Joe Negron – Page 7 – Florida Politics
Philip Levine

Philip Levine wants ‘immediate policy changes’ on gun laws

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wrote Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday, urging a commitment to gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland massacre Wednesday.

“We need more than thoughts and prayers — we need immediate policy changes that can have an immediate deterrence of these tragic incidents,” Levine wrote.

Levine, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, saw a primary opponent (Gwen Graham) issue her own calls for gun control measures.

Levine goes farther in terms of policy recommendations than Graham does.

He calls for a reversal of state laws pre-empting local gun bans, a ban on semi-automatic and assault rifles, fast background checks, and a review of mental health funding.

Levine’s letter references a 2016 resolution passed by Miami Beach that calls for a statewide assault weapons ban, while also calling for the end of pre-emption of local gun bans.

The “Legislature’s endless obsession with pre-empting local mayors and city commissioners from enacting sensible policies in their local communities has tied the hands of those who are closest to the people,” Levine writes.

Levine also references “legislation making its way through our legislative session that would weaken background checks, allow guns on college campuses and efforts to weaponize our schools. These policies are simply disgusting and only serve to undermine our public safety.”

“I urge you to immediately suspend the above-referenced legislation from moving forward in Tallahassee and redirect efforts to swiftly enact sensible and responsible gun reforms this year,” Levine writes.

Adam Putnam asks for delay on gun license-background check bill

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday said he was asking lawmakers to postpone a measure including language that would allow his department to issue concealed weapon licenses without complete criminal background information.

But Putnam, also a Republican candidate for governor, did not say whether he asked for the provision to be withdrawn from the bills.

The announcement came the same day a 19-year-old man was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after he opened fire at his former high school in Broward County, according to law enforcement. Fourteen others were wounded Wednesday afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“I mourn, along with the rest of the country, for those who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and their loved ones, and out of respect for their families and those suffering as a result of this tragedy, I’m working with bill sponsors to postpone consideration of the legislative proposal related to the licensing process,” Putnam said in a statement.

The language (HB 553, SB 740) was tucked into the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ annual legislative package. Putnam’s department grants permission for concealed carry in the state.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, was scheduled to be heard in the Appropriations Committee Thursday; the House version, carried by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, is cleared for the floor.

Under current law, if the Department’s Division of Licensing has to “issue or deny” a concealed-carry permit within 90 days of application, according to a bill analysis. If it does not have an applicant’s complete criminal background check, it can “suspend” the time limitation until it gets a full report.

The new language would “require” the division to issue a concealed weapon license within 90 days, even with incomplete background information, “in the absence of disqualifying information,” the analysis says. “However, such license must be immediately suspended and revoked upon receipt of disqualifying information.”

Putnam added that the “shooter would not have even been eligible for a concealed weapon license and clearly had a troubled past that indicated serious mental health issues.”

“The focus now should be on mental health and how we protect our children,” he said. “All of us have an obligation to notify authorities when we see the behavior that this killer exhibited online and in school.”

Senate President Joe Negron, in a Thursday press conference, said he was not sure whether the background check provision will be removed from the Senate bill.

“That will be a decision that will be made” by the sponsors, he told reporters.

In wake of Parkland shooting, Senate focuses on mental health funding

As the country grapples with the aftermath of a high school mass shooting in Broward County, Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday the upper chamber will be focused on boosting funding for mental health and campus security — not gun control.

“I think that the key for me — and what I am focusing on — is making sure that people who have mental instabilities or mental health issues don’t have access to firearms,” Negron told reporters.

When asked about measures that have stalled in the Legislature that would limit access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Negron said that is not the Senate’s focus. The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that was legally purchased in the state.

“My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have appropriate access to firearms,” he said.

Offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson echoed Negron’s priorities and said he is asking senators to support an $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

“It’s imperative that a portion of this allocation goes toward ensuring that we have the necessary number of armed resource officers at our schools across Florida,” Galvano said. “We must identity where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them.”

“Sen. Galvano and I have had some preliminary discussions about that,” Senate Appropriations Committee chair Rob Bradley said Thursday. “Right now, the Senate is at $40 million … reorienting monies to make that higher is something we need to take seriously. Our school facilities should be appropriately hardened.”

When asked about state gun control legislation, he added: “The federal government has restrictions on a lot of these specific types of weapons … It’s a 50-state problem. But there should not be any sacred cows. OK?

