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How to get around Richard Corcoran’s new rules — Volume 2

Second in a series.

Most people are familiar with this joke about lawyers.

Q: What do you call 2,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A: A good start.

Well, to newly installed House Speaker Richard Corcoran, if you substitute “lobbyists” for “lawyers” in that joke, it’d be twice as funny.

Despite his brother being a lobbyist, Corcoran does not think highly of the profession and that is part of the reason why he has instituted a series of reforms which attempt to diminish the influence of the influence-peddlers.

“We must close the revolving door between the Legislature and the lobby corps,” Corcoran said last year during his designation speech. “We need to restore the distance between those who seek to influence the laws and those of us who make the laws.”

One of the key reforms Corcoran has implemented is a requirement that lobbyists file electronic disclosures on what specific issues they are lobbying for or against.

There would appear to be an easy workaround to this roadblock, err, reform.

Lobbyists, especially those at the larger firms, should file disclosures indicating they are lobbying for and/or against EVERY bill that is filed.

Say it’s out of an abundance of caution. Say you are being over-transparent. Say whatever. But if you are Brian Ballard or Chris Dudley or Nick Iarossi and you have more than 50 or 100 clients, it’s not implausible to suggest your firm has a hand in almost every bill that is filed.

Or if you are a lobbyist who represents one of the major trade groups, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, it makes sense that you are keeping an eye on every issue before the Florida Legislature.

Here’s what how top lobbyist at one of the state’s largest firm explained how they’d work around the rules:

“We’re going to hire a Session clerk, just as we hire Session interns. The clerk’s sole job will be to sit at the computer and over-report in compliance with the new House rule on registering for issues. We will give the clerk a list of clients, the lobbyists registered for each client and a list of statute chapter of any possible interest to each client. The clerk’s job will be to register each and every bill affecting any identified chapter for each client for every lobbyist registered for that client and then do the same each day for each and every amendment filed on any of the registered bills. This procedure will also apply to any bill we specifically tag. If the House wants data, we are going to give them mega data, not out of spite, but out of an abundance of caution. This will be able to find out that every one of our lobbyists registered for our  insurance client is lobbying every single insurance bill and all of the amendments to those bills. I am sure that knowledge will be very helpful to somebody. (There are  boutique compliance businesses springing up as I write, and we may contract with one of them to do what I have described rather than hiring a clerk. I am meeting with just such an entrepreneur on Monday.)”

Stating that you are lobbying on every bill that is filed may seem like overkill, but if you’re not cheatin’, you’re not tryin’.

Email if you have suggestions for other hacks and workarounds.

Richard Corcoran dour on Florida’s state budget outlook

House Speaker Richard Corcoran doesn’t believe the Legislature will have $7.5 million above existing spending when the time comes to write the next state budget.

“The budget, I think, is going to be difficult,” Corcoran told reporters following the House Organization Session Tuesday.

“Once we see the Zika effect in our state’s tax revenues, my hunch is that when we hit session in May we are going to be at best flatlined and at worst we could have a deficit,” he said.

Given his conservative predelictions, “for anything that anybody wants to do on either side” — meaning in the House or Senate — “they’re going to have to go in and they’re going to have to find cuts. What we’ve said over and over and over is that we are convinced, even without that being the reality, that we have a spending problem in this state. We are going to address that spending problem.”

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission projected in September that lawmakers would have an extra $7.5 million to play with next session, with deficits in subsequent years.

Corcoran considers that number “fictional.”

It doesn’t account for the full increase in managed care costs, or the true rate of return on pension investments, which have been declining — or an array of budgetary pressures, he said.

Even when the commission rendered its estimate, “in my estimation, we were probably more between ($500 million) and $1 billion in a hole,” Corcoran said

Joe Negron will support new Seminole Compact next session

Answering a $3 billion question, Senate President Joe Negron Tuesday said he backed passage next session of a renewed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Senate president Joe Negron, in his office at the Florida Capitol December 3, 2015.

But Negron also said he was comfortable with related initiatives gambling opponents have said constitute an expansion of gambling in the Sunshine State.

For instance, regarding counties that pass local referendums to allow slot machines, the Stuart Republican said he would “personally feel obligated to defer to that.”

“We also need to be fair to other participants in the gaming industry, the pari-mutuels and others, to make sure that they’re treated fairly,” he said.

That doesn’t square with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who on Monday said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass it will have to be conservative. It’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

Negron countered: “I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact so the state has predictability in revenue.”

