Florida Senate Archives - Page 5 of 29 - Florida Politics

Former Maria Sachs aide sues for discrimination, retaliation

An aide to then-Florida state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs has sued his former employer, saying she “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him.

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

The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

The case, reported by the Tallahassee Democrat on Thursday, says the 28-year-old Damsky was fired this February 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.

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

Damsky seeks “all legally-available general and compensatory damages and economic loss,” his suit says.

“The Senate has not yet been served, so the Senate attorneys have not yet received a copy of, or had the opportunity to review the complaint,” spokeswoman Katie Betta said Thursday.

Sachs previously has denied the accusations. She said Damsky, of Boca Raton, resigned after admitting to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

Damsky is represented by Marie Mattox, a longtime employment discrimination attorney in Tallahassee.

Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes will help control the purse strings in Tallahassee next year

When the dust cleared in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Pinellas was on top when it comes to the state’s funds.

Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes, who represent parts of Pinellas, landed some plum appointments. Latvala will be the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and alt. chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. Brandes will have a seat on the Appropriations Committee and be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

The news was welcomed by local elected officials who expect to ask Tallahassee for money in 2017.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office issued a statement, saying, “Their appointments are great news for the city of St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Region.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who will chair the commission in 2017, agreed, saying, “I’d like to think it would be very good for Pinellas County.”

Long said the county has just begun work on its legislative package for the coming year.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also begun work on its legislative package. St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice, the PSTA chair, said two projects high on the agenda are rapid transit from the Tampa airport to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach and a bus lane on the Clearwater causeway.

Both Latvala and Brandes are aware of the need for the projects, she said. And Brandes, in particular, has already been supportive of innovative PSTA programs that involve partnerships with companies like Uber and Lyft.

The PSTA, Rice said, “is very fortunate to have two such strong senators. I think this will be very helpful.”

That help, she said, can extend to other issues. One such is the sewer and infrastructure problems facing Pinellas. Although St. Petersburg has taken the brunt of criticism after dumping thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage in the bay during two storms this year, the problem with infrastructure is countywide. Latvala has called two delegation meetings for fact finding.

“I think they had a very clear picture of St. Petersburg’s struggles,” Rice said. “We need help from the state to fix our fragile infrastructure.”

Rice said she’s not talking only about St. Petersburg’s infrastructure. It’s the entire county, she said. That’s another place that the senator’s appreciation for regional solutions will be helpful.

Rice noted that Latvala is known for fighting for what he believes in. That’s good for the county.

“He’s a bruiser,” Rice said. “He’s not afraid to go in and fight for what’s right.”

Joe Negron announces Senate committee leadership, membership

Florida Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday released leadership posts, including four Democrats, and committee assignments for the 2017 and 2018 Legislative Sessions.

Wilton Simpson of Trilby is now Senate Republican Leader and Kelli Stargel of Lakeland is the deputy leader.

Simpson, a Pasco County farmer, is on track to assume the Senate presidency himself in 2020-22 as long as the GOP maintains its controlling majority.

As previously announced, Jack Latvala of Clearwater takes the reins of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the Legislature.

His eight budget subcommittee heads will be:

Aaron Bean, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

Rob Bradley, Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Stargel, Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Denise Grimsley, Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

Anitere Flores, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. She is also Senate president pro tempore.

Bill Galvano, Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

David Simmons, Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K – 12 Education.

Jeff Brandes, Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.

The rest of the leadership picks for committees are:

Keith Perry chairs Agriculture. Perry recently was elected to the Senate after serving in the House since 2010.

Flores chairs Banking and Insurance. Flores is an ally and confidante of Negron; the Miami-Dade resident officially nominated him for president at his December designation ceremony.

Rene Garcia chairs Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. Garcia has been in the Senate since 2010.   

Bill Montford chairs Commerce and Tourism. The Tallahassee Democrat was Leon County superintendent of schools before being elected to the Senate. 

Frank Artiles chairs Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities. He’s another new senator elected this year after serving in the House.   

Tom Lee chairs Community Affairs. The Brandon Republican, who was Senate President in 2004-06, was most recently the Senate’s budget chief.   

Randolph Bracy chairs Criminal Justice. He’s another Democrat in leadership, and another new member, also coming from the House. 

Dorothy Hukill chairs Education. The Port Orange lawyer recently announced she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, is undergoing treatment, and is expected to fully recover. She previously chaired the Finance and Tax panel.

Lauren Book chairs Environmental Preservation and Conservation. She’s still another Democrat in leadership, a new member from South Florida, and daughter of legendary lobbyist Ron Book.   

Kathleen Passidomo chairs Ethics and Elections. She joined the Senate from the House this year, beating out former Speaker pro tem Matt Hudson to replace term-limited Sen. Garrett Richter in her GOP-heavy Southwest Florida district.   

Dennis Baxley chairs Governmental Oversight and Accountability. He’s yet another new crossover from the House to the Senate.   

Dana Young chairs Health Policy. The Tampa Republican won her seat after serving as House Republican Leader the last two years.   

Greg Steube chairs Judiciary. The Sarasota Republican was in the House before his election to the Senate in November. He’s a lawyer and Army veteran, having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps

Audrey Gibson chairs Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security. The Jacksonville Democrat was elected in 2011 after serving in the House.

Travis Hutson chairs Regulated Industries. Hutson has been in the Senate since 2015, winning a special election after former Sen. John Thrasher stepped down to become president of Florida State University. The committee usually takes the lead on gambling issues, including the Seminole Compact.   

Lizbeth Benacquisto chairs Rules. She’s another ally of Negron’s and seconded his nomination as president at the designation ceremony.   

George Gainer chairs Transportation. He’s another brand new senator, filling the Panhandle seat vacated by term-limited Sen. Don Gaetz.  

A full list of committee membership is here.

Wilton Simpson appointed Senate Majority Leader for 2016-18 term

Sen. Wilton Simpson has been appointed Senate Majority Leader for the 2016-18 legislative term, marking the second term in a row a likely Senate President has held the role.

Senate President Joe Negron appointed Simpson to the position Tuesday. The announcement came as the Stuart Republican announced committee chair assignments for the two-year legislative term.

“Wilton is a conservative leader whose tremendous success in the private sector serves as a foundation for his belief in limited government and the supremacy of the individual, values many Senators on both sides of the political aisle share,” said Negron in a statement. “Over the last four years, Wilton has gained the confidence of his colleagues in matters both large and small.”

First elected to the Senate in 2012, Simpson was re-elected earlier this year when no one else filed to run for the seat. The Trilby Republican represents Senate District 10, and is the owner of Simpson Environmental Services and Simpson Farms.

“Today I am both humbled and honored to have the trust of Senate President Joe Negron and my colleagues in the Republican Caucus. Leading the Senate Republicans comes with a responsibility to continue our caucus tradition of advocating for the success of this great state, and the people who call Florida home,” said Simpson in a statement. “During the next two years, we will continue job growth and economic development by instituting more common sense instead of more government regulation, inspire and provide the means for a world-class education system, and protect our water and other natural treasures that God has bestowed upon Florida.”

Rachel Perrin Rogers, Simpson’s chief legislative aide, will stay on as Simpson’s top staffer and spokeswoman. Brian Hughes, her husband, is an outside political advisor to Simpson.

Simpson is on track to assume the Senate presidency in 2020-22, as long as the GOP maintains its controlling majority in the upper chamber. Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, served as Majority Leader for the 2014-16 role. Galvano is line to be Senate President for the 2019 legislative session, assuming the GOP maintains its majority.

Negron also announced Tuesday that Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, will serve as the Deputy Majority Leader. Stargel will also serve as the chairwoman of the Senate finance and tax appropriations subcommittee.

“Kelli is a fighter who is not afraid to take on difficult issues,” said Negron. “She is a dedicated conservative with a wealth of legislative experience. Together, Senator Simpson and Senator Stargel will be strong leaders for our Republican Caucus.”

Anitere Flores to push for mandatory recess during 2017 session

A push for mandatory play time at Florida’s elementary schools will once again be on the agenda during the 2017 legislative session.

Sen. Anitere Flores filed legislation Tuesday that would require school to provide “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free play recess” each week. The mandatory recess would apply to students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and would break down to at least 20 minutes each school day.

The bill, Senate Bill 78, is similar to a bill that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 legislative session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, passing 112-2. But it failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to consider the proposal.

Former Sen. John Legg, who chaired the Senate’s education policy committee at the time, declined to hear the bill. The Tampa Bay Times in February reported Legg considered the issue a local one, and said at the time it didn’t “merit a Tallahassee solution.”

A House companion bill to the 2017 proposal has not yet been filed.

David Simmons buys TV time to thank voters

State Sen. David Simmons, re-elected in June when no one filed to run against him in Seminole County’s Senate District 9, is airing TV commercials in Orlando for three weeks thanking voters and urging people to put aside political differences and come together during the holidays.

Simmons spent $150,000 on the effort, having Southern Campaign Resources of Tallahassee produce and place the 30-second spot on Orlando’s four major broadcast stations, WESH, WFTV, WKMG and WOFL. The ads started Monday.

Otherwise Simmons, entering his final term in the Senate after eight years in the Florida House and six in the Florida Senate, spent very little of the $257,000 he raised for his campaign actually on campaigning. Lately, he’s closed out the account balance by buying the TV time, making some donations to the Florida Senatorial Campaign and several charities and kept a barebones staff and list of consultants on board.
Simmons said he’s grateful for the opportunity.

“The reason I’m doing it is because it’s been a very divisive year, 2016,” Simmons said. “I thought it was appropriate to, number one, say thank you; and in the way of saying thank you to say this is the time to get together and put differences aside, and get to solving the myriad of problems we have, with the opportunities we have to work together.”

In the commercial Simmons begins sitting in his office, saying he was humbled by his unopposed re-election. Then he says, “Let’s put political differences behind us. And as we come together for the holidays let’s reflect on what we, as Americans, have in common, rather than what divides us.”

As he says that the images change to a woman and toddler eyeing a Christmas tree, a family laughing at a dinner table and another family playing in a park.

He then wishes everyone happy holidays.

SCR President Rockie Pennington noted it’s not unusual for his clients to buy time to say thank you, noting that new House Speaker Richard Corcoran has done so in two previous cycles.

Andy Gardiner, Linda Stewart arrange moments of silence for Pulse victims

As one of his last acts on behalf of the state of Florida, outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner arranged a moment of silence Tuesday for those killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting just outside his district on June 12.

Gardiner, the Orlando Republican who now is a private citizen, did so on the request of his successor, now state Sen. Linda Stewart, the Democrat from Orlando, who also arranged for a moment of silence at the Democratic Caucus organizational meeting Monday night.

Gardiner did so, in a highly unusual move, just before the 2017 senators were sworn in, he said, “Because it is the right thing to do.

“I took the presidential privilege to do a moment of silence. You know, we lived — all of us — through it, and the impact of it. And certainly in my role at Orlando Health … we were there,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner’s day job is as senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, the parent company for the Orlando Regional Medical Center. A few blocks away from Pulse, the facility treated most of the 53 wounded survivors and other victims from the massacre played out by the gay-hating, ISIS-pledging mad gunman Omar Mateen. Forty-nine people were killed before police killed Mateen.

So on Tuesday, after the invocation prayer, Gardiner called for the senators to please remain standing.

“I would like to ask my colleagues and the individuals in the gallery, a lot has happened since the last time we met,” he told them. “And for my community and for the country and state we faced one of the worst tragedies that you can ever imagine in the Pulse nightclub. Forty-nine individuals lost their lives. And for those of us that were there shortly after, it has made a huge impact on our future. And for those in the Orange County delegation it would mean quite a bit to us for a moment of silence.”

Stewart said a similar moment of silence was requested in the House of Representatives, but was not held.

She said the moment in the Florida Senate meant a lot to her, as did the moment — 49 seconds long — that she arranged in the Democratic Caucus meeting the night before. Pulse now is in her district, thanks to last year’s redistricting, which expanded Senate District 13 farther south from the area that Gardiner represented.

“Twas a moment in time where I wanted to make sure that every day that representatives of the state of Florida remember that this tragedy happened,” Stewart said.

 

 

Senate and House not that different, Joe Negron says

Senate President Joe Negron said his approach to budgeting isn’t that different from fellow Republican and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Negron
Negron

Negron met with reporters Tuesday after he officially became president during the Legislature’s biennial Organization Session.

In sweeping changes to the House’s traditional way of doing business, Corcoran said senators would need House sponsors for special spending requests, such as hometown projects, often derided as “turkeys.”

But Negron, who along with Corcoran is a former Appropriations chair, said he “would encourage senators to find someone in the House” to support a budget item, and “we’ve always done that,” he said.

“The chances of an appropriation surviving this process are higher if both chambers are doing it,” said Negron, a Stuart Republican.

He also suggested those who lobby the Legislature for appropriations for paying clients have as much of a First Amendment right to cajole lawmakers as residents who seek money to build a senior center.

“The Capitol … should always be open for comment,” Negron said. ” … I believe that lobbyists and others and constituents have every right to redress grievances and to work in the process. And I believe all of us have a responsibility, myself included, to get information from many different sources to make a decision about voting and on budget decisions.”

The Senate this week adopted internal rules that do not contain the same strict provisions of the House regarding lawmakers’ interaction with lobbyists.

The House, for instance, even forbids members from looking at text messages from lobbyists while they are sitting in committee or a floor session.

“I think the spirit is the same: We all want to operate in a way that would make our constituents proud,” Negron said. “I think both Speaker Corcoran and I agree that we should be held to the highest standard.”

Florida Senate reopens chamber after $6 million upgrade

The chamber of the Florida Senate is reopening after a $6 million upgrade.

Outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner showed off the renovated chamber on Monday.

Workers spent the last eight months tearing out carpet, replacing desks and installing a new stained glass dome and new wood columns. The state motto of “In God We Trust” is now displayed prominently above the president’s rostrum.

Senate leaders had been considering renovations for more than a decade, but Gardiner said they went ahead with the renovations because the 2016 session ended in early March.

The renovations mark the first substantial work that has been done to the Senate chambers since it was opened in the late ’70s. The Florida House renovated its chamber in 2000.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Nearly $20 million spent on ads in Florida legislative races

Despite a never-ending flow of presidential ads during the election, nearly $20 million was also spent in Florida on ads targeting legislative races.

Final data shows that $19.4 million was spent over the last two years to air more than 33,000 commercials in races for the Florida Senate and Florida House. The vast majority of ads were run in state Senate races.

The biggest spender was a Republican political committee controlled by incoming Senate President Joe Negron. The GOP majority only lost one senate seat during the election.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed data about political advertising on broadcast television from Kantar Media/CMAG, a media tracking firm that monitors media markets around the country.

These figures cover ads aired over the last two years and do not include ads for radio, online, direct mail or local cable TV ads.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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