Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 3 of 36 - Florida Politics

ABLE United launches, offers tax-free savings for disabled Floridians

Floridians with disabilities will now be able to save up to $100,000 in a tax-free account to pay for their health care, education and job training without jeopardizing their government benefits.

Under a 2015 law, sponsored by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, ABLE United launched the program July 1. The state law is the result of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, shepherded through Congress in 2014.

“The mission of ABLE United is to encourage and assist the saving of private funds to help people with disabilities to cover costs that support their health, independence and quality of life,” said Kevin Thompson, director of the program. “Simply put, to have a better life experience.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, who attended the Capitol news conference with his wife and children, said the savings accounts would help Floridians with “unique abilities,” like his son who has Down syndrome, have more opportunities, ranging from going to school to finding a job.

“ABLE United provides the opportunity for people with unique abilities to save for the future without the concern of losing important state and federal benefits,” Gardiner said.

Under the former law, disabled Floridians could not earn more than $700 a month or have more than $2,000 in assets without the threat of losing benefits like Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

The limits led to some “troubling” statistics, Rodrigues said, including the fact that the unemployment rate for the disabled was around 36 percent, and the poverty rate for them was 24 percent in Florida.

Rodrigues, who has a son with cerebral palsy, said many disabled Floridians want to work or otherwise improve their lives, but they were afraid of losing the “safety net” of government support.

“For the benefit of the safety net, you have to accept a life of extreme poverty,” he said.

Through a website, ableunited.com, Floridians with disabilities, like blindness, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, can create the savings account, which is similar to a federal 529-college savings plan. The law allows up to $14,000 a year to be contributed to the account.

Eligible individuals must be Florida residents and have acquired their disability before age 26.

The money can be used for health, housing, education, employment training, transportation, legal fees and other activities.

Florida is a national leader in the program and is one of three states that have established ABLE savings accounts, said Michael Roush of the National Disability Institute, a nonprofit group whose aim is to lift disabled Americans out of poverty.

Don Gaetz: We don’t need special session for gun control

State Sen. Don Gaetz is telling constituents not to take the special-session-on-gun-control bait.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was Senate president in 2012-14, sent out an email Monday. It reprinted and linked to an op-ed he wrote for the Northwest Florida Daily News, Okaloosa County’s newspaper. It appeared Sunday.

He wrote on the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. The shooter, later killed by police, called 911 to claim allegiance to the Islamic State terror group.

“Though law enforcement investigations are far from concluded, one thing seems clear — the demented and tortured wretch who committed these murders was either inspired by ISIS or wanted the world to believe he was,” Gaetz said.

But his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are pointing to the shooting as the need for a special legislative session to look at gun control in the Sunshine State.

Democratic Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando, who is running for Congress, will hold a press conference Tuesday in Orlando with other lawmakers to detail “their effort to convene a special session to address gun violence,” according to a news release.

“Some Florida state senators are using these killings to draw attention to themselves and their own campaigns for higher office — as if calling for a special legislative session would somehow cure madness, wipe away grief or defang ISIS,” Gaetz wrote. “It does get a politician in the blogs or on the front page for a news cycle or two. But how smarmy.”

Gaetz added that Senate President Andy Gardiner, a fellow Republican “who has lived in Orlando his entire life, isn’t taking the special session bait. He’s far too sensible.”

To the contrary, “huddling up a bunch of breathless legislators in Tallahassee to snap-pass laws banning guns won’t stop some terrorism-inspired human tool from building a bomb out of fertilizer or shopping the robust weapons black markets … ,” he said.

“… I surely hope we can resist allowing this tragedy to be exploited as just a slot into which politicians can jam their own agendas,’ added Gaetz, who is term-limited and leaving the Senate at the end of this year.

Soto could not be immediately reached for comment.

Florida LWV wants Legislature to convene special session to address gun control issues

Eight days after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando left 49 dead and an additional 53 injured in the single worst shooting incident in modern U.S. history, the Florida League of Women Voters is calling on state leaders to hold a special session to deal with two specific gun control issues by the end of the month.

Specifically, the LWV wants the Legislature to make it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition feeding device.

“There is simply no reason for private citizens to have access to weapons like the MCX Carbine firearm used to murder the 49 people in the Pulse Night Club in Orlando on June 12, 2016. These weapons have immense destructive power and do not belong in civilian hands,” writes Pamela S. Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, in a letter addressed to Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner.

