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Oscar Braynon: gun legislation is about ‘reality not philosophy’

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon considers 2nd Amendment arguments to be about philosophy and he’d  much rather talk about running from house parties when shots break out or watching from behind a car while the man on the other side is shot dead.

“This is my reality,” Braynon told a room full of journalists gathered for the Associated Press’s annual Florida Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee. “I don’t want to talk about philosophy.

“I represent people who live a life. They don’t live a philosophy,” continued the Miami Gardens Democrat. “They live a life where they have to provide for their children and keep their families safe. And that’s their reality.”

Braynon gave a prebuttle to remarks given later by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam talking to reporters, in which the Republican potential gubernatorial candidate spoke of protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Florida.

Braynon pushed for the Democrats’ agenda, which includes Senate Bill 142 requiring safe storage of firearms, Senate Bill 170 prohibiting guns in performing arts centers, or theaters and 254 prohibiting sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and opposing open-carry and campus-carry legislation pushed by Republicans.

“These are what we believe are common-sense gun legislation,” Braynon said.

“When I talk about guns, I’m not talking about hunting. I’m not talking about this movie thing that apparently some of my colleagues think about, like Die Hard 2,” he said. “I’m talking about real, legit things that happen. I’m talking about my neighborhood. This is my reality.”

He took issue with those who called Democrats’ bills affronts to the 2nd Amendment, saying he and Democrats can support the 2nd Amendment and call for “common sense” restrictions, just as many Republicans say they support the 15th Amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote yet opposing related measures like the Voting Rights Act.

Baynon also declared a hardline stand Tuesday against Republican budget plans to cut spending and taxes. He argued that property tax cuts might give low- to middle-class families relief of just $20 a month while they see reduced services from schools, hospitals and other services that far outstrip that.

And he argued Republicans have been doing it for the full decade he’s been in the Florida Legislature always promising the economic boosts from the strategy would help everyone, but he hasn’t seen it happen.

“It has not worked. The proof is in the pudding, because 10 years later here we are again,” he said.

“I would say doing the same thing expecting new results is insanity. I am going to call it now. We are taking a caucus position as the Senate Democrats against insanity,” Braynon said.

 

Land purchase south of Lake O remains top priority for Joe Negron

Securing funding to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee remains a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

But Negron could face a tough road ahead. Gov. Rick Scott did not include money for a proposed Everglades reservoir in his 2017-18 budget, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran has dismissed the idea of bonding to pay for Negron’s project.

The Stuart Republican appears unfazed, saying it is his obligation to convince people the project is appropriate.

“I’m going to use the time I’m here to say enough is enough. We’ve been talking about southern storage for 20 years,” he said during the annual legislative planning session hosted by the Associated Press in Tallahassee on Tuesday. “It’s not a new idea. It’s not a radical idea. The time for talking is over. The time for action is now.”

In August, Negron announced he would push for funding to add 120 billion gallons of new water storage south of Lake Okeechobee during the 2017 legislative session. The estimated the cost of adding the reservoirs on 60,000 acres of land would cost about $2.4 billion.

At the time, Negron proposed bonding using $100 million a year from Amendment 1 dollars over 20 years to finance the project. And last week, the Senate took the first step in making good on that proposal.

Sen. Rob Bradley on Thursday filed legislation that gives the South Florida Water Management District until Dec. 18 to buy farm land for a water-storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The funding for the purchase would come from bonding $100 million of Amendment 1 dollars.

During a news conference later that day, Corcoran said he did not support a plan to finance the project. When asked about bonding, the Land O’Lakes Republican said the “House is not prepared to bond at all.”

Funding for the project was notably missing from Scott’s nearly $83.5 billion budget.

The proposed $60 million for the “Indian River Lagoon Caloosahatchee Cleanup Initiative,” which is meant to be a long-term solution for improving water in the area. The initiative would include $40 million in new funding for a 50-50 state matching grant program to help residents impacted by algae blooms move to sewer systems and $20 million in new funding for muck dredging and other capital projects to improve water quality and reduce sources of pollution.

