Jack Latvala Archives - Florida Politics

Florida Sheriffs name Jack Latvala, James Grant, Chris Sprowls ‘legislative champions’ for 2017

Florida Sheriffs recognized several Tampa Bay-area lawmakers Thursday for “significant contributions to and support of good public safety policies” during the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) named five legislators — including Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala and Reps. James Grant of Tampa and Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor —  for their “commitment to protecting the best interests of Florida citizens” and support of FSA initiatives.

In 2017, Grant had sponsored HB 7059, a prolific juvenile offender bill; Latvala sponsored SB 150, the Senate counterpart. Sheriffs praised Sprowls for supporting public safety throughout Session.

Other legislators as named as FSA Legislative Champions include Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton who sponsored HB 477, which sought to stem the heroin/Fentanyl epidemic. Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota sponsored SB 150 the Senate companion of the heroin/Fentanyl bill.

“The Florida Sheriffs Association is honored to recognize these legislators for their commitment to public safety,” said FSA President and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. “We are grateful for Rep. Boyd and Senator Steube for their dedication and leadership in passing comprehensive legislation to address Florida’s heroin and Fentanyl epidemic.”

“This session, Senator Latvala and Rep. Grant made addressing the problem of a lack of accountability among repeat juvenile offenders a priority with the passage of the prolific juvenile offender bill (SB 7059),” said FSA Legislative Chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “Sheriffs also greatly appreciate the leadership of Rep. Sprowls for working on this bill as well as numerous other public safety issues that had to be addressed throughout Session.”

Sheriffs also recognized 18 Senators — as well as Latvala and Steube — with the FSA Friend of the Sheriff Award, for legislation that would have a positive impact on public safety: Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Lauren Book, Rob Bradley, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Denise Grimsley, Travis Hutson, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, Keith Perry, Darryl Rouson, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson and Kelli Stargel.

 In addition, Reps. Jason Fischer, Joe Abruzzo, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Attorney General Pam Bondi were given the FSA Friend of the Sheriff Award.

Fischer had sponsored HB 721, which seeks independently elected sheriffs in all 67 Florida counties and Abruzzo advocated it in committee, s. Sheriffs applauded Corcoran for supporting public safety initiatives throughout Session. As her top priority, Bondi pushed for passage of a heroin/Fentanyl bill (HB 477) and was instrumental in moving it through the Senate.

“Without the aid of these important state legislators, and Attorney General Bondi, the Florida Sheriffs Association would not be able to serve the citizens of Florida to the best of our ability,” said FSA Executive Director Steve Casey. “On behalf of the entire Florida Sheriffs Association, I would like to honor these men and women for doing their part to help keep Floridians safe.”

Founded in 1893, the Florida Sheriffs Association is made up of sheriffs, approximately 3,500 business leaders and 70,000 citizens throughout the state.

Chris King brings home his ‘progressive entrepreneur’ campaign message

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and affordable housing developer Chris King pitches this scenario to Democratic crowds hungry for a rare statewide victory, and a blue governor’s office for the first time in 20 years:

“If you can imagine the gubernatorial debate of 2018, late October, we have a Republican, and we have a Democrat. And the time always comes where the Republican looks at the Democrat and says to the state of Florida, ‘You can’t trust this Democrat.’ Right? ‘This is a tax-and-spend liberal. They can’t create jobs. They can’t build businesses. They will ride this economy dead!’ It happens every time!” King, of Winter Park, said before a gathering of about 200 Democrats at the Orange County party’s monthly executive committee meeting Monday night.

“If I’m your nominee, I will be able to say in that moment, with the whole state watching, ‘On the contrary: not this Democrat! This Democrat created successful businesses, created jobs, delivered profit to investors, served customers. And this Democrat did all of that while honoring his progressive values,'” King continued.

“And then I’ll be able to look at the Republican in that moment, and say, ‘Mr. [Adam] Putnam, or Mr. [Richard] Corcoran, or Mr. [Jack] Latvala,’ or whoever comes out on top, ‘It was your party that rode this economy down, that created an affordable housing crisis. It was your party that said no to Medicaid expansion. It was your party that steered this party to the back of the pack,'” King continued. “And I will ask for the wheel back, and I will take it back, in 2018.”

And with that presentation, King, who built a fortune with development companies he insists he and his brother built from scratch, sought to distance himself from both his Democratic challengers, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, as well as the Republicans.

It’s a continuation of the “progressive entrepreneur” theme King initiated when he kicked off his campaign in Orlando two months ago. King criticizes Florida Republicans for overseeing a drop in inflation-adjusted wages and benefits, or doing nothing about it, and for, he said, leading Florida to place at the bottom of the nation’s 10 most populous states in per-capita income, productivity, gross domestic product, and mental health care services.

