Florida Senate Archives - Florida Politics

Bill Galvano’s designation ceremony set

Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican set to be the next Senate President, is expected to be officially designated on Oct. 24.

Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson, who’s in line to be President after Galvano, made the announcement Monday.

Galvano will succeed Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, as head of the chamber for 2018-20.

The designation will make Galvano, an attorney first elected in 2012, head of the 40-member Senate’s majority of 25 Republicans, meaning for now he’s a shoo-in to be president.

He previously was Senate Republican Leader in 2014-16, and also served in the House 2002-10.

Galvano, who helped draft the Seminole Compact, has long been a point man on gambling issues. He also is president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.

Legislative committee week cancelled

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have cancelled next week’s legislative committee week because of Hurricane Irma, they said in separate memos to members Wednesday.

Negron also said Senate offices in the Capitol “will remain open during regular business hours tomorrow (Thursday) … District staff should contact each Senator to determine appropriate office hours in your district offices as the storm approaches.

“As a precautionary measure, consistent with the Governor’s decision to close state offices in all 67 counties, I have authorized discretionary leave for all Senate employees, and all Senate offices will be closed on Friday,” he added.

“Please use this time to prepare your family and home. The specific trajectory of this unprecedented storm is still uncertain and impacts could vary drastically across the state. All Floridians need to be ready. Staff should monitor local weather advisories and adhere to local evacuation orders.”

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also authorized “Senate staff interested in volunteering in support of the state’s emergency shelter mobilization efforts up to 15 days of administrative leave.”

“I encourage all Senate employees to tend to the needs of your own family prior to pursuing volunteer opportunities,” he said. “We each have a responsibility to prepare our families and homes so that limited government resources can be used to help the most vulnerable. Please be safe and cautious during this time.”

In his memo, Corcoran said the next committee week would be Oct. 9-13. He also ordered all House offices closed on Friday.

“Earlier today, Gov. Scott stated that there is a need for volunteers at shelters throughout the state,” Corcoran added. “Please be supportive of these efforts if you are near an affected region.”

Hurricane could affect legislative committee week

The approach of Hurricane Irma may affect the upcoming legislative committee week, currently set for Sept. 12-15.

“We are closely monitoring the developments of Hurricane Irma as the storm approaches our state,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran wrote in a Tuesday memo to members.

“As the path of the storm becomes more clearly defined, we will, in consultation with the Senate, make a final decision regarding the status of House committee and subcommittee meetings scheduled for next week,” he said. “In the interim, House committees and subcommittees will be releasing meeting notices.”

Corcoran added: “Please join me in continuing to pray for those who will be affected by Hurricane Irma in the coming days.”

Updated 11 a.m. — Senate President Joe Negron also wrote to members that he is “closely monitoring the impending storm expected to impact Florida in the coming days.”

Later today, the Senate “plan(s) to proceed with publication of the interim calendar, including the notice of committee meetings scheduled for next week,” he said. “As more information becomes available, we will provide updates regarding any potential schedule changes.”

Draft investigation report: Tri-Rail did not follow rules in $511 million, one-bid deal

When the public agency that runs the Tri-Rail commuter trains in South Florida dumped five less-expensive proposals and awarded a ten-year, $511 million, operations and maintenance contract last winter, the agency followed rules spelled out in that particular proposal but they conflicted with the agency’s standing internal procurement rules, a draft state investigation report concludes.

The transportation authority’s action last January boiled into major controversy spilling into the 2017 Florida Legislature Session. Gov. Rick Scott and key lawmakers, notably Sen. Jeff Brandes, expressed outrage that the agency essentially awarded a one-bid, ten-year contract worth a half-billion dollars, while five other train companies were crying foul. Brandes called for the state investigation.

Six months later, Florida Department of Transportation Inspector General Robert Clift concluded, [according to a report that is only in a draft stage but has been shared with other agencies in Florida,] that the transportation authority’s actions may have followed rules set forth for that specific project, but did not follow the agency’s standing procurement rules, which were different from what was outlined in the request for proposals. The agency’s rules would have required all six proposals to be evaluated by a selection committee, and that did not happen, Clift observed.

Clift did not make any recommendations that would affect the Herzog contract, but he did recommend several more state controls, including a call for a new state law requiring all state transportation authorities to adhere more closely to state procedures for bid protests, requiring bidding procedures to be stopped, and for disputes to go to the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings for final orders.

POLITICO Florida first reported on the inspector general’s draft report and Clift’s observations earlier Wednesday.

In his draft report, Clift also observed that the authority’s own rules would have required it to follow a “competitive negotiated procurement process,” but that never happened either.

Clift also cited Gerry O’Reilly, the FDOT District Four secretary who is a member of the SFRTA Board who voted against the contract in January, as saying that the new ten-year contract for Tri-Rail operating and maintenance appeared to be almost $10 million a year more than the transportation authority previously had been paying for the same services. O’Reilly raised concerns with Clift that the authority could not afford to pay that much more without seeking more revenue, though SFRTA officials told Clift they saw efficiency opportunities to make ends meet.

Clift sent a copy of the draft report to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority on Aug. 8, and FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy as a public record Wednesday. The final report, which would include the SFRTA’s response and other addenda, is not set to be completed until October.

A spokeswoman for the transportation authority said the agency would not comment on the inspector general’s observations and recommendations until the final report is out.

On Jan. 27 the SFRTA Board voted 6-2 to award a contract based on the only bid presented to the board, from Herzog Transit Services. Five other proposals, from Amtrak, Bombardier, First Transit, Inc., SNC-Lavalin, and Transdev Services, Inc., all had been rejected by staff weeks earlier for what staff had said were “qualified” pricing proposals, which the companies later denied. All the other bids reportedly were lower, as low as $396 million, but those proposals were never reviewed. Three of those companies went to court to try to force the board to consider their proposals, but lost in court, based on the requirements spelled out in the request for proposals.

Scott; Brandes, who chairs of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development; state Sen. George Gainer, who chairs of the Senate Transportation Committee; and the Florida Department of Transportation all raised strong criticisms of the deal and threatening to cut Tri-Rail’s $42.1 million in state money if the agency did not rescind the Herzog deal and rebid the contract. However, they backed down in favor of a new law, House Bill 695, which tightened state control over the agency.

 

 

Take it to court: Florida Senate sued over doomed website

Florida taxpayers have already spent $5 million on a state budget website that never went public. Now litigation over the failed project could cost another $200,000.

The Florida Senate hired a Tallahassee-based contractor six years ago to create the website to help the public understand the state budget. Legislative officials say it didn’t work as intended and never went online.

The company, Spider Data Services, asked for its final payment of $500,000 in 2013. But the Senate refused to pay, and instead questioned the no-bid contract to build the website that had been awarded by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Spider Data Services’ lawyer, Kenneth Oertel, said they hoped Senate President Joe Negron would pay the final amount after taking his post last November. But he said “nothing has been paid, so we had no recourse but to file” suit for the $500,000, plus interest.

Now, Senate documents posted online show it has agreed to pay up to $200,000 on private attorneys to fight the lawsuit.

Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, declined to comment, pointing instead to court filings by these attorneys.

In a July court filing, the Senate contends the budget website known as “Transparency 2.0” never worked as promised, and that if anything, Spider Data Services should give the money back to the state.

The Senate also says the former legislative employee who runs the company “had intimate working knowledge” of how the budget is crafted and knew the software could not be created as promised.

Oertel disputes that the website did not work as intended, saying Senate employees reviewed it and “nobody complained” while parts of the website were being put in place.

A pair of open government and ethics advocacy groups reviewed the website and asserted that it made budget and contracting information easier to obtain and understand.

The result seems to fit a pattern over the last two decades, with the state spending millions on technology projects that either failed to materialize or were deeply flawed.

Florida spent roughly $100 million on a financial reporting and accounting system before shutting down the project for good in 2007. The state’s new system for unemployment benefits also had numerous problems when it went online in late 2013.

(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.)

Maria Sachs accuser seeks to drop harassment case

An ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs has asked a federal court to drop his sexual harassment case against the Florida Senate.

Matthew Damsky’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss Tuesday, asking that each side pay for its own attorneys’ fees and costs. The Senate was named as the defendant because it was Damsky’s official employer.

The Senate’s outside counsel, Lisa Fountain of the Sniffen & Spellman firm, told attorney Marie Mattox that the chamber would “consent” to the request. As of Tuesday, the Senate’s cost to defend the case was $9,690.35, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.

Damsky, then 28, had first sued in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year. His case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee.

He claimed that Sachs “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

But Mattox also had told the Senate’s lawyers, according to recent court filings, that her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card.

“The Court has rightly been asked to dismiss this bogus lawsuit against the Florida Senate that was a flimsy smokescreen created by Damsky to distract attention from his thieving criminal acts against Florida taxpayers and my family,” Sachs said in a statement provided to Florida Politics. “Nothing will eclipse the truth about those illegal acts as he faces justice, accountability, and deserved consequences.”

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says.

He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings,” according to his original complaint.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. The Senate has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

Sachs previously “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit a criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on her credit card without her knowledge, among other things. 

Art Graham, Ronald Brisé win nominations to be returned to PSC

Art Graham and Ronald Brisé on Thursday won nominations to be returned to their seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state.

If selected, both men would serve third terms; each was first appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council also decided on six people to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. Patronis’ term is up at the end of 2018. Those candidates are:

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

— Ted Schrader, a former Pasco County commissioner and Tampa Bay Water board member.

Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who served in the House 2004-2012.

Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation.

— Ritch Workman, a former state representative. The Melbourne Republican lost a bruising primary battle last year to fellow GOP Rep. Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.

The council also recommended another four for Graham’s and Brisé’s seats; their terms are up at year’s end. Those candidates include Conrad and:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member himself, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Anibal Taboas, an Illinois-based consultant and former U.S. Department of Energy official.

— Jody Ann Newman, who chairs the Florida Board of Nursing.

Taboas and Newman won their nominations in a runoff vote, after initially not capturing the required seven votes.

Losing candidates include Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who left the Senate to run last year for northwest Florida’s Congressional seat, losing to Matt Gaetz; and current state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee and is term-limited next year.

Another noteworthy applicant, former state Comptroller and retired Marine general Bob Milligan, was shut out early in the process, receiving no votes to move forward when the council met in Tampa last week.

The council will forward its recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, who will decide on the appointments, subject to final approval by the Florida Senate.

Senate demands information in harassment lawsuit against Maria Sachs

A federal judge has given an ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs till next Tuesday to explain why he shouldn’t provide information in his still-pending sexual harassment case.

Matthew Damsky, then 28, had sued the Florida Senate in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year.

Damsky, whose case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee, claimed that she “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

The Senate this week filed a motion to compel discovery, the gathering of information in preparation for a possible trial, saying Damsky was nearly a month late and has “no(t) produced a single document.” It has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

His attorney, Tallahassee’s Marie Mattox, had told the Senate’s lawyers her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” That was not explained in a court filing, but Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card. 

“The Senate is under no obligation to lie in wait indefinitely for Plaintiff to act,” said its filing by Sniffen & Spellman, the chamber’s outside counsel. “Therefore, given the looming discovery deadline and Plaintiff’s counsel failure to provide any assurances her client will either respond to discovery or be produced for deposition, the Senate has no option but to move to compel.”

Mattox said she could not comment at length, but told Florida Politics she plans to file a stay of proceedings on the civil case until the criminal matter can be resolved.

Records also show the case had been referred to mediation, with a report due to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle by Dec. 8. If the sides can’t resolve their differences, a jury trial is set to begin Feb. 20.

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says. He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings.”

Sachs has “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit the criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

The cost to the Senate to defend the case in court was not immediately available.

Now cancer-free, Dorothy Hukill says, ‘I’m back’

After being pronounced cancer-free earlier this year, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill says she “feel(s) great” and already is “excited” to return to Tallahassee for next year’s Legislative Session.

She’s also back in the saddle in her district. The Port Orange Republican’s schedule is packed this week: There’s a grand-opening event for a Titusville space-supplies firm, a speech at the Titusville Chamber of Commerce, and post-Legislative Session round-ups before the Lake Helen City Commission and at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.

And as early as next week, the Port Orange City Council could vote on a proposal to rename the city’s old police department to the “Dorothy Hukill Annex” to honor Hukill, a former Port Orange mayor.

“I am back,” she said Monday. “Through the grace of God, friends and family, a great medical team, and a great Senate family, I am feeling wonderful.” 

In November, Hukill disclosed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She missed the 2017 Legislative Session while she was undergoing treatment.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” she wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, “if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.”

Not being in Tallahassee didn’t mean she stopped working, Hukill added, saying she continued to oversee her district offices, Capitol staff and committee responsibilities remotely.

Finally, this March, Hukill told Negron that “tests show no remaining cancer” and her doctors were “optimistic for a cancer-free full recovery.”

Hukill said she was surprised at the support she got, not only from those she knew, but from strangers who also dealt with cancer.

“It’s amazing to hear from people who have gone through what I have, to offer to talk about their own experience, or even just to say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ ” she said.  

“Being a survivor transcends your background, your politics,” Hukill added. “One of the things you learn is that it’s a very special community.”

Rick Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors

Gov. Rick Scott Thursday announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session.

Kitson, 58, CEO of Kitson & Partners, “had a notable career in the National Football League, playing offensive guard for both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Scott’s statement said.

Kitson’s term runs this Thursday through Jan. 6, 2024.

Jordan, 50, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, also is a member of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Oxbridge Academy Board of Trustees, the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She was previously an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. Jordan’s term also begins now and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Scott also appointed Alan Levine, 49, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and formerly Secretary of Health for Louisiana and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan.

The Board of Governors is a 17-member board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state of Florida.

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