The state and tribe struck a long-term deal in 2010 that included a provision, which expired last year, giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer blackjack for five years. That equated to more than $200 million per year.

Gov. Rick Scott and tribal representatives then agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.

But that agreement couldn’t even get to either floor for a vote last session; it contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette — that is, more games.

Some lawmakers also tacked on measures to help pari-mutuels — horse and dog tracks — giving slot machines and card games to more of them outside South Florida. With many legislators averse to expanding gambling, the compact died.

The tribe’s fortunes changed this month, when a federal judge ruled it can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games,” without having to pay the state a dime.

Judge Robert Hinkle agreed the state reneged on the original deal, meaning the tribe can have blackjack until 2030 at its Hard Rock Casinos across the state, including the marquee Tampa location.

“You have to get a plan through the committee process and onto the floor for a vote, and then people can vote as they choose,” Negron said. Historically, “we don’t get far along in the process for everyone’s view to be heard.”

Duval voters expressed their view on gambling this month, passing a referendum to approve slot machines at bestbet Jacksonville. Other counties have OK’d slots in past years, apart from a 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed slots in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. 

“I think we need to acknowledge the will of the voters,” Negron said.

How to get around Richard Corcoran’s new rules — Volume 1

The first in a series.

It’s official.

Richard Corcoran is now the Speaker of the Florida House. And with his installation comes sweeping changes to the chamber’s rules.

There are new restrictions on lobbyists, including a ban on lobbyists using emails or text messages to reach out to legislators when they are about to vote.

Also among the changes is a requirement that members file individual legislation for each budget earmark they seek, reports Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida.

Initially, there was some confusion about this rule change because it was unclear what would happen to an earmark in the Senate that had no accompanying bill in the House.

Corcoran said Monday the solution to that problem is senators will need to find a House co-sponsor for earmark requests just like any other bill, reports Dixon.

“They have to find one of the 120 members [of the House] to file that earmark or project for them, then it’s in play,” Corcoran said.

There would appear to be an easy workaround to this roadblock, err, reform.

A gang of Republican senators just needs to find some backbench, preferably term-limited Democrat member of the House who has no hesitation about pissing in Corcoran’s Cheerios.

Have this House member file a bill for every single possible earmark the Senate can conceive of, this way the upper chamber is in compliance with the House’s new requirements.

(The gang of senators needs to remember to lend this helpful House member a handful of Senate staffers to complete all of the new budgeting paperwork now required by Corcoran and Co.)

Since there’s no limit on the number of appropriations bills that can be filed by an individual member, it won’t matter if this helpful House member files one bill or a thousand. In fact, the more bills, the merrier for the Senate. After all, as Dixon noted in his reporting about Corcoran’s changes to the appropriations process, as long as a budget bill is filed by both the House and the Senate, it can remain in play until final budget negotiations.

Sure, this helpful House member may draw the scorn of Speaker Corcoran, but they’ll have a lot of friends in the Senate.

And that’s one way to get around Speaker Corcoran’s new rules.

Email if you have suggestions for other hacks and workarounds.

Americans for Prosperity gives thumbs up to new House rules

Following the new rules adopted by the Florida House of Representatives to make state government more transparent and accountable, introduced by newly elected House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the libertarian-oriented Americans for Prosperity-Florida expressed its support on Tuesday.

“We are especially eager to see Speaker Corcoran’s new House rules in action,” said state director Chris Hudson. “These new rules are a strong signal to Floridians that the Legislature will focus on good stewardship and transparency as their guide throughout the next two years.”

Included in the approved package of proposals is a requirement for lobbyists to submit paperwork the first time they meet with anyone in the House on an issue or a bill; requiring lobbyists to list the particular issues of a bill before they can lobby them, and a ban on lobbyists texting lawmakers during committee hearings.

In addition to Corcoran’s election, the House and Senate voted for new leaders selected years ago.

“We are excited to begin working on holding elected officials accountable for the 2017 session,” said Hudson. “We heard Senate President Joe Negron, Speaker Richard Corcoran, and leaders Janet Cruz and Oscar Braynon lay out aggressive agendas for the coming years. Our hope is that these lawmakers, and both legislative bodies, rise to the principled standards they laid out in order to advance freedom for Florida families and entrepreneurs.”

Richard Corcoran installed as House speaker promising ‘struggle’ to do right

Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership of the Florida House during its organizational session Tuesday, promising a new era of good government enforced by unprecedentedly stringent ethics rules and controls on lobbyists.

“Good government isn’t a process; it’s a struggle for its leaders to do the right thing,” Corcoran said. “We have to put aside the rhetorical devices and political tricks and look out for the people. We have to govern selflessly and we have to tell the truth.”

The House adopted the new rules without debate.

Before Corcoran’s remarks, the House engaged in traditional organizational session pageantry. In small groups, newly elected members stood in the well of the House and took their oaths of office — 26 of them. Re-elected members then took their feet en masse to reaffirm their own oaths.

There for the occasion were numerous former House members, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a former House speaker. Gov. Rick Scott came up to the Fourth Floor for the occasion. Justice Rick Polston crossed the street from the Florida Supreme Court.

The usual arrays of bouquets were mostly absent from members’ desks — Corcoran had discouraged that practice. But — in another tradition — members’ families crowded into seats lining the chamber and in the gallery overhead. Members wore red or blue roses in their jacket lapels, depending on their political bent.

When it came time to vote for speaker, fellow party members placed both Corcoran’s name and that of Democratic leader Janet Cruz in nomination. But Cruz moved to dispense with a vote and urged Corcoran’s election unanimously, and the House agreed. He ascended to the speaker’s podium, where Polston swore him in as speaker. He will serve through 2018.

Addressing the House, Corcoran said his reform platform is sorely needed, pointing to the “primal scream” from voters on Election Day.

“Somehow, we were all surprised. But we shouldn’t have been,” Corcoran said in prepared remarks. “We talked about this over a year ago at our designation ceremony. What said then, the voters yelled on Election Day — ‘the enemy is us.’ ”

He spoke of an age-old struggle between the governed and those who govern. “We have to govern selflessly, and we have to tell the truth.”

The truth, Corcoran said, is that too much legislation is written by lobbyists, who “see themselves as the power brokers of this process.”

“On the rare occasion we are able to push through the horde of lobbyists and special interests, and do something really, really meaningful, they just regroup. They openly brag about waiting us out, and then they come back — one statute, one exemption, one appropriation at a time, and undo all that we did,” he said.

“We can make this a moment of greatness, and push back and tell the people of this state of Florida that we will fix their broken system, and that we can turn it into something that is true and good and beautiful. “

It begins, Corcoran said, with the “aggressive and transformative” new House rules prohibiting lobbyist favors to lawmakers, including free airplane rides, and extends the ban on lobbying by former House members to six years.

“It all ends, and it all ends today,” he said.

Plus budget rules requiring earmarks to be submitted in bill form, sponsored by a House member, and not as last-minute amendments. Last year, he said, the House identified $2.3 billion in such projects.

The bipartisan rules changes are the “strongest in the nation,” Corcoran said. The people will know “who’s pushing and playing” for such earmarks, he said.

“And for those of you who find this rule to be too burdensome, here’s my message: if you can’t get one single member out of 120 to file your bill; if you can’t withstand just a few weeks of public scrutiny; and if you can’t give detailed information on why that project is worthy, then you don’t deserve taxpayers’ money.”

Corcoran bragged about cutting off “corporate welfare” during the last session and promised more of the same — even at the risk of confrontation internally, with the Senate and with Scott, whose jobs programs emphasizes priming the pump for new and growing businesses.

Corcoran argued for school choice, urging Democratic members to tell the Florida Education Association to withdraw a lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program.

“They are literally trying to destroy the lives of 100,000 children. Most of them are minorities and all of them are poor. It flies in the face of common sense and it defies every single study. It’s  downright evil,” Corcoran said.

“I know that’s a strong word,” he continued, but compared the situation to letting children drown for lack of educational opportunity.

He called for Washington to let Florida take the lead on health care reform. “Let us show the rest of the nation — let us show Washington, D.C. — how well we can do,” he said.

He decried what he sees as judges who put “power above principles.”

“We need judges who will respect the Constitution and separation of powers. Who will resist the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected super-legislature. The problem with holding the same office for in essence life, is you start to think that office is far, far, far less important than the person in it — which is why we need 12-year term limits on judges, so we can have a healthy judicial branch.”

“Members, we are only one-half of one legislature in one state. So a lot of people have said to me that this is far, far, far beyond our dreams. But that will not stop us. The special interests will not stop us. The mainstream media will not stop us. Our own party leaders will not stop us. We will fight.”

Finally, Corcoran harkened back to a book he’d loved as a child, the tales of King Arthur.

“I remember being just a little boy, mesmerized by those stories: This idea of a group of knights, working  side by side, none greater than the other, and all willing to die for something greater than themselves. Could leaders really work that way? Could the world really be like that?”

Two House members were excused from the Organization Session: Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, who’s recovering from back surgery; and Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, whose wife is expecting.

Despite philosophical differences, Richard Corcoran expects House committees to consider incentive requests

New House Speaker Richard Corcoran expects funding requests for Florida’s top jobs agency to move through his chamber’s committees, despite his strong personal objections to taxpayer-financed economic incentives.

Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports Gov. Rick Scott is requesting $85 million in incentives for a broad range of business deals to attract businesses to Florida.

Also, the Department of Economic Opportunity — an agency Scott oversees — is requesting funds for VISIT FLORIDA, the quasi-governmental tourism arm, and Space Florida, which is tasked with boosting the state’s space sector.

Corcoran opposes those finance requests, just as he has a philosophical difference over economic incentives. Despite that, the House speaker believes they will likely be considered by the House Commerce Committee, chaired by Miami Republican Rep. José Díaz.

Corcoran told Dixon he opposes all taxpayer-funded incentives, which he believes is not a function of government, but will not stand in the way of committees considering funding requests.

“All of those are on the table and will be evaluated,” Corcoran said.

Decisions will be made on whether they offer a high return on investment. If not, Corcoran said the programs will be “cut.”

Among the requests from the Department of Economic Opportunity is $26 million in a one-time trust fund disbursement for VISIT FLORIDA, an amount supplemental to the $50 million in recurring funding — $76 million in the current year’s budget.

As part of the department’s request, Dixon reports each dollar is expected to bring in $1.80 in private sector matching funds.

Per the request: “The current base funding of $50 million matched at 1.8-to-1 will result in lower overall private funding compared to the prior two years, which will result in a reduction in tourism marketing programs, and a correlated reduction in visitation, tourism spending, and economic impact.”

Space Florida also is asking for $7 million to attract companies to the Space Coast, which is still dealing with the shutdown of the federal Space Shuttle program.

That funding request says: “The space industry is … transitioning from an era that has been largely federally dominated to a true commercial marketplace that is increasingly driven by the private sector.”

Seminole Compact still in play, Richard Corcoran says

Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran Monday said lawmakers again will consider a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled the tribe can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” to its Hard Rock Casino customers across the state, including the Tampa location.

The tribe sued the state, saying it had broken an exclusivity deal with the tribe, one part of what’s called the 2010 Seminole Compact. The Seminoles now can offer blackjack until 2030 without sharing revenue with the state. The original deal wound up being worth more than $200 million per year.

A renewed blackjack deal struck by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers. It also contained key provisions critics said expand gambling in Florida, such as allowing the tribe to offer craps and roulette.

corcoran, richard

Passing the deal helps both sides, providing the state with much-needed cash and the tribe with “stability,” Corcoran told reporters.

The new compact “will go through the whole committee process,” Corcoran said. “We’ll see it work itself through.”

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican, again will handle the agreement in the House as chair of the new Commerce Committee.

But Corcoran also said there would almost certainly be “underlying legislation” attached to any compact considerations: “I think you’re going to have to have both to try to get something done.”

But it was the accompanying legislation that helped kill the compact last session.

Lawmakers trying to appease pari-mutuel interests, such as horse and dog tracks, added on even more measures to expand gambling, including slot machines and card games. That ensured its demise among legislators shy of seeming too cozy with gambling interests.

“We’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass it will have to be conservative,” Corcoran said. “It’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

Fla. House GOP nominates Richard Corcoran as speaker

As expected, Florida House Republicans Monday formally nominated state Rep. Richard Corcoran as the House Speaker for the next two years.

The chamber’s GOP majority met the day before the Legislature’s biennial Organization Session, where he will be officially selected.

Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues nominated Corcoran, with a second from Pasco County’s Chris Sprowls, the likely Speaker for 2020-22.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican will lead the House up to the 2018 election.

In brief remarks, Corcoran told the chamber he would always try to remember his “why.”

“My ‘why’ is truth, goodness, and beauty,” he said. “Power erodes morality, conscience, and character. That’s how we started with ethics reform. We have to remove those temptations.

“If we have the courage to believe in something bigger, then we really will have the opportunity to create a more beautiful world,” he added.

House members then watched a video, narrated by motivational speaker Eric Thomas, about boxer Buster Douglas.

Douglas was knocked down by Mike Tyson before getting up and later knocking him out in a 1990 fight.

After the video, a message read: “Before every vote, before every meeting, before every decision … know your why.”

Also selected was Jeanette Nunez of Miami as speaker pro tempore. Members also adopted the House GOP conference rules.

They include a requirement that members serve one full session before directly or indirectly soliciting pledges of support for leadership positions, including House speaker.

Gov. Scott: record numbers of tourists vindicate Visit Florida’s mission

Despite two hurricanes hitting the state, federal officials warning away pregnant women from Miami due to the Zika virus, and international coverage of the Pulse massacre this summer, Florida is doing better than ever when it comes to tourism.

And in the context of an upcoming showdown with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the necessity of Visit Florida — which has seen its budget nearly triple in the time Scott has been in office — the results driven by destination marketing dollars tell the story of Visit Florida’s purpose and continued utility.

In a visit to the windswept and chilly Jacksonville Zoo on Monday morning, Gov. Rick Scott announced that 85 million tourists visited the state during the first nine months of 2016.

That’s the highest nine-month total ever and a 5.5 percent increase over last year. The 85 million tourists in three months outpaces the full year of 2010, said Scott, which only saw 82 million.

“We’re on a roll. This state is headed in the right direction,” Scott said, citing jobs numbers (1,232,400 created thus far in his time in the governor’s office), before telling the story of tourism, responsible for 1.2 million private sector jobs currently in the Sunshine State.

“That would not be happening,” Scott said, were it not for “Visit Florida, Visit Jacksonville, and great attractions like the Jacksonville Zoo.”

“As you know,” Scott continued, “we’ve had a lot of things happen to our state in the last twelve months. We had the Pulse terrorist attack, we’ve had two hurricanes, we’ve had Zika. But even on top of that, people are still coming — flocking to our state.”

“In the first three quarters of this year,” Scott continued, “we’ve had 85 million tourists visit our state.”

That is, Scott continued, “another record. We’ve seen records since 2010, and the reason is we have great attractions, we have great employees, we’ve got great beaches, we’ve got great weather … People want to come here.”

“We have 1.2 million jobs tied to tourism, and we’re going to continue to grow, because we’re investing. These are entry level jobs, and they’re jobs with people running places like the Jacksonville Zoo … a spectrum of great jobs.”

Scott in a statement said the record numbers show how well Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is doing its job. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran has questioned continued funding of the organization.

Scott echoed that urgency on Monday in Jacksonville.

“We have to keep funding Visit Florida. We’ve gone in 2010 from 27 million dollars in funding to this year … 76 million dollars in state funding. It’s a public-private partnership, it’s a match program. We spend the money well and we’re getting results. 85 million tourists,” Scott said.

The governor added that Florida is “on track this year to have 115 million tourists.”

“We can do it. We only have 30 million to go,” Scott quipped.

In the gaggle after the event, Scott made the case that Visit Florida catalyzes “jobs for families,” driving a panoply of tourists into the state for attractions ranging from Universal Studios to the Jacksonville Zoo.

“We’ve got to keep funding. And we’ve got to keep getting these jobs,” the governor said.

Every 85 visitors creates one new job in Florida, asserted Will Seccombe, President and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA.

“When we look at the huge growth year over year in visitors,” Seccombe added, “that results in a lot of jobs.”

“What we’ve been doing has been working, and the momentum we have has been able to carry us through some challenging times,” Seccombe added.

For Scott, claims that Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida are “corporate welfare” are anathema.

Scott noted that when he ran for governor, he pledged to create 700,000 new jobs, and the 1,232,400 new jobs created, coupled with 243,000 job openings, speaks to a simple proposition.

“We’ve gotten a return on your tax dollars,” Scott said.

That includes Visit Florida, which is “going well” with “record numbers.”

“I want jobs — every type of job in the state,” Scott added, ranging from “entry level jobs” to “high paying jobs.”

“I want everybody to be able to get a job in the state. The most important thing we can do for a family is to get them a job,” Scott added.

What is clear: any expectation that the governor is going to abandon his agenda, vis a vis Visit Florida, is not rooted in reality. Scott believes the program is working. And he believes the numbers back him up.

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