Opinions Archives - Page 5 of 265 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Would you vote for Donald Trump again?

Today’s question, class: If you voted for Donald Trump in the last election, would you vote for him again knowing what you know today?

If you didn’t vote him then, would you do so now?

Yes? No?

Wednesday will mark one year since Trump turned the world upside down with his shocking, stunning, unexpected – oh, you know what I mean. But we’ve had time to get used to him and his management style, so what do you think?

Since the election, he has been an extension of the person he was during the campaign –  frequently crude, loose with the truth, addicted to Twitter, and always ready to attack someone he perceives to be an enemy. Some people see all that as a strength.

But my question to you is this: Does that bother you more now than it did during the campaign? Or did you think, as a lot of people appear to have done, that he would put on big-boy pants when he got into office and conduct the affairs of state with proper decorum?

He promised to make America great again – “again” being the linchpin of his campaign. That seemed to be the word that resonated most with supporters.

He did appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and that made supporters happy, but so far, he has no significant legislative wins – despite Republican control of both houses of Congress.

He has warred with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, belittled House Speaker Paul Ryan, trashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and when backed into a corner he tries to shift the focus to Hillary Clinton (and, by extension, Sessions and the Justice Department).

Pssst. The campaign is over, Mr. President. You won.

He hasn’t made much of an attempt to unite the country, preferring to appeal to a (cough) carefully targeted audience (cough) – although I guess we’ll find out from special counsel Robert Mueller if it was a little too carefully targeted, if you get my drift.

Remember in the campaign when Trump dismissed any suggestion of hacking from Russia by saying it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Yeah, if that bed is in Vladivostok.

Back on point: Would you vote for him again?

Does it bother you that many top people have either left his administration voluntarily or were fired?

It’s quite a list: Chief of Staff Reince Prebius, HHS Secretary Tom Price, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Ethics Director Walter Shaub, FBI Director James Comey, and on and on.

Did it make America great again to insult important allies like Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Great Britain, and Mexico? Does that type of leadership make you want to vote for him again?

The economy is going gangbusters and he is trying to get a tax plan through. Sure, if adopted as written, rich people will benefit the most but my guess is most supporters won’t care so long as they get a sliver of the pie.

But Obamacare still hasn’t been repealed or replaced, and at this point it looks like the president and his party doesn’t have a clue how to do that. There is no border wall under construction to keep Mexicans on their turf.

His clumsy remarks after the white supremacist clash in Charlottesville, Va. made look like he was offering excuses for bigotry. He assumes he can continue to label any news story he doesn’t like as “fake” and people will continue to believe him.

We had two of the worst cases of mass murder in this country – Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas – occur since Oct. 1. And on Halloween night, eight people died in New York City during what has been called a terrorist attack.

Donald Trump, obviously, could not have stopped any of those attacks. No president could. But what he sold to enough Americans to win the election is that he “alone” – his words – could fix things.

Thus, he alone must be held accountable for the results.

Has he fixed things to your satisfaction? You’ve had almost a year to judge him.

Would you vote for him again?


Jeff Kottkamp: Real animal welfare reform starts with shelters

Jeff Kottkamp

State Sen. Tom Lee has proposed a constitutional amendment, as a member of the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission, that would end live greyhound racing and allow all 12 of Florida’s greyhound tracks to essentially continue operating as minicasinos.

It has been suggested that the proposal is an animal welfare proposal. There have been numerous attempts to end live racing in the Legislature over the years. All of those efforts have failed, in large part, because most members of the Legislature oppose the dramatic expansion of gambling that would result from such efforts.

The fact is — if live racing is stopped the welfare of over 8,000 majestic racing greyhounds would be put in jeopardy. If you take away the ability of the dog owners to make a living — you also take away the ability of the owners to care for the dogs.

And please don’t suggest that we can adopt out 8,000 greyhounds. While we have a robust greyhound adoption program in Florida — it would take many years to adopt out 8,000 greyhounds. When it comes to the welfare of dogs — the biggest problem we have is not greyhound racing — it’s the number of dogs killed by animal shelters.

In 2008, the Florida Senate Agricultural Committee sent out 180 surveys to municipal and private animal shelters to help determine the welfare of animals at the shelters. Only 30 shelters responded. Their responses were analyzed by committee staff and the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The information provided by the shelters was shocking.