The LWV of Florida also wants the state to implement universal background checks.

“Both nationally and in Florida, legal access to guns is still too easy — and this tragedy is only the latest in a long line of examples, ” Goodman writes about the massacre in Orlando. “In particular, the state should require private parties (i.e., non-federally or state licensed dealers) to conduct a background check before selling any firearm. Simultaneously, the state of Florida should ensure that all relevant records are provided to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check.”

In a conference call Monday afternoon, Goodman said the purpose of the letter was to get a response and begin a discourse from the people of Florida to their lawmakers.

Forty-nine different individuals and groups signed on to the letter, including Nadine Smith with Equality Florida and Maria Rodriguez with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Goodman said it was important for state lawmakers to hear from so many different organizations and individuals who are calling for specifics, “be it business, be it faith-based, the LGBT community, the Hispanic community, civic organizations, residential organizations, small businesses, entrepreneurs all around the state, from the north, the south, the east, the west, that feel quite strongly that fewer weapons in this state … is common-sense legislation.”

Gov. Scott said in an interview with WESH-TV in Orlando on Monday that he doesn’t believe gun control is the answer. “Let’s be realistic, the Second Amendment didn’t cause this,” he said when asked about the gun control proposals going before the U.S. Senate. “It didn’t shoot innocent people. I mean, evil did. ISIS did. Radical Islam did.”

Gardiner also has expressed his lack of interest in entertaining any discussion of what to do about guns in reaction to Orlando. His spokesperson, Katie Betta, reacted last week when several state Democrats similarly called for a special session on guns to be convened.

“The President does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” Betta said. “Absent those elements, the President has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since Sept. 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress.”

The Florida LWV will be hosting a conference call with reporter at 2 p.m. to discuss their proposals.

Mitch Perry Report for 6.16.16 -CLC clears the path for Rubio

Politics never takes a day off, and some would probably say it shouldn’t. Take the reaction this week to the shooting massacre in Orlando.

Democrats have done what they believe urgently needs to be done to lessen the possibility of further mass gun shootings, by introducing gun control legislation in Washington.

In Washington early this morning, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy put himself into the history book with a nearly 15-hour filibuster to force the Senate to take action to address gun violence. Murphy tweeted at 1:53 a.m. that “we will have a vote on closing the terror gap & universal background checks.”

Meanwhile in Orlando, a handful of state Democratic lawmakers like Darren Soto and Geraldine Thompson called for the Legislature to hold a special session to call for additional gun control measures. That didn’t go down well with GOP leadership.

“The president does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” said Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Absent those elements, the president has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since September 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress.”

Is it exploitive, or just a natural reaction to try to prevent further tragedies?

Yesterday, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner was accused of being exploitive when he was able to lobby his colleagues to approve hanging the rainbow flag over the County Center in downtown Tampa for the rest of gay pride month.

And what about the GOP U.S. Senate race? Although momentum for Marco Rubio to re-enter the race has been growing for weeks, we’re now told the events in Orlando may be the X factor that brings Rubio back, and compels his ally, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, to leave the race.

In a statement yesterday, CLC issued a statement after talking to Politico, saying “I have asked Sen. Marco Rubio to reconsider his decision and enter the senate race.  The decision is his and his alone to make. As friends for 20 years, this race is so much bigger than the two of us, and, as you have heard me say on the trail, this race isn’t about an individual, this race is about Florida and the future of our country.”

But is the race bigger than CLC, but not bigger than Rubio?

“You should reconsider running for your seat,” Lopez-Cantera says he told Rubio last Sunday in Orlando, after they had been on the ground, dealing with the aftermath of the shooting tragedy.

So Orlando changed everything about this Senate race, at least for these two men? That’s apparently what CLC is saying now. He emphasized in his statement yesterday he remains in the race — for now. Again, this will all be cleared up in the next few days, because the calendar demands that it be so.

In other news..

David Jolly will announce his plans to run in either the House or Senate tomorrow — anyone wanna bet that he actually stays in the Senate race?

Patrick Murphy introduces new legislation regarding the Zika virus.

Pat Kemp leads in the Democratic race for County Commission District 6.

The BOCC also took one step closer to preparing for the introduction of a high-speed ferry project being spearheaded by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. 

