Richard Corcoran Archives - Page 7 of 42 - Florida Politics

Guns, gambling and taxes: Legislators return to work

Once the Florida Legislature kicks off its 60-day Session March 7, legislators are expected to pass, or kill, dozens of measures dealing with everything from abortion to gambling and the environment.

So far, more than 2,000 bills have been filed, but in the end, legislators usually pass fewer than 300 pieces of legislation each year.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues this Session:

DEATH PENALTY: Florida legislators are expected to quickly pass a measure that would require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed. Last year, the state Supreme Court declared a new law requiring a 10-2 jury vote to impose the death penalty unconstitutional.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Voters last November overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, which allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than had been allowed under state law. Legislators will consider bills to implement the amendment, including possibly expanding who can grow and sell medical marijuana.

GUNS: There are about two dozen gun-related bills that already have been filed and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried in places that they are now not allowed including university campuses and non-secure areas of airports. Democrats have proposed more restrictions, but they have virtually no chance of passing.

GAMBLING: Top legislative leaders say they would like to come up with a comprehensive overhaul of gambling laws. But so far, the House and Senate are divided on what should be done.

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow slot machines at dog and horse tracks in eight counties outside South Florida. The Senate gambling bill would also allow the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The House version would allow the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines at its casinos for 20 years. But it would not allow gambling to expand to other parts of the state.

WATER: Senate President Joe Negron wants to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS: House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to impose a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The House is backing a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would ask voters to make the change. But it’s unclear if the Senate will consider the proposal.

BUDGET: Florida legislators are required to annually pass a new budget. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended an $83.5 billion budget that includes money for tax cuts, steep reductions for hospitals and uses local tax dollars to boost school spending.

House Republicans are opposed to Scott’s use of local property taxes and they are expected to call for large budget cuts while also increasing spending on education. Senate President Joe Negron wants to eliminate a tax break for the insurance industry and use the money to cut taxes charged on cellphone service and cable television. Negron also wants to boost spending on universities and colleges.

EDUCATION: Legislators are considering several bills dealing with schools, including one that would require elementary schools to set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess.” Another bill would allow high school students to earn foreign language credits if they take courses in computer coding. Legislators are also considering changes to Florida’s high-stakes standardized tests, including pushing back the testing date to the end of the school year.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Negron has called for an overhaul of the state’s colleges and universities that requires the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a university or college. The Senate plan also calls for boosting efforts to recruit and retain university faculty.

ABORTION: Several abortion bills have been filed including one that would make it easier for women to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES: Corcoran wants to scuttle the state’s economic development agency and trim back spending at the state’s tourism marketing outfit. The move is strongly opposed by Gov. Scott who says they help the economy, but Corcoran has criticized the efforts as a form of “corporate welfare.”

HEALTH CARE: Legislators are considering several proposals that would eliminate limits on certain types of health care facilities. They may also overhaul the state worker health insurance program and expand the use of direct primary care agreements between physicians and patients.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Janet Cruz is ready to lead her caucus during what’s expected to be a raucous Session

Speaking to an audience in her home district of Tampa last month, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz feels Florida doesn’t have a spending or revenue problem.

Tallahassee has a “priority problem,” the House District 62 representative said.

She maintains that attitude going into the 2017 regular Legislative Session, which officially kicks off  Tuesday.

“The Republicans have continued to focus on massive handouts for the ultrawealthy and the large corporations at the expense of our public education, at the expense of our hospitals, at the expense of our environment, and at the expense of small businesses, which in my opinion is the backbone of this country,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com in a phone interview last week.

“All of these issues are about creating good paying jobs that provide economic security for working Floridians and essentially these people are just looking for some economic security, higher wages, better-paying jobs.”

While acknowledging that the Rick Scott versus Richard Corcoran contretemps will entertain Capitol observers this spring, she supports Corcoran’s attempts to kill Enterprise Florida, the public-private agency that entices companies to add jobs in the state.

“I have a hard time stroking million dollars checks for millionaires. I just don’t see it,” she says, referring to the median income in her district being only $39,000.

Cruz is pleased that the bills to defund Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida were decoupled in the past few weeks, because she sees the value of Visit Florida to the Sunshine State, but only if greater oversight is imposed on its management.

“Salaries as a state employee are typically lower than in corporate America, yet for some reason Visit Florida doesn’t quite subscribe to that salary range as a state employee,” she says, referring to the fact that former Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe made an annual salary of $293,000.

Cruz is one of the leaders of the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, where transportation remains a central problem plaguing the region. Last month, the entire delegation convened in Clearwater, with much of the discussion on creating a regional transit authority (Clearwater Senator Jack Latvala has just filed a bill in the Senate to do that).