He pledges an economic program that would focus on minimum wage increases; steering capital to “home-grown” small businesses, rather than offering financial incentives to, as he said, set up low-wage satellite offices in Florida; creating workforce training institutes in community colleges; and using the state’s affordable housing trust fund for affordable housing.

King also ran through his commitments to all the rest of the state Democrats’ principal platform planks, including re-instilling respect and support for public schools and teachers; seeking health care for all, including accepting Medicaid expansion money; pushing adoption of the Florida Comprehensive Workforce Act, banning discrimination against the LGBTQ community; and staunchly supporting environmental protections and the development of solar and other alternative energies, including his pledge to take no campaign money from the sugar industry.

Yet while the environmental pledges may have drawn the loudest ovation, King’s “progressive entrepreneur” was the centerpiece of his campaign, and of his speech Monday night. He said it is based on his own business practices and philosophy, which he said provides living wages, full health care paid for by the company, and bonuses, for every employee, while the companies are “heavily philanthropic.”

“You can be a progressive, and believe in equality, and opportunity, and fairness, and justice, and care for the neediest among us. You can also marry that to entrepreneurship, to integrity, and hard work, and discipline, and stewartship. When those things are brought together, I’ve found in business it was a magical formula,” King said. “In government, it can be a game-changer for the Democratic Party.”

With law now in place, Tampa Bay region moves closer to regional transit

Although modest in scope, Tampa Bay area lawmakers and business officials are happy that Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation (SB 1672) they believe is the first step toward creating a regional network to push for transit.

The bill changes the actual title of TBARTA. It will now be the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (it used to be “transportation”).

The new agency is slightly smaller in scope in terms of geography, but not smaller than originally envisaged by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the bill’s Senate sponsor. The new TBARTA will include five counties — originally to include only three: Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco.

Later on, Manatee and Hernando counties were added. Now, only Citrus and Sarasota are the odd counties out.

The TBARTA board will consist of 15 members, including some from the business community to be selected by Scott, in addition to those selected by lawmakers.

An amendment supported by Tampa Bay-area Republican (and anti-light rail) Sens. Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes says that any funding of commuter, heavy or light rail must have approval by the Legislature.

 

Report: Top Ron DeSantis supporter contributes $500K to state political committee

A top supporter of Rep. Ron DeSantis has contributed $500,000 to a state-level political committee that could be used to help fund a gubernatorial bid.

POLITICO Florida reported that Frederick Sontag contributed $500,000 to Fund for Florida’s Future, a state-level political committee, on May 5. The committee, which was required to report all contributions it received in May by Monday, received $535,000 in contributions last month.

Sontag is the founder of Spring Bay Companies, a Ponte Vedra Beach private equity firm focused on technology investments, and has a history of supporting DeSantis. POLITICO Florida reported that in 2016 Spring Bay Capital, a company owned by Sontag and affiliated with Spring Bay Companies, gave $500,000 to the Fighting for Florida Fund, a super PAC backing DeSantis.

DeSantis is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. If he runs, he’ll need a massive war chest. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has $10 million in the bank. Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also considering a run.

Democrat Bernie Fensterwald taking second shot at going to Tallahassee

Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, a Dunedin retiree who lost a challenge to Chris Sprowls in the House District 65 race in North Pinellas County last November by more than 30 percentage points, has filed once again to run for the Legislature.

This time Fensterwald is gunning for the state Senate District 16 seat in north Pinellas being vacated by a term-limited Jack Latvala. The only other candidate to file so far for the open seat is former GOP state representative and Clearwater City Commissioner Ed Hooper.

Fensterwald is a multi-millionaire, but he chose to barely tap into his considerable resources in his losing bid against Sprowls last year, raising a total of less than $35,000. 

Sprowls, by contrast, raised more than $472, 400, more than ten times Fensterwald’s total.

Then again, Fensterwald thinks too much is made about fundraising, saying last year that it’s a subject that “political blogs in our state are obsessed about.”

He’s an advocate for a strong environment. On climate changehe says the longer the state waits to take action, “the harder on solutions and their impact will be.”

On guns, Fensterwald supports extending background checks to all gun purchases in order to help keep firearms away from persons who should not have them, and supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons in Florida.

Jack Latvala raises more than $47K in May

Sen. Jack Latvala raised more than $47,800 in about 20 days in May.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $47,891 between May 10 and May 31, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website.

The Division of Elections’ deadline for reporting May numbers is Monday. Florida Leadership Committee hadn’t posted its information with the state as of Monday morning, but has posted contribution data on its website.

Top contributors during the three-weeks included AT&T Services, Third Amendment Media Production, and real estate executive Edward Pantzer.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. In May, Latvala said he planned to announce his decision in August.

He appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show the political committee has raised more than $1.4 million between January and April of this year. It ended April with more than $3.1 million cash on hand.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam already launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. His political committee, Florida Grown, raised more than $1.01 million in May, according to contribution data posted to the political committee’s website.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. His new political committee, Watchdog PAC, did not report raising any money in May.

Budget panel sends schools, economic development, Medicaid bills to the floor

The Senate’s versions of legislation pumping money into public schools, hospitals, Enterprise Florida, and Visit Florida — and establishing a regulatory framework for medical marijuana — cleared the Appropriations Committee Thursday.

The votes — either unanimous or nearly so — sent the measures to the Senate floor. They also augured confrontations with the House involving oversight of economic development grants, and spending on Medicaid and public schools.

Chairman Jack Latvala appeared determined to hold his ground. For example, of a provision allowing use of local tourist tax dollars for Visit Florida projects in small counties — forbidden statewide in the House bill — he said: “I plan on sticking with that. If we have a bill, that ability is going to be in it.”

That bill — SB 2-A — includes more stringent review of the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund projects it would authorize.

For example, Enterprise and Visit Florida projects more than $750,000 would need approval by a special legislative committee. Those worth more than $500,000 would need to be posted on the organization’s website for 14 days before they take effect.

Legislation preferred by the House and Gov. Rick Scott would “vote a blank check with no accountability,” Latvala said. By contrast, in the Senate, “we’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking the walk.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran defended the House bill.

“The oversight already exists,” Corcoran told reporters.

“He (Scott) is elected. The Legislature is elected. We go in every single year. All those things can looked at,” he said. “But they’re broad-based benefits to the entire state.”

The full Senate began the special session Wednesday by voting to override Scott’s veto of the $11 billion budget for public schools, plus $75 million in the higher education budget.

SB 2500-A, approved by Latvala’s committee Thursday, adds another $215 to the schools budget.

Besides serving as an “insurance policy” to keep the schools open after the new fiscal year begins on July 1 — and against procedural tricks by the House — the Senate’s procedural posture “gives us flexibility on 72 hours.” That’s the three days legislators must wait before voting on budget bills — “at $70,000 a day for the taxpayers,” Latvala said.

For the record, the House doesn’t believe the cooling off period applies during the special session.

Sen. Dennis Simmons withdrew amendments that would have raided the House’s Schools of Hope program to provide $100 million in social services for students at underperforming schools. He indicated he might offer them on the Senate floor.

He argues the program can’t spend the money during its first year anyway, given the time needed to enlist charter operators.

Sen. Anatere Flores conceded SB 4-A, her bill to restore $100 million of the $200 million the Appropriations Act cut from Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals, has provoked indifference — even hostility — in the House.

Counting federal matching money, the cuts would be reduced by $260 million.

“Hope springs eternal,” Flores told reporters.

“It is completely within the Senate’s purview to say hospital cuts were a major issue. Forget about it being important to the Senate. It’s important to the state,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to get that right.”

Joe Henderson: When a quid pro quo turns into quid pro no, all bets are off

As the special session of the Legislature was set to begin Wednesday, everyone heard of how the compromise deal that appeared to be the framework for a budget agreement was close to collapse.

Humm.

It brought Senate President Joe Negron into sharp focus, since he seems to be the one leading the charge to turn the quid pro quo reached in secret last week with Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott into a quid pro no.

It makes for dandy political theater and all, but shouldn’t all of this have been worked out BEFORE the three amigos appeared on stage together last Friday to tout the budget agreement? The way it was presented made it sound like everyone had gotten something they wanted and all the other lawmakers had to do was see the brilliance of the compromise and pull out their rubber stamp.

Guess not.

Let’s try to make at least a little sense out of this, shall we?

Simply put, the way education will be funded in Florida appears to be at the center of this knockdown, drag-out.

Negron’s main interest appears to be increasing money for the state university system. He has long championed an effort to bring Florida’s institutions of higher learning into the same status as, say, those in Michigan and Virginia.

That’s not surprising. Negron is an educated man, holding a master’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from Emory University. He apparently wants to restore money to the university system that would otherwise be redirected to the K-12 public system.

He also wants to use some of the state’s reserve fund to restore $260 million in cuts to hospitals

Why he didn’t make that point during the now-infamous secret meeting last week with Scott and Corcoran isn’t clear. Then again, maybe he did and the other two weren’t paying attention.

I’ll bet they’re paying attention now, though.

In a pre-session memo to senators, Negron said, “I have made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session. Nor have I made any agreement to limit the subject matter.”

State Senator Jack Latvala tossed in a grenade of his own with this tweet: “Just 3 months ago @richardcorcoran wanted to abolish EFI and Visit FL. Now he wants to give them $150 million plus. What changed?”

For the acronym-challenged, EFI stands for Scott’s beloved Enterprise Florida jobs incentive program. Visit Florida is the tourism promotion arm. Corcoran used his opposition to both programs (CORPORATE WELFARE, he screamed) as a kind of Trojan horse so he could push forward with what appears to be his real agenda — an expansion of charter schools.