In 2007 alone, the 30 animal shelters that responded to the survey took in 66,513 dogs. During that same year, the responding shelters killed over 37,000 dogs. It was particularly noteworthy that municipal shelters killed more than five times as many dogs as private shelters.

It has been estimated that somewhere between 3 and 8 million animals are killed each year in pet shelters nationwide. It has also been estimated that in Florida 450,000 dogs and cats were killed by shelters just in 2012. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the shelter in Orange County killed 2,232 dogs in 2012. I think those numbers underestimate the problem — but even those numbers are horrific.

As a proud owner of two dogs that have been rescued, I believe that improving the welfare of dogs is a worthy goal. However, ending live greyhound racing would do nothing to achieve that goal. A better approach would be to lead an effort to make all animal shelters in Florida “No Kill” shelters. Such an effort would save the lives of thousands of dogs — and save the taxpayers millions of dollars.

One of the first bills I passed as a Member of the Florida House of Representatives was a bill to increase penalties for the intentional cruelty to animals. My wife Cyndie volunteered her time to help me pass the bill. In fact, without her efforts the bill probably would not have passed. Thus, I know from personal experience that, with enough commitment and effort, an animal welfare bill can be passed in the Legislature.

In addition, while in the House I sat on the Select Committee on Constitutional Amendments. At the time we were concerned that our State Constitution was being used by special interests to accomplish what they were unable to achieve in the Legislature (the most glaring example was the pregnant pigs amendment). We looked for ways to prevent the Constitution from being misused in the future.

Apart from the fact that making our shelters “No Kill” shelters is a far better way to improve the welfare of dogs than ending greyhound racing — I do not believe the greyhound issue belongs in the Constitution because it does not involve a fundamental right. The Constitution should be reserved to set forth our state’s founding principles and fundamental values — not used to circumvent the Legislative process. For that reason, I urge the Constitutional Revision Commission to reject the greyhound proposal.


Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s Lieutenant Governor from 2007-2011 and served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives. Kottkamp represents the Florida Greyhound Association.

Stephanie Garris: Free and charitable clinics have important hurricane role

The storms that barreled through Florida and wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico are long gone. Their impact, however, continues to be felt by millions.

Since September, more than 70,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida after the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Maria. While fleeing from one crisis, they’re now encountering another: finding that their health insurance from Puerto Rico isn’t accepted on the U.S. mainland.

Finding yourself without medical coverage or care can be terrifying. Imagine that, after having to leave your home, possessions, and perhaps even friends and family behind. It’s another layer of confusion and exhaustion in an already difficult situation.

Fortunately, that’s where Florida’s free and charitable clinics come in.

The clinics of the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics provide free health care for uninsured, low-income communities. This year, our 82 volunteer-driven clinics provided nearly 200,000 patients with more than 400,000 medical, dental, vision, specialty care, behavioral health, and pharmacy visits at no cost.

These front-line medical providers are now serving an influx of newly arrived patients from Puerto Rico. In some cases, the treatment received is life-saving — and life-changing.

One woman had just completed cancer surgery, but had to flee before starting chemotherapy. Another was pre-operative for cancer, forced to evacuate before getting the surgical care she needed. Both got the care they needed. Two of our Orange County clinics were the first and only on-site medical providers at Orlando International Airport’s assistance relief center. Yet another clinic is distributing food, water, and hygiene supplies to those in need.

Our nonprofit, faith-based, community-based clinics are saving lives with strong support from the Governor and Florida’s lawmakers. Legislative funding of Florida’s free and charitable clinics has always been a smart investment. It has helped keep vulnerable, uninsured Floridians healthy and working. And it has lowered the state’s health care costs, by decreasing indigent care at emergency rooms, and reducing avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions. Our member clinics and specialty care networks this year provided more than $100 million in medical services with a $10 million appropriation — an unparalleled return on investment.

But it’s in the days and weeks following these disasters that our clinics have never been more important. No one has more experience than Florida’s free and charitable clinics activating medical volunteers and providing direct medical care to underserved communities. In the aftermath of a crisis, our clinics are the best prepared to ensure our state’s most medically needy are cared for.