Nevertheless, she remains optimistic about the possibility of establishing such an entity.

For the first time, Cruz agrees with her GOP colleagues in Hillsborough about eliminating the controversial Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, and supports a bill sponsored by Tampa Bay-area Republicans Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant that would finally enact statewide regulations on transportation network companies.

“It’s finally going to happen, and I think that there were some legislators, including myself, that were resistant,” Cruz says. “Not because I don’t love Lyft or Uber, because I love both of them. Because I didn’t feel that it was fair and the playing field wasn’t level for the taxi companies to follow so many different rules and so many regulations.”

“Then I felt like Uber kind of came in as a bully and said, ‘we’re going to do it our way, and we really care what you have to say, and we’re your local rules and regs are, we’re going to do it our way.’”

Cruz believes it’s still important that Uber drivers have an “advanced level” of background security checks. Uber and Lyft are the future, she says, “so we just have to work on regulating it so that Floridians are safe. That’s my biggest concern.”

(Under the Sprowls-Grant bill, TNC drivers will not be required to have a Level II background check. In a committee hearing last month, Sprowls downplayed the notion that a Level II check is more rigorous than what is in his bill. “The FBI database has 95 million records. These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill, have 500 million records,” he said).

Senate President Joe Negron was one of a handful of Florida Republicans who traveled to Washington last week to discuss potential health care changes with their congressional counterparts. He supports a plan being floated that would have the federal government giving a form of a block grant to the state for Medicaid coverage.

Like virtually every Democrat, Cruz would prefer that the Affordable Care Act stay in place, but she’ll reserve judgment if a new GOP plan ends up covering at least as many if not more of her constituents.

That remains extremely dubious, though.

While the Florida Senate overwhelmingly supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a couple of years ago, Cruz’ GOP colleagues in the House overwhelmingly rejected such an idea, which rankles the Tampa Democrat.

“I hear them get so snarky sometimes in the Legislature about folks without health care coverage and it slays me, honestly, because these folks who don’t have coverage end up in the emergency room because that’s their only option, that cost is passed on to us … so it’s like really?” she says. “You’re pushing so hard not to have coverage for working families, yet, believe it or not, you’re paying for it at the end.”

There will be plenty of bills, resolutions and resolution-like memorials in the 2017 session — 39 in all.

Cruz says that the National Rifle Association’s influence on GOP legislators is preventing the Legislature from moving forward on “common sense gun safety reforms.” She’s cognizant of the vast cultural differences that representatives from more rural areas of the state feel about guns as opposed to those from urban regions like Tampa.

“I understand that people have very different perspectives, but nobody is trying to take anyone’s gun away from them,” she insists. “We just want to make sure that campuses and airports are safe.”

Cruz did offer her prediction for the coming session.

“I’m looking forward to working with Speaker Corcoran, watching the sparks fly between the Speaker and the Governor, hoping that session will end on time and we won’t waste taxpayer’s dollars. But we’ll see.”

Lottery case now in judge’s hands; agency says it did no wrong

The Florida Lottery went on an illegal spending spree when it inked a multiple-year, $700 million contract for new equipment and “blew up” the state’s budget process, a lawyer for House Speaker Richard Corcoran argued Monday. 

The Lottery’s lawyer countered that it takes money to make money, and the agency simply did what lawmakers told it to do: Follow “its singular purpose” of maximizing its revenue for education, Barry Richard said. Lottery proceeds go to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. 

Both sides gave closing arguments after a one-day, non-jury trial over Corcoran’s contention that the contract with International Game Technology (IGT) went “beyond existing budget limitations,” as House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum told Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

Instead of first asking for approval from lawmakers in charge of the state’s purse, the Lottery went rogue last year by cutting a deal that costs the agency 37 percent more than a prior equipment contract, Tanenbaum suggested. 

“If you want to do more, you have to ask for permission first,” he said. 

Gievers did not rule immediately from the bench, saying she would take the matter “under advisement” and issue a decision “as quickly as I can.” The 2017 Legislative Session starts Tuesday.

Richard told Gievers the Lottery just followed its legislative mandate to act as an “entrepreneurial business enterprise” that’s allowed to do “alternative procurement” compared to other state agencies.

“The Lottery has done exactly as the Legislature has asked it to do,” he said. The agency surpassed $6.2 billion in sales during 2016, records show.

“It has been extraordinary successful, and the Legislature has never said, ‘You’re making too much money,’ ” Richard argued. 

He further argued Corcoran was overstepping his constitutional bounds: “The Legislature’s function is to appropriate funds and make law. Contracting power is a quintessential power of the executive branch,” he said, granting that legislators can, however, place limits on that power. 

