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Governor’s office seeks $1,200 to respond to Gwen Graham’s Hollywood Hills query

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office wants $1,200 from Gwen Graham before it will deliver anything to respond to her public records request, contending that’s how much staff time cost to research her inquiry into whether he spoke with nursing home administrators during the September 2017 tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

The governor’s office sent an invoice for $1,200 to Graham after her campaign issued a press release Thursday alleging that Scott and his office had not responded to her September open records request. In that press release, Graham, a leading Democratic candidate aiming to succeed Scott as governor, demanded, “What is Rick Scott trying to hide?”

In September Graham had followed up on media reports that had suggested Scott may have had telephone contact with nursing home officials during the slow-motion tragedy that unfolded at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

During the several days of power outage following Hurricane Irma, 14 residents died from heat exposure. Several investigations of the tragedy have been launched, including a criminal investigation.

Graham filed a records request under Florida’s public records laws for communications between Scott and his staff and nursing home administrators, particularly focusing on cell phone activity, but also seeking records from state agencies involved.

Thursday morning, more than 90 days later, Graham and her campaign charged that Scott had not responded to her records request, and appeared to be stonewalling.

The response came hours later, in a letter dated Thursday contending that the executive office of the governor had spent about 100 staff hours researching what records might apply to Graham’s request, and for that she must pay $1,200 to reimburse taxpayers before anything might be delivered.

“Ms. Graham,” the Office of Open Government wrote, “Upon review of your records request for the item “Copies of phone records (not limited to, but including call logs, text messages, and voicemails) from the phone account Governor Rick Scott gave out to healthcare executives for hurricane emergency related issues,” it has been determined that a cost estimate of taxpayer dollars spent is required, pursuant to Chapter 119.07(4)(d). To produce Governor Rick Scott’s September and October 2017 personal phone logs, approximately 100 hours of staff resources have been expended. This has been due to the strenuous time and resources that were dedicated to determining the identification of each individual number on the phone logs, as well as then identifying each call as state related business. The hourly rate indicated on the cost estimate is that of the lowest hourly rate of an individual who assisted with this assignment. This cost estimate has been provided in order to recover the taxpayer dollars spent processing this request.

“Please find the cost estimate attached to this email. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions,” the office advises her.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is pushing open records and government transparency in her campaign seeking to succeed Scott as governor. Her campaign’s press release Thursday alleged that “Scott and the all-Republican Cabinet have paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits stemming from public record violations. And, last month, Scott pulled the plug on Project Sunburst, an online database of the governor’s emails.”

She faces fellow Democrats Chris King of Winter Park, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Governor Rick Scott does not care about transparency. Throughout his administration he has shown a complete disrespect for the spirit and letter of the Sunshine Laws,” Graham stated in the news release. “Florida used to be proud of our transparency laws. Scott has made a mockery of them.”

Former Rep. Rich Glorioso re-applies for PSC seat

Rich Glorioso, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served in the House 2004-12, has again thrown in his hat to be considered for a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Glorioso’s was one of two initial applications for a vacancy created by the withdrawal of former Rep. Ritch Workman. The applications were released Wednesday by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council.

Gov. Rick Scott had picked Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state. But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation.

Glorioso was a finalist last year to serve the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. The job eventually went to Gary Clark, then the Department of Environmental Protection‘s deputy secretary of land and recreation.

The other application released Wednesday was from Baldwyn English, who had been Brisé’s chief advisor for the last seven years. He cited his “competence, experience, commitment, and genuine interest in the areas of energy, gas, telecom, and water.”

Glorioso, a math major at Boston’s Northeastern University, checked off experience in public affairs, economics, accounting and finance on his application.

Before serving in the House as a Republican, he was a Plant City Commissioner in 1998-2004.

“I am a retired senior officer from the U.S. Air Force having spent 27 years serving our country,” Glorioso said in his application. “My last Command was a Logistics Group with five (5) diverse squadrons, including a Contracting Squadron.

“I feel qualified for this position because I bring with me years of experience in analyzing complex issues,” he added. “I found in my 14 years as an elected official and 27 years in the Air Force that many times reviewing budgets I had to distinguish between valid requirements and ‘nice to have’ items.”

Glorioso also received a graduate degree in Personnel Management from Central Michigan University and attended the U.S. Air Force Air War College.

The Nominating Council vets applicants and recommends finalists to the governor for the full-time position, based in Tallahassee and paying $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval.

The deadline to apply for the post is next Friday, Jan. 12.

Personnel note: Ronald A. Brisé joins Gunster

Ronald A. Brisé, the former state utility regulator denied a third term by Gov. Rick Scott, now is joining the Gunster law firm as a government affairs consultant.

The news was shared first with Florida Politics.

Brisé

Brisé will join his former Public Service Commission (PSC) colleague Lila Jaber, now Gunster’s Regional Managing Shareholder. He will be based in the Tallahassee and Orlando offices.

“Ron brings a tremendous amount of legislative and agency experience with him to Gunster, which complements our government affairs services and strengthens our statewide footprint even further,” managing shareholder Bill Perry said in a statement.

Brisé was first appointed to the PSC, which regulates investor-owned utilities, in 2010 by Gov. Charlie Crist. Brisé had re-applied for another term before Scott decided to go with former state Rep. Ritch Workman. Workman since withdrew his nomination after a sexual misconduct allegation.

Brisé, who also served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-10, “leverages a wealth of experience in governmental, legislative, political and business arenas to represent clients in matters that include appropriations, business development, education, governmental and legislative affairs, public policy, and economic development,” the firm said.

Here’s more from the release:

With Miami-Dade County roots, Brisé has long been involved in communities in central and South Florida such as the City of North Miami Planning Commission, NAACP, Urban League, Miami Union Academy board of directors, Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute and Translational Research Institute Foundation board of directors.

Brisé’s in-depth experience working in Florida’s government began with his election to represent District 108 in the Florida House of Representatives at the age of 32 for his first term in 2006; he was subsequently re-elected without opposition.

During his time in the Legislature, Brisé was designated Democratic whip and served as vice chair of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators.

Brisé served on several committees, leading the dialogue on some of Florida’s more pressing issues pertaining to energy, telecommunications, redistricting, appropriations, and Medicaid reform.

He is credited with sponsoring legislation instrumental in expanding broadband deployment in Florida to address the digital divide, as well as legislation that improved consumer protection for Florida’s families and garnishment and exemption of wages.

Brisé received his bachelor’s degree in biology education from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, and received master’s  degrees in management and marketing from American Intercontinental University in Illinois.

Gunster’s statewide government affairs law and lobbying practice represents commercial and individual interests across a cross-section of industries. Brisé joins the well-established legislative team of J. Larry Williams, Joanna BonfantiCameron Yarbrough, Greg Black, Greg Munson, and Derek Bruce – led by Jaber.

Handful of new laws go into effect Jan. 1

Four bills passed during the 2017 Legislative Session go into effect on the first day of the new year.

HB 435: This bill updates the Office of Financial Regulation’s regulatory procedures and requirements for international financial institutions.

SB 590: This bill authorizes the Florida Department of Revenue to establish parenting time plans agreed to by both parents.

SB 800: This bill requires health insurers and health maintenance organizations to offer medication synchronization to align refill dates for certain drugs at least once a year.

HB 911: This bill amends various statutes relating to insurance adjusters, including eliminating licensure for public adjuster apprentices.

But another bill OK’d by lawmakers that would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2018 was rejected by Gov. Rick Scott.

That measure (HB 937) would have required one of six rotating warnings to be printed on lottery tickets and advertisements. One was “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW.”

Scott vetoed the bill, saying it would have imposed “burdensome regulations on the Lottery and its retail partners,” and could have cost the state $31.5 million for education.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Flags ordered at half-staff for Don Hahnfeldt

Flags will be flown at half-staff next Tuesday to honor the late state Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Hahnfeldt

Hahnfeldt, first elected last year to represent House District 33, died on Christmas Eve. The district includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion counties.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Sumter County Administrative Building in Wildwood, the Sumter County Courthouse in Bushnell, and at the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Jan. 2.

Hahnfeldt, of The Villages, “distinguished himself during his 32-year career in the U.S. Navy, commanding two nuclear submarines and serving as Commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Strategic Submarine Squadron,” according to Scott’s statement.

“After retiring from the U.S. Navy, he continued to serve in leadership positions in numerous boards and committees, and was elected to the Sumter County Commission in 2012.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family during this difficult time,” the governor added. “We will always remember Rep. Hahnfeldt’s commitment to The Villages and our nation.”

Open Tallahassee judgeship gets a dozen applicants

When it comes to applying for a judgeship, the third time could be a charm for Alan Abramowitz. 

Abramowitz

Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office, is one of 12 applicants for a Tallahassee-area circuit judge seat opening because of the retirement of Charles A. Francis.

Abramowitz has applied to become a judge twice before.

Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

The 2nd Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) will meet Jan. 9 to review the applications and decide who to interview.

Interviews are scheduled for Jan. 16 at the Leon County Courthouse Annex on Thomasville Road in Tallahassee.

The JNC will eventually recommend 3-6 names to Gov. Rick Scott, who makes the final selection.

The other 11 applicants are:

Georgia Cappleman, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Eddie Evans, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Cedell Garland, a senior assistant attorney general.

Joseph Jones, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Tallahassee office.

Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office.

James Marsh, chief of corrections litigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

Ace Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

D. Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee.

Amanda Wall, administrative magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

The 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered in Tallahassee, covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

After fatal derailment in Washington, Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to review rail safety

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield is urging Gov. Rick Scott to have the Florida Department of Transportation review several safety concerns she’s been raising about the proposed Brightline higher-speed passenger train, while warning that the recent fatal Amtrak derailment in Washington state may foretell issues in Florida.

Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, has been pushing legislation the past two years to have the Florida Department of Transportation exercise  safety and regulatory oversight over Brightline, and in a letter she sent to Scott Thursday she urged he get behind her SB 572, the proposed High-Speed Rail Passenger Safety Act.

Her efforts represent the concerns of many political leaders along the Treasure Coast, which would be ride-over country for Brightline’s proposed West Palm Beach to Orlando route. Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, received federal approval for that route and financing backing for the $1.1 billion needed in the past two weeks.

Couple that with the environmental permits, and the train has virtually left the station. It now has all federal and state environmental approval and financing it needs, though the company indicated it still is reviewing financing options,

Brightline also intends to open the first phase of its private passenger train service, connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, within coming weeks. The West Palm Beach to Orlando route, still at least a couple of years away even if there are no more challenges, is seen as critical to making the overall endeavor economically feasible.

Mayfield and others, notably state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, raise concerns about whether federal regulations and Brightline’s assurances of safety are enough, and have been seeking Florida to play a role.

That’s especially true after the Amtrak Cascades passenger train derailed on its very first run two weeks ago, killing three passengers and injuring 70 others. She noted that train and Brightline have numerous similarities in operation and regulation.

Mayfield called on Scott to have the Florida Department of Transportation “use its current authority to immediately address some very important safety concerns, particularly dealing with railroad-highway grade crossings, and to reduce hazards. Specifically, she called on FDOT to identify public highway-rail grade crossing locations needing improvements; enhance safety through installation or upgrade of grade crossing warning devices; conduct corridor-reviews identifying roadway and signalization improvements that would reduce hazards; identify redundant and unnecessary crossings for possible elimination; and evaluate effectiveness of safety improvement projects.

“After Monday’s tragedy in Washington State, it is clear that we must take the responsibility and take charge to protect Florida from the same type of tragedy,” Mayfield wrote. “A high-speed passenger rail system requires a very complex infrastructure in order to ensure the safety of passengers as well as the communities they will travel through. We must not rely solely on the Federal Government for the oversight needed to protect the citizens of Florida.”

No surprise: Poll shows Floridians don’t like sexual misconduct by candidates

Nearly three-quarters of Florida voters say they could not vote for a candidate who has been accused of sexual misconduct, according to a new statewide public opinion poll conducted by Gravis Marketing of Winter Springs.

Gravis found almost widespread agreement on that position. Voters in nearly all age groups, genders, religious affiliations, races, and education backgrounds overwhelmingly agreed with that position. Overall, 72 percent of registered voters polled said they could not vote for someone accused of sexual misconduct, while 28 percent said they could, and almost all demographic breakouts showed at least 65 percent also saying they could not vote for someone accused of sexual misconduct.

However, differences emerged among political beliefs, with Republicans and conservatives, who may still be suspicious of the issue following the Alabama U.S. Senate special election two weeks ago, offering far less certainty on that question.

Among Republicans, 46 percent said, yes, they could vote for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct. Those who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” weighed in at 46 and 47 percent yes, respectively.

Among Democrats, 87 percent said they could not vote for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct, and among independents, 74 percent said they could not.

The findings were among several public opinion issues Gravis polled last week in matters also including gay marriage, needle sharing, greyhound dog racing, the federal tax reform law approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last week, gambling, gay conversion therapy, and the performances of Gov. Rick Scott and Trump to prepare for and respond to Hurricane Irma back in September.

Gravis reported it conducted a random survey of 5,778 registered voters from Dec. 19-24, citing a margin of error of 1.3 percent.

Many of the queried issues did not inspire absolute majorities on positions, but a few did, including an overwhelming [70 percent] approval of Scott’s overall job performance dealing with Hurricane Irma. Support for gay marriage and needle sharing programs, and opposition to gay conversion therapy also drew majorities, albeit tighter.

Scott and Trump also got pluralities approving of their performances managing nursing homes and other medical facilities during Hurricane Irma, but uncertain votes left both of them without absolute majorities on those questions. Forty-four percent approved of Scott’s performance relating to nursing homes and medical facilities during Irma, and 30 percent disapproved, perhaps tied to the shock and concerns raised by the tragedy in Hollywood Hills. Trump drew 46 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval on the same question.

Fifty-nine percent of voters told Gravis they support the legalization of gay marriage, while 30 percent opposed.

Forty-six percent of voters said transgender individuals should not be banned from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, while 36 percent said they should be banned from doing so, with the rest of voters uncertain. When locker rooms replaced bathrooms in the question, the spread was 43-38 saying they should not be banned.

Forty-eight percent of voters said they supported legalizing poker and other forms of gambling in Florida, while 30 percent opposed.

Fifty-seven percent said they supported needle exchange programs, while 19 percent opposed.

Forty-six percent said greyhound dog racing should be made illegal in Florida, while 32 percent said it should remain legal.

Forty-six percent also opposed the federal tax bill approved last week, while 37 percent supported it.

Sixty-nine percent believe “gay conversion therapy” should be illegal in Florida, while 11 percent think it should be legal.

Many of the issues, particularly those involving gay and transgender questions, saw strong partisan splits, with Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly lining up on opposite sides, and strong pluralities or majorities of independent voters preferring the Democrat’s primary positions. The same was true of the tax reform bill, which got 73 percent support among Republicans; 27 percent support among independents; and 8 percent support amend Democrats.

The gambling and greyhound opinions were much more uniform across party affiliations. Pluralities of Republicans and independents opposed dog racing and supported gambling, while slight majorities of Democrats opposed dog racing and supported gambling.

Seminole Tax Collector Joel Greenberg urges Rick Scott to allow pre-paid taxes

With the new federal tax laws kicking in next year capping deductions of state and local taxes, Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is urging Gov. Rick Scott to follow New York’s lead and open a loophole allowing Floridians to prepay 2018 property taxes now, before 2017 ends.

“It is this office’s recommendation that you issue an executive order temporarily suspending that portion of Florida statute section 197.122 requiring the prepayment of taxes only when the tax roll is open, and allowing early prepayment through the end of 2017, for taxes owed in 2018,” Greenberg declared in a letter he sent to Scott Wednesday. “An executive order like this would have the benefit of encouraging early payment of the property tax bills, thus ensuring taxes are paid, and further allowing citizens who think they are hurt by the new federal tax laws to reap the benefits of the existing federal tax laws one additional year.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already has done something similar, Greenberg pointed out, allowing New York taxpayers to make partial payments of property taxes until the end of the year.

“In this way, the citizens of New York could deduct part, or the full amount, of their payment from their federal taxes before the new tax bill goes into effect,” Greenberg suggested. “It is my recommendation Florida do the same, and allow its residents to reap the benefits of the existing tax law, and prepay their property taxes for 2018.”

The loophole, if it is opened in Florida, would only apply to those who expect to owe more than $10,000 in state and local taxes in 2018, as that is the cap the new tax reform law puts in place for deductions of state and local taxes.

There wouldn’t be much time, as 2017 ends Sunday.

“Realizing the late date presents challenges to implementing a new program, I believe that if this is logistically possible, you could bolster early payment of taxes and lessen the burden on the citizens of this great state,” Greenberg wrote.

High-profile Florida Supreme Court cases still hanging fire at year’s end

Partly because they came late to the court this year, some high-profile cases before the Florida Supreme Court will remain unresolved by the close of 2017.

As of this writing, the court’s weekly opinion release was going to be on holiday hiatus until Jan. 11, though “out-of-calendar releases” are still possible, a spokesman said.

Here are a few of those pending matters, starting with the court’s official summary:

— Herssein & Herssein v. United Services Automobile Association: “This case asks whether judges commit an ethical violation if they are Facebook ‘friends’ with litigants in cases pending before them.”

The justices decided to weigh in after an August ruling by the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko.

The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group is seeking the disqualification; it sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud.

— School Board of Alachua County v. Richard Corcoran: “This case involves a challenge to an education bill passed by the 2017 Legislature.”

A group of school boards is asking the court to block a wide-ranging education law passed this May. The boards filed a constitutional challenge to the bill, known by its number, HB 7069.

The 274-page bill, backed by House Speaker Corcoran, deals with controversial subjects such as charter schools and teacher bonuses. The challenge contends that the law violates part of the Florida Constitution that requires legislation to deal with single subjects.

Those named in the case are the school boards of Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

(Ed. Note: The Supreme Court has since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle.)

— International Association of Firefighters v. State of Florida: “This case involves a challenge to the Governor’s 2015 veto of firefighter pay raises.”

The union wants the court to strike down Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2015 veto of pay raises for the state’s firefighters.

The 1st District Court of Appeal previously ruled that Scott’s veto of $2,000 pay raises did not violate collective-bargaining rights. That court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget, and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not.

The Legislature included the $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language, which Scott subsequently vetoed.

Attorneys for the state say the appeals court “merely applied a clearly articulated constitutional right” of the governor to veto spending items.

— Dante Martin v. State of Florida: “This case challenges criminal convictions related to a college hazing incident.”

Martin is appealing his convictions in the 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion. Oral argument is set for Feb. 7.

Martin and Champion were both members of the school’s famed “Marching 100” band. Champion, 26, succumbed to internal injuries after a brutal beating ritual with fists, mallets and drumsticks in a band bus that was parked outside a game in Orlando.

According to an Associated Press story, “the case brought into focus the culture of hazing in the band, which was suspended for more than a year while officials tried to clean up the program.”

Martin, now 30, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 years and 5 months in prison on felony manslaughter and hazing charges, according to the Department of Corrections website. He is currently serving his time in the Wakulla Work Camp, with a release date of April 2020.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

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