Annette Taddeo Archives - Florida Politics

Americans for Prosperity-Florida releases priority list for 2018 Legislative Session

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida released its priority list for the 2018 Legislative Session, giving favorable marks to legislation that would cut “corporate welfare” and regulations and voicing strong opposition to proposals that would add new regulations or incentives silos.

“We believe that Florida lawmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to push through policy objectives that can deliver more open, transparent, and efficient government. Our staff and volunteers are eager to engage on policies that will help make Florida the best state to raise a family and start a business,” said AFP-FL Director Chris Hudson in a press release.

“As Congress has just passed historic tax reform, Florida lawmakers should also seek to reduce the tax burden on citizens and businesses. We should also pursue commonsense solutions to our critical health care needs. Lawmakers should repeal certificate of need (CON) laws once and for all, and pass meaningful reforms to expand scope of practice and direct primary care. And, both chambers should pursue a clear vision to cut red tape and free Florida entrepreneurs to pursue their American Dream.”

AFP-FL gave it’s opinion on dozens of bills filed for 2018, and plans to update it regularly through session as bills change during the legislative process.

A sampling of the “support” column of the 97-bill priority list: Rep. Danny Burgess and Sen. Tom Lee’s plan to stop direct primary care agreements from being regulated as insurance (HB 37/SB 80); another of Lee’s bills, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila in the House, that would ban pro sports teams from building stadiums on public land (HB 13/SB 352); and a proposal from Rep. Manny Diaz and Sen. Keith Perry that would add a “one-in, one-out” rule when it comes to new rules in the Florida Administrative Code (HB 791/SB 1268).

And a handful from the “oppose” list: Rep. David Silvers’ and Sen. Annette Taddeo’s bills to create a new film incentives program (HB 341/SB 1606); A measure by Sen. Lauren Book that would require 75% of the students in a “School of Hope” to come in from a low-performing school (SB 216); and Sen. Kevin Rader’s “Florida Teacher Fair Pay Act,” which would bump the minimum salary for teachers up to $50,000 a year (SB 586).

Hudson said that AFP-FL “is looking forward to engaging in meaningful debate with lawmakers, and hope that we can continue to serve as a valuable source for how to propel policies that can make Florida a more open and free society.”

When the 2018 Legislative Session comes to a close, AFP-FL will tally up lawmakers votes and publish score cards grading how individual lawmakers fared.

And … action! Annette Taddeo fights for film incentives

Calling it a “shot of adrenaline,” South Florida Sen. Annette Taddeo on Wednesday stumped for her bill to bring TV and film incentives back to the Sunshine State.

Her measure (SB 1606) would create the “Florida Motion Picture Capital Corporation” to “encourage the use of this state as a site for scripted productions by providing financing to such productions,” the bill says.

“Movie, television series, and other film projects throughout the state will receive a much-needed boost through the use of innovative funding and a merit-based selection method,” said Taddeo, a Miami Democrat elected last year. She held a press conference at the Capitol.

“This effort will bring high paying jobs, grow the middle class, have a positive impact on small businesses, and restore Florida’s reputation as a top destination for film projects,” she added.

But, despite support from Republican Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Democrat David Silvers of West Palm Beach in the House, Republican leadership there has opposed incentive programs.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, in particular has derided other business incentives as “corporate welfare.”

Some history: In 2010, lawmakers set aside nearly $300 million for incentives to bring movies and television projects to Florida. That money ran dry soon afterward.

The problem, critics said, was that money was doled out on a “first come, first served” basis. That resulted in available funds being gone within the first year of the program.

Those incentives took the form of tax credits granted a production after it wrapped in the state and underwent a thorough audit, including being able to show it provided jobs for Floridians.

Meantime, in-state productions such as Netflix’s “Bloodline” and HBO’s “Ballers” have either been canceled or left the state.

Taddeo’s bill creates a shell organization but — surprise — doesn’t fund it. Chris Ranung, a representative of the Congress of Motion Picture Associations of Florida, told reporters the plan will eventually need a “one and done” infusion of $10-20 million.

