Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 7 of 35 - Florida Politics

The case for why there should be a legislative deal for Uber & Lyft

While watching the Florida Legislature debate regulation of services like Uber and Lyft statewide, I couldn’t help but think of a pair of quotes discovered as I was looking up something else.

The first quote, from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, came as the House displayed leadership and vision in approving its version of a bill that could finally end local squabbles over transportation network services.

“Never before in history has innovation offered the promise of so much to so many in so short a time,” Gates says.

To me, that’s Uber and Lyft: promise and innovation.

On the other hand, when the Senate weighed in, another, more discouraging quote came to mind – from as unlikely a source as gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

“Ignoring it won’t deny its existence,” he says. “It will just delay it!”

“But better to plan and conquer than wait and wither!” Perez warns.

Perez’s words spoke to me of the Senate’s stubborn resistance to a technological future, opting to stay stuck in the past.

It’s no secret in Tallahassee that Senate President Andy Gardiner is partial to the traditional taxi industry, particularly in his own backyard of tourist-rich Orlando. And it is the equally common knowledge that the taxi industry sees modern ridesharing services as a very real threat to its antiquated business model.

Nevertheless, with Gardiner’s Senate appearing so stubbornly opposed to a fresh new business model – one tremendously popular with the public – it seems to fly in the face of conservative Republican ideals, which place so much faith in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Back in August, I wrote about this conflict:

“It’s about protecting an entrenched industry, the taxi companies, which have donated enough campaign cash to Florida politicians to delay the inevitable. But what these transportation companies don’t understand is that most ride-sharing customers don’t want the taxicabs’ product. … Lyft and Uber aren’t taking business away from the taxicabs as much as they are creating an entirely new economy.”

Six months later, it is shameful that we’re still stuck in the exact same place. And that brings up one more quote, this from the late, great Yogi Berra.

“It’s deja vu all over agin.”

The House sits squarely on the side of innovation; while the Senate, obstructing the path of change, does the bidding of old-school companies.

It is a sad situation, more than just campaign contributions and political connections. Or, at least, I’d like to think it is.

But the longer this continues, the more I am convinced that is precisely what is happening.

And you can quote me on that.

Immigration activists descend upon Tallahassee

Hundreds of immigration activists held a rally on the fourth floor of the state Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday, blasting state lawmakers for producing a raft of bills this Session that the protesters consider hostile to the immigration community.

Those activists received good news this past week, though, when Miami Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portillan, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bills were all but D.O.A. in his committee. They would prevent counties from passing so-called “sanctuary” policies and force them to help federal immigration officials round up illegal immigrants or face massive fines.

“None of the immigration bills are going to be heard,” he said. “So those are off the table as far as the judiciary committee is concerned.”

The activists weren’t taking a victory lap just yet, though.

“This press conference is not to say the end, but the beginning of what we’re doing today,” said Jose Morales, of the Florida Immigration Coalition.

He said the groups were going to conduct three separate actions Wednesday:

  1. Go to Senate President Andy Gardiner‘s office to deliver more than 2,000 petitions against “anti-immigrant bills” in the Legislature;
  2. Take the same number of signatures to Senator de la Portilla’s office to thank him for his “courageous leadership, and;
  3. Deliver petitions to Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, calling on her to drop her lawsuit against President Barack Obama‘s executive order from November 2014 that expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and creates a related plan, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. That case was moved to the U.S. Supreme Court last month, but with last weekend’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia the case is likely to be deadlocked 4-4.

Morales recounted how in 2011,  immigration advocates gathered in large numbers in the Capitol to push back against immigration measures targeting the undocumented, most of which never passed into law. Five years later, they’re back again.

The biggest measure that activists were pushing back on concern so-called “sanctuary counties.” One bill would punish local governments and law enforcement agents who don’t sanction undocumented immigrants. Those sanctions include penalties that could range $1,000 to $5,000 on a daily basis.

Another bill would have made it a first-degree felony – punishable by up to 30 years in prison – to re-enter the state after being deported.

Leading off the rally was a very hoarse Dwight Bullard, the Senate Democrat from Cutler Bay. He ended his brief remarks with the chant, “Si, se puede.” (“Yes, we can”).

“Our Florida is not a Florida where we deport mothers and fathers without reason,” shouted out Monica Russo, president of SEIU Florida. “Remember in November,” she exhorted the crowd, referring to this fall’s general election. “Get yourself registered. We’re going to turn this thing around and elect new members who represent everybody, not just those privileged.”

That remains to be seen. However, it looks for now that divisive legislation that enraged elements of the Latino community won’t be a factor in the 2016 statewide elections.

Orlando’s theme park companies pour at least $2.77 million into state politics

Orlando’s theme park behemoths – mostly Walt Disney companies – have already poured $2.77 million into campaign and political committees and parties for this election cycle so far, preferring Republicans by almost 3 to 1 over Democrats.

Disney, as usual, leads the way, with a combination of cash and in-kind services (typically providing tickets or opening theme parks or other Disney facilities to party events) worth $2.4 million in political contributions, according to campaign finance reports through Jan. 31, filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Various Disney entities have poured in almost $1.5 million to the Republican Party of Florida, Republican candidates and Republican political action committees, according to the reports. Disney gave Democrats $560,000, and contributed another $339,000 to nonpartisan political action committees.

Various companies affiliated with Universal Parks & Resorts donated $247,000 to Republicans, $43,000 to Democrats, and $41,000 to nonpartisan PACs.

SeaWorld companies were frugal compared with its Orlando theme park counterparts, providing $23,000 to Republicans, $7,500 to Democrats and $7,600 to nonpartisan groups. All SeaWorld donations were in cash.

Busch Gardens in Tampa provided almost no political contributions. examined reports listed for the entire election cycle. For state Senate campaigns, that dates back to the start of 2013. For all others, the contributions date from the beginning of 2015.

The theme park companies use various corporate entities to sponsor political contributions. For example, Disney contributions come from such varied companies as Disney Worldwide Services Inc., Walt Disney Parks & Resorts U.S. Inc., Walt Disney Travel Co., Disney Destinations LLC, and Disney Vacation Development Inc. among others.

Most of Disney’s contributions to Democrats came through in-kind donations, providing services worth $370,000 total to the Florida Democratic Party, covering five different occasions.

Disney also provided in-kind services to Gov. Rick Scott‘s Let’s Get To Work PAC, valued at $252,000, and to the Republican Party of Florida, worth $155,000.

Disney’s total contributions to the Republican Party of Florida have totaled $544,000, and to the Florida Democratic Party, $467,000.

Disney also gave $125,000 to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s PAC Florida Grown PC; $75,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee led by state Senate President Andy Gardiner; $70,000 to state Sen. Bill Galvano‘s PAC Innovate Florida; state Sen. Wilton Simpson‘s PAC Jobs for Florida $55,000; and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli‘s PAC Growing a Sustainable Future, $37,000. Disney gave at least $10,000 to seven other PACs associated with Republican state office holders. Two Democrats’ PACs also got money: State Rep. Jared Moskowitz‘s Floridians for Practical Solutions got $10,000, and state Sen. Darren Soto‘s Sun PAC got $5,000.

Universal companies contributed $147,000 to the RPOF, $49,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $32,000 to the Florida Democratic Party. State Sen. Jack Latvala‘s Florida Leadership Committee got $7,500, as the only lawmaker’s PAC to get at least $5,000.

SeaWorld gave $5,000 each to the Florida Democratic Party, the Republican Party of Florida and the FRP PAC, and $2,500 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Its other political contributions were all of $1,000 or less.

Senate unanimously passes job training bill for Floridians with disabilities

A bill aiming to help Floridians with disabilities find work and get job training passed through the full Senate Thursday with a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 962, sponsored by Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, requires the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, or VR, to come up with an improvement plan by Oct. 1 that lays out steps for making the program one of the top 10 in the nation.

The federal-state program helps disabled individuals find and maintain work and also provides services such as vocational evaluation, career guidance and on-the-job training.

The legislation is part of the “cradle to career” package of bills, a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, that seek to help Floridians with disabilities achieve economic independence.

“To have a complete cradle-to-career pathway to economic independence, we need to maximize opportunities for people with disabilities to gain skills that will enable them to utilize their own unique abilities in meaningful careers,” Gardiner said. “I’m pleased to see the Senate support this important legislation that will ensure our Division of VR sets specific goals and measures annual progress towards those goals.”

The bill now heads to the House, where Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen filed the companion, HB 1359.

Legislature divided over budget, tax cuts

Separated by nearly $1 billion in spending and differences over everything from tax cuts to health care spending, the Florida Legislature has less than a month left in its regular session to reach a deal on a new state budget.

Although Republican legislators stress they won’t have a repeat of infighting that marred their negotiations last year, they conceded that it will require some major compromises to end the session by March 11.

The final decision on the state budget could wind up affecting everything from how much money teachers get in the coming year to whether the state has a back-to-school sales tax holiday this summer.

“Now is the time where the pressure points, the decision points, are here,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican. “There are going to be some tough decisions. There will be stuff that won’t make it.”

Last year GOP legislators split over Medicaid expansion and wound up passing a budget just days before a potential state government shutdown.

Both the House and Senate on Thursday passed their rival spending plans. The Senate budget totals nearly $81 billion, while the House version is just under $80 billion.

And though portions of both budgets are aligned, fault lines exist on school spending, economic development and tax cuts. Both sides also have refused to endorse key parts of Gov. Rick Scott‘s budget recommendations, which could complicate a final resolution.

The House has pared its budget with a tax cut package that includes a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday and single-day tax holidays for the purchases of guns, computers and cellphones.

But the biggest part of the package is a cut in the tax charged on rent paid by businesses. The package totals about $350 million in the coming year, but the price tag grows to nearly $1 billion over the next two-and-a-half years.

Senate Republicans, however, remain wary of deep tax cuts, citing a volatile stock market and a softening national economy that could affect the state’s tourism industry.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Senate budget chairman, said it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to pass a $1 billion tax cut package as Scott has proposed. He said to do so could force legislators to enact tax hikes in two to three years.

Senate leaders are also floating an idea that instead of passing business-targeted tax cuts they put more state money into public schools. That would allow local school districts to slightly trim property taxes they charge.

Another key difference: The Senate has set aside $250 million for a fund that Scott wants to use to lure new businesses to the state. The House has refused so far to agree to any amount. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said he wants an agreement first on how the money will be parceled out.

Scott, talking to reporters Thursday, contended that he would wind up getting his priorities passed.

“I’m very comfortable we are going to have a good end,” Scott said.

The Senate and House votes came after two days of questioning, amendments and sometimes harsh debate. Though the Senate passed its budget by a 40-0 vote, the House vote was 85-29, with many Democrats voting against the bill.

Democrats were sharply critical of a provision included in the House budget that would prohibit health care providers from using state money to contract with Planned Parenthood to provide services. They also faulted the budget for failing to eliminate waiting lists for state services and for failing to include a pay raise for state workers.

“It doesn’t go far enough to actually have an impact on working and middle class families,” said Rep. Edwin Narain, a Tampa Democrat.

Senate approves first responders’ survivors’ benefit bill honoring Orange County deputy

Two years ago Thursday Orange County Deputy Sheriff Jonathan “Scott” Pine was gunned down while pursuing a suspect. On Wednesday the Florida Senate did all it could to make sure his surviving family – and others – won’t have to wait another year for financial security.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 7012, which would increase survivors’ benefits for spouses and children of first responders who are killed in the line of duty.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. The Senate sent it over with as strong a message as it could muster that senators want to see this bill approved as soon as possible and enacted this year. They want it to avoid the fate a similar measure met last year after the Senate passed it but the House failed to take it up before the 2015 session abruptly ended in chaos.

This time, at the request of the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate, all 40 senators signed on at the last minute as co-sponsors.

“For me personally it was the low point of last year when the session ended early,” Ring said. “I hope we can make a very strong showing on this bill as it goes over to our friends on the other side.”

Then all voted yea.

“Thank you, Senator Ring,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said. Then he looked into the gallery at Pine’s widow, Bridget Pine, nodded and waved to her, and added, “Thank you.”

Pine had opted for the state’s investment benefit plan and had just three years of service at the time of his slaying, so his contributions left little for his wife and three children, Haley, now 7; Ryker, 6; and Maddox, 3.

SB 7012 allows the surviving spouses and children of first responders killed in the line of duty to opt into the Florida Retirement System pension plan, and the bill increases the survivors’ benefits in that plan from 50 percent of the member’s monthly salary at the time of death to 100 percent.

While Ring and the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability sponsored the bill, it was strongly pushed by Orange County’s delegation, including Republican Gardiner of Orlando.

“This is still an open wound in our community back home,” said Democratic Sen. Darren Soto, of Orlando. “It was a tragedy that was across the front page not only because of Deputy Pine’s bravery but the injustice of what happened with the pension system. The Pine family was left with next to nothing, when if he had the other, defined benefit it would have been a robust benefit plan for his wife and three children.”

Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson, of Orlando, said, “This will go a long way toward assuring that the Pine family, the children, will have a future that reflects the service he gave to the state of Florida.”

Uber launches petition drive to urge Senate to pass ride-booking legislation

Want your state senator to support ride-booking legislation?

Don’t worry, there’s a petition for that.

On Thursday, Uber launched a statewide petition drive to urge Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Florida Senate to pass ride-booking legislation. The push comes about a week after the Florida House passed a bill (HB 509) that creates a regulatory framework for transportation network companies, like Uber.

“Well over a million Floridians rely on the Uber platform, a bipartisan supermajority in the Florida House of Representatives passed a sensible statewide regulatory framework for ride-sharing, and Governor Scott has expressed his support for a bill that would help Florida maintain its competitive edge,” Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons said. “It’s time for the Florida Senate to act and take up the House ride-sharing legislation on behalf of their constituents.”

The House legislation gives regulatory power to ride-booking services to the state, cutting out local bodies. It also requires auto insurance of at least $1 million for “death, bodily injury and property damage” while the driver is giving a ride.

A Senate bill (SB 1118) sets insurance standards for drivers. That measure passed the Senate banking and insurance committee on Jan. 19.

Legislature wants to be dropped from federal redistricting lawsuit

The Republican-led Florida Legislature is asking a federal judge to dismiss the House and Senate from an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional map.

Lawyers for the House and Senate filed the request Tuesday. The state Supreme Court last month approved a new map for Florida’s 27 congressional districts that will result in changes to the state’s political landscape.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner said he does not see a reason for the Legislature to defend the court ruling.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has filed a lawsuit that contends her new district violates federal voting laws and diminishes the voting clout of minorities. The new map shifts the district of the Jacksonville Democrat from one that runs north-south to one that stretches westward to Tallahassee.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Senate committee passes 2 key bills expanding health care access

Bills that would iron out rules for direct primary care contracts and encourage healthcare companies to give free health care to low-income Floridians passed the Senate Committee on Health Policy Monday.

SB 1144, sponsored by Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, would allow new medical facilities to bypass a lengthy review process known as “certificate of need” if they commit to giving free health care to low-income patients.

“This regulatory framework promotes access to care, while protecting safety net providers from unfair competition,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Senator Gaetz’s legislation eliminates this burdensome process as long as facilities provide or fund a threshold level of charity care to low-income, uninsured residents.”

Under the bill, companies would need to give 1.5 percent of a new facility’s first-year profits to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and would have to match the area average for free health care from the facility’s second year and onward.

The committee also voted for a bill by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, SB 132, that clears up rules surrounding “direct primary care” – an arrangement where patients or their employers pay physicians a monthly fee for regular checkups and necessary care, rather than involving an insurance company.

“We know how important basic primary care is to our overall health, and we want to make sure more people can afford to purchase these services from a doctor they know and trust, rather than in a hospital emergency room when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable,” Gardiner said.

The bill would require direct primary care agreements to be in writing, specify what services are included in the contract and make clear that it is not a replacement for health insurance, among other provisions.

SB 132 is similar to HB 37, sponsored by Port Orange Republican Rep. Fred Costello. That bill made it through its last committee stop on Jan. 27 and is ready for a floor vote in the House.

Grimsley’s bill now moves to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, while SB 1144 is heading to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, led by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

Darren Soto running in interwoven race for 9th Congressional District

Darren Soto was the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to be elected to the Florida Senate. The Orlando Democrat, a commercial and civil rights attorney, is now working to become the first in the U.S. Congress from Florida by winning the 9th Congressional District

But he has an array of competing Democrats with more intertwining connections and angles in Central Florida politics than the party game “Twister.” Also, two Republicans are running for the seat.

Soto, 37, has been able to take advantage of the increasing presence of Democratic voters in the district located between Orlando and Winter Haven. There also is a growing number of Puerto Rican residents in Central Florida. Unlike others of Hispanic descent just coming to the United States, Puerto Ricans are already U.S. citizens and eligible to vote.

Until the recent economic crises in that Island commonwealth, however, most people of Puerto Rican descent came from the Northeast.

“They mostly are New York Ricans or New Jersey Ricans,” Soto joked. “I am a New Jersey Rican myself.”

Born in Ringwood, N. J., February 25, 1978, to Puerto Rican father, O. Lou Soto, and an Italian-American mother, Jean Soto, an adult Soto moved to Florida in 2001 with his family after receiving a degree in economics from Rutgers University in 2000. He received his law degree from George Washington University in 2004.

As a law intern in Orlando, he said he had already decided he liked the community and stayed. A senior partner in his law firm told him he needed to get involved in the Community.

“I joined the Democratic Party Executive Committee, an adult kickball team and up until about a year ago, I played guitar in a band, the Orange Creek Riders, but with the run for Congress I haven’t been able to play with them,” he said.

In addition to commercial law, Soto took up civil rights cases and has taken on several pro bono cases in the community. He represented clients in a 2006, federal class action suit against the City of Kissimmee concerning Hispanic voting rights.

In 2006, the Orange County Democratic Party had one promising candidate running for the Florida Legislature, Scott Randolph. None of the Republicans representing the general Orlando area were being challenged, so to take away some GOP money that might have gone to opposing Randolph’s campaign, several Democrats decided to challenge the Republican legislators and tie up the GOP’s money.

Soto ran against the incumbent Republican House member in District 40 and lost as did other Democratic challengers, but the strategy worked, and Randolph won his election to the House.

Ironically, the Republican incumbent Soto lost to was Andy Gardiner, the current president of the Florida Senate.

In 2007, less than a year after losing, Soto ran in a special election for a seat left vacant by Rep. John Quinones, Kissimmee Republican, who resigned to run successfully for the Osceola County Commission.

In 2012, Soto successfully ran for the newly created 14th Senate District after redistricting.

On the subject of now working in the Senate led by Gardner, his one-time opponent, Soto said “We work well together. “I have made it a habit both in my law practice and in the Legislature to work with the other side.”

In a recent newspaper “report card” Soto received a B+ for bipartisanship.

He attributes his success in getting bills passed in a Republican-controlled Legislature to his work in civil rights and commercial law.

“Primarily in my legal career I have been constantly in negotiations,” he said.

Soto’s ability at working across the aisle even on such liberal issues as gay and lesbian protections in the workplace and working to defeat attempts to convert Florida
to nonjudicial foreclosures and the split of the state Supreme Court are borne out by a friend, Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat.

“I am a New York Rican myself,” Cortes quipped. “Believe me, you need to stay focused (in the Legislature), but at the same time not take everything too seriously and he does that well.”

Soto was Cortes’ attorney and had encouraged him to run for mayor of Kissimmee, losing in the runoff, Cortes won a seat in the Florida House in 2014.

“He can be intense when needed, but he also can be easy going and (both) get things done,” Cortes said.

In May of 2013, Soto married Amanda Betlow, an Orange County schoolteacher.

“I suppose you might call that another incident of bipartisanship,” he said with a laugh. “I met Amanda on a blind date, set up by a friend Osceola County School Board member Jay Wheeler, who is a Republican.”

Soto has passed bills including the Street Racing Act, the Firefighter Death Benefit Bill (inspired by the death of Volusia County firefighter John C. Curry), and the Bus Driver Notification Bill with bipartisan support.

Florida’s 9th Congressional District contains parts of Orange and Polk Counties and all of Osceola County.

It is generally accepted to be a solidly Democratic District. It has been held by U.S. Rep Alan Grayson since he was elected to the then-redrawn district in 2012. Grayson has left the district seat open because he is running for the U.S. Senate.

The winner of the Aug. 30 Democratic Primary in the 9th Congressional District almost certainly will be the next member of Congress.

Because of that, the district has become an extremely competitive seat with some rather weird twists; a case of six degrees of political separation on steroids.

Six Democrats including Soto are running for the seat; several are heavy hitters. While Soto had raised the most campaign funds in the last reporting period of $340,237, Susannah Randolph, of Orlando, field director for Grayson and wife of Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, had raised $293,835.

Her husband, the tax collector, is the candidate in 2006 for whom Soto and others “took one for the team” so he could be elected to the Florida House. Randolph left the Legislature in 2012 to successfully run for tax collector.

Dr. Dena Marie Minning, a physician and biochemist-researcher, who lives in South Orange County and who the Orlando Sentinel has reported as having a romantic relationship with Grayson, had raised $150,435.

Grayson, who is friends with Soto and posted his successes in the Congressional Record, of course, has made no endorsements in the race.

Former Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Kissimmee had raised $27,524, yet Soto defeated Rangel in the 2007 special election Democratic primary which first placed Soto into the Legislature.

Rangel was elected to a new Florida House district in 2012 but was defeated for re-election in 2014 by John Cortes, one of Soto’s closest friends.

The other two Democrats in the race are Osceola Democratic Party Chair Valerie Crabtree, who had raised $27,825 and Jason Borders of St. Cloud with $182.

Two Republicans are running for the seat as well. The GOP candidate with the most money raised for the campaign had $8,550.

Soto and Randolph appear to be the closest competitors both regarding the endorsement competition and in money raised.

But he said he is not worried about the heavy competition.

“Seventy percent of my Senate District is in the 9th Congressional District. I have greater name recognition than any other candidate for the Democratic Primary.’’

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