With the possibility of a Scott veto looming over Corcoran’s signature piece of legislation, they thought they reached the compromise that was unveiled last Friday. Scott seemed satisfied with the funding for his programs, and Corcoran threw in a few requirements in the name of accountability about how the money will be spent.

I guess they didn’t count on Negron’s last-minute gambit.

Corcoran responded to Negron’s memo with a lengthy statement that accused him of wanting “a massive property tax increase, wants to weaken accountability provisions for VISIT FL and EFI, and wants to raid reserves to give to hospital CFOs. Needless to say, the House is not raising taxes, not softening accountability rules, and not borrowing against reserves to pay for corporate giveaways.”

Whew!

There is no way to know how this is going to end or how long it will take, so I won’t hazard a guess. The last time I tried to do that, I got whiplash. I don’t want to make it any worse.

Jack Latvala: ‘Cooling-off’ period applies to Special Session bills

Sen. Jack Latvala is telling fellow senators that funding bills planned for this week’s Special Session will be subject to the state’s constitutionally-mandated “cooling off” period.

That potentially means, if the bills are changed, that lawmakers could be stuck in Tallahassee past Friday, when the session is scheduled to end.

The Clearwater Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a Tuesday memo that he and Senate President Joe Negron, an attorney, had “reviewed relevant legal precedent and accepted the advice of our professional staff regarding the application of the 72-hour cooling off period.”

A House spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Florida Constitution requires that “all general appropriation bills shall be furnished to each member of the legislature, each member of the cabinet, the governor, and the chief justice of the supreme court at least seventy-two hours before final passage by either house of the legislature of the bill in the form that will be presented to the governor.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Senate will allow its bills funding public education, tourism marketing agency and economic development “to rest in final form for 72 hours prior to a vote,” Latvala wrote.

“For this reason, the Secretary (of the Senate) has distributed the filed versions to each member of the Legislature, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and each member of the Cabinet,” he said.

More significantly, he said that “if amendments are adopted in Committee or on the Floor, the Secretary will issue a new distribution indicating the start of a new 72-hour cooling off period.”

“Thank you for your time and consideration of these important matters,” Latvala added.

The full memo is below:

Joe Negron: Senate will consider veto overrides

Senate President Joe Negron, in advance of the Legislature’s 3-day Special Session this week, told members in a Tuesday memo he expects “a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding.”

The Stuart Republican also left the door open for medical marijuana implementation to be added to the call, saying he had made no deal “limit(ing) the subject matter to the issues listed in the Governor’s proclamation.” They are education, tourism marketing and economic development funding.

Legislative negotiators are reportedly close to striking a deal regarding marijuana dispensary caps, limiting the number of retail locations, that hamstrung lawmakers during this year’s regular session that ended in May. Introducing marijuana legislation would require a two-thirds vote.

The state’s medical cannabis amendment was passed in 2016 by just over 71 percent of statewide voters. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

In the memo, Negron tells senators the House “has indicated a willingness to move toward the Senate position on a number of issues, including the level of public school per-student funding and the amount of state investment in tourism marketing and economic development” and added he “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this Special Session.”

The “additional spending of approximately $350 million for K-12 funding, Visit Florida, and EFI (Enterprise Florida) would largely originate from the funds made available from vetoed projects originally funded with non-recurring general revenue,” Negron said.

“This use of non-recurring revenue to fund next year’s recurring needs negatively impacts our budget, and potentially our bond rating, in future years,” he added. “Here are some early ideas that have emerged in the Senate:

“Our Appropriations Chair, Sen. (Jack) Latvala, will file legislation this afternoon that will provide an additional $215 million to the (state’s) student funding formula. This funding will originate from $72 million in state funds ($66 million recurring; $6 million non-recurring) and $143 million (required local effort) increase (new construction only).

“Chair Latvala will also file legislation to address policy changes with regard to Visit Florida and EFI. This legislation will include a requirement that (the Department of Economic Opportunity) return to the state funds (approximately $107 million) held in escrow outside the state treasury to the SEED Trust Fund, which has been a bipartisan priority of the Senate for many years.

“In addition, Sen. (Anitere) Flores will file a bill today that will reduce the general revenue cut to Florida’s hospitals by $100 million, down from the $200 million cut passed in the 2017-18 (budget). This $100 million will come from reserves.

“This is consistent with the Senate’s earlier action during 2017 Regular Session to reduce the anticipated $250 million general revenue cut to $200 million. Once approved, our Working Capital Reserve Account would remain over $1.2 billion and our total reserves would exceed $3.2 billion.

“I also expect that the Senate will consider a proposal to override the veto of some university and higher education funding that represent major priorities of senators.”

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