Senate District 18 Democratic candidate Bob Buesing clarifies his stance on the TBX project.

David Jolly, Kathy Castor and Vern Buchanan were among the members of the Florida delegation to get a disturbing update on the Zika virus in Washington.

Todd Wilcox continues his “Preserving Peace through Strength” tour today in Florida.

 

 

Democrat Rick Roach finds his mark in SD 13 race with fix-education platform

Democrat Rick Roach drew 155 people in his quest for state Senate District 13 and said he received a standing ovation Sunday for delivering a new platform for reforming school testing and education in Florida.

“It kind of exceeded my expectations. I think I’ve given people something to vote for,” said Roach, a former Orange County School Board member seeking election in the Senate district that covers much of central and eastern Orange County. “I didn’t expect a standing ovation for four minutes from 155 people but I swear that’s what they gave me at the end.”

Roach’s platform, delivered at a town hall meeting in Winter Park Sunday, declares, “If you fix education, you’ll fix Florida,” and contends student testing programs need to be reined back to measuring students, not being the purpose of schools.

Roach is in a three-way Democratic Aug. 30 state Senate primary battle with former state Reps. Mike Clelland and Linda Stewart. The Republicans have Dean Asher seeking the seat that’s currently held by term-limited state Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Roach said the first thing he would do as a senator is arrange for representatives of the testing companies to testify in Tallahassee, because he is confident they would tell lawmakers that Florida is using them all wrong, as foundations for designing curriculum, rather than as tests for appropriate school curriculum.

Money spent on test-training and preparation could be rerouted to shop classes, internship programs and other job training in the schools, he said.

“What’s happened for the last 16 years since I’ve been on the school board is we’re spending more money on human services, more money on locking people up in prison, and they stole it all from education,” he said. “We have more people in poverty, more working poor, more people without health insurance, we have a pitiful job market income here, under $25,000 per year [median income, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.]

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment in Amendment 1 suit

Advocacy groups suing the Legislature over environmental funding now are asking a judge to hand them the win.

Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others filed a 57-page motion for summary judgment Wednesday. Granting such motions allows parties to win a case without a trial.

They filed suit last year over Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The measure requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million.

But the suit and Wednesday’s motion allege House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and other state lawmakers aren’t following through. The Legislature opposes the motion and will file a response soon.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because Amendment One prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment One monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” the motion says.

Those agencies are the Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The standard for summary judgment is “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The motion says: “That the Legislature appropriated funds for those purposes is not in dispute, and as a matter of law those appropriations are unconstitutional.”

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

“Florida voters did not vote for salaries and operating expenses … Amendment One allows only for acquisition and restoration of conservation lands,” the motion adds.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing the groups.

“Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land,” he added. “With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”

The case is in Leon County Circuit Civil Court and assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III.


Jim Rosica (jim@floridapolitics.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

At summit, Rick Scott urges on Florida colleges, universities to help students graduate sooner

Gov. Rick Scott has some suggestions to make sure college students graduate in four years.

Remove additional fees for online classes. Allow Bright Futures scholarships to be used for summer classes. Make sure students get credit for college-level courses taken in high schools.

The Naples Republican laid out his proposal at his Degrees to Jobs Summit at the Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. The two-day summit ­­— which was sponsored by several organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, The Florida College System Foundation and Universal Orlando —  has been billed as an opportunity to connect businesses and higher education leaders.

On Wednesday, attendees heard from Cissy Proctor, head of the Department of Economic Opportunity; Senate President Andy Gardiner, and panelists who discussed a wide-range of topics, including how to keep higher education affordable.

“Help us figure out how to make (higher education) more efficient, more effective and less expensive,” said Scott.

For Scott, that means encouraging Florida students to graduate in four years. According to the governor’s office, 44 percent of undergraduate students at state universities graduate within four years; while 71 percent of students are graduating with a four-year degree in six years.

Scott said he’s hoping to see that number decrease. To do that, he said colleges and universities should remove all additional fees for online classes and tell incoming freshman how much money they’ll save if they graduate in four years.

“My goal is that this is the state people want to live because they can get a good job and can get a great education,” said Scott. “I put a challenge out … to figure out how do we get our students out with a four-year degree in four years.”