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I always have been. I believe it is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But I also think the Constitution does not guarantee a mentally ill person the right to have a weapon.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said there was an armed officer on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the deadly shooting, but the officer never encountered the suspect.

“We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have loosened the application process for concealed weapon permits has snarled in the Senate due to the “timing” and “sensitivity” of the recent tragedy, Negron said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam   who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout”  worked to tuck language into an agriculture-related bill that would allow permits to be processed even when there is an incomplete background check on a person.

The proposal was scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but was postponed due to the shooting. Whether it will be heard again, Negron said, is up to the bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

As Senate leadership pushes for these issues, a bipartisan group of House members has sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking to match the funding proposed by the chamber that would go to school safety and mental health services.

“Currently, the Senate has proposed that the Safe Schools allocation be increased by about $14 million while in the House no increase is being proposed within the current budget,” the letter states. “In addition, the Senate has proposed $40 million toward mental health for schools, while the House has proposed no specific appropriations for mental health care in schools.”

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Senate calls off Wednesday floor Session, next one set for Feb. 21

The Senate has called off a floor session Wednesday and does not plan to meet on the floor this week.

President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, sent a memo to senators Sunday saying the next scheduled floor Session is Feb. 21.

“The feedback President Negron received from Senators was that with only one full committee week (Week #7) left, Senators would like to utilize the time to work on their bills,” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta explained in an email.

“The Senate is typically on the floor for the majority of Week 8 and Week 9, but the time remaining for bills to advance through committees is limited. President Negron wanted to make sure Senators had extra time during this window.”

The House is slated to meet on the floor Wednesday and Thursday. The Session is scheduled to end March 9.

Double or nothing? Senate gambling bill clears latest panel

Sen. Travis Hutson says he believes “there’s a way for us to get there” when asked about gambling legislation finally passing the Legislature this year.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax on Monday unanimously approved his 90-page rewrite of the Senate’s gaming bill (SB 840) for 2018.

It now includes a House provision: A renewed 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for $3 billion in revenue over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack and slot machines outside South Florida.

But the Senate also allows the Seminoles to add craps and roulette, expressly authorizes designated player games, which the House opposes; and exempts fantasy sports from gambling regulation, a move opposed by the Tribe.

Overlaying all of that is Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s position that any bill the House agrees to must be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state—though he hasn’t specifically defined that term.

“I would argue this is a contraction all day long,” Hutson, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee, told reporters after the hearing.

Hutson’s bill, which next heads to the full Appropriations Committee, also now exempts thoroughbred horse tracks and jai alai frontons from decoupling, which allows a pari-mutuel to stop live racing but keep offering other gambling, such as slots. The bill does still allow for greyhound-racing decoupling, however.

“In terms of decoupling, there’ll be less bets,” Hutson said. “As far as designated player games and fantasy sports, they’re already being played today. To me, all that is not an expansion, that is a break-even or a contraction.”

Asked how comfortable the Tribe is with the latest Senate product, the St. Augustine Republican added: “We’re close. A couple tweaks here and there.” A spokesman for the Tribe declined comment Monday.

Likely off the table is a provision favored by Senate President Joe Negron that would grant slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties where voters OK’d them in local referendums. That’s opposed by the House and the Tribe.

Before the committee, he also alluded to the specter of a “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment on the November ballot, requiring a statewide OK for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, the Legislature will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

“This could be our last possible chance to regulate gaming as a legislative body and I need not remind anybody of the fiscal implications, in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” he told lawmakers.

The Seminoles’ current deal with the state allows it to reduce or cut off payments to the state, now over $200 million annually, if other games are played that it believes impinges on any of its exclusive gambling rights.

The Senate bill also follows the House in outlawing pre-reveal games, slot machine-style video entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia, who suggested leaving out that language while the issue is still with the courts, asked an industry lobbyist why people spend money on such games, which “preview” certain outcomes as to their winning or losing status.

“There is no answer to that,” said Christine Davis-Graves, lobbyist for Pace-O-Matic. “We can’t delve into the subjective mindset” of those who play, adding that one reason might just be “time wasting.”

In legal filings, Tribe outside counsel Barry Richard previously countered that pre-reveal players are “not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

Players “are not … merely spending money to see spinning reels and flashing lights,” Richard wrote. “Rather, it is a slot machine, with which players are wagering on an unknown, unpredictable outcome” that they may or may not win. Other states, including Indiana and North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling.

Hutson earlier said he wouldn’t be able to please all of the gambling interests all of the time.

“Everybody wants a piece of the pie,” he said to the panel. “I wish I had two pies.”

Farm aid on the way after Irma’s devastation

State lawmakers continue to craft tax relief for Florida’s storm-battered citrus industry, as President Donald Trump signed off Friday on billions of dollars in much-anticipated federal disaster relief.

A spending bill approved by Congress and Trump includes nearly $90 billion for disaster relief, with $2.36 billion aimed at assisting the agriculture industry for losses from Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

“The passage of this spending bill is a critical first step to finally getting Florida’s farmers, ranchers and growers long-awaited and desperately needed relief,” state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement. “Without this emergency assistance, Florida agriculture cannot fully recover from the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Irma.”

The federal funding — a state breakdown wasn’t immediately available — comes as Florida Senate President Joe Negron, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, and incoming President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, work on tax-relief measures for the citrus industry. The package could also help other parts of the agriculture industry impacted by Irma.

“I think it’s appropriate for the state to help mitigate some of those losses,” Negron said Thursday.

The state House Ways & Means Committee, which is putting together its own tax package, has reviewed a proposal that would offer one-time tax refunds on fencing and building materials for non-residential farm buildings. Also, a proposal would offer refunds on state and local taxes applied to fuel used to transport agriculture products from farms to processing and packaging facilities.

The Senate proposal, still being drafted, will be part of a broader tax-cut package, Negron said.

Gov. Rick Scott has requested $180 million in tax and fee cuts as lawmakers work on a budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Negron said the overall Senate package could feature a reduction in a business-rent tax and include aspects of Scott’s proposal. Scott is seeking reductions in driver’s license fees and to provide tax “holidays” on back-to-school items and hurricane supplies.

Putnam’s department has estimated that Irma inflicted $2.5 billion in agriculture losses, ranging from $761 million in damages in the citrus industry to $624 million in the nursery industry and $237.5 million in the cattle industry.

Scott, Putnam and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have called for months for federal help for the state’s farmers. Irma hit the state Sept. 10 and caused heavy damage in areas such as citrus-growing regions of Southwest Florida.

Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Shannon Shepp said the newly approved federal money will help growers “reinvest in their groves and look forward to new seasons ahead knowing that help is, indeed, on the way.”

The approval of the federal money came shortly after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday lowered its projection for the current season’s Florida orange crop by 2 percent from a January estimate. That would put the harvest 34.5 percent below the last season’s five-decade low yield.

The industry also has battled deadly citrus-greening disease for a decade. But before Irma, Shepp said the industry was counting on growers increasing their orange output by nearly 10 percent.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called the federal relief package “a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating storms.”

Scott, expected to challenge Nelson for the U.S. Senate seat in November, said that in addition to helping with recovery of the citrus industry, the federal funding will “better prepare our communities as they continue to welcome families displaced by Hurricane Maria and aid in Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

Among other things, the federal funding also provides $17.39 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including funding to repair damage caused by natural disasters, construct flood and storm damage-reduction projects and potentially to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Brewster Bevis: Affordable housing good for Florida business, economy

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) was created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development and welfare of industry, business and the people of the state, which is why we are proud to be one of the 30 statewide organizations that make up the Sadowski Coalition.

Fully funding our affordable housing programs is good for all Florida businesses and our economy. Affordable housing generates jobs in home construction, which is a major economic driver in the state. This industry also fosters growth in local businesses when they draw upon and use local resources.

Florida’s housing market and available affordable housing stock are key factors in attracting new businesses to the state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our workforce and business climate.

If we can ensure Florida’s employees at all income levels can find a safe, reliable and affordable home near their job, our state can continue to be one of the best places to do business in the nation.

Recently, the state Senate and House released their respective budget proposals. We truly appreciate the Senate and Senate leadership, including Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley of Fleming Island and President Joe Negron of Stuart, for their commitment to affordable housing.

The Senate continues to be a strong advocate for affordable housing in Florida, and we ask they remain resolute in their recommendation of fully allocating these funds as they move through budget negotiations.

On the other hand, the House’s funding proposal only appropriates affordable housing money for areas impacted by the hurricane, which means the bulk of the state will not receive any affordable housing funding with this proposal.

We hope they will move to the Senate’s funding position. We ask they remember just how important affordable housing is to our economy, Floridians and our entire State of Florida.

If lawmakers fully fund affordable housing programs during Fiscal Year 2018-19, we can generate more than 30,000 Florida jobs and have a positive economic impact of $4 billion in the State of Florida.

We ask lawmakers to keep this in mind as their focus shifts to finalizing the FY 2018-19 budget.


Brewster Bevis is the senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF, which is a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

Maybe it’s time for the Seminole Tribe to make a deal

Let me offer some short, free and subtle (ahem) advice to our friends, The Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Go easy.

Our man in Tallahassee, Jim Rosica, reported this week that the Tribe’s lawyer “said his client is offended over gambling that violates its exclusive agreement with the state.”

They won’t agree to a new Seminole Compact, Barry Richard said, unless the Legislature ends attempts to expand slots and card games at pari-mutuels and allow daily fantasy play in state statute.

That was mostly a swipe at the Senate, which is A-OK with such moves.

And why not? As Senate President Joe Negron said of new slots, lawmakers “owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who … have approved (slot machine) referendums … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.”

I now direct your attention to Brian Ballard. The state’s lobbyist-in-chief, whom we suspect has a Batphone to the President of the United States, reps fantasy sports site FanDuel, as well as Churchill Downs, and other gaming interests.

More to the point, Ballard represents MGM Resorts International, which has nearly $1 billion invested in a casino planned for Springfield, Massachusetts.

As POLITICO recently reported, the Interior Department—which oversees Indian gaming—refused to sign off on the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes’ plans for a third Connecticut casino right across the border from MGM’s site.

That was after Secretary Ryan Zinke and others “held numerous meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and the company’s Republican supporters in Congress.”

And remember, Donald Trump isn’t a big fan of Indian gaming.

In the early 1990s, Trump attacked expanding Native American–run casinos that he believed posed a threat to his own gambling empire, Newsweek has written. In media appearances, he claimed Native American reservations had fallen under mob control, and he questioned the ethnicity of Native Americans on a Connecticut reservation.

“ ‘I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations,’ Trump said during a 1993 radio interview with shock jock Don Imus,” the magazine reported. 

So, I dunno, maybe it’s time to make a deal that gives the pari-mutuels at least some of what they want. Otherwise the federal government may not approve any agreement the Legislature reaches.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Joe Negron and a reckoning (or not) on gambling

You’d think Joe Negron would have learned by now that when it comes to gambling and the Legislature, you can’t always get what you want.

Actually, you can’t even get what you need. But when it comes to what’s fair for voters, shouldn’t you fight like hell?

In a media availability after Thursday’s floor session, the Senate President and Stuart Republican was asked about the absence of opportunity for new slots and the ban on designated player games in the House’s bill touted by Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “I think that we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who live in the eight counties that have approved (slot machine) referendums, including St. Lucie County, which I represent … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.”

True, he’s said the same thing for over a year.

“So it’s hard for me to envision a gaming bill that would get to 21 votes in the Senate and at the same time ignore the clear direction and mandate of the voters,” he went on. (Mind you, we’re trying hard to hear where the pressure points are for compromise.)

“We look at the Senate bill as reflective of the majority of the priorities of senators and making sure that businesses that have been involved in gaming in Florida for, in some cases, generations, that those businesses should be treated fairly and equitably while we negotiate with the Seminole Tribe.”

How much does the proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment, which will be on the November ballot, play into it, he was asked. It would require voter approval for any new or added gaming in the state.

“If that amendment passes, and that’s a big if, it would severely restrict the ability of the Legislature to make decisions on how we move forward in gaming,” Negron said. “It certainly gives a sense of timeliness to our discussions.

“… It remains to be seen if there is enough time to reach a decision on gaming. We’re going into week five. We’re all focused on the budget, as we should be. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

So we essentially come to the same divide as last year: A Senate President that believes in expanding slots to counties that want them, and a House Speaker who’s looking for “a contraction of gaming.”

And the clock ticks.

So what’s it going to be? A fair deal for the counties that voted to have slots, or another year of stasis on gaming? And after November, the door may well close on legislative intervention.

On Wednesday, Corcoran said he wanted his legacy to be gambling reform “so all the people who come after us don’t have to have this constant, perpetual fight over a massive expansion of gaming. I’d love to have that happen.”

When it comes to gambling and the will of the people: Mr. President, your legacy is calling.

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