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Galvano

Bill Galvano says lawmakers won’t ‘slow walk’ amendments

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano is promising that lawmakers won’t do anything to block the nearly dozen constitutional amendments that voters passed this month.

The Legislature has come under fire in the past for allegations that it ignored amendments or approved laws limiting their scope. But Galvano said during a media availability Friday that the “people have spoken,” and “I want to make sure we are being true to the intent of the voters.”

He added that legislators are not going to “slow walk” implementation of the amendments.

Voters on Nov. 6 passed 11 measures dealing with topics ranging from taxes to vaping indoors and casino gambling.

The gambling measure, known as Amendment 3, requires voter approval for proposals that would expand casino gambling in the state. Galvano said he would like Florida to follow other states and permit betting on sports events such as football games.

But he said the Senate is still looking at whether the newly passed amendment would require lawmakers to put a sports-betting referendum on the ballot.

Voters approved 11 of the 12 amendments that appeared before them on the ballot. Only Amendment 1 — which would have increased the homestead property-tax exemption — failed to get the required 60 percent approval from voters to pass.

Voters also gave the nod to Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to most felons who have served their sentences. The amendment is estimated to impact 1.4 million people. Galvano said he didn’t support the amendment, but he said it comes to the Legislature with “greater weight” because it was passed by voters.

“We have to do it right, we’re not going to slow walk it, but we have to make sure it’s done right and implemented correctly,” said Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will formally become Senate president during an organization session Tuesday.

While it received relatively little campaign attention, a measure that called for new lobbying restrictions was the most popular of the amendments. The lobbying proposal, known as Amendment 12, received support from 78.9 percent of voters, far exceeding the 60 percent threshold needed to pass constitutional amendments. The measure, in part, will ban state and local elected officials from lobbying for six years after they leave office.

The constitutional amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, the Legislature and through petition drives.

Others that passed included Amendment 5, which will make it harder for the Legislature to authorize or raise taxes; Amendment 9, which bars offshore oil drilling and vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in indoor workplaces; and Amendment 13, which will ban greyhound racing at pari-mutuel facilities.

Lawmakers have clashed with backers of some constitutional amendments in the past. As an example, the Legislature has been embroiled in a series of lawsuits about whether it has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

With hand recount complete, Janet Cruz wins battleground state Senate seat

Senate District 18 presumptive winner Janet Cruz is again declaring victory in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Dana Young.

After a manual recount conducted in Hillsborough County, Cruz — who was last the House Democratic Leader — maintains a 382-vote lead over Young, according to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Cruz’s victory is not official until election results are certified. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections will certify election results Sunday at noon.

Technically, more votes could still come in for either candidate. The office can accept signature cures on ballots that were tossed because the signatures didn’t match that on file until Saturday at 5 p.m. Still, that’s unlikely to yield enough votes to sway the election.

“I am happy to finally call my colleague, ‘Senator-elect Cruz,’ ” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, the chamber’s Democratic Leader-designate.

“We always knew Janet would be a fine addition, and the voters thought so too by electing her,” she added. “It’s finally real now that the votes have been confirmed.”

Hillsborough County’s SD 18, which encompasses portions of Tampa, and was one of the seats targeted for a Democratic pickup. The campaign was a heated one, with each candidate hurling accusations at the other.

The Young campaign pressed hard against Cruz over allegations that she did not live in the House District she formerly represented, and over a property tax snafu in which Cruz claimed a homestead exemption on two properties.

Cruz rectified the issue and paid back the tax, plus interest.

Ultimately, Cruz was able to overcome the constant barrage of negative attacks against her and, on election night, walked away with a razor-thin margin in her favor. Since then, that lead has continued to hold.

She officially declared victory the day after the election.

“I am honored to serve the people of Hillsborough County in the Senate and I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Leader Designate Gibson for her support,” Cruz said.

“Senate Democrats have been on the front lines of the battles for a stronger public education system, common sense gun safety reforms, and expanding access to health care to every Floridian. I look forward to standing united with our caucus as we continue the fight for these values on behalf of working families throughout our state.”

Hearing set in Senate discrimination case

A federal judge has scheduled a hearing Nov. 30 in a case filed by the Florida Senate after allegations by a legislative aide that she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle this week scheduled the hearing after canceling arguments that had been planned for Nov. 8, according to an online docket.

Legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers filed a discrimination complaint in January with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Senate filed a lawsuit in Hinkle’s court seeking a preliminary injunction to block an administrative law judge from requiring the Senate’s participation in the EEOC case.

The Senate contends, in part, that it is protected by the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, though EEOC lawyers are fighting the Senate on the issue.

In canceling the scheduled Nov. 8 hearing, Hinkle pointed to questions about whether he or an appeals court should consider the matter. He said he wanted to allow time for both sides to file briefs on the “jurisdiction” issue. Perrin Rogers was at the center of a sexual-harassment investigation late last year that led to the resignation of powerful Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

Perrin Rogers alleged that Latvala harassed her, triggering the Senate to appoint a special master to investigate the accusations. The special master, former state appellate Judge Ronald Swanson, found probable cause to support Perrin Rogers’ allegations — though Latvala has steadfastly denied them.

Perrin Rogers, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, subsequently filed the EEOC complaint against the Senate, alleging in part that she faced retaliation.

David Simmons selected Senate President Pro Tempore

State Sen. David Simmons is primed to be the upper chamber’s second-in-command during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of the Longwood Republican to fill the role.

The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session.

Simmons is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. During his first term in the Senate, Simmons served as Majority Whip, another leadership role.

The Pro Tempore “is responsible for ensuring we abide by the letter and spirit of the Senate Rules to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to advocate for their constituents,” Galvano wrote in a memo announcing the selection to his chamber colleagues.

“We share a love of history and an appreciation for the rules and procedures that govern the legislative process,” Galvano continued, noting Simmons previously chaired the Senate Rules Committee. “As President Pro Tempore he will ensure we maintain the high standards of fair and open civil discourse expected of the Florida Senate.”

Simmons has been a “reliable partner” in working through difficult policy issues presented to lawmakers, added Galvano.

“We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. “However, those of us who have served with David in both the House and the Senate have also witnessed the countless occasions where he demonstrates the same tenacity and dedication when speaking up for his fellow Representatives or Senators if he feels that a colleague has been treated unfairly.”

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

After contentious election, Ed Hooper lays out Senate priorities

Newly-elected state Sen. Ed Hooper has a lot of plans for his term in office, but the first order of business is finding an office.

While hunting for real estate is a necessary first detail, the Pinellas Republican is still laying the groundwork to implement some of his priorities.

The former state Representative bested Democrat Amanda Murphy Tuesday.

He’s planning his first trip to Tallahassee Saturday to meet with staff and elected officials about some bills he either wants to support or file during the next Legislative Session.

One of the Republican’s top priorities is reducing distracted driving. There have been several efforts in recent years to make texting while driving a ticketable offense.

The Legislature approved making distracted driving a secondary offense in 2013. That means law enforcement officers can cite drivers for texting while driving if they’re pulled over for another infraction like speeding or running a red light, but those officers couldn’t pull a driver over based on the distracted driving alone.

Hooper also wants to focus on education improvements including increasing funding for public education. In a detraction from some in his party, Hooper doesn’t agree that charter schools, which are often run by for-profit entities, should share half of the public school funding for school maintenance. Charter schools educate just 10 percent of Florida’s public school students.

He does support maintaining Florida’s tax credit scholarship. That programs allows businesses and individuals to deduct money from their taxes for making contributions into a fund that provides scholarships for low-income students to attend private school.

“It’s for an under-served population,” Hooper said. “I know it’s not popular for some. I would hate it if it was giving rich kids scholarships, but it’s not.”

Hooper also said he wants to crackdown on fraudulent and rampant assignment of benefit claims in the insurance industry and reduce the cost of flood insurance for property owners.

He has a local project in mind, too. Hooper wants to work with lawmakers to fund improvements to U.S. 19 from north Pinellas County into Pasco.

“A lot depends on committee assignments,” Hooper said. “I’m hoping to get a transportation assignment. If I’m lucky, I won’t get on any health care committees. That’s the one that can never get funding.”

Hooper said he’s also prepared to work across the aisle in the Republican-led Senate and pointed to several examples during his tenure in the Florida House of Representatives in which he broke with his own party.

That includes a bill that was ultimately passed allowing pharmacists to give patients injections and offshore drilling, among others. Those issues gained wide support from Republicans.

“It’s a lot easier to do that in the Senate than the House,” Hooper said. “It’s much easier to have independence when you’ve got a body of 40 instead of 120.”

Janet Cruz lead over Dana Young grows, but recount still imminent

Janet Cruz’s lead over Dana Young in their Florida Senate District 18 race grew to 355 overnight after the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Canvassing Board began counting provisional ballots and uncounted vote-by-mail ballots.

Cruz’s lead had been just shy of 300. The outgoing House Democratic Leader had challenged Young, a Republican, for the state Senate seat she’s held only since 2016. 

Young’s photograph and personal information already has been removed from the Florida Senate’s website, with a label for SD 18 that says “Pending General Election Result.”

Florida law requires a machine recount for races with margins of 0.5 percent or less, and manual recounts for races separated by 0.25 percent or less.

A recount by hand would only inspect ballots with undervotes, no preference marked, and overvotes, more than one preference marked, for the race in question. 

The current margin is 0.18 percent.

That gap could widen later Friday after the canvassing board meets again to count another 850 ballots. If all of those went for Cruz, which is almost impossible, it would put the race out of automatic recount range.

More than likely, the updated counts won’t change the recount. Here’s why: Many of the votes will be rejected, for a variety of reasons, and some likely will have voted for Young.

Of the 653 ballots reviewed Thursday night, 369 (57 percent) were accepted. Of those, just over 60 added to Cruz’s lead – just 10 percent of all the ballots counted.

If that math holds, Cruz is looking to gain about 85 votes in the next round of counting, which would put her lead at 0.2 percent, still within manual recount range.

All Supervisor of Elections offices must turn in their first set of unofficial election results to the Department of State by Saturday. After that, the department will either certify results, or in races with extremely close counts, order recounts.

That’s expected to be the case in the Cruz-Young race. If ordered, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer will begin a recount Sunday morning.

Despite the looming recount, Cruz has already declared victory in the race. Young has not conceded.

The local elections office accepted 118 early voting provisional ballots Thursday; 76 were rejected. Of those rejected, 42 were because the voter was not registered and 22 had registered after the deadline to vote in this election.

All 248 Election Day provisional ballots were accepted including 144 from voters who simply forgot to bring their ID to their polling place.

Recount? Janet Cruz vs. Dana Young race in SD 18 still too close to call

GOP state Sen. Dana Young‘s future in the Florida Senate is still uncertain after a nail-biter race against Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz.

With nearly 200,000 votes cast in the Senate District 18 contest, the two were separated by 289 votes late Tuesday, with Cruz holding a slender advantage. If that margin holds, it would trigger an automatic recount. 

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office said about 5,000 late countywide mail ballots and about 760 provisional ballots still needed to be counted.

Both parties made the Senate District 18 race one of their top legislative priorities in Tuesday’s elections.

The race also was one of the most vituperative in the Tampa Bay area, with a barrage of negative campaigning flooding mailboxes, airwaves and social media.

It started with news that Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, had failed to pay property taxes on a home she owns her her current House District 62. Cruz claimed homestead exemption on both that property and one her husband owns outside the district.

Cruz immediately remedied the taxes she owed and paid it back in full, plus interest. She said it was an oversight, but the Young campaign capitalized on the blunder and continuously used it in ads against her.

Later, Cruz critics speculated whether she was carpetbagging. She rents a home inside the district, but her husband’s home, where several documents list her as a resident, is outside its bounds.

Questioned about the discrepancy, Cruz provided proof of rent payments. That led to yet another complaint that she did not disclose that rent as a liability on her public financial disclosures as House rules require.

The Cruz campaign, limping from the onslaught of negative headlines, fired back with allegations that Young was using her position in the Florida Senate, and previously the House, to benefit financially.

Young has over the years filed several bills benefitting the craft beer industry. Her husband owns a beer bottling and equipment manufacturing business; the Cruz campaign said he had financial interests in legislation his wife sponsored or supported.

Another note: Young’s reported net worth has nearly tripled since she took office in 2010. 

Manny Diaz takes SD 36 over David Perez

State Rep. Manny Diaz is moving to the Senate, after defeating his Democratic opponent, David Perez.

Diaz defeated Perez 54 percent to 46 percent.

Diaz, who served as the state Rep. in House District 103, was a strong fundraiser as the contest neared its end.

But Perez, who worked as chief of staff for former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, held his own throughout the general in terms of money raised.

Both candidates also earned their fair share of outside support from various interest groups.

Perez earned the right to face Diaz after defeating Julian Santos in the Democratic primary. Diaz ran unopposed on the Republican side.

And a poll about a month before the election showed Perez had a shot. The Public Policy Polling survey gave Perez a 41 percent to 38 percent lead over Diaz. But that appears to have overestimated Perez’ chances in the race.

The two candidates were running to replace GOP state Sen. Rene Garcia, who was term-limited.

The district mostly covers an inland portion of northern Miami-Dade County including Miami Lakes, Hialeah, and Miami Springs.

Amendment 5

Supermajority tax amendment approved by supermajority of voters

A ballot measure that requires a two-thirds vote by the state Legislature for any future tax increases was approved by Florida voters Tuesday.

Amendment 5 was up 66 percent-34 percent as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Constitutional amendments need no less than 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Also known as the “Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees” amendment, it’s one of a dozen amendments on the statewide General Election ballot. It, along with a pair of property tax proposals, was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

Five days out from Election Day, voters were teetering between enshrining the amendment in the state’s governing document and telling state lawmakers to kick rocks with 47 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed.

In the end, quite a few more than the 19 percent of voters who said they were undecided last week ended up breaking toward “yes.”

Specifically, Amendment 5 requires two-thirds of both legislative chambers — that is, 80 members of the House and 27 members of the Senate — to approve any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones.

Critics railed against the proposal, saying it would make it far more difficult to pass such measures at the state level.

If the Legislature’s hands were tied by a future economic crisis, such as the Great Recession that dominated the end of the Charlie Crist era and the first act of Rick Scott’s tenure in Tallahassee, the anti-A5 crowd crowed that state lawmakers’ efforts to keep the books in the black could be derailed by a handful of elected officials in the “taxed enough already” troupe.

Unlike the two property tax measures green-lit for the 2018 ballot, however, Amendment 5 will not impact tax and fee collections by county and municipal governments.

Political committee Floridians for Tax Fairness spent $1.7 million this election cycle fighting Amendment 5 and Amendment 1, a measure which would have upped homestead exemptions by another $25,000. In the end, the Joseph Pennisi-chaired committee went one for two on Election Day.

The amendment goes into effect Jan. 8.

Ed Hooper puts breaks on ‘blue wave’ in Amanda Murphy upset

Former State Representative Ed Hooper narrowly beat Amanda Murphy in an upset for the “blue wave” Democrats were hoping for.

Hooper won 52 to 48 percent in the race for Senate District 16.

Murphy issued a statement concession statement about an hour after the polls closed Tuesday evening.

“I want to thank our incredible team for their hard work and dedication throughout this campaign,” she said. “Our message was always that we can accomplish so much more when we work together than when we lean into those things which divide us. While tonight’s results are obviously disappointing, I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to speak with so many incredible people over the last year. I wish Ed Hooper the best as our next State Senator.”

The Clearwater swing district leans conservative, but it’s a narrow gap between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

The heated race saw outside spending pouring in from both Democratic and conservative groups.

Groups supporting Hooper blasted voters with negative ads in television, digital and mail ads. The attacks mirrored those against other Democrats, seeking to tie Murphy to what they describe as “radical socialist” ideas and politicians including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Gillum.

One direct mail piece showed an image of a little girl crying saying Murphy “behaves like a spoiled child” next to it and on the back that she “throws a fit when she doesn’t get her way.”

Some saw the attack as sexist. Voters are typically turned off from negative campaigning and, particularly in the age of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, which Democrats hoped would drive more women and younger voters to the polls to upset Hooper.

Turnout demographic analysis in the coming days will reveal whether that was the case.

The Senate seat was previously occupied by longtime politician Jack Latvala who resigned earlier this year amid allegations of sexual abuse. That could have been another kick to Hooper’s chances of winning as voters, particularly younger voters, sought to put more female representation into political offices.

Hooper outspent Murphy by more than double, giving him powerful buying power in one of Florida’s closest races. Hooper brought in well over $1 million in the race, campaign finance records show.

Hooper formerly served in the Florida House of Representatives. His victory comes after being bested by Pat Gerard in a 2014 bid for Pinellas County Commission.

Murphy also served in the Florida House, but lost her seat to Republican Amber Mariano in a close race separated by fewer than 700 votes.

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