Gov. Rick Scott – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Joe Negron to leave Senate early

Senate President Joe Negron tendered his resignation from elected office to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday, to be effective Nov. 6, “the same day his term as Senate President ends.”

Despite his current and final term not ending till 2020, Negron had telegraphed his decision his recent months in ‘exit interviews’ he gave to state news media, including Florida Politics. He was last elected in 2016.

“I have always been a big believer in term limits,” the Stuart Republican said in a statement. “I have had the privilege of representing the Treasure Coast and parts of Palm Beach County in the Florida Senate for nine years.

“The way I see it, I actually received an extra year because I came to the Senate in a Special Election in 2009. The additional two years of my final term were added only through the vagaries of reapportionment litigation.”

He replaced former Senate President Ken Pruitt, a St. Lucie County Republican who himself left office early after the 2009 Legislative Session.

In his resignation letter, Negron said he wanted “to afford as much notice as possible to allow the next State Senator from District 25 to be elected in the regular 2018 primary and general election cycle without the necessity of a special election.”

“I would respectfully request that you consider scheduling the dates of the special primary election and special general election to coincide with the dates of the primary election and general election,” Negron told Scott.

“With key election-related deadlines and activities scheduled in the ensuing weeks and months, I believe this proposed course of action would be in the best interests of constituents.”

Negron was elected to the House in 2000, serving for six years, including a term as Appropriations Committee chair in 2005-06 under then-House Speaker Allen Bense. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009, and also served as budget chair there in 2012-14 before becoming president for 2016-18.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is slated to take over the presidency from Negron after the November election, assuming the GOP holds its majority in the chamber.

“I know @joenegronfl has been thoughtfully considering this choice for some time, and I support his decision,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Julie and I will certainly miss having Joe and Rebecca in Tallahassee. We wish their family well as they prepare to conclude his term as Senate President in November.”

In a March interview with Florida Politics, Negron said lawmakers over the last two Sessions “made tremendous progress” on goals he set out in his 2015 designation speech, “a blueprint of things I tried to accomplish.”

Among those, beefing up higher education “with world class faculties,” addressing pollution in Lake Okeechobee, and “decriminalizing adolescence” with pre-arrest diversion programs and making it easier to expunge juvenile arrest records.

What “didn’t get a lot of attention” last year, he added, was reforming eyewitness identifications in criminal cases “to reduce the chance of wrongful convictions.”

Negron then he hadn’t yet decided whether he would serve his bonus time: “I’m going to take a few weeks to think about it … Term limits are there for a reason.”

He said in the interview he plans to focus on his business litigation work for the Akerman firm in its West Palm Beach office.

“I’m a lawyer first, a legislator second,” Negron said. “This was one part of my life that I greatly value … but my primary professional identity is as a lawyer. I’m back in the office. I enjoy what I do.”

On Wednesday he added: “I believe in a citizen Legislature where women and men from all walks of life serve for a reasonable period of time and then return to the private sector. I have done my very best to fight for my community in Tallahassee and November is the right time to retire from my service in the Legislature.”

The resignation letter is below.

Personnel note: Damien Kelly named director of Office of Safe Schools

FDLE corruption inspector Damien Kelly has been named director of the state’s new Office of Safe Schools, Education Commissioner Pam Stuart announced.

The office was created in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school safety act passed by lawmakers at the tail end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We are thrilled for Special Agent Kelly to join our team,” Stuart said in a statement. “With 25 years of experience as a law enforcement officer specializing in a variety of different areas, he will complement the wide-ranging expertise of our agency’s staff.”

Kelly has been with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since 2005, most recently as a public corruption inspector.

During his time at FDLE, Kelly “led protective operations, accepted domestic and international assignments and became an expert in firearms certification and proficiency; surveillance and protective operations; and gang investigation and interrogation,” a press release said.

“Also while at FDLE, Kelly served as a section team leader overseeing and providing training to fellow officers. Before joining FDLE, he spent 12 years as a police officer for City of Memphis Police Department.”

On March 23, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to district superintendents and school board members that set deadlines FDOE and each school district must meet. Scott directed the department to hire a director for the newly created Office of Safe Schools by May 1.