In the wake of these storms, another opportunity has arisen for the state to support health care for the uninsured. Florida Statute 458.315 gives our Surgeon General the authority to determine “areas of critical need” in the event of health care shortages. Surgeon General Philip also has the ability to grant temporary certificates to licensed medical professionals coming to Florida from Puerto Rico.

Granting these certificates and designating areas of critical need would not only allow our clinics and specialty care networks to increase their capacity, but also potentially add some of these temporarily licensed medical professionals to our teams to care for tens of thousands of evacuees who find themselves uninsured and without income. We are hopeful Surgeon General Philip will work with us to help these folks in need.

Florida’s free and charitable clinics are here for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who will pass through our doors this year. We’re here when our state needs us the most. And we’re here for our fellow Americans from Puerto Rico seeking stability, compassion, and care here in the Sunshine State.


Stephanie Garris is the chief executive officer of the Grace Medical Home and chairs the public policy committee for the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. She lives in Orlando.

Joe Henderson: The avalanche is building around Jack Latvala

If Jack Latvala is guilty of even some of the tawdry allegations of sexual harassment and miscreant behavior detailed in a damning story about him about him in POLITICO Florida, he should be banished from Tallahassee as quickly as possible.

If he is guilty, it’s a given that his career in politics is finished. He should resign his seat in the state Senate in disgrace. He should go away. His campaign for Governor might as well shut down today.

Now comes the hard truth about these allegations: Even if the whole thing is, as Latvala claims, fabrication on a grand scale, it really doesn’t matter to his political fortunes.

Stories like this often become an avalanche that doesn’t stop until the ink dries on a letter of resignation.

His guilt will be presumed by many, if not most, of those who read and reacted to the original reporting.

He won’t have any way to prove the charges are wrong, if they are, and people in Tallahassee will have little appetite for further association with him. Money will dry up. Many people who were supporters will suddenly become unreachable.

It would have been preferable for the six women accusers quoted in the story to have been named, but I understand why they need anonymity. They have careers to think about, and being publicly associated with a story like this could have lasting personal and professional repercussions.

Latvala has screamed his innocence, but making people believe that is another matter. Absent concrete proof either way, truth can be what an individual wants it to be.

Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics reported on several women by name who say they never saw any of that kind of behavior from Latvala, and they worked closely with him for extended periods.

Even as Latvala’s defenders were lining up though, a chorus of condemnation was reaching deafening levels.

“Predators think they can obtain the outcomes they desire through intimidation. Jack always has,” political rival and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz told POLITICO.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a potential gubernatorial candidate, has called on Latvala to resign. The charges against him will be investigated by the Senate.

Latvala’s supporters have charged that the story is politically motivated, as if that matters. There is a much bigger story here than a political career.

The kind of honest-to-goodness sexual intimidation of which Latvala stands accused must be stomped out. It is never OK for anyone to use their position or power in such a way.

That brings us back to the beginning.

I don’t know for certain if Latvala did the things his accusers say, or if I should believe his denials. If you weren’t there, neither do you.

Here is what we all do know, though: Accusers are lining up with detailed stories, rivals are playing for keeps, and the headlines probably will keep coming. We’ve seen this type of story play out before, and it almost always ends the same way.

Blake Dowling: Elections, psychometrics and social media’s dark side

The last presidential election was unlike any in my lifetime.

All predictions and polls wrong. FBI investigation right before Election Day. Crude language about women right before the election. A rogue candidate vs a political elitist. New revelations of social media ads bought by the Russians to influence voters.

The experts got it wrong, the entire time, as detailed in the Showtime documentary “Trumped.”

There are lots of obvious reasons why this happened, as well as not-so-obvious ones.

Then there is Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica and Psychometrics.

Psychometrics is the measurement of psychological traits and the “Big Five”: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN).

Pay attention readers, because if you do not know this tale, it goes far down the rabbit hole, then blows all the rabbits up.

So, the hard part about developing models for the OCEAN traits was info; gathering actual data.

How do you do that during the 70s? 80s?

I will tell you how they do it now: internet and social media.

It makes the data collection a breeze and predicting behavior a real science. It would appear that a guy named Michal Kosinski was the forebear of this type of digital science; he developed predictive models of behavior analyzing likes on Facebook. He could predict your skin-color, sexual orientation, and political affiliation based on what you liked and did not like and of course factoring in other data points, age, gender, etc.

Basically, our interactions with social media are equal to a never-ending psychological questionnaire that allows those with the tools to analyze this data to know us better than our friends know us.

So, Kosinki had his methods down and he gets approached by a guy named Kogan wanting to use this method for a company he is allegedly representing named Strategic Communications Laboratory (SCL).

Kosinski is starting to figure out the power of his work and when he looks up what SCL does.

He then has a Fred Sandford moment: “This is the Big One, Elizabeth; I’m coming to join ya,” etc.

SCL focuses on psychological modeling; one of its focuses is influencing elections. Say what?

Allegedly, this company spun off a new U.S.-based company, Cambridge Analytica.

(Also of note, it is rumored that Kogan changed his name to Dr. Spectre and moved to Singapore.)

I think this column is going to have me end up hiding out in some foreign embassy. It is like a chess game with glow in the dark gummy bear pieces — very interesting and tasty.

Traditional political marketing efforts target people using demographics, targeting an entire subset, like females, for instance. This is not that.

CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit – Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Psychometrics can target white women who like Wu-Tang Clan, drink Jack Daniels, live in LA (lower Alabama), love gladiator movies and reruns of Hee-Haw. (Who doesn’t love those?)

This is very specific, and, for all intents and purposes, very effective.

How do you get to people? They show targeted/paid “dark posts” on social media and try to get people to the polls or keep them away from the polls.

For instance, think of a Miami neighborhood called Little Haiti, dark posts are bought and run to users in this area that focus on the failure of the Clinton Foundation to help with Haiti relief after the earthquakes. Or in an African-American neighborhood with targeting paid ads where Hillary in a comment refers to black males as “predators.” These specific people only see these dark posts.

There are targeted posts for everyone, either driving people to cast a ballot or to keep them home.

What did the Trump campaign pay these people? $100,000 in July. $250,000 in August. $5,000,000 in September.

What did they have before CA, some troll named Brad who was paid $1,500 to build the Trump for President website (sorry, Brad; you stink, man).

OK, so door-to-door Trump supporters could knock on a door, knowing what the people inside believe and give them a quick message that they already know they can relate to, and yes, it’s available on an easy to use app.

They did this concentrated effort in only 17 states — states they absolutely needed.

Door-to-door messaging to a receptive audience, one-on-one targeted posts that would be most likely received positively. This sounds like the political version of the New England Patriots.

Guess who is on the Board of Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon.

So, is this all BS? Maybe.

Maybe people just liked the crazy dude with sweet hair. Who knows?

More fake news craziness? It is said CA was also a big player in the Brexit campaign, too.

Maybe the sky is red, and maybe Al Gore was right all along, it is hot as hell for springtime.

Anyway, I don’t know much but I know this is not the last time we will hear about this subject.

Keep on rocking people. And long live those women who love the Wu-Tang Clan and Jack Daniels.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He writes for several organizations and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Blake Dowling: The scourge of ransomware

This year has been exceptionally brutal on the cybersecurity front, and ransomware in particular.

You know it is terrible when Webster tosses the name in the book.

According to the 2017 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “ransomware is malware requiring the victim to pay a ransom to access encrypted files.

Also added were other random words that have crept into our society. “Pregame” is another example: “To begin drinking alcohol before an event or activity (such as a party or a night out).”

“Alt-right” is in, as is “bunny” — meaning “an easy shot in basketball.”

“Tommy Maitland” discussing with Will Arnett how bad the Florida-Florida State game will be.

I wonder how big the new-word committee is? It could be top of the list of worst jobs ever (right up there with the one IT guy in North Korea).

How are those words chosen? Bring in Tommy Maitland from the all-new Gong Show? (Spoiler alert, Tommy Maitland is really Mike Myers. Shocking.)

Also shocking is that he is hilarious in this role. Tune in.

Kim showing his team the line on the UF-FSU game.

So CryptoLocker, WannaCry (thanks, N. Korea), NotPetya, and this month BadRabbit have all burst on the scene. Experts say it will get worse before it gets better.

Our company now offers intrusion testing, customized training as the standard enterprise-level security bundles are not enough. With clients with no international ties, we block all IP addresses outside the U.S., as so many threats originate offshore.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a professor in Tel Aviv, who told me that spam was invented in Israel. So, where do you think the best spam filter is from? He was right then, but these days products from afar (like Kaspersky Anti-Virus software) have been exposed themselves.

Me and the squad, floating on the Dead Sea in Israel, far away from college football.

I am not suggesting an America-first approach to cybersecurity, but maybe a NATO-first.

Most ransomware encrypts files and to get the files back, you are supposed to pay a ransom. We always recommend not paying, and go to a backup — which you should always have — to restore the affected data.

Some new attacks will see ransomware as a diversion.

Files will get infected, and while your IT staff is struggling to deal with that, a Trojan dives in — stealing credit card numbers or something else stored locally.

Other ransomware blackmails you: pay us, or we send your photos to your contact list. Threats get more devious and, of course, good ol’ spam with infected links will still come through. That is if you do not have proper security in place, and people yet click these things.

The U.S. is still better off than most of the world, as a whole, we have more legit deployments of software, which means security updates are patched and current (if managed correctly). Plus, most professionals recognize that there is an issue and are taking action. But there are still those out there on their XP machines with no backup clicking up a storm. Don’t be that person.

#Don’tBeThatPerson that ignores security and clicks on everything, because they will eventually think up a name for the Merriam-Webster 2018 Dictionary for you and it won’t be flattering.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at Dowlingb@Aegisbiztech.com.

Joe Henderson: Industry favored over Tom Lee in greyhound racing fight

The proposal by state Sen. Tom Lee to phase out and finally end greyhound racing in Florida is sure to encounter lots of turbulence from lobbyists.

Lee’s pitch to the Constitutional Revision Commission, of which he is a member, would put an amendment before voters in 2018. It would need 60 percent approval to become law and end greyhound racing at Florida’s 12 tracks by July 1, 2021.

While I believe Lee’s idea is to let voters decide the issue a lot of merit, I also know the pari-mutuel industry still packs a punch and will do everything possible to stop him, just like it always does when the state tries to overhaul legal gambling.

I make it a prohibitive 2-5 favorite in the opening odds.

I hope I’m wrong. Lee’s argument that greyhounds are mistreated while waiting to race is powerful.

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said.

That sentiment is echoed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Racing Greyhounds routinely experience terrible injuries on the track such as broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis and broken necks,” the ASPCA web site reads.

“They suffer off the track as well: Dogs caught up in this cruel industry spend most of their lives stacked in warehouse-style kennels for 20 or more hours a day, or are kept outdoors in dirt pens with minimal shelter. Most enclosures are not heated or air-conditioned.”

In January, officials revoked a racing trainer’s license after cocaine was found in the systems of five greyhounds at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. That practice is not confined to Florida. In September, racing officials in Ireland announced a champion greyhound also had tested positive for an ingredient in cocaine.

People from the greyhound industry argue that a few rouge trainers shouldn’t taint the rest of those who treat their animals well. After all, the theory goes, these greyhounds are like fine athletes and trainers would be crazy to mistreat them.

Nice try.

The constitutional commission has the authority to place amendment proposals directly on the ballot without the usual signature-gathering process, and so we have to ask: Why not let Floridians decide this issue for themselves?

I think Lee is correct when he talks about that “growing recognition” that the public is turning against the idea of using these magnificent dogs for sport and profit.

I also believe that’s what the scares leaders in the industry most about his idea to let voters decide, and that’s why they fight like the dickens to make sure they don’t get the chance.

Joe Henderson: Got whiplash? Absurdity rules in Tally

Stay with me. This one gets a little weird. While you were distracted by the latest the latest episode of “Florida’s Got Dirt,” your First Amendment rights were put in the crosshairs again.

Confused? It’s just another day in the state’s center of power.

On the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times was a headline that read “Spying part of life in Capitol.” It was a follow-up to news first reported by Politico Florida, and didn’t we all just have to read a story with that kind of tease?

It told about a spy camera planted by a private eye to capture legislators in compromising acts (or in something that could be made to look that way).

The mentioned “grainy photos” taken of gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala kissing a female lobbyist on the cheek, then on the mouth. Imagine what an opposing consultant could do with that.

But in a plot twist that’s, well, twisted, this story broke at the same time we learned your state Constitutional Revision Commission might place an amendment proposal on the 2018 ballot that would greatly expand what the government doesn’t have to tell you.

The proposal – I can’t believe I’m writing this, given the context of events – is being considered to expand the “privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Take a minute if you need to grab some aspirin for that strange pain you may be feeling in your neck just now. It’s probably just another a case of Tallahassee-induced whiplash.

Parading under the banner of privacy in one corner while the other corner is doing everything possible to invade it is a bar-raising level of phoniness. You can say the two aren’t connected, but everything is connected in Tallahassee. Thus, we note the bizarre timing of these two developments.

It’s unclear who came up with the spy camera idea, but apparently it’s perfectly legal – not to mention its great potential for political blackmail.

The camera belongs to investigator Derek Uman, whose company, Clear Capture Investigations, offers services that include “infidelity surveillance.”

Latvala, a tough ol’ cuss who would spit into the mouth of an active volcano, shot back that any suggestion he was acting inappropriately is “an outright lie.”

In a statement he also noted, “are we working against the Democrats? No, we are doing it against each other! Why? Because of personal ambition, a greed for power that overwhelms any consideration for fellow human beings.”

“Consideration” is rarely a serious part of any Tallahassee conversation, but Latvala has a point about the start of human hunting season up there. Just last week, now-former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who was to be the incoming Democratic leader, abruptly resigned after it came out that he was having an affair.

Even while all the covert spy-versus-thy is going on though, the Constitutional Review Commission wants to make sure you, the public, have less access to information about what your leaders are doing – although they won’t phrase it that way. Nope. It’s about privacy.

Committee vice chairman John Stemberger, in a commentary for Florida Politics, noted the measure would “… protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.”

Well, we’ve heard that tired argument before – the government must protect us from knowing too much stuff. It starts off sounding benign and then gets twisted into something that somehow chokes off the flow of other information that should be public.

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen noted as much when she wrote to the committee, saying she was “most alarmed by the dramatic impact this proposal would have on the constitutional right of access to public records.”

Stemberger said he was “somewhat bewildered” by Petersen’s concerns.

I’m bewildered why any politician would want to chip away at the public’s right to know. We all should be, and this is exactly the kind of stuff that gets lost while we focus on things like spy cameras.

Actually, if you overlook the fact lawmakers in Tallahassee have control over much of your life, not to mention an $83 billion state budget, that place can be darned entertaining in a swamp-thing sort of way. Stay tuned for the next episode straight from the Theater of the Absurd.

John Stemberger: Constitutional privacy fix will protect Floridians

I read with great interest the letter by First Amendment Foundation (FAF) President Barbara Petersen to Lisa Carlton, chair of the Declaration of Rights Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), regarding her concerns over the proposal written by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell, and which I am sponsoring, entitled the “Florida Privacy Restoration Act.”

I am somewhat bewildered by FAF’s letter. In my opinion, it reads as if the Foundation never read the last sentence of the existing privacy amendment as found in Article 1, Section 23, and/or the ten words I am proposing to be added to the provision: “with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

As you may know, Florida newspapers have a history of consistently opposing Florida’s privacy laws, often with little serious legal analysis and with the same type of alarmist tones and hypothetical scenarios you expressed in your letter.

In 1977, newspapers across Florida opposed the 1977-78 CRC’s proposed privacy amendment because of fears that the ability of the media to collect information would be stifled. The St. Petersburg Times argued that it “could have a chilling effect upon news gathering and would provide a convenient excuse for government secrecy … harmful to the public interest.”

In 1980, Florida newspapers continued to raise “grave concerns” and stoke fear over the privacy amendment proposed by the Legislature. A strong “government in the sunshine” provision was added, which stated “[t]his section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.”

This clear added language should have allayed all concerns, but the Tallahassee Democrat’s editorial board still recommended a “no” vote to the privacy amendment in 1980.  Despite the scare campaign by the news media, the amendment was adopted by the people of Florida by a 59 percent vote. People understood it was intended to protect informational privacy, which is what they wanted and why they voted for it.

After 37 years and 52 Florida Supreme Court cases citing the privacy clause, none of the many issues newspapers were concerned about have come to pass – not a single one.