His budget also includes $225 million for Everglades restoration projects; $20 million for the C-51 reservoir, which will provide more than 24 billion gallons of water storage and a water supply source for South Florida; and $4 million for targeted land acquisition.

“We’re doing projects to make the system better,” said Negron. “I appreciate the governor’s incredible track record on environmental issues.”

Travis Hutson telecom bill would preempt right of way regulation

Newly filed legislation could affect how much power local governments have to regulate the right of way when it comes to telecommunications equipment.

Sen. Travis Hutson, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries committee, filed the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act” (SB 596) on Monday. The bill, among other things, would prohibit the Department of Transportation and certain local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for placing small wireless facilities in rights of way.

Under Hutson’s bill, local governments can’t require applicants to perform services unrelated to the approval that’s being sought, like reserving fiber or pole space for the governmental agency. It also can’t ask the applicant to “provide more information to obtain a permit than is required of electric service providers and other communications service providers that are not wire les providers.”

The bill also prohibits agencies from limiting “the placement of small wireless facilities by minimum separation distances or a maximum height limitation.” However, agencies can limit the height of a small wireless facility to no more than 10 feet above the tallest existing utility pole.

An application is automatically approved within 60 days of receipt, unless an agency approves or denies it.

The proposal has the backing of telecommunications giant AT&T.

Jeff Brandes files bill to standardize visitation plans

Sen. Jeff Brandes has filed a bill aimed at providing standardized visitation plans for unmarried parents.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed legislation (SB 590) Monday, which would create a standard visitation schedule for unmarried parents. If adopted, the proposal would encourage contact between non-custodial parents and their children.

“Spending time with our children is the most valuable gift parents can give,” he said in a statement. “The state currently requires child support be paid but is silent on time. This bill seeks to offer parents an optional time sharing plan, used in many other states, that puts the focus on parents spending time with their children.”

The time plan, according to Brandes’ office, would be provided as an option when parents meet with the Department of Revenue to set up child support. It would allow the parents to bypass the court system.

Under the proposed plan, children would be with the non-custodial parents every other weekend; one evening per week; Thanksgiving break and spring break in even numbered years; winter break in odd years; and for two weeks during the summer.

Parents could accept the plan as laid out, deviate and agree upon a different plan, or go through further mediation. It provides several exceptions, including when a family member lives more than 100 miles away or when there are concerns of familial or domestic violence.

Keith Perry files bill to create 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

Sen. Keith Perry has filed a bill calling for a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday in August.

Under the proposed legislation (SB 490), certain school supplies would be tax exempt from Aug. 4 through 14.

“As I talk to folks across north central Florida, I hear the same thing over and over – people are working hard to do right by their children,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Any steps we can take legislatively to lessen the burden on Florida’s families is a step in the right direction.”

The proposal would include clothing, backpack and sneakers that cost $100 or less; pens, pencils, notebooks, markers, calculators, and lunchboxes that cost $15 or less; and laptops or desktop computers that cost $1,000 or less.

Perry’s decision to file the legislation coincided with Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he is proposed $618 million in tax cuts. The governor made his announcement in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, kicking off a multi-city swing to promote his proposal.

Scott’s proposal includes a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, which he estimates would save Floridians $72 million.

In 2016, the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday ran from Aug. 5 through Aug. 7. It was scaled back from the previous year, when lawmakers approved a 10-day holiday.

“For Florida’s hardworking families, every dollar counts at back-to-school time,” said Perry. “I am proud to sponsor this common sense plan to put money back in the pockets of parents across the state.”

 

medical marijuana

Drug Free America urges caution as lawmakers discuss Amendment 2 implementation

Drug Free America is urging Florida lawmakers to “proceed with caution” as they begin crafting legislation to implement the state’s newest medical marijuana law.

“While we were opposed to Amendment 2 for a number of specific reasons, we recognize Florida voters have spoken,” said Calvina Fay, the executive director of Drug Free America, in a statement. “We also recognize lawmakers will soon convene and consider implementing language … that will dictate policy for generations to come. We strongly urge them to exercise extreme caution moving forward.

On Thursday, Sen. Rob Bradley filed Senate Bill 406, the Amendment 2 implementing bill. The bill comes just days after the Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules, as outlined under the ballot language.

The bill, among other things, allows for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a statement last week. “Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly.”

Under Bradley’s bill, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

Existing law does allow for some growth, authorizing the state health department to issue three more licenses once 250,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

“As we’ve seen in states like Colorado and California, measures intended to open the door just a little, results in the door opening far too wide,” said Fay. “Because marijuana – and this is not a surprise to anyone – is subject to abuse, has a robust black market, and is the drug of choice for too many of our nation’s youth, the ‘market’ will rapidly and dramatically take advantage of every loophole that can be exploited.”

Fay said growers have indicated they will have “far more capacity than is needed for the foreseeable future,” and warned that further expansion could “create an undue burden on already overwhelmed officials for effectively regulating this industry.

“For these reason, we ask lawmakers to proceed with caution, recognize that the for-profit marijuana industry will exploit loopholes, and to please keep treating marijuana as a dangerous drug that requires strict safeguards and controls,” said Fay.

Bradley’s bill, which was co-introduced by Sen. Dana Young, hasn’t received its committee assignments yet. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t be talking about medical marijuana this week.

The House Health Quality subcommittee is scheduled to hear from several experts — including officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Sheriffs Association — during its meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. While a companion to Bradley’s bill hasn’t been filed, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues is expected to carry the House implementing bill.

Alimony reform bill filed for 2017

Update: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, on Friday filed the Senate companion to the House bill, which she says is identical save for  “a few punctuation differences.”


State Rep. Colleen Burton will try again to overhaul the state’s alimony law, filing a bill on Wednesday.

The Lakeland Republican still aims to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed, after last year’s measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Burton said in a phone interview. “It costs families a lot of money to go through a process that has no starting point. This gives judges a starting point, the same in Miami as in Pensacola, and gives predictability to former spouses who are trying to determine alimony.

“I have nothing personal invested in this,” she added. “This is just worth trying again.”

The latest bill (HB 283), however, does not contain child custody provisions that garnered Scott’s disfavor in 2016.

He disapproved of that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

On one side, former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them.

Their exes shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

But Burton’s 26-page bill, among other things, contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

A message for Burton seeking comment was left at her Lakeland district office.

But her Senate counterpart last year, Republican Kelli Stargel also of Lakeland, said in a text message she will not file a companion measure.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in April. “Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.

David Simmons weighing Florida attorney general, congressional runs

While giving his blessing to state Rep. Jason Brodeur to run for his current post, state Sen. David Simmons says he’s weighing his options to go after the Florida attorney general’s post, Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat, which Democrats just flipped, or staying full-time with his growing law firm.

The attorney general option could come sooner rather than later, as Attorney General Pam Bondi is widely reported to be in the running for a position in President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration.

If Bondi leaves, Gov. Rick Scott would be appointing a successor. If she stays, she’ll be term-limited out in 2018, the same year that U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy comes up for her first re-election bid in CD 7, a seat Republicans had held for generations before her arrival. Simmons said it was premature to say if he has spoken to Scott about the prospect of being appointed as attorney general.

One way or the other, Simmons, a Longwood Republican, leaves by 2020, when he term-limits out. That’s the year for which Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, announced he was filing to run to succeed Simmons in Florida Senate District 9, which covers Seminole County.

“I am looking at my options,” Simmons told FloridaPolitics.com.

“I know that in 2018 the attorney general position will be open, and maybe earlier. And so, at this point in time, we’ll see what happens,” Simmons said. “And then of course, with the events that occurred in Nov. 2016, I believe that there is a need to have a Republican who represents Congressional District 7. And so I’ll look at option as well. When it gets to be 2020, or 2018 — you know how politics is volatile that we don’t’ know what’s going to happen, and who is going to be running for what positions — predicting what is going on is a very difficult thing.”

Becoming just a private attorney with de Beaubien Simmons Knight Mantzaris & Neal also is attractive, he added. That firm, now using the logo DSK Law, has been growing rapidly and now has 50 lawyers and a full-spectrum practice, headquartered in Orlando with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee. Simmons is the financial managing partner, and practices large commercial litigation trial law.

Simmons first entered the Florida House in 2000 and was elected to four terms. He ran and was elected to the Senate in 2010.

The state attorney general’s prospect appears to be leading his current interests. Simmons said he and Bondi are close friends, and was hesitant to speculate about whether she would leave early, or — out of respect — whether he already was posturing to replace her.

Yet Brodeur’s relatively early announcement of interest in Simmons seat may signal that at least Brodeur anticipates that Simmons’ seat might open up soon.

“Certainly I am very interested in the attorney general’s position,” Simmons said.

“I am an attorney who has been involved in the practice of law, has three board certifications, all of them relating to the active practice of law, and having been now the Legislature and the Senate, and having been actively involved in many major issues.”

Simmons said he supports Brodeur to replace him.

 

Jason Brodeur announces 2020 state Senate bid

Jason Brodeur has his eyes on the Florida Senate.

The Sanford Republican announced this week he plans to run for the Florida Senate in 2020. Brodeur said in plans to run in Senate District 9, which is currently held by Sen. David Simmons.

“My roots in Central Florida run deep. Growing up here, I witnessed first hand how a community can thrive when citizens are given the freedom to work hard and pursue their passion,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “From graduating high school to starting my own local business, this community has always given me the chance to succeed. Now I want to continue to make sure every other resident of our community has that chance too.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Brodeur served as the chairman of the House Health & Human Services Committee and the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access during the 2014-16 term. He’ll serve as the chairman of the House Health Care Appropripations Subcommittee during the 2016-18 term.

“Over the years, I’ve had the chance to serve on numerous local organizations and develop a deep understanding about the problems affecting everyday residents of Central Florida,” said Brodeur in a statement. “Whether it’s keeping our schools in the community’s hands, supporting small businesses or preserving our God-given rights, I’ll always do what it takes to protect our community in the State Senate.”

Brodeur spent 12 years working for Proctor and Gamble, and later started his own health care consulting company. He currently serves as the president and CEO of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

 

Jack Latvala to House: The Senate makes its own rules

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala sent a message Thursday to the House leadership: Don’t expect to force the Senate to abide by your strict new budget rules.

“We have our own rules in the Senate. We are going to abide by our own rules,” Latvala told reporters following a committee meeting.

“I think it would be unfortunate if we got to a position where, because the House is trying to force their rules on the whole process, that we get into some kind of government shutdown or something like that,” he said.

“The way to avoid that is to have conversation and negotiation early on in the process. Next month, you’ll see us take some steps to try to bring that about.”

Under rules approved when Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership, members must file a specific bill describing each project they hope to insert into the state budget. The idea is to get away from secretive logrolling late during sessions.

Corcoran has suggested that senators seeking projects find a House co-sponsor, to remain within the spirit of the House’s drive for transparency.

Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, wasn’t having it.

“We are going to have our own process, just like we have from time immemorial. We are going do things differently than the House does,” he said.

“Each subcommittee is going to have one or more hearings where we’re going to thoroughly vet those projects that people have put forward. Each of our conference meetings that we host this year, we are going to make sure there’s time for public participation. Some of these things haven’t been done in the past. There’s different ways of getting transparency.”

As for whether senators should file project bills, Latvala allowed that might be a good idea.

“I’m encouraging people to file these bills. It kind of helps catalog what’s in the system. I have no objection to it,” he said.

“It’s important to have a consistent set of rules that both sides adhere to and agree to,” he said.

“But you can’t have a set of rules in the House and a set of rules in the Senate and they’re different. That’s never happened before. There’s a lot of case law that says this is a bicameral legislature, and that one house in this legislature can’t encumber or make decisions for the other house.”

He added: “It’ll all work out.”

As for the House’s tightened disclosure requirements for lobbyists, Latvala said:

“All that’s done is create some more bookkeeping for the lobbying firms. It’s helping Tallahassee employment, because some of the lobbying firms have told me they’re having to add people to fill out the paperwork. So much for government staying out of business.”

Meanwhile, Latvala welcomed news from the Division of Bond Finance that Florida’s debt load has declined by $4 billion during the past six years.

It means “we’ve got some room to do some bonding for projects like Sen. (Joe) Negron’s Everglades project,” Latvala said.

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