Florida Senate – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Senate at odds with House, governor on proposal that limits tax hikes

A Senate panel on Monday pushed forward a bill that would make it harder for future lawmakers to raise taxes, but also put the upper chamber at odds with the House and Gov. Rick Scott.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel is less stringent than the version passed by the House last week. Under Stargel’s proposal (SB 1742), the Legislature would require a three-fifths vote to pass any type of tax or fee hike.

“If there is an emergency, we are going to pass something easily,” the Lakeland Republican said.

In the House, the supermajority vote proposal (HJR 7001) is stricter and would require a two-thirds vote before any tax increase can pass through the Legislature.

Both proposals, if passed, would be a change to the state constitution, meaning it would need 60 percent voter approval in November.

Opponents of the measures say the Republican-controlled Legislature would “hamstring” the state if it faces any financial emergency in the future. Others slammed the proposal as a “campaign bumper sticker.”

Gov. Rick Scott, who will be pushed out of office this year by term limits and is expected to run for the U.S. Senate, has been a strong proponent of the fiscally-conservative proposal. He has pushed for the plan in both the Legislature and the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Scott is in favor of the House version and hopes the Senate will adopt it, said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor.

Some Republicans wary of Dennis Baxley after gun bill redraft

A Senate panel on Thursday pushed forward a redraft of a bill that would allow people to bring guns to churches with attached schools as long as there are no school-sponsored activities going on.

Before changes to the bill were approved, two Republicans in the Judiciary Committee expressed concern that the Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dennis Baxley, would “violate” their trust if he decides to abandon the Senate’s effort for the House version.

“Our concern is that changing the spirit of what is being discussed in this committee, of agreeing to changes to this bill, would violate a certain level of trust that we have amongst each other as colleagues,” Sen. Anitere Flores said.

Sen. Rene Garcia was also weary that Baxley’s proposal could morph into something else as the legislative process moves forward.

“If the House sends something back that does not meet the spirit of this committee’s work, would you kill your own bill at that point? Or would you go with the House version?” Garcia asked.

Baxley said his intent is to “fully honor” the Senate-approved changes to his bill.

“I’m just hesitant to say things that I can’t control in the rest of the process when many times I am not the decider of those things,” Baxley said.

Baxley’s bill would allow those with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churches if they have permission from the property owner. Under the amended version, though, a firearm could not be brought into a church attached to a school during school hours.

Along party lines, the measure cleared the Judiciary Committee which has been a main roadblock for gun legislation in the Senate. Last year, Flores came out strongly against Sen. Greg Steube’s many gun bills.

The House version of the bill does not include the new Senate provision. State Rep. Lawrence McClure, a Hillsborough Republican championing the House effort, said he would not comment on the Senate added language — or whether he would support it — until he got a chance to read it.

Both the Senate and the House measures have a single committee hearing left before they can head to the full floor for consideration.

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the effort to allow people to carry firearms in churches with permission would help individuals “protect each other and their children.”

Current state law broadly prohibits a person, including those with concealed weapon licenses from having a gun on public or private school property. Doing so is penalized as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Baxley said his hope is to get his firearm bill to a place that everyone can agree to. Last year, the Senate proposed the same compromise on guns at religious institutions. But the House rejected it.

“If we can’t nip it in the bud a bunch of people are going to get hurt,” Baxley said.

Senate proposes $500K to tackle backlog of clemency cases

As Florida voters prepare to decide whether to automatically restore the voting rights of about 1.5 million felons, the state is grappling with how to handle its lengthy backlog of clemency cases.

More than 10,000 felons are currently waiting for their applications to be reviewed by the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which has to sort through the case before it can head to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.

The long application process for former felons has prompted a lawsuit by a voting rights organization that alleged the system exposed applicants to arbitrary treatment. And this year, as the commission scrambles to tackle the mountain of cases,  they are also asking legislators for more money to “ensure that accurate eligibility determinations are made in a timely manner.”

On Wednesday, the Senate panel that oversees the commission’s budget proposed $500,000 in funding to help alleviate its workload with more staff.

The commission has not indicated how many employees it would hire with that pot of money, but it estimates that half a million dollars would help it slash the caseload by 2,100 in a year.

Since Scott was elected in 2011, he has granted clemency to 2,976 felons. The commission receives nearly 7,000 new clemency cases every year, encompassing restoration of rights, commutation of sentences, restoration of a person’s immigration status or an individual’s firearm authority.