The Florida Privacy Restoration Act is simple, clean and well thought out. The language will require Florida courts to interpret the privacy clause in the manner intended by its original drafters and the people who adopted it. The intent being to protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.

Existing federal privacy rights robustly protect virtually all of the privacy interests ruled on by Florida courts except informational privacy.  This is the very reason the amendment was passed but Courts have ignored both intent of the drafters and the people who adopted it.

The truth is — today we have an even more rapid growth of technology resulting in the increased invasion of personal and private information through various forms of surveillance and the monitoring of personal electronic devices. This information can be collected directly by government or obtained by them from private corporations. This alone warrants the amendment.

The number one concern raised by people speaking during the CRC’s ten public hearings around the state was fixing the privacy clause so that it could no longer be hijacked by Florida’s high court and used for purposes other than what it was intended. Concerned citizens wanted the privacy clause returned to its original purpose – to protect informational privacy.

The Florida Privacy Restoration Act responds to the voice of the people and provides a necessary fix to the state constitution.


John Stemberger is a member of the 2017-18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission. He is an Orlando attorney, president of Florida Family Policy Council, and one of the leading pro-family advocates in Florida.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran swings hammer at gnat

House Speaker Richard Corcoran relishes the image of being a fierce protector of the public purse.

He does more than rail against what he considers frivolous spending of public dollars. He goes all in to stop it, often in a headline-grabbing way designed to let the people know he is their guy.

While that does have a certain air of nobility and the public purse obviously needs a watchdog, it also can lead to actions that hurt the public he says he is trying to protect.

With that in mind, we refer you to the lawsuit he recently filed in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court against the city of Tampa for what he called an “illegal tax” imposed by hotel operators. It’s a $1.50 fee per night on hotel stays, which leaders in the industry say goes to market tourism for the area.

Corcoran’s lawsuit notes that the fee is collected “ … within an illegal district that is governed pursuant to an illegal interlocal agreement. The Speaker asks this Court to put a stop to the City of Tampa’s illegal acts and its ongoing encroachment of state legislative authority.”

We’ll pause here for the latest example of irony, Tallahassee style. This is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer on a gnat.

State lawmakers routinely complain about interference from Washington, especially during the years President Obama was in charge. So why is it OK to butt in when city or county governments try to run their own affairs? This lawsuit is a major butt-in.

Charging hotel customers an extra buck-and-a-half a night certainly is not exorbitant and would seem like a good means to an end for the tourism industry. I can’t imagine anyone planning a trip to Tampa would call it off if they detected that surcharge, but, obviously, that isn’t Corcoran’s point.

Start with that whole “encroachment of state legislative authority” gambit. The Speaker seems to be all for home rule as he is the head of the household. The once-growing Florida film industry found that out when Corcoran used his bully pulpit to kill a state incentives program.

“It is a horrible, horrible use of taxpayers’ dollars, and there is no return on investment,” Corcoran told News4Jax.com.

“And as a person who is finally charged with protecting the taxpayers’ money, I’m not going to waste it by giving it to Hollywood producers. They can go elsewhere if they want to, but the reality is, Florida is Florida.”

No return? That’s debatable. The story cited a study by the University of West Florida that showed there was a return on the state’s investment: $1.44 coming back for every dollar in subsidy. But now filmmakers indeed do go elsewhere and likely will for the foreseeable future. The state of Georgia — which reaped the benefit of Florida’s film flight — thanks you very much.

Corcoran also had a much-publicized showdown with the state tourism industry last year over its budget and spending policies. He argued then for transparency in spending, which is another point he makes in his lawsuit against Tampa.

That would have a lot more bite if he hadn’t joined Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron in a behind-closed-doors meeting last spring to reach an $83 billion (with a B) deal on the state budget.

Corcoran did the public a big service when he used his position to challenge the spending habits of the tourism leaders (much to Gov. Scott’s dismay). No one who gets public money should be above serious scrutiny.

However, this latest legal maneuver can do nothing but hurt Tampa at a time when it is becoming increasingly competitive on a national scale. There is principle, and there is the kind of over-reach from a monolithic government that Tallahassee says it hates.

This lawsuit is the latter. Gnats beware.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons