Influence Archives - Page 7 of 240 - Florida Politics

Boutique lobbying firms join forces to buy historic building in downtown Tallahassee

A pair of boutique lobbying firms is making a significant move by jointly purchasing a historic building in downtown Tallahassee, just a few steps from the Florida Capitol.

Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and RSA Consulting partnered up to buy the 17,000-square-foot, four-story structure, which, according to the Leon County Property Appraiser’s Office, was built in 1930.

The building, at 113 E. College Avenue, boasts a fully furnished basement, offices, kitchen, a balcony with a wrought iron railing and views of the Capitol from all floors.

“Tallahassee has been my home for over 25 years, and since I don’t see the Capitol building moving anytime soon, this was an easy long-term business decision,” said Liberty Partners President Jennifer Green, co-owner of Frog Dog Real Estate Holdings.

From 1977, the building was owned by Annette’s, Inc., which then sold it to the Florida Medical Association in 1995. In 2005, the Florida Association of Community Colleges purchased the building, making several significant upgrades and renovations during the last 10 years.

“This type of real estate opportunity does not come up frequently and gave us the ability to diversify our business portfolios while continuing to expand our current consulting firms,” said Ron Pierce, also a co-owner of Frog Dog Real Estate Holdings and president of RSA Consulting.

Green founded Liberty Partners of Tallahassee in early 2007 with former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack. Pierce, who was featured in the fall 2016 edition of Florida Politics’ INFLUENCE Magazine, launched RSA Consulting in 2009.

Despite this joint purchase, the firms will remain separate businesses.

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‘Breach of the peace’ may be a relic of the past under new legislation

Florida Statute defines “breach of the peace” with language from a bygone era, describing it as “acts … of a nature to corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency, or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them.”

Rep. Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican and 2nd Amendment purist, filed a bill Friday to amend relevant statute to remove that dated term … and to offer recourse for gun owners who had weapons seized by law enforcement and have been frustrated in recovering their property because statutory language allows law enforcement to keep weapons seized in an investigation unless a court order is issued.

House Bill 6013 excises the “breach of the peace” language in statute, reframing offenses like brawling and fighting as “disorderly conduct.”

Corruption of the public morals and outraging the sense of public decency didn’t make the cut in Byrd’s rewrite.

Byrd frames this “repealer bill” as an attempt to remove “duplicative laws” and “arcane provisions” from statute.

Meanwhile, the semantic revisions have a purpose.

Byrd asserted, in a Friday conversation with FloridaPolitics.com, that “breach of the peace is used as a mechanism to deny people their firearms.”

His bill seeks to strike a provision from statute: “No pistol or firearm taken by any officer with a search warrant or without a search warrant upon a view by the officer of a breach of the peace shall be returned except pursuant to an order of a trial court judge.”

Byrd frames this requirement for a court order to return a citizen’s firearms as a “statewide problem,” one he has litigated himself, most recently in a case involving the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.

Breach of the peace, Byrd says, is used as a catch all to allow law enforcement overreach against citizens.

That said, in a case where someone has been accused of a crime involving a firearm, the court order would apply.

***

Byrd filed a second bill on Friday also.

HB 175 tweaks provisions related to the Florida Court Educational Council, mandating that “The Florida Court Educational Council shall adopt a comprehensive plan for the operation of the Court Education Trust Fund and the expenditure of the moneys deposited in the trust fund.”

Byrd asserts that his bill “reduces wasteful government administration which will save tax dollars so that they can be used to better serve Floridians not bureaucrats.”

Among other changes, the bill caps administrative costs at 15 percent, and caps employee count at 3 full-time workers.

The bill also requires yearly reporting on the uses of the fund to leadership of the Florida Senate and Florida House.

Senate bill offers redress for hurricane-damaged homes

Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew last fall. For homeowners who suffered damage, a particular burden was imposed, via property appraisals that fit the period before the storm wrecked their houses.

In light of that act of God, and those to come, St. Johns County Republican Sen. Travis Hutson filed a bill Friday that would compel property appraisers to reduce the assessment of properties “damaged or destroyed” by natural disaster.

Natural disasters are defined in Senate Bill 272 as including earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, sinkholes, or tornadoes.

Residential properties, in Hutson’s bill, are restricted to the actual living quarters; toolsheds, swimming pools, and such would not qualify for relief.

The legislative threshold for relief: properties rendered “uninhabitable” by the damage.

The deadline for filing for relief: March 1 in the year after the natural disaster.

The property tax bill would be adjusted, on a month by month basis, to prorate the difference between the pre and post-damage appraisals of the property.

The legislation has a provision for those who suffered damage, such as many of those in Hutson’s own district, from Hurricane Matthew.

The property owner must file an application with the property appraiser before March 2018; the reduction would be on the 2018 bill.

The financial impact for local governments is unknown from the loss of revenue at this point; however, tax collectors would be required to report the decrease in collections by May 2018.

Bill filed in Florida House to make Kratom a controlled substance

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat, filed legislation on Friday to add Kratom to the controlled substance list.

House Bill 183 would add Mitragynine and Hydroxymitragynine, constituents of Kratom, to the schedule of controlled substances, offering an exception for any FDA approved substance containing these chemicals.

Selling, delivering, manufacturing, or importing these Kratom chemical constituents into Florida would be considered a misdemeanor of the first degree, should the law go into effect.

Kratom has been used as herbal medicine in Southeast Asia for centuries, serving as a palliative and an alternative to opiates, though it only recently has become popular in the United States.

As we noted in 2016: “Traditionally, kratom leaves are chewed to treat a variety of ailments: in reducing pain, as an anti-diarrheal, and to reduce dependence on opiates. Kratom is also thought to provide energy, as well as decrease symptoms of opiate withdrawal and extend the duration of sexual intercourse.”

Concomitant with that surge in popularity: interest of the enforcement state.

President Barack Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration issued an “emergency” ban on Kratom in Aug. 2016, then repealed it due to a popular backlash the DEA did not anticipate.

Reason, the libertarian website, notes that reports of Kratom’s danger to the general public may very well be exaggerated.

“As further proof of kratom’s dangers, the DEA noted that “U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure” from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000,” observed Jacob Sullum.

The bill as of yet lacks a Senate companion. However, when first filed by Rep. Jacobs in 2015, the Senate version was filed by Greg Evers.

On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has been agitating against Kratom for three years and counting.

Among the FDA actions: seizing shipments of the herb.

On the state level, Kratom has had what may seem like unlikely defenders.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement contended in late 2015 that “a review of information currently available through identified law enforcement and laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety or welfare of Florida residents. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) reports no pervasive health issues attributed to the ingestion of Kratom products in Florida.”

We have reached out to Rep. Jacobs for comment; this piece will be updated when we hear back.

Randolph Bracy’s SB 276 would give tax credits to businesses for hiring felons

Senator Randolph Bracy, newly elected to District 11, is taking initiative in his role on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee with a new bill that would give tax credits to businesses which hire felons.

The bill, SB 276, amends the Florida statute on state work opportunity tax credits to include a new section, which offers a credit to any business that hires a person convicted of a felony within three years after his or her release from prison and who is on community control or probation, according to the text.

The credit will be 40 percent of the wages paid to that employee, with a maximum of five employees claimed and $2,400 per eligible employee.

With smaller or minority business enterprise, it’s 50 percent of the wages paid to the employees, and $3,000 per eligible employee.

Bracy, who worked for years on the Criminal Justice subcommittee in the House, was recently appointed chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and has promised to be extremely aggressive in pursuing criminal justice reform in Florida.

“I know I have to work under the senate president’s direction, but my hope is we can tackle some issues aggressively that are wrong in the criminal justice system,” he told FloridaPolitics.com in December. “I hope I’m up to the challenge.”

Bracy told FloridaPolitics.com Thursday that they were considering changing the scope of the bill to award a grant, maybe of $1,500 or so, to businesses who hire felons, rather than going through the complex process of tax credits.

“It depends on the amount,” he said. “If they’re only going to get a small amount, some people might not find it worth it to go through the trouble to get a tax refund or rebate.”

But he said anything that could be done to help felons find work would be a positive in his eyes.

“It’s very difficult for them to find jobs once the felony conviction comes up,” he said. “It’s often extremely hard for them even to find a place to stay. Landlords often won’t rent to someone once they find out about the felony conviction. They have it really tough.”

Rick Scott’s counterterrorism proposal gets cities’, police chiefs’ backing

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to spend $5.8 billion to beef up state counterterrorism drew a joint endorsement Thursday from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

The two groups’ leaders signed a statement applauding Scott’s proposal and urging the Florida Legislature to approve it.

On Wednesday during stops in Orlando and Tampa, Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen announced plans to seek $5.8 million in the next budget to add 38 special agents and eight intelligence analysts specializing in counterterrorism. The new agents and analysts would beef up existing FDLE units allowing them too coordinate with all federally-organized counterterrorism task forces in Florida.

Florida. League of Cities President Susan Haynie, who is mayor of Boca Raton, and Florida Police Chiefs Association President Albert “Butch” Arenal, police chief of Coconut Creek, issued a statement reading:

“The majority of Florida’s 20 million residents live in our cities, towns, and villages, and our municipalities face the constant threat of being targeted by terrorist acts. Governor Scott’s plan will institute a dedicated team of highly skilled, well-trained, and resolute experts whose sole mission will be to address the modern scourge of terrorism. This smart, forward-thinking, and unfortunately necessary proposal represents a cost-effective way to provide Floridians with a measure of assurance that their public servants are doing everything possible to protect them. We applaud the Governor’s leadership in advocating for these 46 agents and analysts, and we urge the Legislature to help protect the people of our state, not on the basis of what this costs but because of what it likely will save: lives.”

New Jason Brodeur bill expands uses of dogs in courtrooms to help witnesses

Representative Jason Brodeur‘s new bill, HB 151, would let judges use service animals for those giving testimony in their courtrooms in cases of abuse, abandonment or neglect and for those who have intellectual disabilities.

The existing statutes rule that courts can choose to provide certain service animals, therapy animals or facility animals to victims of sexual offense cases. The rules say courts should take into account a number of things from the victim or witness’s age to the rights of the parties involved in the litigation and any other factors that would facilitate the testimony of the witness or victim in question.

The new bill expands those rules to victims of abuse, abandonment or neglect and also those who have intellectual disabilities.

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens with CourthouseDogs.org, which provides services to agencies that want to establish programs for the dogs in their own courtrooms, said it was important to distinguish between the different types of dogs used in such situations. Therapy animals provide emotional, psychological or physiological support and service animals specifically do things to help those with disabilities.

However, neither one is necessarily always equipped to deal with the unique challenges of a courtroom.

“Therapy dogs sometimes don’t receive proper training for this work,” she said. “They can be aggressive. I’ve seen some of them bark during a grand jury trial. Facility dogs are specially selected to do this. They will be at ease with a meth addict in the courtroom as well as kids in the courtroom.”

She said it’s important to have facility dogs because of the emotional toll a courtroom trial can have on victims or witnesses.

“Legal proceedings can be emotionally traumatic,” she said. “A person on a witness stand can start to experience a physiological reaction they had at the time of the event. Like, a World War 2 vet speaking about his experience will start to remember what it was like, and his eyes will well up with tears, and he’ll go quiet. The witnesses shut down and can’t give important evidence. A facility dog can give that person a positive association with the process rather than re-traumatizing them.”

diapers

Soon-to-be new mom Lauren Book wants diapers exempt from sales tax

New state Sen. Lauren Book, who’s eight months pregnant with twins, also has filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Book

Book, a Broward County Democrat, filed her bill (SB 252) Thursday. A similar provision was filed last month by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.

The 32-year-old lawmaker, elected in November, said the idea came to her as she attended pregnancy classes. Book is having a boy and a girl, due in February.

“For many families, buying diapers can be a (financial) burden,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s not a luxury item.”

The average child “will use more than 2,700 diapers in the first year alone, which can add up to more than $550 (based on an average price of $0.20 per disposable diaper),” according to Investopedia. “And don’t forget an average of $20 per month for wipes.”

Based on that, Book’s bill could save a family about $48 a year.

Another example: A 128-count box of newborn-size Pampers Swaddlers Diapers costs roughly $35 at Wal-mart. A tax exemption would save about $2 per box.

And the language would extend the exemption to adult products, such as Depends.

The legislation defines diapers as “a product used to absorb or contain body waste, including, but not limited to, baby diapers and adult diapers and pads designed and used for incontinence.”

Baby wipes, as defined by the bill, are “a moistened, disposable, often antiseptic tissue used chiefly for cleansing the skin, especially of babies and children.”

Bills also have been filed for the 2017 Legislative Session to create sales-tax exemptions on feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

Linda Stewart and Carlos Guillermo Smith introduce bill to ban assault weapons in Florida

Senator Linda Stewart and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced Thursday that they had filed a bill in both the Senate and the House that would ban the sale of military-grade assault weapons in Florida.

The bill, SB 254, would prevent the sale or transfer of assault weapons as well as owning them in general.

Speaking at a press conference outside the Orange County Courthouse, Stewart and Smith spoke of the need to prevent another massacre like the one at the Pulse nightclub six months ago from ever happening in the state again.

Stewart said she was fulfilling a campaign promise to the survivors and families of the victims at Pulse – that she would take action. But while the bill was direct and would ban assault weapons, Stewart made it loud and clear that she wasn’t trying to ban guns as a whole or infringe upon law-abiding peoples’ second amendment rights.

“We are not trying to take away your guns,” she said. “But it is also worth mentioning that the people killed by gun violence every day have rights too. The families and victims who will never be made whole have rights. They were stolen from them by a person armed with hate and with these weapons. So long as criminals and madmen have access to these guns, we are not safe. The time for talk is over.”

Smith said he was motivated by the actions taken after the Sandy Hook massacre, in which the Connecticut legislature passed a bill banning many assault weapons in the state.

Florida, Smith said, should follow in that same path.

“People have many names for these weapons,” he said. “Military-grade weapons, assault weapons… the NRA wants us to call them ‘modern sporting rifles.’ I call them Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Smith also gave a graphic account of what exactly happened when an assault rifle’s bullet hits a person – he described the tearing of clothes and flesh and the piercing of the body in excruciating detail. He said he had recently fired the same weapon as used by the Pulse shooter to know exactly what he was talking about in terms of the weapons, too.

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf also spoke at the event, saying it was far past time to do something about assault weapons on American streets.

“This was a suspected terrorist, with an FBI record, and a history of violent speech,” he said. “He walked into a gun store and said, I think I’ll take that one, yeah, the military one, and all the ammo that comes with it. I know limiting ammo or weapons isn’t going to stop all the violence in the world. But where do we draw the line?”

He said Americans, by not speaking up sooner, had offered “moviegoers, nightclub patrons and even first-grade children as sacrifices to the gun lobby.”

In response to a question about how they planned to take on opposition to the bill from the other side, Smith said he knew it was an uphill climb, but that he hoped the new leadership in the House would be open to their bill.

“There’s no question Tallahassee has been hostile to common sense gun safety measures for years and years,” he said. “The gun lobby has had a stranglehold on process. Whats interesting is, we have new leadership in the House, that is making it a point as a part of their legacy to crack down on the lobbyists and special interests. I hope the first special interest they crack down on is the gun lobby and the NRA.”

Bills would eliminate tobacco companies’ discounted appeals

The Florida Legislature could consider legislation that would make it more expensive for tobacco companies to appeal verdicts in liability cases filed by smokers made sick or injured by their products.

SB 100, filed by Sen. Greg Steube, contains just two lines:

“Section 569.23, Florida Statutes, is repealed.” And “This act shall take effect July 1, 2017.” An identical House companion was filed by state Rep. Danny Burgess (HB 6011).

That section, enacted in 2009, caps the amount tobacco companies must post when appealing trial court verdicts against them. Supporters argued at the time that the provision would protect the companies’ ability to make payments to the states under the massive 1999 liability verdict against them.

Steube is chairman and one of four members of the nine-member Judiciary Committee who won backing this year from the Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers in the state.

He said he didn’t know what the financial implications of his proposal might be — but hopes to find out during committee hearings.

“I just don’t think there should be a specific exception basically giving cigarette companies the ability to delay litigation for as long as possible,” Steube said.

“There’s not another industry out there that has something like that. That’s something the Legislature has the right and the ability to look at.”

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