. “Her extensive regulatory and lobbying experience will be a tremendous asset as we continue to grow our national platform.”

Vecchioli also assists companies in obtaining licensure and in resolving regulatory issues in Florida and many other states. She also helps clients resolve regulatory disputes pertaining to investigations, disciplinary actions, examinations, and accounting disputes.

Her client roster includes insurers, reinsurers, mortgage brokers and lenders, as well as national computer companies.

As a senior level manager and regulator at the Florida Department of Insurance/Office of Insurance Regulation for more than 10 years, Vecchioli brings to Carlton Fields the benefits of her significant government relationships.

“This is like coming home for me,” Vecchioli said. “The strength of Carlton Fields’ bench in the insurance space is so attractive, as is its national reach. I’m excited about the leadership role that I will have and I look forward to continuing to build our insurance practice and take it to new heights.”

A frequent speaker on the latest trends affecting insurance regulation and legislation, Vecchioli has been a member of many professional and community organizations, including the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, Tallahassee Habitat for Humanity, the Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association, American Cancer Society, and the March of Dimes.

Jason Fischer’s ‘Civil Remedies for Terrorism’ bill becomes law

Stronger civil penalties for terrorism in the Sunshine State are imminent, as Gov. Rick Scott signed Rep. Jason Fischer‘s “Civil Remedies for Terrorism” bill into law Friday.

HB 65 was Fischer’s first bill, filed last November.

Previously, there had not been a civil cause of action for terrorism under Florida law. This bill changes that, allowing a person injured as a victim of terrorism to collect minimum damages of $1,000, along with legal fees, from the assailant or assailants.

Those committing acts of terror, meanwhile, are permitted no recourse under this law.

The bill also precludes spurious claims: “The defendant is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts upon a finding that the claimant raised a claim that was without support in fact or law.”

 “I want to commend Governor Scott for signing Civil Remedies for Terrorism into law. The Governor’s signature further reinforces that our state will not tolerate anyone who harms or intends to harm our citizens with senseless acts of terror. While nothing can erase the horror experienced by victims and their families, my hope is that this law will provide relief in the form of civil damages,” Fischer said in a statement Tuesday.

Fischer’s bill is a tribute to Private Andy Long, who Fischer asserts “was murdered by an Islamic terrorist outside of an Army-Navy recruiting station in Arkansas.”

Personnel note: Rosanna Catalano joins Capitol Access lobbying firm

Attorney Rosanna “Ro” Manuela Catalano is joining Capitol Access, a government relations firm in Tallahassee.

“We are excited about this new relationship,” said Jerry Paul, founder and managing member of the firm. “Ro’s experience, professionalism, and high-energy personality are a perfect fit for Capitol Access and the clients we serve.”

Catalano

Catalano has been executive director and chief administrative officer for the Florida Elections Commission, according to a press release.

She also was assistant general counsel at the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Before that, she was an assistant attorney general, working with professional licensing boards such as the Florida Board of Medicine, Florida Board of Nursing, Florida Board of Dentistry, Florida Electrical Contractors Licensing Board, and Florida Board of Landscape Architects.

“I will be combining my past experience from multiple areas of government and academia in ways that now allow me to guide private stakeholders through the halls of the Legislature and executive branch,” Catalano said.

“This new relationship allows me to provide government relations in conjunction with people like Jerry who have developed a reputation and style that is effective and well-synchronized with people who need help in the Capitol.”

She got her undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Florida.

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