Scott said he plans to urge the Florida Legislature to expand the Bright Futures scholarship to cover summer classes. That would give students more flexibility when it comes to scheduling classes. He also said the state needs to make sure students are getting credit for college-level coursework — like Advanced Placement classes — when they go to college; and make it easier for students to get credit for internships.

“When I was in school, I went to a four-year college,” said Tom Grady, a former state representative and a State Board of Education member. “Four years was the benchmark, and I think it should be again.”

But colleges and universities also need to take steps to make higher education more affordable, said Scott and others who spoke during the event. All 28 of the state’s colleges offer a $10,000, four-year degree, and several state universities are taking steps to make sure students get the most bang for their buck.

Take, for example, Florida Gulf Coast University. The university announced in February that first-year students who declare a major and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years will have the chance to get repaid all out-of-pocket tuition costs from their freshman year. Dudley Goodlette, chairman of the FGCU board of trustees and a former state representative, said the money graduates receive back will be paid with no public dollars.

In a statement Wednesday, Senate President Designate Joe Negron said he looked forward to working with the governor “on policy and funding enhancements that will help achieve our common goal of making Florida’s good universities great.”

Negron, who has made improving public universities a top priority during his presidency, toured the state’s 12 public universities last month. He said one of the most common things he heard were concerns over debt after graduation.

“We want to take steps to reduce the impact these financial insecurities have on their ability to graduate in four years,” he said. “We also want to increase opportunities for students who work throughout college to gain real world experience in their field of study that will improve their job prospects following graduation.”

Scott, who is in his final term as governor, said he plans to spend the next two years working to make sure Florida’s students can get a good education, and find a good job in the Sunshine State.

“I’m excited about what’s going to happen in the next two years and seven months,” he said. “We have every opportunity to continue the progress we’ve made and even get more done.”

Andy Gardiner touts Center for Students with Unique Abilities at education summit

The push to make sure Florida graduates can enter the workforce shouldn’t stop when it comes to students with intellectual disabilities.

That was the message Senate President Andy Gardiner sent during a speech at the Degrees to Jobs Education Summit on Wednesday afternoon. Gardiner used his speech to highlight the work the Legislature has done to make sure all Floridians receive a good education.

The Orlando Republican also encouraged business and higher education officials to continue to work to make sure people with unique abilities have access to higher education opportunities and workforce training.

“As you spend your time talking about degrees and what we want to have, I hope … you won’t forget about this population,” said Gardiner. “There are families all over this state, kids who want to be part of this system.”

The state is already taking steps to make sure students who want to be part of the system can be. Lawmakers earlier this year approved legislation to create a program at the University of Central Florida to help students with intellectual disabilities get into college and other post-secondary schools.

The program, dubbed the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities, would act as a clearinghouse to approve programs at other universities and colleges. It will also serve as a resource for students and parents to learn about programs.

Gardiner said officials from other states had already been in contact with UCF to find out more about the program.

“We’ve been a real leader in this area,” said Gardiner.

Gardiner is one of several speakers who have taken the stage during the education summit. Gov. Rick Scott kicked off the event earlier in the day, and is scheduled to speak later Wednesday. He’s widely expected to roll out higher education initiatives aimed at helping students get out of college sooner.

The two-day event has been billed as a chance for the business community and higher education officials to make connections to ensure graduates are prepared for the workforce. While Scott is hosting the event, it is being sponsored by several outside organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida College Foundation, and Universal Orlando.

Rick Scott kicks off 2016 Degrees to Jobs summit

Calling it an opportunity to connect businesses and university leaders, Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit in Orlando on Wednesday morning.

The goal, Scott told a room of about 350 university, college and business leaders, is to “challenge everything we’re doing.”

“This is going to be a fun two days,” he said.

The two-day summit aims to connect Florida’s business leaders with university and college officials about how to best prepare students for the workforce. The line-up includes panel discussions on college affordability personnel management and personnel management; and presentations by Senate President Andy Gardiner, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and a panel of football coaches from across the state.

Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, kicked off the day, laying out the state of Florida’s workforce. Proctor, who has been on the job since the beginning of the year, said the summit is an opportunity to build relationships to make sure the lessons learned at the summit will “turn into something real, into something tangible.”

“Take this as a call to action, to do something today, right here, right now,” she said. “Take an active role, take advantage of a unique opportunity.”

Since 2010, Proctor said the private sector has created more than 1.1 million jobs. The employment rate, she said, has dropped considerably and is now at an eight-year low. Those milestones mean Florida could be a hotspot for graduates to enter the workforce.

“We want Florida to be the best state in the nation for university and college graduates to get a job, because we know the first step for individuals and a family is a great education,” she said.

Proctor urged the business community to use this summit as a chance to connect with universities and colleges to create new opportunities for Florida students. She said whether it is through internships or full-time jobs, the state wants Florida companies “to hire Florida graduates.”

“Take the time to make a connection,” she said. “We want to make sure your company, and graduates, are ready for tomorrow.”

Scott spoke for about 5 minutes Wednesday morning, setting the stage for the next two days. The Naples Republican is scheduled to speak later in the afternoon. The Associated Press reported that Scott will call for several changes designed to help students get out of school sooner.

Peter Schorsch: From the ‘gambling boys’ to (un)popularity contests

As he gets ready to “go home,” as departing legislators like to say, outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner has no regrets or hard feelings.

He did have choice words regarding lobbyists for gambling concerns, however: They “just get greedy.”

Gardiner, an opponent of gambling expansion, recently sat down with Capital Correspondent Jim Rosica for an “exit interview.” He leaves office later this year. More of the interview will appear in the summer edition of INFLUENCE magazine.

“That world, that part of it, I won’t miss,” said Gardiner, an Orlando Republican. “I won’t miss the gaming side. Not a world I’m drawn to.”

“I don’t have anything personal against them,” he added, referring to gambling lobbyists. “It’ll be fun to watch on the sidelines.”

Gardiner countered rumblings that he had blocked this year’s attempt to overhaul the state’s gambling laws.

“That’s just a complete fabrication,” he said. “Now, what I had indicated to the gaming boys was, ‘If you get a bill to my desk, I won’t block it and it will go to the floor.’ “

Gambling bills died as lawmakers rejected a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow them continued exclusive rights to blackjack in return for a $3 billion cut over seven years.

“The reality is, they never got a bill to my desk,” Gardiner added. “They didn’t have the votes. But rarely will you find a lobbyist who will say that something is their fault. They’re not going to tell their client they dropped the ball.”

Now, on to the “Takeaway 5” – the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

(Un)popularity contest – Gov. Rick Scott has never been the most popular guy at the party, but a new Quinnipiac University survey showed Scott’s poll numbers haven’t improved with time. The Quinnipiac University poll showed 49 percent of voters disapproved of the job he was doing. The Naples Republican fared slightly better in a Morning Consult survey, which found Scott had a 49 percent approval rating; with 41 percent of Floridians saying they disapproved.

Get prepared – With the summer heat and rains upon us, Gov. Scott traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge federal lawmakers to lend a hand to fight the spread of Zika. As of Thursday, there were 112 cases of the virus in Florida. Scott called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to send 5,000 Zika preparedness kits to Florida; and has repeatedly told officials they need to prepare for the virus like a hurricane. They appear to be listening; on Thursday, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio proposed spending $1.9 billion to fight the spread.

Change is coming – A month-long review of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, found that the organization could save $6 million by a series of cuts and an overhaul of the organization. Among other things, the agency has been advised to cut 27 positions and shift the VISIT Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation to the Department of Economic Opportunity. The Enterprise Florida Board of Directors also approved a severance package for outgoing CEO Bill Johnson. He’ll get $132,500 and his last day is June 24.

It’s settled – The battle over the Broward Bridge is over. The state’s Department of Corrections and Bridges of America reached a settlement, after the state announced it planned to end the transitional program in Broward County. The settlement stipulates that inmates participating in Broward Bridge will be placed in appropriate facilities elsewhere in the state. Future inmates will be at Turning Point Community Release Center in Pompano Beach. The two sides also signed a new, two-year agreement to keep Bradenton Bridge open in Manatee County.

Worth the gamble? – The Seminole Tribe of Florida went all in this week when it asked a federal court judge to block the release of any information related to the deposition of its chief executive. A copy of the deposition was turned over to POLITICO Florida through a public records request. But on Friday, after the online news organization published details of the deposition, including comments that Seminoles made $2.4 billion last year, the Tribe dropped its bid to block the release of the information.

***

Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Reporters Jim Rosica, Ryan Ray and Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this report. Column courtesy of Context Florida.P

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons