Florida Senate Archives - Page 5 of 31 - Florida Politics

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.

Florida Senate bill seeks expedited hearings for district map changes

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate would fast-track court rulings in challenges to electoral district boundaries, while requiring current boundaries to be used if the ruling isn’t rendered in a timely fashion.

Senate Bill 352, filed by Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, seeks to resolve uncertainty among candidates and voters alike – a utilitarian measure in the light of high-profile recent challenges to Florida Senate boundaries as well as to those of the United States House of Representatives.

Challenges to boundaries in legislative races must be given an expedited hearing, according to the bill.

If a ruling is not rendered by the 71st day before the primary election in multi-county district races, the election must proceed according to extant boundaries, with any changes taking effect for the next election cycle.

This would not apply to state attorney or public defender races, where the lines are not controversial; rather, to State Senate and State House races.

If a court order mandating change is rendered for a U.S. House of Representatives primary race 116 days before the primary, those candidates must requalify in accordance with the changes.

Additionally, Hutson’s bill has provisions that allow for public oversight in the case of a remedial map from a court, incorporating provisions for public review and commentary, and requiring records to be kept of the process.

“Our districts are the literal building blocks of a successful representative democracy,” said Hutson in a press release.

“The process of creating districts is too important to have uncertainty. This bill clearly sets a framework so all those involved in the electoral process, from the Supervisors of Elections to candidates and most importantly the voters, can be confident that timely and fair elections are held in our state,” Hutson added.

“I am a firm believer that three co-equal branches of government with strong public input and oversight is what our constitution is built upon,” Hutson continued. “This bill ensures transparency and fairness throughout the entire redistricting process.”

The bill has yet to get a Florida House companion bill, but it almost certainly will.

EMTeLink hires David Bishop as legislative lobbyist

EMTeLINK, a leading medical information company, has enlisted the help of Solaris Consulting.

David Bishop, the president of Solaris Consulting, registered as a lobbyist to represent EMTeLink on Dec. 13

A technology company, EMTeLINK provides first responders with information patients medical conditions in the event of an emergency. The technology allows first responders and medical technicians to access a patient’s medical information with the patient’s driver’s license.

The company allows families and individuals to store emergency contacts and medical histories, including medications and allergies.

State records show Richard Watson with Richard Watson & Associates was also registered as a lobbyist to represent the firm before the Legislature in 2016. Watson’s registration went into effect Jan. 6, 2016.

Rick Scott selects Matilde Miller to serve as interim DBPR secretary

Matilde Miller will take the helm of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — at least temporarily.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday Miller was named the interim secretary of DBPR, replacing former Secretary Ken Lawson.

“Matilde has spent many years at DBPR serving in numerous leadership positions and understands how important it is to help businesses open and create jobs in our state,” said Scott in a statement. “Like Secretary Lawson, she will focus on reducing burdensome regulations and fees that make it harder for job creators to succeed in Florida. She has extensive legislative experience and relationships and I am confident she will be a great leader at DBPR.”

On Tuesday, Lawson was hired to serve as the president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe, the outgoing president and CEO, who resigned amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull.

Visit Florida refused to say how much it paid Pitbull or disclose any of the details of a contract with the Miami superstar, calling it a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued in December to release the contract, but withdrew the lawsuit after Pitbull used Twitter to release it.

Scott, who has praised Visit Florida in the past, responded to criticism by calling on Seccombe to resign. During a meeting in Orlando on Tuesday, the Visit Florida board of directors agreed to pay Seccombe $73,000 as severance. A spokeswoman for the governor said that sum is paid for using private funds.

Lawson will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and work without a contract. He has led the Department of Business and Professional Development since 2011.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

A 16-year veteran of DBPR, Miller has served as chief of staff since 2014. Prior to becoming chief of staff, she served as the agency’s legislative coordinator, deputy legislative affairs director, and director of legislative director. She previously worked in the Florida House and as a high school English and Spanish teacher.

Her first day is Wednesday.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

 

Senate readies this year’s gambling bill

A Senate spokeswoman on Tuesday said the chamber’s legislative package on gambling should be ready for hearing later this month.

A meeting of the Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling policy, had been set for this Thursday but was cancelled.

“Based on conservations with Sen. (Bill) Galvano, President (Joe) Negron anticipates having a bill ready to be heard during the second committee week in January,” Katie Betta said in an email.

“Based on that timetable, President Negron felt that it would be more productive to cancel the workshop scheduled for this week and instead schedule a hearing when the bill is available later this month.”

The Miami Herald reported late Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal to get approval of a new agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them continued exclusivity to offer blackjack and “banked card games.”

That deal would “allow owners of declining pari-mutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida,” the paper reported.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has been hammering out a deal with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who’s the House’s point man on gambling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass … it’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

The deal satisfies that condition, the Herald reported, because it “lead(s) to a net reduction of live, active (dog and horse track) permits throughout the state.”

Don’t take that bet, said Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos.

“Slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties should be a non-starter,” he said. “It violates the constitution and the promise made to Florida voters when they very narrowly approved the amendment to allow them there in 2004.

“We will strongly oppose any new compact agreement that allows for slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”

Bill would qualify Ruth Eckerd Hall for tourism tax dollars

Legislation filed in the Florida Senate would allow Ruth Eckert Hall and similar auditoriums to benefit from taxes raised to promote tourism.

SB 68 by Sen. Denise Grimsley would clarify that tourist development tax dollars may flow to facilities, like Clearwater’s Eckerd Hall, that are publicly owned but managed by nonprofit organizations.

Existing law allows tourism tax money to be spent only on convention centers, sports stadiums or arenas, or coliseums that are publicly owned and operated.

“This measure offers clarity for communities on the appropriate uses of their local tourist dollars,” Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, said via email.

Pinellas County collected around $49 million through the tax last year, but Eckerd Hall has not qualified for any proceeds.

In 2013, declining corporate, state and federal support forced Eckerd Hall to lay off 13 employees, nearly one-third of its workforce. During the past two years, however, the Hall reportedly has posted record ticket sales.

The venue ranks No. 3 in the world for venues with fewer than 2,500 seats, chosen by leading industry trade magazines.

Hearing on gun bills postponed after Senate cancels Judiciary Committee meeting

A pair of controversial gun bills in the Florida Senate will not be discussed during committee meetings next week

According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up two gun bills during the two-hour meeting.

Steube’s open carry bill — Senate Bill 140 — was one of the two bills scheduled to be discussed. Under that proposal, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to openly carry a handgun.

Senate President Joe Negron cancelled the meeting at Steube’s request, spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

“Sen. (Rene) Garcia indicated that he would need to request an excused absence from the meeting,” she said. “It is still very early in the committee process and Chair Steube felt it was important to postpone the meeting until all committee members could be present.”

It’s unclear whether either measure has the votes needed to get out its first committee of reference. The committee’s four Democrats will likely vote against the open carry measure, and could be joined by Garcia and Sen. Anitere Flores, both South Florida Republicans who have been skeptical of the legislation.

Similar gun legislation failed to make any progress in the Florida Senate last year. Former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2014-16 term, blocked several gun proposals from being heard in his committee.

The Judiciary Committee is often the first committee of reference for gun legislation.

A second bill — Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley — was also on the agenda. That bill aims to clarify that prosecutors have the burden of proving that shootings are unjustified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

The Fleming Island Republican said in December that the measure would overturn overturn the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Bretherick v. Florida. In the 2015 opinion, the court said people charged in shootings must prove during pretrial proceedings that they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.

Bradley proposed similar legislation in 2016. It passed the Senate, but failed to make any progress in the House.

Personnel note: Former Sen. Chris Smith joins Tripp Scott

Former Sen. Chris Smith is returning to his legal roots.

Smith has joined Tripp Scott, the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm announced this week.

“We’re so excited to have you here,” said Edward J. Pozzuoli, the president of Tripp Scott, in a video interview with Smith.

The 46-year-old Fort Lauderdale Democrat got his start at Tripp Scott, working as a law clerk at the firm for two summers. He later joined the firm, working in the contract department writing leases and doing other contract work.

In a video announcing his hire, Smith said his decision to join Tripp Scott brings him “back to where I started, back to where I got my roots, my legal roots especially.”

Smith served in the Florida Legislature for nearly two decades. He was first elected to the Florida House in 1998, where he served until 2006. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 2008. He served in the upper chamber until 2016, but was forced out because of term limits.

He served as the Democratic Leader in both the House and the Senate.

Smith said his years of government experience will allow him to provide clients with insight into “how government works.”

“Being a former legislator helps me be a better lawyer,” he said.

More than a dozen lawmakers file for re-election in 2018

The number of lawmakers prepping for another run keeps on growing.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018. Many of those are incumbents who faced little-to-no opposition in 2016, while others ran hard fought battles to win their spot in the Florida Legislature.

Sen. Tom Lee filed to run for re-election in Senate District 20 on Dec. 29. The Brandon Republican was re-elected in June 2016, after no one else qualified to run in his district.

Lee was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1996. He served in the upper chamber until 2006, serving as Senate President during the 2004-06 term. Voters sent Lee back to the Florida Senate in 2012.

Lee is set to serve as chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee during the 2016-18 term.

Sen. Kelli Stargel also appears to be vying for another term in the Florida Senate, filing the initial paperwork to run in 2018 on Dec. 16. First elected to the Florida Senate in 2012, Stargel was re-elected in Senate District 22 in November. Stargel will serve as the chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee.

Over in the Florida House, Reps. Loranne Ausley, Paul Renner, Neil Combee, Bob Cortes, Mike La Rosa, Erin Grall, Sean Michael Shaw, Alexandra Miller, Julio Gonzalez, Michael Grant, Rick Roth, Bob Rommel, and Jose Oliva have filed to run for re-election in 2018.

The election in 2018 isn’t the only one on the minds of Florida lawmakers. Several state legislators have already filed to run for re-election in 2020, including Sens. Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield and Kevin Rader.

Ben Newman New Year’s prank: leaving GrayRobinson for possible political run, not love of burritos

Orlando lawyer and Republican fundraiser Ben Newman also is known — sadly not to all — as a merry prankster and over the weekend had many believing he was leaving the powerful GrayRobinson law firm to run a burrito truck.

Me among them. Sorry about that.

Newman has left GrayRobinson, where he’s been a shareholder for seven years, but not to feed the hungry masses yearning for queso, he said Monday morning. Instead, he’s moving on to a national law firm, Wilson Elser, and thinking about running for office.

“Sorry about that,” he told FloridaPolitics.com, politely but not entirely suppressing a well-deserved laugh.

FloridaPolitics and OrlandoRising — I — bought Newman’s trail of posts on Facebook declaring he was quitting law to pursue his lifelong dream of running a food truck. Among other things (Photoshopping a picture of a food truck with his name on it), he changed his status to CBO (Chief Burrito Officer) at El Queso Loco Burrito Company.

My texts and calls to Newman before I wrote went unanswered early Monday, apparently because the numbers I had were old and out of date (his GrayRobinson numbers;) and while they still recorded messages they did so for someone who wasn’t around anymore to retrieve them. I also Facebook messaged him, but that was too late. Turned out I also had a private, valid email address available for him. But in a full disclosure of incompetence, I didn’t come across that until too late, and went ahead and wrote before I had his or anyone else’s confirmation.

Full mud bath for my face, please.

After being alerted that I fell for his prank, Newman called to set the record straight, pointing out that he loves pranks, and a lot of people know that, though he’d left no clues this time. He was leaving GrayRobinson and decided to “goof,” he said.

“Rather than be serious all the time, I thought I’d have a little bit of fun. I’m just leaving it out there and letting people draw their own conclusions. Some people know it’s a joke and others fell for it,” Newman said. “I’m a serial prankster.”

But now for the serious news — we hope. Newman said one of the reasons he left GrayRobinson was because he’s positioning himself to possibly run for public office someday. He didn’t think it would be appropriate to do from that firm, which has one of the biggest lobbying operations in the state. With Wilson Elser he’ll feel freer to do so, he said.

Generally, he said he’s positioning for possibly for a run for the Florida House or the Florida Senate. Those seats are both filled by solid Republicans where he lives — state Rep. Bob Cortes and state Sen. David Simmons. Newman said he’s looking ahead to possible shuffling of positions this year, particularly if Attorney General Pam Bondi leaves.

The New York City-based Wilson Elser also gives him more of a national platform for his practice, which focuses principally on health care law and medical malpractice defense. Wilson Elser already has an Orlando office, and he said he’d be helping the firm develop more of a statewide presence.

 

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