Judge sides with insurers in SB 966 lawsuit

A Tallahassee judge has ruled that life insurance companies doing business in the state don’t have to track down beneficiaries under a 2016 law (SB 966) championed by former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, in an order granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs filed April 20, said such a requirement can only be applied “prospectively,” that is, after the law’s passage. Summary judgment allows a party to win a case without a trial.

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — have written policies in Florida.

They sued the state over the law, which makes them check which policyholders have died back to 1992, then track down any beneficiaries.

If beneficiaries can’t be found, insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property, which the CFO’s office oversees.

The bill was a priority of Atwater and featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The law itself says its changes are “remedial in nature and apply retroactively.” But the companies had said applying the law retroactively is unfair, making them have to sift through potentially millions of old death records to find beneficiaries.

That’s too burdensome, they’ve argued, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their search costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Lewis agreed, saying the law creates “new obligations or duties” that violate the companies’ due process rights.

This office has fought hard for Floridians in this case,” current CFO Jimmy Patronis said in a Monday statement. “It is a common sense, consumer protection law that passed the Legislature unanimously. We will continue to look into options for next steps.”

Rick Scott selects three for Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Marvin Davies, Dr. Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Sr., and John Dorsey Due Jr. have been selected for addition to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Scott chose the three from a list of 10 distinguished nominees selected by the Florida Commission on Human Relations “for making significant contributions to the improvement of life for minorities and all citizens” of Florida.

From the press release:

— Davies was born in Bradford County in 1934 and died on April 25, 2003. After serving in the United States Army, Davies attended Florida A&M University where he received his degree ranking second in his class. During his time at Florida A&M, he joined civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and participated in protests in Tallahassee, St. Augustine, and Montgomery, Alabama.

Davies also worked as a coordinator of vocational counseling and job development and placement in a training program sponsored by the United States Department of Labor. In 1966, Davis was named field secretary and then executive director of the Florida State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served as a special assistant to Governor Bob Graham and was state coordinator of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation.

— Wells was born in Miami in 1931 and died on November 4, 2015. After serving the United States Army, Wells received his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University and a Bachelor of Theology degree from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1955. In 1959, Wells was selected to be a pastor at Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Cocoa. He also served as president of NAACP Brevard County chapter spearheading the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement in Brevard County.

Wells also served as chairman of the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Cocoa. Among his many accomplishments, Wells established the Community Action Agency of Brevard, providing low-income day care centers, and constructed low-rent apartment complexes in Merritt Island and Melbourne. He also led the St. Paul Baptist Church in building a new $1.2 million church complex. Wells was also a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests and an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

— Due was born in Indiana in 1934 and moved to Florida to attend Florida A&M University Law School in 1960. Upon graduation, Due worked as an attorney in Mississippi on behalf of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, monitoring civil rights activities and violence against civil rights activists to report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Due worked as an attorney for the Congress of Racial Equality in partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and helped to pioneer the tactic of moving civil rights cases to federal court so that clients would not be subject to Southern state courts.

Due later moved to Miami and worked with Legal Services, the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board and Community Action Agency. He was also the head of the county’s Office of Black Affairs. Due received the 11th Judicial Circuit and Dade County Bar Pro Bono Award, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, “Distinguished Barrister Award” from the Annual Convention of Southern Leadership Conference, and the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP Adams-Powell Civil Rights Award for outstanding community involvement.

Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to ‘protect’ state from Brightline bond questions

Armed with newly-raised congressional skepticism about the legitimacy of a financing method used by the company, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to pull Florida from the financing deal backing Brightline’s proposed private passenger railroad along the east coast.

Scott’s office replied that it would review it.

At issue is $1.75 billion in federal, tax-exempt private activity bonds [PABs] that were approved last year for construction of the rail line for the privately owned and operated, higher-speed, passenger train railroad being developed by Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida.

Brightline has promised high-speed, private passenger rail service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, pledging to do so with private money. Service already has begun between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and is expected this year to connect to Miami, with Orlando still a few years away.

Opposition has centered largely within the ride-over counties of Florida’s Treasure and Space coasts, between the planned stops in West Palm Beach and Orlando. They have raised strong objections to potential safety and disruption issues the trains may pose.

Yet now the company’s decision to seek and use federally-tax exempt PABs to raise capital for the project has led critics, notably now Mayfield, a Republican from Melbourne, to seize on this financing option as a potential critical weakness in the project.

Last week a congressional hearing raised questions about whether Brightline should have been approved for the bonds. Following up this week, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao raising more questions about the deal.

