Florida Senate Archives - Florida Politics

Bill Galvano names Lisa Vickers chief of staff

Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano announced Wednesday that longtime senior policy adviser Lisa Vickers will serve as his chief of staff.

“She brings a wealth of management experience gained from service as executive director of the Department of Revenue under two Governors, combined with a strong and diverse background in public policy,” Galvano said in a statement Wednesday.

Vickers is a well-known figure among senators and Senate staff as she has served as an adviser to the last three Senate presidents. She also worked for the state’s Department of Revenue for more than 20 years. In 2007, she was appointed to be the executive director of the department and served under both Gov. Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott.

“Lisa came to the Senate the same year I was elected … [and] quickly earned a reputation as a problem-solver due to her tireless work ethic and ability to combine institutional knowledge with a thoughtful, innovative approach to public policy,” Galvano said.

Vickers is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Business and the Florida State University College of Law. She was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1990.

The Tallahassee-based chief of staff will work with Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, during his 2018-20 legislative term.


Democrats file in Denise Grimsley, Katie Edwards-Walpole districts

Democratic candidates have opened campaign accounts to try to succeed Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, and Rep. Katie EdwardsWalpole, a Plantation Democrat, in November.

Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price opened an account last week to run in Senate District 26, which includes DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee and parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Grimsley is running this year for state agriculture commissioner.

The only other candidate in the race is Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who had raised $142,600 as of Feb. 28, a finance report shows.

Meanwhile, with Edwards-Walpole’s recent announcement that she will not run for another term in Broward County’s House District 98, Plantation Democrat Louis Reinstein became the first candidate to open an account to try to win the seat.

Early start approved for 2020 Session

Continuing a trend, the Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would start the 2020 Legislative Session in January.

Under the state Constitution, Legislative Sessions typically start in March. But the Legislature can decide to start Sessions at other times during even-numbered years.

The Legislature voted to start the 2016 and 2018 Sessions in January.

The bill (HB 7045) approved Thursday in a 34-3 vote would start the 2020 Session on Jan. 14. The House has also approved the bill, which means it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Three South Florida Democrats — Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, and Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat — opposed the bill Thursday.

“It’s too cold in Tallahassee during the winter so I cannot support this bill,” Braynon said.

That drew a reply from Senate bill sponsor Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican.

“It’s, frankly, too hot later, so I would ask you to support it,” Galvano said

Kelli Stargel gets pushback over ‘thoughts and prayers’ remark

Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, said she’s been inundated with angry and hateful messages after she said “thoughts and prayers” were the best way to stop the evil behind mass shootings like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

“The pushback has been incredible. As my daughter called it, it was the quote heard ‘round the world,” Stargel told The News Service of Florida.

Stargel said her son, who lives in Chile, told her it showed up in his news feeds.

The senator called the reaction “unfortunate.” Lawmakers have passed a $400 million “comprehensive piece of legislation” that addresses firearms, mental health, school resource officers and school hardening, she said.

“So we’re not just thinking and praying. But I think the pushback is indicative of the hate and anger that’s going on in our culture,” Stargel said.

Stargel remains unapologetic for her comments, delivered during debate on the school-safety measure this week.

“I don’t know when it became inappropriate to pray for our country, pray for people, have compassion, common decency, kindness,” she said.

Pro-gun bills look doomed in Senate

Without hesitation, the state Senate temporarily postponed on Wednesday two bills that would’ve expanded gun rights in Florida.

This late in the Legislative Session, the move is a sign that the chamber does not intend to vote on the two pieces of legislation.

One bill, SB 1048, had been postponed by Senate President Joe Negron ahead of a final vote in the chamber last month. Negron’s decision to delay the bill came when survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre filled the Capitol.

The legislation, filed by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, sought to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns at churches attached to schools. Florida law provides for carrying firearms at churches, so long as they aren’t attached to school properties. The bill prohibits carrying guns at churches when school-sponsored activities are going on.

The other bill, HB 55, passed the House and was primed for a vote in the Senate — before 17 were fatally gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

The legislation would only slightly expand gun rights, allowing for electronic payments of criminal history checks for potential firearms buyers.

Both bills were approved by their respective committees before the Parkland tragedy. Since then, both chambers have passed significant gun reforms, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) —  for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.

Senate passes gambling bill, requests conference

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed the latest version of comprehensive gambling legislation for 2018, and asked the House to go into conference to bang out a compromise.

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson offered an amendment to the House bill (HB 7067) that already passed off the floor. The chamber OK’d it 22-10, sending it back.

Hutson—a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee—noted further concessions in his measure while saying, “The House has not come closer to us at all.”

“voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes by the required 60 percent, the initiative would give voters power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida. That could shut out lawmakers from having a say over gambling indefinitely.

The latest language adds, among other things, what Hutson called a “partial decoupling” for thoroughbred horse racing, referring to the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms.

It also adds a ban on steroid use in racing greyhounds, but removes a ban on video games known as “pre-reveal” that look and play like slot machines, and that critics say are illegal gambling. Pre-reveal game makers say they’re only for entertainment, though they do pay out winning plays.

Not discussed Wednesday was a plan by a consortium of pari-mutuel owners to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agree to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums. Allowing such slots is now in the Senate bill.

The idea is to match or beat the revenue share—estimated at $200 million-$300 million a year going forward—coming from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for their exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida and to offer blackjack.

A working proposal would guarantee $250 million in “slot machine taxes and license fees to the state.”

Other significant differences exists between the chambers: The Senate is OK with designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack played at pari-mutuel cardrooms; the House would ban them. The House also would ban pre-reveal games.

Both chambers would extend a gambling exclusivity agreement with the Seminoles in exchange for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years. But the Senate is at 22 years; the House is at 20 years.

The Senate also does not specify how that Seminole gambling money is spent. The House would divvy it up three ways:

— A third to “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses.”

— Another third to “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

— The final third to “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” or Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s priority “Schools of Hope” program.

There’s more time for lawmakers to address gambling because the chambers failed to finalize a state budget on time this week to finish the 2018 Legislative Session on Friday.

Session, at least for now, looks likely to continue at least through Monday.

A conference would include Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate José Oliva, the two gaming negotiators for the Session.

Texts reveal Gary Farmer still lobbying for trial bar

The headline above this story probably comes as no shock to those who follow the annual trial bar versus insurance industry drama and have witnessed Sen. Gary Farmer buzzing around committees. What’s surprising is how casually Farmer has been – messily even – doing the trial bar’s bidding.

Public records requested by Florida Politics legitimize what many have quietly whispered: Farmer should just go ahead register as a lobbyist for the trial bar.

His messages from Jan. 23, 2018, offer a glimpse into the inside baseball of the Florida Senate, and demonstrate that lawmakers so engrained in special interests actively interfere in the fate of Florida law.

For weeks prior to the Banking and Insurance Committee meeting, the trial bar had been trying to pressure the insurance industry into a PIP (Personal Injury Protection) compromise using the threat of killing an industry-promoted “Named Driver Exclusion” bill as a means of forcing the industry “to the table” on PIP repeal.

Trial lawyers are behind the attempt to repeal PIP, Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, replacing it with a lawsuit-based system and mandatory “bodily injury” insurance, which insurers say reduces consumer choices and will increase rates for Floridians.

The bill at issue, SB 518, would have essentially allowed families to keep their auto insurance policy even if one of the family members was a poor driver, because that driver could be excluded from coverage under the policy. While this is a common practice in other states, SB 518 provided an opportunity for the trial bar to interfere with its passage as a tool of coercion over the PIP issue, despite it not having any meaningful effect on the liability of drivers (the family member removed from the policy would get coverage elsewhere).

Farmer’s texts on Jan. 23

On that day, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee heard Named Driver Exclusion. And if you attended the meeting, Farmer, a former trial bar lobbyist who is not on the Committee, made no secret of texting and doing what appeared to be active lobbying of the committee members.

At 3:41 p.m., Farmer texted Senator Anitere Flores: “Beach [sic] & steube not here…Please TP named driver…Without them we need you as a no”

Named Driver Exclusion was voted down.

At 5:27 p.m., Farmer texts Flores: “You are the master, I bow down in aw & reverence!!…Thank you!! It’s hard for me not knowing the play.”

In this same time window, Farmer texted Senator Annette Taddeo, who had voted no, a quick, “Thank you!”

Bottom line: This is an unsurprising example of how special interest proxies exercise their influence. But maybe next time Farmer will register before he lobbies for the trial bar.

Senators get jars of tar and feathers labeled ‘Enemy of Freedom’ after gun bill vote

A man who was “quietly watching” the Senate debate on a controversial gun bill Monday was spotted carrying into the Capitol about a dozen jars full of tar and feathers labeled “Enemy of Freedom Award.”

The destination: the offices of Democratic and Republican state senators, some of whom voted for new gun restrictions and others who did not, but who have been vocal supporters of an assault weapon ban.

POLITICO Florida first reported that senators received the odd gift after the Senate narrowly passed the gun and school safety initiative, which includes a ban on bump stock sales, raising the legal age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and a three-day waiting period before someone can purchase a firearm.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said the jars she saw had white notes with the names of senators on one side and a message about children being in support of the Second Amendment on the other side.

An aide to a Republican senator said the jar was delivered to the office by a man who identified himself as someone from the Libertarian Caucus.

While strange, Betta said novelties from those who oppose the views of legislators is not unprecedented. National Rifle Association Lobbyist Marion Hammer told POLITICO Florida that she was not behind the rare jelly jar present, topped with a poop emoji and feathers.

The plan that passed the Senate on Monday is currently being considered by the Florida House. House Democrats on Tuesday morning unanimously voted to take a caucus position against one of the provisions that would allow school staff to be armed with guns on campus to react in case of an active shooting.

The proposal also provides for a $400 million appropriation on school safety and mental health initiatives.

Florida Senate narrowly passes watered-down school safety proposal

In a bipartisan effort, the Florida House narrowly passed a watered-down school safety proposal with a $400 million price tag that will provide students with more access to mental health services and allow school districts to participate in a program that arms school staff.

“This bill will make a difference, and when it becomes law, things will start changing,” Sen. Bill Galvano said.

SB 7026 passed on a 20-18 vote with the help of Democratic Sens. Lauren Book and Kevin Rader.

Republicans who voted against the measure, most notably Sens. Greg Steube and Dennis Baxley, were against provisions with gun restrictions such as a ban on bump stock and raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21.

Before the final vote, senators debated the bill for more than two hours and approved an amendment that scaled back a controversial program that would have allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus to fight off active shooters.

The change better aligns the Senate’s proposal to what Parkland students and Gov. Rick Scott want: Not arming teachers.

But even with the tweak, Democrats argued the bill still allows teachers who also work as librarians, coaches or psychologists to sign up for the program.

The amendment filed by Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, who admits to not being the biggest fan of the school safety package, said the intent is to make sure the “instructional personnel who are in the classroom cannot participate in the program.”

Garcia’s amendment also changed the name of the contentious program to the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program in honor of a beloved coach who died trying to protect students from a hail of bullets on Valentine’s Day. He said Feis’ wife was “very supportive” of naming the program after him.

The measure now heads to the House for consideration.

“I don’t know if they’re going to continue to work on this in the House,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who voted against the bill. “I can’t imagine them bouncing this back and we have to go thru this all over again … God help us if they send it back.”

The latest summary of the legislation, provided by the Senate communications team, is below.

Tax supermajority proposal heads to voters for approval

Despite concerns raised by Senate Democrats that it would “tie the hands” of future legislators facing emergencies, the Florida Senate passed a measure Monday that would make it harder for the Legislature to increase taxes and fees in the future.

“This can tie the hands of future legislators in difficult times,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez in reference to the costs that climate change and rising sea levels could bring in the coming years.

The legislation would mandate a two-thirds vote in both chambers before any tax and fee hike can be imposed on Floridians. Because the change would amend the Florida Constitution, it will need 60-percent voter-approval to take effect. They will vote on it in November.

“It’s the people’s money, not ours. Yes, two-thirds is hard to get. It should be hard to raise taxes because it is the people’s money, not ours,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley said.

The upper chamber pushed through the proposal on a 25-13 vote, with three Democrats — Sens. Lauren Book, Linda Stewart and Bobby Powell — voting with Republicans. Republican Sen. Tom Lee voted with Democrats.

The proposal has been a big priority of Gov. Rick Scott, who has also tried to push the supermajority vote mandate through the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Upon passage of the bill, Scott praised the Legislature.

“We have cut taxes more than 80 times since I’ve been in office because we know that Florida families and businesses succeed when we put their tax dollars back in their pockets,” the governor said.

“I look forward to this important amendment being on the ballot to protect families from unfair tax increases.

The Senate had originally been at odds with the House and Scott by proposing a three-fifths vote to pass tax increases, but later took the House version of the bill.

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