Corcoran, by the way, is term-limited this year. But his replacement next year, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva of Miami-Dade County, is a kindred skeptic when it comes to giving public dollars to private concerns.

Gruters said the speaker might be swayed by the job-creating aspects of the incentives deal: “So I think this is something he would be open to.” The Motion Picture Association of America “has shown that the economic impact of Florida’s motion picture industry resulted in almost 30,000 direct jobs and over $1 billion in wages,” a news release said.

But Andres Malave, spokesman for Americans for Prosperity-Florida, said it’s “not the role of Florida government to be in the movie business.”

“We have priorities to meet, and none of them include lining the pockets of Hollywood execs who should be contacting banks and venture capitalists to fund their projects and not relying on hardworking taxpayers,” he said in an email.

Taddeo’s bill, filed last Friday, has yet to be assigned to any committees.

Also of note, language in the bill makes sure the following can’t get money: “a commercial, an infomercial, or a political advertisement; a reality show; a game show; an awards show; a music video; an industrial or educational film; a weather or market program; a sporting event or sporting event broadcast; a gala; a production that solicits funds; a home shopping program; a political program; a documentary; a gambling-related production; a concert production; a local, regional, or Internet-distributed-only news show or current-events show; a sports news or sports recap show; a video game; a pornographic production; or any production deemed obscene.”

A Periscope video of the news conference is below:

Democrat Javier Fernandez reports solid start in HD 114 money race

Democrat Javier Fernandez launched his bid for the open Miami-based House District 114 seat by raising more than $78,000 in the first month of his campaign.

In addition to this notable start, Fernandez, a 42-year-old attorney and former Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Miami, also qualified by petition for the special election to succeed Daisy Baez, who stepped down in November.

For inclusion on the ballot, Fernandez collected 126 individual donations, as well as qualifying by petition ahead of the first campaign reporting period. He reported raising $78,510 in December.

Republican opponent Andrew Vargas raised considerably less, only $18,500, during the same period. Vargas recently withdrew $50,000 in donations to repay a loan to his campaign made last year.

Vargas raised $154,823 for his campaign so far, while Republican primary rival Jose Pazos has $16,750 after adding $3,050 between Nov. 28 and Dec. 28.

According to the Fernandez campaign, this solid fundraising start will allow the candidate to run a “full campaign,” with television, mailers and a robust ground game.

Since entering the race in November, Fernandez has also received several endorsements from high-profile Miami-area Democrats: Leader-Designate Kionne McGhee, state Sen. Annette Taddeo, state Reps. Nick Duran, Robert Asencio and David Richardson. Many local elected officials and community leaders also announced supporting him.

The HD 114 seat opened when Baez, a Coral Gables Democrat, resigned in November for lying about her address on a voter-registration form. She later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Baez had won the district, which covers parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay, by only 1,336 votes in 2016 over Republican John Couriel. As of October 2016, HD 114 has 96,381 registered voters; Republican Erik Fresen previously held the seat.

Also in the race is no-party-affiliated candidate Liz de las Cuevas, who raised $5,165 through Dec. 28. Another Democrat, Albert Santana, filed for the special primary, but failed to qualify, leaving Fernandez unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Gov. Rick Scott scheduled a special HD 114 primary for Feb. 20; the special general election is May 1, coming after the end of the 60-day 2018 Legislative Session, which begins Tuesday afternoon.

Financially-strained Florida Democratic Party asks county leaders for money

Scrambling to raise money headed into the 2018 midterms, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo last week asked county-level Democratic leaders for financial assistance to pay for the salaries of eight newly-hired regional staffers.

Since that request, only six out of the 67 county committees have made a donation.

While FDP officials paint this request as a fundraising effort, the move is a clear sign that the party, fresh-off two pricey victories, is struggling financially.

“Unfortunately, it appears Terrie has inherited a mess, and FDP’s funding is strained,” Leon County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Andy Janecek wrote to steering committee members last week after his call with Rizzo.

Janecek said members of his committee were mostly confused. Some did not understand why money was needed for positions that had already been budgeted for as part of the 2018 election plan. Janecek’s committee has not yet contributed money.

Out of the executive committees that were asked, six have agreed to give money, FDP spokesman Juan Penalosa said. One of those was the Palm Beach County Executive Committee, which Rizzo still chairs.

After consulting members, Rizzo donated $10,000 on behalf of the Palm Beach committee.

While the financial aid request to county-level leaders revolved around the need to fund the regional positions, Penalosa said there is enough money to pay them.

“We have the money to pay them, they are not going to be let go,” Penalosa said.

The fundraising effort was pitched as a “grassroots approach” to fundraising, which Rizzo campaigned on. Asking everyone to give what they can, when the can, in order to not rely solely on big donor money.

But as Democrats head into a busy election year, it already finds itself in financial disarray at the federal level. The account used to fund federal campaigns is out of money, and is thousands of dollars in debt, according to the latest filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

At the state level, campaign records show that between July 1 and September 30 more money was spent by the party than what came in, but those campaign filings do not give a clear indication of the current state of the budget in the non-federal account.

In an email, Alachua County Democratic Party Chair Cynthia Chestnut told members that Rizzo was asking for money because “a substantial amount of money was spent” on getting state Sen. Annette Taddeo and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman elected.

Records show the party spent at least $400,000 on both those races. That included more than $200,000 in three-pack ads, which allows the party to exceed the $50,000 expenditure cap for a single candidate. In this case, that candidate was Kriseman.

The state’s party also transferred $125,928 to Priorities USA, the largest Democratic Party-aligned super PAC, to help Taddeo win a seat in the Florida Senate.

“The Florida Democratic Party invested heavily in races that were important to our end goal of turning Florida blue, and the investment paid off — with major wins in a special Senate election and a come-from-behind Mayoral win in St. Petersburg,” Penalosa said.

The 12 Days of Christmas, as brought to you by these Florida lobbyists and politicos

‘Tis the season, and the Legislature’s dubious Christmas present this year was moving up the 2018 Legislative Session two months from its usual March start date.

We will no doubt have many gifts in store, besides the inevitable policy food fights, such as perhaps seeing some lawmakers in their ugly holiday sweaters (the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts “sunny, turning warm” for the first day of session).

Of course, there’s the “triptych poster,” an astronomy display sponsored by the First Coast Freethought Society, but that left the rotunda with everyone else on Dec. 22. Good thing nobody tried to take it home before then, anyway, or they’d run afoul of the Capitol Police.

For now, we bring you a look at Christmas lights and lobbyists — or, those individuals and organizations whose work helps ensure the very things that define the holiday.

We’re using the classic carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” as our lens to combine the political with the Noel. The tune started “either as a children’s song or a Christmas carol in the late 18th or mid-19th century,” according to a story on Mental Floss.

The site digs up some interesting details, including how the lyrics changed over the years. For instance, what we now sing as four “calling birds” has previously been “canary birds,” “mockingbirds,” and “collie birds,” an old term for blackbirds.

“Over the years, the song has been done and re-done by everyone from the ChipmunksWinnie the PoohRen & Stimpy, to Lucille Ball and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself,” the story says.

“In Sinatra’s version, he replaces the traditional gifts of birds with things he’d like: ‘Five ivory combs, Four mission lights, Three golf clubs, Two silken scarfs, and a most lovely lavender tie.’”

All that goes to say: We don’t feel bad appropriating the song yet again. With that …

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: A Partridge in a Pear Tree.

The image of the partridge – the non-migratory Old World bird akin to pheasants and quails – evokes hunting. And no organization is more active in promoting the interests of hunters in Tallahassee than the National Rifle Association and its Florida cousin, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, led by former NRA honcho Marion Hammer. With a handful of controversial bills circulating this Session during a tricky election year, the group will have to aim its sights carefully in order to continue having the almost unbridled success it has had in recent years in lobbying the Capitol.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Two Turtle Doves

This line reminded us of recent strides made in the name of love and fairness by the LGBTQ rights movement, repped in the Sunshine State by Equality Florida. The group, led by co-founder and CEO Nadine Smith, has accomplished quite a bit in recent years. EF’s former Government Affairs Manager Carlos Guillermo Smith made it to the Florida House last year and was recently recognized with the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award. Smith’s old boss, former Rep. Joe Saunders, has also been on top of his game helping pro-LGBTQ candidates get elected, especially in St. Pete where Equality Florida played a big role in the re-election of St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Three French Hens

Hens are not well represented in Tallahassee, but if we’re talking Capitol fowl, we’re thinking about the exotic Ayam Cemanis and Appenzeller Spitzhaubens of Southern Strategy Group founder Paul Bradshaw, who along with wife Sally Bradshaw raise hens in the couple’s Gadsden County home. Those fancy chickens even got some ink in The USA Today not long ago. Talk about power poultry.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Four Calling Birds

While the practice transmitting messages by carrier pigeon has sadly fallen out of fashion, the communications industry is bigger than ever, and growing. Everyone who has spent time around Adams Street knows the political power of AT&T. The telecom giant employs no fewer than 68 legislative lobbyists, including some of the biggest names in the business: Al CardenasRon Book and Matt Bryan to name just a few, along with a healthy stable of in-house talent.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Five Golden Rings.

The familiar image of five glowing gold rings puts us in mind of the gold standards of Adams Street – the firms by which all other firms are measured. The firms that made more than a million in lobbying revenues last quarter are a pretty solid compass to go by: Ballard PartnersCapital City ConsultingRonald L. Book PA, and the aforementioned Southern Strategy Group. Also on the list were Greenberg Traurig and GrayRobinson, with Corcoran & Johnston coming in close behind with just shy of the $1 million mark in total compensation.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Six Geese a Laying.

One state lawmaker has practically found a proverbial “golden goose” to help him along the way to becoming a respected voice on policy and as a peacemaker between beefing Senate rivals. That’s none other than the “Chicken Man” of the Florida Senate himself, Wilton Simpson. His family-owned Simpson Farms in Trilby has made him one of the wealthiest members of the Legislature. Truly a gift that keeps on giving.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Seven Swans a Swimming.

2017 was a “watershed” year for swans and (political) animals looking to swim in less murky Florida waters following the passage Senate President Joe Negron’s bill to build water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. The move earned the Treasure Coast Republican a standing ovation from Audubon Florida, which named him a “Champion of the Everglades” for his “steadfast leadership” to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent a repeat of the historic and harmful algal blooms that wreaked havoc on Florida waters in 2016.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eight Maids a Milking.

While Florida – like the North Pole, we think – is a “Right to Work” state, that doesn’t mean organized labor doesn’t possess a substantial amount of political muscle, especially in populous South Florida. Chief among agents who wield that power is the state arm of Service Employees International Union, led in their lobbying efforts by Alexander Samuel Ring, and the AFL-CIO, represented by fiery advocate Rich Templin. Both men have been known to make a committee hearing interesting, and with Republicans firmly in control of the legislative debate, it will be interesting to see how labor forges a way forward amid GOP-led pension reform efforts and the national “Fight for 15” movement making inroads in Florida.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Nine Ladies Dancing.

Florida’s political ladies, so to speak, had plenty to dance about a couple years ago: 2015 was nothing less than a banner year for the League of Women Voters, the good-government advocacy group formed by suffragettes including the great Eleanor Roosevelt. It managed to overturn seven Congressional districts and a great deal of the state Senate map through its efforts in court. But those efforts really bore fruit in 2018, with the victory of Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo in a special election for SD 40. It was a hard-fought battle, and while the taint of Frank Artiles played a big role in spoiling Jose Felix Diaz’ chances, the importance of LWVF’s 2015 court victory cannot be overstated.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Ten Lords a Leaping.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and executive director Michael B. Sheedy have already identified the group’s policy positions for the 2018 Legislative Session. Opposing abortion, of course, is still high on the list but there’s also “improving juvenile justice policies by treating minors according to their cognitive abilities and making the most of their capacity to reform their lives,” and “increasing protections of poor and vulnerable working people by capping the (annual percentage rate) for payday lenders, supporting a living wage, and creating local mechanisms to resolve wage theft disputes.”

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 11 Pipers Piping.

Credit Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida for shaping the medicinal pot lobby here in the Sunshine State. The Legislature passed the implementing bill for the constitutional amendment championed by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan. No surprise: Lawmakers’ plans don’t allow for smoking medical marijuana, but that hasn’t stopped shops from opening their doors and selling vaporizers and other devices to those with a prescription.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 12 Drummers Drumming.

Gus Corbella, senior director of the Government Law & Policy Practice of the Tallahassee office of Greenberg Traurig, also has been an associate member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which puts on the GRAMMY awards every year, since 2008.

Democrats push bills that would put warning labels on prescription opioids

Calling it a “small step” to save Floridian’s lives, two Democrats are pushing for bills that would require new warning labels on prescription opioid containers, spelling out the danger of overdose and addiction.

State Sen. Annette Taddeo introduced her bill on Wednesday and a similar bill was filed by state Rep. Joseph Geller in the House early in November. Geller’s bill has been referred to three committees before it can head to the House floor.

Under both bills, pill bottles would have to carry a red sticker with a big, eligible written warning before a pharmacist or a practitioner can dispense Schedule II drugs, which have a high potential for abuse.

The Department of Health would also need to create a pamphlet that would be distributed for free to people who get their prescriptions.

Labels on pill bottles are not a new thing. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration began to require new warnings on containers last year to warn about the dangers of combining opioids.

The decision came after FDA officials said the number of patients who were prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine sharply increased between 2002 and 2014, and the number of overdoses nearly tripled from 2004 to 2011.

“With such a large portion of our citizens exposed to these prescriptions, adding these common sense protections for those receiving opioids is a small step we can take to save the lives of our fellow Floridians,” said Geller, a Democrat from Aventura.

The effort by Taddeo and Geller, which targets legal prescriptions, comes months after the Legislature passed harsher penalties for fentanyl drug traffickers.

That includes murder charges in cases when the buyer dies of an overdose. That bill went into effect on Oct. 1, but experts say it remains too early to tell what the effect has been.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories of 2017

Spoiler alert: If you’re a regular of this site, and reading this story, you can guess what the #1 pick is.

Otherwise, 2017 still offered a bounty of material to Tallahassee’s reporting ranks. We still chuckle at the uninitiated who ask, “What do you write about when the Legislature isn’t in session?”

Without further ado, here’s the admittedly subjective list of the Top 10 (and a half) stories to come out of the Capitol in the Year That Was:

#10 — State finally passes ride-sharing legislation: After years of trying, lawmakers OK’d, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a bill (HB 221) creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. In fact, lawmakers had considered such legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger. When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

The losers? Local governments, whose attempts to regulate or rein in ride-share got pre-empted, and, well, taxi companies.

#9 — Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala and the debate over the death penalty: Ayala, a Democrat and the Orlando area’s top prosecutor, enraged Scott and conservative lawmakers when she announced in March she would not seek capital punishment in any murder cases.

Scott, a Naples Republican, began unilaterally reassigning death penalty-eligible cases to another state attorney. Republican Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs called for Ayala to be removed from office for dereliction of duty.

The controversy made it to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled Scott has the authority to transfer murder cases away because she refuses to pursue death. Ayala, elected in 2016, responded by announcing she would set up a special panel to review the death penalty’s appropriateness of each case.

But as of this month, Ayala and Scott were still sniping, with the governor accusing her of missing a deadline and blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that but did cut a plea deal with Emerita Mapp, in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence for a Kissimmee slaying.

#8 — Puerto Rico migration could remake Central Florida: With many still without power after Hurricane Maria slammed the island in September, more than 250,000 residents of Puerto Rico have now decamped to Florida, most to the Central Florida region, with one advocate calling it a “migration of biblical proportions.”

Curbed said the “sudden influx will also put pressure on housing, social services, and the job market that have yet to be fully addressed by state, local, and federal officials.”

But Scott ordered the opening of “disaster relief centers” providing state services to thousands. Cortes filed a bill to address housing needs for evacuees. Sen. Vic Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, pressed FEMA to provide more housing relief. U.S. Reps. Darren SotoStephanie Murphy, and Dennis Ross co-signed a letter to the feds for Florida get its full funding as a host state to support the migration.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is working on a plan to allow Puerto Rican high schoolers to receive Puerto Rico diplomas in Florida, in case they can’t meet Florida’s graduation requirements. And those are just a few examples.

#7 — The fight over HB 7069: The wide-ranging education law passed this May — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — has been called a “brew of bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency” by opponents.

They say it will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools. Supporters counter that it “helps all students” by holding failing public schools to account.

The law offers all kinds of changes, including requiring recess and reducing mandatory testing. It accelerates state tax dollar funding to for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to choose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s control over what local school boards can and cannot do.

A group of school boards sued in the Supreme Court to block the law; the justices, in a 4-3 decision, have since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle. 

#6 — Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA survive a hit: Corcoran went full frontal this year, trying to scuttle Scott’s favored organizations and a multitude of business incentives last Legislative Session.

He derided Enterprise Florida, the state’s jobs-creating organization, as little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

He slammed VISIT FLORIDA, the tourism marketing group, for secret deals and an overall lack of transparency. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agencies and create an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training.

Meantime, the organizations now are subject to heightened oversight. And Ken Lawson, the former DBPR secretary whom Scott moved to head the tourism agency, toured the state to meet with local tourism leaders. “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us,” he said.

#5 — Special elections churn the Legislature: The turnover in legislative seats began with former South Florida Sen. Frank Artiles resigning after an epithet-laden tirade against two black lawmakers was made public, eventually leading to the seat flipping to a Democrat, Annette TaddeoRepublican Jose Felix Diaz lost that race but had to resign the House to run, meaning his House seat is open.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson quit the House this year for health reasons; Republican Lawrence McClure won the District 58 seat in a December special election. Republican Alex Miller, just elected in 2016, also resigned her Sarasota-area House seat this summer. She cited a need to “spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow.”

But wait — there’s more. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens quit after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist came to light. Republican Neil Combee resigned the House to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the GOP’s Eric Eisnaugle also left the House to become an appellate judge, and Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez resigned before pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her residency in Coral Gables-based House District 114.

#5(a) — Speaking of Artiles … : He resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion. The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at The Governors Club.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor, but Thurston filed a Senate rules complaint. Artiles, elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated. (Sound familiar?)

#4 Speaking of Clemens … : The Lake Worth Democrat was the first in the Legislature this year to resign after reports of sexual misconduct. “I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement to news media. 

“But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”

Clemens, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, apologized for having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session. That woman “came into possession of Clemens’ laptop, gained access to all his contacts and personal information, then informed his wife of the tryst,” according to POLITICO Florida.

#3 — Jimmy Patronis replaces Jeff Atwater: Patronis had been a Panama City restaurateurstate representative and Public Service Commissioner when Scott tapped him to replace Atwater and become the state’s fourth Chief Financial Officer this June. Atwater quit his term early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

As CFO, Patronis — a Scott loyalist — now is one vote on the Florida Cabinet, in addition to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. And he has since announced he will seek a full term as CFO in 2018.

The position heads a roughly 2,600-employee agency that includes the state treasury and insurance regulators, as well as being state fire marshal. The CFO also oversees management of the state’s multibillion-dollar financial portfolio. The office was created after the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission recommended collapsing several state departments into one, including Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal and Banking and Finance.

#2 — The politics and policy of Hurricane Irma responseIrma’s size and strength put the entire state on notice; thousands of residents and visitors left in advance of catastrophic winds and flooding.

The most significant casualties were in a South Florida nursing home. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was evacuated Sept. 13 after the facility lost power to its air conditioning system. Eight elderly residents died, with another six perishing in the weeks that followed. Most died from heat exposure. The deaths were later classified as homicides, with a police spokeswoman saying, “Who gets charged is part of the continuing investigation.”

Scott took his own heat after Democrats charged that he had ignored calls for help from the home’s administrators to his personal mobile phone; he said his staff took the messages and forwarded them to the appropriate state officials.

The governor also ordered an emergency generator rule to “ensur(e) that facilities across Florida are coming into compliance and are installing generators to keep their patients safe during a disaster,” he said. But the facilities themselves challenged that move.

The Florida House formed its own special panel to consider the state’s readiness to deal with monster hurricanes. The Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has been meeting since October. 

#1 — Jack Latvala quits the SenateIn the face of two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment, Latvala turned in his resignation, not effective till Jan. 5, on Dec. 20.

The Clearwater Republican said in a statement he “never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.” He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. Latvala was term-limited next year.

In his characteristically defiant manner, he said: “Political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” The 66-year-old Latvala admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

An investigative report found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with an unnamed female lobbyist. That bombshell came toward the end of retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to future Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her on a number of occasions over several years. A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up another witness who bolstered an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

With program set to end, Victor Torres, other Democrats seek extension to Puerto Rican housing

With the scheduled end coming for a federal emergency housing voucher program being used by Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, state Sen. Victor Torres and several other Democratic lawmakers are urging Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to ask the federal government for an extension.

The program provides temporary housing vouchers for people who’ve fled the island because of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria, which still plagues Puerto Rico. But housing assistance in Florida is only available to those Puerto Rican evacuees if the governor of Puerto Rico requests it, and his previous request expires Jan. 15.

Torres and a number of other Democrats in the Florida Legislature sent a letter to Rossello Monday urging him to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, and to request other FEMA housing assistance for Puerto Ricans who’ve fled to Florida.

Through last week, more than 200,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since early October. There’s no clear information available on where they are going in the state, and whether many of them are returning, but the preponderance have come to Central Florida — in a community that already has an affordable housing shortage. The crisis, Torres said, is that many may be without housing soon, if they’re not already.

The letter to Rossello warned of many becoming homeless.

“It’s reaching epidemic proportions,” Torres said.

In the letter to Rossello, Democratic Florida state Sens. Torres and Linda Stewart of Orlando, and Jose Javier Rodriguez and Annette Taddeo of Miami; and Democratic state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, John Cortes of Kissimmee, and Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando; declared there is an urgent need for temporary or transitional housing for the evacuees.

Gov. Rick Scott, his Division of Emergency Management, and many Republicans, notably state Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs and Rene Plasencia of Orlando, also have been working with the Puerto Rican government. Scott has waived many of Florida’s rules to allow for easy transition for the migrants. But Torres said the housing issue remains critical, and it’s in Rossello’s hands, because Puerto Rico “is calling the shots” on requests for FEMA assistance.

“Without any extension, thousands of people currently living in hotels are in jeopardy of becoming homeless,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Rossello.

“We know you are diligently working on recovery efforts for Puerto Rico, but we must also coordinate with your government for relief services needed in Florida,” the letter advises Rossello.

“We have been meeting and working with State Emergency Management officials for months, but many of the programs available under FEMA can only be approved if the government of Puerto Rico asks for them to be implemented,” Torres said in a news release. “There are tens of thousands of families living in Florida and if just one family becomes homeless due to lack of action by the Federal government or those officials making decisions in Puerto Rico, it is one family too many.”

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off and on: Lily Tysinger, a legislative analyst for the Senate Majority Office, now serves as a program specialist in the Office of the Senate Secretary.

Off: Josie Tomkow is no longer an executive secretary for the Senate Majority Office. She’s left to run to replace Polk City Republican Rep. Neil Combee in House District 39.

Off and on: Erin Juszczyk replaced Robert Hunter as administrative lead for the House Rules & Policy Committee.

On: Administrative support staffer Tori Denson has been named to both the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

On: Breanna Kim was named administrative support for the House Judiciary Committee and its Criminal Justice and Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittees.

On: Michael Strynkowski is a legislative assistant for Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Off: Marcia Mathis is no longer a legislative assistant for Quincy Democratic Sen. Bill Montford.

On: Staz Guntek is a new district secretary for Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry.

On: Dan Horton is a legislative assistant and Erika Grohoski is the district secretary for Miami Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo.

On: James Befanis is district secretary for Indialantic Republican Rep. Thad Altman.

On: Amanda Daughtry is a new district secretary for Monticello Republican Rep. Halsey Beshears.

Off and on: Zulema Delgado is no longer a legislative assistant and Maria Lombardo moved from district secretary to legislative assistant for Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca.

Off and on: Charlotte Jones and George Davis are out; Clarence James is a new district secretary for Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels.

On: Justin Gendler has returned as district secretary for Plantation Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards.

Off: Jervonte Edmonds is no longer executive secretary for Lantana Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet.

Off and on: Erin Shields is a new legislative assistant, while Ed Sol is no longer district secretary for Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg.

Off: Karly Humphrey is no longer district secretary for Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls.

Irma insurance claims near 866,000 as pace slows

Estimated insured losses from Hurricane Irma have topped $6.55 billion, with the number of claims approaching 866,000, according to information released Monday by the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

The latest report showed that 865,974 claims from the September storm had been filed with insurance companies as of Friday, with 719,512 involving residential properties.

While people have several years to file claims, the numbers indicate a slowing in reported damages, as numbers posted by the state office on Dec. 4 showed 853,356 claims with estimated losses of $6.3 billion.

Lynne McChristian, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, said Irma could have been “much worse” for homeowners and the industry.

“The insurance companies have been well-capitalized,” McChristian said. “They have been waiting for this. There may be some claims that will continue to be filed, but insurance companies know that this is what happens when you are dealing with Florida’s hurricane risk.”

While figures are not available from individual private insurers, state-backed Citizens Property Insurance reported last week it had received 63,500 claims from Irma. Most were in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.

Citizens anticipated its number of Irma claims will grow to 70,000, with $1.2 billion in damages, over the next year.

Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway also said Wednesday that he expected the storm to increase Citizens’ policy count from “about 442,000 policies back up to 500,000” in the next year.

In the overall industry, Miami-Dade County has the largest number of Irma-related claims, with 114,078 as of Friday, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation numbers. Other counties with large numbers of claims included Broward, 71,970; Orange, 68,306; Lee, 65,311; Collier, 63,644; and Polk, 50,180.

Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties, causing widespread destruction and at least 84 deaths in Florida. The insurance industry has closed 48 percent of Irma claims with some payment. Another 31 percent were closed without any payments.

In most cases where money did not change hands, the damages failed to meet policyholders’ deductibles, McChristian said.

To reduce risk in Florida, the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has received a number of potential housing changes — as part of the more than 140 recommendations — for lawmakers to consider during the 2018 legislative session, which begins in January.

Among the proposals, Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, suggested the state identify areas where rebuilding after disasters might be high-risk and to consider options for not rebuilding, including the possible purchase of the properties. The land, she suggested, would be used to create additional open space and natural buffers.

Meanwhile, Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, introduced a proposal (SB 1282 and HB 1011) last week that would require insurance companies to disclose to homeowners when coverage lacks flood insurance.

“I’ve met many constituents who had no idea that their hurricane coverage did not include protections when their homes flooded,” Taddeo said in a prepared statement. “This is especially problematic in South Florida as we face sea level rise and stronger storm surges from climate change.”

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