Brightline has noted that it followed all federal rules and received the approval through appropriate processes, and that courts that reviewed the financing have agreed.

On Wednesday Mayfield sought to bring those questions to Scott’s attention and caution him that he should do something about protecting Florida’s reputation, and specifically that of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, which also approved Brightline’s PAB financing plan, and through which the bonds would be sold.

“In light of the cloud of uncertainty that has been placed on the legitimacy of the allocation of PABs to AAF, there must be an effort to protect the FDFC from a potentially embarrassing situation that could also jeopardize the state of Florida’s reputation,” Mayfield wrote.

Brightline already has spent $600 million to upgrade railroad tracks in South Florida, between West Palm Beach and  Miami. The longer, higher-speed, more expensive phase involves upgrading tracks and laying new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando. And that’s next.

Mayfield called for Scott to not let Florida participate in financing that deal, at least for the time being.

“As I previously indicated, I respectfully request that you take action and direct the FDFC to not act as a conduit for AAF, its affiliate Brightline North Segment Borrower LLC, or any other affiliate of AAF, to sell $1.15 billion in PABs while there is an active discussion and analysis taking place at the federal level for the next 90 days.”

A response from Scott’s office declared, “We will review it.”

Last week at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations, largely under questions from Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rockledge, federal officials revealed they had approved the bonds under a very broad interpretation of the law. That led subcommittee Chairman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, to suggest that what happened appeared to him to be outside what Congress intended when it authorized the financing mechanism.

Rubio wrote Chao Tuesday wanting to know any precedents that might compare with Brightline’s case.

Let voters decide on felons’ voting rights, advocate says

The man behind a proposed constitutional amendment to restore ex-cons’ voting rights wants voters — not “politicians” — to decide the issue.

Desmond Meade, who’s backing this year’s “Voting Restoration Amendment,” on Wednesday said an appellate court should issue a “stay” in a separate but related federal lawsuit on restoring felons’ voting rights.

The proposal, which will be Amendment 4 on the November statewide ballot, would automatically give back voting rights to felons, save for those convicted of murder and sex offenses. They also must have served all their prison time and probation and paid restitution to victims.

“Current law outlines a difficult process to restore an individual’s eligibility to vote, and Judge (Mark) Walker recently determined that the restoration process is arbitrary and unconstitutional,” Meade said in a statement.

“The problem is that without Amendment 4, any fix still leaves this decision in the hands of politicians and a person’s eligibility to vote should not be left up to politicians and election cycles,” he added. It needs 60 percent approval for addition to the state’s governing document.

In a series of harshly worded rulings, Walker — a U.S. District judge in Tallahassee — found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to overhaul what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Bondi to put his order on hold.

Scott and the board immediately appealed Walker’s decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that court to put a stay on what the governor’s office branded a “haphazard clemency ruling.”

Late Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced a 9:30 p.m. Wednesday out-of-calendar meeting of the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The next regular meeting had been set for June 14.

The meeting “will give the 11th Circuit as much time as possible to issue a ruling, while still allowing the Board to meet the lower court’s deadline,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said. “We are anticipating that the 11th Circuit will rule soon, but if a stay is not issued, the meeting agenda will be for the Board to consider how to respond to the lower court’s decision.”

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review.

“Recent polls indicate over two-thirds of Florida voters overwhelmingly support the amendment,” Meade said. “Let’s take matters into our own hands and vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 4 to give Floridians who have made past mistakes the eligibility to vote only after they have completed their full debt to society …”

“These are our family members, friends, and neighbors that have paid their full debt to society and earned the opportunity to participate in and give back to their communities.”

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

Lawmakers swapping deals toward Special Session on gambling

Lawmakers have moved from informal talks to exchanging offers toward a Special Session on gambling, sources said late Monday.

That’s despite an agreement announced last week between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing that the Tribe will keep sharing gaming revenue from its casinos at least till May 2019.

The impetus behind the Special Session effort is a proposed constitutional amendment that polls show will likely pass this November. It would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

Representatives for both chambers had no comment on developments Monday.

Industry and legislative sources, however, say Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, have been sending proposals across the Capitol rotunda.

Those offers include, among other things, provisions to ensure the state doesn’t lose out on any gambling-related taxes or fees.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (“Exclusivity” essentially means freedom from competition.) If the Tribe considers its exclusivity broken, it’s entitled to reduce payments or stop them altogether.