Earlier this week, state officials said a grassroots initiative that would restore the voting rights of felons — except those convicted of murder and sexual offenses — qualified for the November ballot.

If 60 percent of voters approve the initiative, the constitutional change could prove to be a major relief to the commission’s workload.

Mary McLeod Bethune statue, Florida Forever ready for Senate approval

A plan to place a statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol as a representative of Florida and a measure to set aside $100 million a year for land preservation moved a step closer Wednesday to Senate approval.

With little comment, the Senate positioned the bills for votes next week. One of the measures (SB 472) seeks to have a statue of Bethune replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington.

“We’re one step closer. We’re going to get there this year,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is sponsoring the measure.

An identical House bill (HB 139) also has started moving and is next slated to go the House Appropriations Committee.

Smith, born in St. Augustine but with few adult ties to the state, has been one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall since 1922. The other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace the Smith statue during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

Despite agreeing to remove Smith, lawmakers were unable to come up with a replacement during the 2017 Session, as the House did not move forward with any of the suggestions from the Great Floridians Program within the state Division of Historic Resources.

Bethune, whose resume included serving as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, founded what became known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The university has offered to pay for the new statute.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa republican, attached an amendment to the bill Wednesday to require the Smith statue be acquired and displayed by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

“I think it should be back in the state of Florida,” Lee said. “I think we have a Division of Cultural Affairs, within the secretary of state’s office, that can receive that important piece of Florida’s history and place it appropriately somewhere in a museum.”

Meanwhile, the Senate also is on the verge of approving a plan to spend $100 million a year on the Florida Forever land-preservation program. The bill (SB 370), sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would use money from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at increasing land and water conservation.

“The ($100 million) number is not a magic number, but it is commensurate with when you look at how funds have been appropriated, via statute, whether it be (for) springs or the Everglades,” Bradley said.

In past years, lawmakers directed at least $200 million a year to the Everglades; $64 million for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area; $50 million for the state’s natural springs; and $5 million for Lake Apopka.

The constitutional amendment directed that a portion of money from a real-estate documentary tax go into the land-acquisition trust fund. That is expected to generate $862.2 million next year.

As part of Bradley’s proposal, lawmakers would not be able to use the trust fund money for agency overhead, which has been a point on contention with backers of the 2014 amendment.

Bradley also has a separate measure (SB 204) to increase annual funding for the state’s natural springs to $75 million and to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida. The bill is also ready to go before the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican, are seeking another $50 million from the trust fund (SB 786 and HB 339) to help restore the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.

Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill has taken over legislation (SB 174), initially filed by former Sen. Jack Latvala, that seeks $50 million a year for beach projects.

Senate announces new policy on sexual, workplace harassment

Prompted by a series of sex scandals that enveloped several senators, the Florida Senate on Thursday rolled out new guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The new employee code of conduct cites “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body,” unwelcome kissing or hugging as part of a greeting — including a peck on the cheek –, and sending emails, text messages or notes — whether it be a cartoon, a photo or a joke — of sexual nature, as examples that could violate the policy.

But any type of sexual harassment, whether verbal, nonverbal or physical, is prohibited. An employee found to be in violation of this policy could face immediate termination.

“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual and workplace harassment and through these changes to our policies and rules we intend to make our commitment to a safe, professional work environment even clearer and even stronger,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a memo obtained by Florida Politics.

Any individual — including Senate staffers, visitors, senators, lobbyists and members of the media — who experiences sexual harassment in the Senate can log a complaint with numerous individuals, including human resources and their immediate supervisors.

Their identities will be kept confidential and exempt from public records.

Once a complaint is made, the first step is to investigate and try and resolve the issue informally. If no informal resolution is possible due to the severity of the allegations, the Senate may contact an outside professional service provider to conduct an investigation on the allegations. That includes interviewing witnesses.

Once a case is resolved, the Human Resources director will be tasked with provides resources to every complainant.

The new administrative policy takes effect immediately. And in the coming weeks, Negron said online anti-harassment training will be provided to all senators and staff.

The announcement comes as allegations of sexual harassment threatened to overshadow the 2018 Legislative Session since opening day. Gov. Rick Scott, Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all addressed sexual harassment in their speeches on the first day of session.

But action on this issue became urgent after the conclusion of two separate Senate investigations late last year that said former Sen. Jack Latvala may have violated state corruption laws by trading legislative favor for a sexual encounter.

The reports contained testimony from several women in the legislative process who noted a pattern of sexual misconduct by the Clearwater Republican that stretched for years. No complaints were ever filed against Latvala in the Senate until POLITICO Florida reported the accounts of six unnamed women who accused the once powerful senator of sexual harassment.

Latvala resigned early this month and his misconduct is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers has worked to revise administrative policies regarding harassment in the Senate. The proposed change includes annual one-hour anti-harassment training for senators.

Negron said that rule change will be up for a vote on the full Senate floor next week. But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is concerned Senate Rules that governor senators have not changed are continue to be vague on sexual harassment.

“If we had another Latvala there are no new rules that would protect victims from the type of behavior his accuser went through,” Rodriguez said. “The rules are the same, very vague. When there are vague rules, the only ones that win are lawyers.”

The House addresses sexual harassment in its formal rules, unlike the Senate. But Negron says a violation of these administrative guidelines would be a violation of the rules.

Phil Ammann contributed to this report.

Senate President aspirants Travis Hutson, Dana Young continue to raise money at rapid clip

The frontrunners for the 2022 Florida Senate Presidency have spent the last few months adding funds to their political committees and, more importantly, using that money to help out a handful of potential backers when it comes time to vote in a couple years.

Sens. Travis Hutson and Dana Young are still the top contenders for the job and each has been successful on the fundraising trail since October.

Young has raised nearly $200,000 to Friends of Dana Young since October, including $68,500 in December, which put her with $690,585 cash on hand at the start of the year. The Tampa Republican also spent about $63,000 in committee cash during that span.

Much of that money went toward various consulting contracts and fundraising expenses – she is up for re-election this year, after all – though she still extended a helping hand to a pair of possible supporters.

Back in October she chipped in $10,000 to a committee supporting Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper’s campaign to replace former Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. She followed that up in December with a $1,000 check to Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s re-election campaign for Senate District 25, which isn’t up until 2020.

During the same stretch Hutson pulled in $114,000 for his Sunshine State Conservatives committee, though he capped off the year with $0 in contributions last month. He also spent about $25,000, leaving him with nearly $160,000 to play with as of New Year’s Day.

The St. Augustine lawmaker hit Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield with $1,000 checks in December.

A handful of sources told Florida Politics in October that Perry had already thrown his support behind Hutson in the Senate President race, joining Mayfield as one of his key supporters.

While nothing’s been made public in the interim, Perry’s district has a Democratic lean and his chief opponent is close to the $150,000 mark in fundraising, so getting some support from Hutson’s committee puts a little weight behind the rumors he’s in Hutson’s column.

Hutson had already given Perry $1,000 in August, and last cycle he stepped in with a pair of $1,000 checks during Perry’s bruising 2016 race against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith.

Other current or aspiring senators getting support from Hutson earlier in 2017 include Aaron Bean, Dorothy Hukill and Hooper.

Since Election Day 2016, Young has helped out the campaign account of Sen. George Gainer, as well as Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 this year, and Reps. Jason Brodeur and Jeanette Nuñez, who are running for senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

Bills creating tougher penalties for sexual harassers filed in both chambers

In the wake of back-to-back sex scandals at the Capitol, Sen. Lauren Book and state Rep. Kristin Jacobs on Friday filed similar bills that aim to systematically change how sexual harassment is dealt with in the workplace, particularly in a government setting.

The proposal include civil penalties of up to $10,000 for public officers and lobbyists who engage in sexual misconduct.

“While many of these issues have become top-of-the-fold stories in the past several months, it is important to recognize that this issue did not begin with the recent revelations about the two now former senators, nor will it end with their resignations unless and until we strengthen the laws to punish abusers and protect victims,” Book said.

Last year, several women came forward in two separate Senate investigations detailing accounts of harassment and sexual misconduct at the hands of Sen. Jack Latvala, who defiantly resigned his powerful post in the Senate. His resignation is effective today (Friday).

“As laid out in both the Special Master’s report and Attorney Gail Holtzman‘s investigation, the totality of the culture must be examined,” Book added.

The measures create a task force in charge of preventing sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace, “particularly in government settings and as applied to the conduct of public officers … and lobbyists.” The task force is required to meet every four years to report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.

The measures have the blessing of both Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“State government should lead by example in instituting policies that ensure employees feel safe when they come to work and comfortable to confidentially report inappropriate behavior by any person,” Negron said.

Under the bills proposed, the identities of victims are to remain anonymous and exempt from public records requirements.

Book said the piece of legislation has been in the works for several months and was crafted to include penalties for public officials and lobbyists who engage in sexual misconduct.

Jeremy Ring announces Florida Democratic lawmakers’ endorsements for CFO race

The Florida chief financial officer campaign of Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring announced Friday he has received the endorsements of more than half the Democrats in the Florida Senate, plus 11 Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives.

“From the very beginning I have believed that our campaign is all about people power,” Ring stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “I am proud to have the support of each and every one of these legislators. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see their dedication and leadership first-hand, which is why I am thankful to have them fighting in our corner in Tallahassee and excited to have them join our campaign!”

Ring seeks to take on Republican incumbent Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in the November election. The Democratic lawmakers’ endorsements would help discourage other Democrats from getting into a primary challenge with Ring, who opened the first East Coast office of the internet company Yahoo! out of his apartment in 1996, and represented Broward County as a Democrat in the Florida Legislature from 2006 to 2016.

The Democratic state senators announced as endorsing him are Randolph Bracy of Oakland; Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens; Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale; Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville; Bill Montford of Tallahassee; Kevin Rader of Boca Raton; Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg; and Perry Thurston Jr. of Fort Lauderdale.

The Democratic state representatives announced as endorsing him are Joseph Abruzzo of Boynton Beach; Lori Berman of Lantana; Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg; Bobby DuBose of Fort Lauderdale; Katie Edwards-Walpole of Plantation; Joseph Geller of Aventura; Evan Jenne of Dania Beach; Shevrin Jones of West Park; Kionne McGhee of Miami; Sean Shaw of Tampa; and Richard Stark of Weston.

Ring’s campaign called the lineup of lawmaker endorsement “the surest sign yet of building momentum.”


2017 Roundup: Turbulent times in Tallahassee

Scandal, storms and sniping were the hallmarks of 2017 in Florida, where political squalls and natural disasters created havoc in the Capitol and sent tremors through the Sunshine State.

The resignations of not one, not two, but three state senators, the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria and infighting among Republican lawmakers were just some of the highlights of a year to which many are eager to bid adieu and perhaps even more wish never happened at all.

Sexual harassment, parts I and II

The political drama that gripped the Senate and rocked the Capitol this fall is atypical of an election off-year.

But the scandal that eventually forced out one of the Legislature’s most powerful members mirrored the ignominies that brought down powerful men in the media, in the movies and in boardrooms across the country.

The toppling of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexually assaulting or harassing dozens of women, and the ensuing #MeToo social-media campaign emboldened women to tell stories of abuse or inappropriate treatment that remained under wraps in state capitols like Florida’s — among other work environs populated by powerful men — in some cases for decades.

In Florida, the focus on sexual conduct began in late October with the resignation of former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who left the Legislature after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who resigned after a report in Politico Florida about the dalliance, was slated to take over as leader of the Senate Democrats following the 2018 elections.

Instead, constituents in his District 31 will remain without a senator until after the Legislative Session ends in March.

Before Capitol insiders even caught their breath following Clemens’s resignation, an even-more prominent senator — Jack Latvala — was in the spotlight.

For years, Latvala flexed his muscle as a power broker, often putting the brakes on right-wing priorities of his fellow Republicans and championing legislation that benefited teachers, firefighters, cops and prison guards.

But the Clearwater Republican likely will go down in history as a villain accused of engaging in a pattern of sexual harassment and possibly breaking ethics rules and laws.

To the end, Latvala steadfastly maintained his innocence, pointing the finger for his downfall at political foes and even a special master brought in to investigate the senator’s alleged wrongdoing.

Latvala, 66, announced his resignation Dec. 20, less than a day after Special Master Ronald Swanson, a former judge, recommended a criminal probe into allegations that the longtime lawmaker had promised legislative favors for sex.

Latvala quit amid increasing pressure — including from Gov. Rick Scott — to step down after Swanson found probable cause to support allegations that the senator had repeatedly groped Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers and engaged in a pattern of making unwelcome remarks about women’s bodies.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling a preliminary inquiry into allegations of possible public corruption.

The inquiry is based on Swanson’s findings related to an unidentified former lobbyist. Swanson found that the testimony of the former lobbyist and text-message exchanges between the senator and the woman indicated that Latvala may have violated ethics rules as well as “laws prohibiting public corruption” by agreeing to support the lobbyist’s legislative priorities if she would have sex with him or “allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner.”

Latvala — a churlish and sometimes crass curmudgeon — has been a political player for four decades. He returned to the Senate in 2010 after an earlier stint that ended because of term limits.

But his political fortunes quickly plummeted in the aftermath of the revelations. Less than two months ago, he held the powerful title of Senate appropriations chairman, a post he lost after the allegations were made public.

In his resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala condemned the process that resulted in Swanson’s damning report. The resignation is effective Jan. 5, four days before the start of the 2018 Legislative Session.

An unyielding Latvala — painted as a vindictive bully by witnesses — took some parting shots at Negron in what might have been his final words to the Senate, saying he hated to leave his constituents in the lurch.

Latvala’s woes may not be over, due to the criminal investigation and a possible civil lawsuit by Perrin Rogers, who took to social media following the senator’s resignation announcement.

Perrin Rogers, whose Twitter avatar is Wonder Woman, said she came forward “as the mother of a son.”

“I could no longer look myself in the mirror; I could no longer in good faith encourage him to have courage and be kind,” she tweeted on Dec. 21. “Because having courage means standing up against wrongdoing. Especially when others are in harm’s way. To the women who have been harmed, I offer support, love and strength.”

Sexual harassment, part III

In the midst of the Latvala inquiry, allegations of sexual harassment ended the career of a utility regulator before it even began.

Ritch Workman, a former state representative picked by Scott for a spot on the Public Service Commission, withdrew from the job after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said he manhandled her at a charity event last year.

Workman’s appointment to the Public Service Commission was slated to take effect in January and would have been subject to later Senate confirmation. Benacquisto said she wouldn’t put his appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior more than a year ago.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, “approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures,” Benacquisto said in a statement, describing the incident.

Benacquisto, who has said publicly that she was raped as a teenager, said she immediately asked Workman to stop, but he continued to make the comments and gestures until others intervened.

An emotional Workman told The News Service of Florida he did not recall the incident, but that “the right thing to do is to get out of the way.”

“I have absolutely no recollection of being inappropriate with Sen. Benacquisto. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her. It breaks my heart that this has come out like this because it’s not the kind of person that I am,” he said.

A different kind of harassment

Long before the #MeToo cultural revolution began, another state senator was forced to resign after a profanity-tinged and racially charged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Miami Republican Frank Artiles left the Senate after the 2017 Legislative Session began and less than six months after he defeated incumbent Democrat Dwight Bullard in a brutal contest for the newly redrawn District 40 seat.

The former House member — a tough-talking, U.S. Marine veteran who earned the moniker “Frank the Tank” from fellow lawmakers — stepped down amid a Senate investigation into reports that he had insulted two black colleagues and others at the members-only club.

Artiles faced widespread condemnation for a rant that reportedly included calling Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, “girl,” a “bitch,” and a “f—ing ass—-.” Artiles also reportedly used the word “niggers” or “niggas,” though he contended that he did not direct the word at anyone in particular.

“It is clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this I am very sorry. I apologize to my friends and I apologize to all of my fellow senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness,” Artiles wrote in a resignation letter to Negron, a Stuart Republican.

‘Cardiac Kids’ make peace

Lawmakers were forced to return to the Capitol for a June special Session after Scott — who could be gearing up for a U.S. Senate run next year — vetoed the state’s public-education funding formula that had been included in a budget passed a month earlier.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran spent much of this year’s 60-day regular session on a legislative jihad against the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, clashed frequently with Scott about the agencies.

Among the speaker’s more prominent complaints about Visit Florida was a $1 million deal with Miami rapper Pitbull, along with sponsorships of Fulham Football Club in England and the Visit Florida racing team.

After months of bickering between Scott and Corcoran, the June special Session focused on funding for public schools and economic development.

But the special Session quickly devolved into another opportunity for an intra-party boxing match, with Democrats gleefully painting a narrative of dysfunctional Republican leadership and rumors of a special Session collapse.

Hours after the Session seemed on the verge of falling apart, legislative leaders and Scott struck an agreement salvaging their priorities but setting off renewed criticism over backroom dealing. Among other things, lawmakers pumped more dollars into public schools, agreed on money for Visit Florida and set up a new economic-development fund.

Lawmakers also approved legislation setting the framework for the state’s growing medical-marijuana industry after a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalized the product.

The deal emerged after a 30-minute harangue on the penultimate day of the week-long Session by Negron, who told reporters that the Senate would need more concessions from Scott and the House for the Session to end successfully.

That led many observers to predict that lawmakers might miss a deadline to end the special Session, much as they needed overtime to finish the state budget in May following a similarly chaotic process during the regular Session.

But on the final day of the special Session, out of the backrooms came a compromise that Scott, Corcoran and Negron supported.

“We call ourselves the cardiac kids,” Corcoran told reporters. “We get you guys all worked up, and then we come to a nice smooth landing and we accomplish a tremendous amount of policy.”

Celebration, then scandals

State Senate Democrats had some celebrating to do, at least for a while, after a closely watched victory in the race to replace Artiles.

In a campaign viewed as a litmus test of President Donald Trump and Florida Democrats’ ability to make gains in local and statewide elections next year, Miami businesswoman Annette Taddeo coasted to victory, defeating former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Republican who stepped down from his House seat to run for the Senate.

Taddeo’s victory in Senate District 40 bolstered the hopes of Democrats, who have been outnumbered in the Senate for more than two decades, as they prepare to combat Republicans in local and statewide races in 2018.

But fallout from sexual harassment scandals quickly put the damper on Florida Democrats’ revelry.

Clemens, who was in charge of fundraising for Senate Democrats and took some of the credit for Taddeo’s win, walked away from the Legislature in late October.

Less than a month later, then-Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel abruptly resigned. The hurried exit of Bittel, a veteran fundraiser chosen to head the state party in January after a fractious leadership contest, came hours after a news report accused him of creating an uncomfortable work environment by leering at women and making suggestive remarks.

Blowing in the wind

State officials have yet to put an overall price tag on Florida’s costs from Irma, which left destruction from the Keys to Jacksonville.

But the historic storm caused an estimated $2.5 billion hit on crops and agriculture facilities, $6.55 billion in insured losses and a more-than $1 billion price tag for utility customers to cover the costs of power restoration.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s department estimated in October that the state’s already-reeling citrus industry took a $761 million hit from Hurricane Irma. Since then, a number of lawmakers and Putnam said the damage estimate has grown to possibly more than $1 billion, as fruit continued to fall early from trees that were flooded by the September storm.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria — which battered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — also had a major impact on Florida, as evacuees from the territories continue to flood into the state.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more than 269,000 people have traveled from Puerto Rico to Florida in the past three months, but it is unknown how many are considered to have relocated from the island. More than 10,000 Puerto Rican children have enrolled in Florida schools since the storm.

Nearly one-third of the island remains without power, and water supplies are getting worse, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hospitals also remain in disrepair, according to a report by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who visited the island Thursday.

“The people of Puerto Rico are our fellow American citizens. They should not be treated like they’re being treated. It’s just not right,” Nelson tweeted.

Story of the year: Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct roiled the Capitol, resulting in Clearwater Republican Latvala and Lake Worth Democrat Clemens resigning from the Senate and former Rep. Workman withdrawing from an appointment to the Public Service Commission.

Quote of the year: “But I have had enough. If this is the process our party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you. I, therefore, will resign my seat in the Florida Senate at midnight, January 5, 2018.” Clearwater Republican Latvala, in a Dec. 20 letter to Senate President Negron.

FDLE building

Law enforcement reviewing Jack Latvala sexual misconduct case

The state’s law enforcement agency is reviewing sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala outlined in two Florida Senate investigations that concluded he may have violated state corruption laws by offering to support legislation in exchange of “a sexual encounter.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday it is conducting a “preliminary review” of the allegations, a move that was recommended by special master Ronald V. Swanson, who conducted an investigation into a formal complaint by Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers.

As Swanson interviewed witnesses, one of them “seemingly confirmed in text messages” that Latvala was willing to trade physical contact or sexual intimacy for legislative favors, an allegation that could violate state public corruption laws.

The Senate complied with Swanson’s recommendation and turned over “certain testimony in his report” to law enforcement, according to the Senate’s communications director, Katie Betta.

“Regarding the Senate’s investigation into Senator Latvala, Tallahassee Police Department received the initial information and provided the information to FDLE,” said Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the department.

On the same day FDLE said the case was being reviewed, a second report from Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman looking into anonymous claims of sexual harassment against the veteran lawmaker was released.

Latvala resigned shortly after.

The second report included testimony from several women, one of whom said she was “worn down” from his sexual advances.

“He grabbed her buttocks, kissed her mouth, and put his hand in the top of her dress, grunted in her ear, and made a sexual comment,” Holtzman’s report said. “She states that she tried to stop his advances, but he wore her down.”

Latvala’s attorney, Steve Andrews, said he still has concerns about how the Senate handled the investigation, and that the powerful senator did not have a chance to defend himself against public corruption allegations, which Andrews called “misguided.”

He said Latvala would “most likely” take the case to Circuit Court because his due process rights were violated in the Senate’s investigative process.

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