Two sources specifically credited recent progress to Lisa Vickers, Galvano’s longtime senior policy adviser who is slated to become his chief of staff when he takes over the chamber after the 2018 election, assuming a Republican majority still holds.

As previously reported, here are some of the issues likely in play:

— Allowing slot machines in at least some of the eight counties that passed a local referendum allowing them. That could include St. Lucie County, which has a jai alai fronton and card room now known as Casino Fort Pierce and is in Senate President Joe Negron’s district.

— Allowing existing designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, to continue at pari-mutuel card rooms now offering those games.

— Setting a new minimum guarantee in tax money from those pari-mutuels now offering slots in South Florida. Only the Tribe can offer slots outside that area.

— Figuring out a way to do all that while achieving a “true contraction” of gambling in the state, a prerequisite of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That almost certainly means a provision for pari-mutuel owners to surrender gambling permits at some locations to get slots in another, something that was considered this past Regular Session.

“Special sessions may be called by the Governor, or may be convened by joint proclamation of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” the Senate’s website says. “Special sessions may not exceed 20 days, unless extended by a three-fifths vote of each house.”

Flags at half-staff for slain Gilchrist County deputies

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff Tuesday in honor of Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies Noel Ramirez and Taylor Lindsey.

The Governor’s Office made the announcement Monday evening.

Ramirez, a 29-year-old sergeant, had been in law enforcement for seven years and Deputy Taylor, 25, served for over three years.

“Investigators say a man opened fire on the two last Thursday as they sat down to eat at the Ace China Restaurant in Trenton,” CBS12.com reported. “They were on duty and in uniform.”

The Sheriff’s Office said the 59-year-old gunman later killed himself, taking his motive with him.

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Gilchrist County Courthouse, City Hall, and at the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office, all in Trenton, from sunrise to sunset. Trenton is about 30 miles west of Gainesville.

Ramirez is survived by his wife and two young children, the site reported.

On Tuesday, a public viewing will be held at 10 a.m. at Bell Middle/High School, followed by a non-denominational service at 11 a.m.

Graveside honors will follow at Bronson Cemetery at 2:30 p.m., according to News4jax.com.

Job growth tops 1.5 million in his tenure, Rick Scott says

Florida added 12,500 new public sector jobs in March pushing the jobs growth tally over 1.5 million during his tenure, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show the state’s unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent, with the professional and business services sector leading the way in the 167,000 new private jobs created in the past 12 months.

“Now we’ve passed 1.5 million jobs in seven years and three months, which is exciting to me because as you know it’s what I ran on back in 2010, 700,000 jobs in seven years, and now we’ve way more than doubled that,” Scott, who recently announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, said at VOXX International, an automotive electronics and audio components manufacturing company in Orlando.

The latest numbers show 38,100 new jobs in the professional and business services sector, 32,300 in leisure and hospitality, 31,600 in construction, 21,200 in education and health services, and 15,600 in financial services over the past year.

The office also cited an annual job growth rate of 2.3 percent in Florida, compared with 1.8 percent nationally, and the 3.9 percent unemployment rate represents a decline of 6.9 percentage points since December 2010, faster than the 5.2 percentage points decline seen nationally.

John Morgan’s ‘no smoke’ marijuana lawsuit loses a plaintiff

A Tallahassee judge has dismissed one of the plaintiffs in John Morgan‘s legal effort to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was one of three patients with a chronic illness who want to smoke medicinal cannabis under a state constitutional amendment passed in 2016.

In an order filed Thursday, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers dropped him from the case, citing his “non-compliance” with requests for information and “non-contact” with attorneys.

That leaves Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Florida for Care, a newly added “corporate” plaintiff and pro-medical marijuana group.

A one-day trial remains set for May 16, as does a hearing before the trial on the state’s motion for summary judgment, which allow parties to win a case without a trial. If Gievers decides not to grant summary judgment, she’ll hear the case without a jury.

The suit originally was filed last July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the amendment. The named defendant is the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Morgan, of Morgan & Morgan law firm fame, bankrolled the initiative that was OK’d by 71 percent of voters. He’s also behind the current lawsuit, which seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language.

Lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law implementing legislation for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills has said the amendment’s definition of marijuana implicitly includes the smokable kind.

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