Richard earlier in the day questioned Summer Sylvestri, the Lottery’s procurement director. She explained the agency negotiated a deal based on percentage of lottery ticket sales, and away from a flat rate based on the number of vending machines leased. 

IGT then agreed to come down on the percentage after the Lottery agreed to exercise the first of three available 3-year renewal options on the 10-year deal. That saved the state $18 million, she testified.

The new deal also provides much more than the previous equipment contract, including in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

House witness calls Lottery contract ‘complete departure’ from protocol

A multiple-year, $700 million contract for new Florida Lottery equipment is “a complete departure from the way we’ve operated for many years,” a House budget analyst testified Monday.

Bruce Topp, budget chief for the Government Operation and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, was on the stand for the non-jury trial between the Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the contract, made final last year.

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The Lottery’s outside counsel counters that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts.”

Topp told House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum that when he looked over the deal after it was done, he quickly figured it would cost the agency roughly $47.5 million to fund each year.

That’s more than the Lottery’s current appropriation for $34.6 million yearly under the previous equipment contract, he added.

“The quick determination … was that they did not have enough to pay for their contract … That really caught our eye,” Topp said.

With Lottery sales continually increasing, the agency pulled out the stops on a big deal to get new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

For example, the new agreement jumps the number of leased “full-service vending machines” from 500 to 5,000.

Lottery proceeds benefit the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education. The Lottery surpassed $6.2 billion in sales during 2016, it said.

The contract, with International Game Technology (IGT), is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery already exercised the first of its three available 3-year renewal options.

In cross-examination, Lottery attorney Barry Richard suggested a fail-safe was built in, that “if the Legislature doesn’t appropriate the funds, the vendor is entitled to nothing.”

But that would lead to a situation in which the agency could be seen as breaking the contract, Topp said, and doing so is a “substantial change in policy.”

Richard also noted that the Legislature has at least five times in the past given the Lottery extra money when it needed to buy more tickets from another vendor after increased sales.

Earlier, JoAnne Leznoff, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, testified that “multi-year contracts are the norm in state government,” but they must be “within the mission of the agency.”

Lawmakers often amend budgets mid-year for “unforeseen circumstances,” but agencies can’t cut deals by “assum(ing) an increase in their appropriation,” she said. 

Richard was expected to call his witnesses after a midday lunch break. Both sides said they expected to wrap up the case on Monday. It’s not clear whether Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers will rule from the bench by the end of the day.

 

 

Richard Corcoran selects Darryl Rouson, Tom Lee to constitution panel

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced that Sen. Darryl Rouson, Rep. Chris Sprowls, and Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco will be among his nine picks for the Constitution Revision Commission.

The Land O’Lakes Republican’s selections will round out the 37-member review panel, which meets every 20 years to look over and suggest changes to the Florida Constitution. The panel must be established within 30 days before the regular 2017 Legislative Session convenes.

The annual 60-day session kicks off Tuesday.

“I’ve said it on numerous occasions, I would only appoint Commission Members who understood and respected the role of our constitution and the separation of powers. I believe all these appointees share that respect and understanding,” said Corcoran in a statement. “With that as a foundation, these appointees are diverse, principled, and won’t march in lockstep with anyone. And my only charge to each has been to do what they believe to be right. I am sure that each Member appointed today will do their part to ensure freedom and the rule of law are embodied in our final product.”

Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2016, after serving serving eight years in the Florida House. He’s a former Pinellas County prosecutor, who also served as commissioner on the Tax and Budget Reform Commission.

Sprowls is also a former prosecutor, leaving the State Attorney’s Office over the summer to join Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. First elected in 2014, the Palm Harbor Republican has quickly moved up the leadership ladder, and is in line to become Speaker after the 2020 elections.

Sprowls isn’t the only member of the House leadership team expected to get a spot at the table. Corcoran is also expected to name Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez to panel, according to sources briefed on the Speaker’s plans.

Look for Corcoran to also select Rich Newsome, a long-time friend and attorney who has lobbied on behalf of the state’s trial lawyers; Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican and former Senate President; John Stemberger with the Florida Family Policy Council; and Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board and the wife of freshman Rep. Byron Donalds. 

 Corcoran’s announcements comes just days after Gov. Rick Scott announced his appointments, which were also heavy on supporters and political allies.

As Governor, Scott selected 15 of the 37 commissioners, as well as its chairman. The Naples Republican selected Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, as chairman.

Senate President Joe Negron also got nine picks, while the Chief Justice is allotted three. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Trial to begin in Richard Corcoran v. Florida Lottery

Lawyers for the Florida Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran will square off today in what’s expected to be a one-day trial.

The non-jury trial, before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in the Leon County Courthouse, is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Each side has said they will call only two witnesses.

The speaker sued the agency, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, saying it was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiple-year, $700 million contract for new equipment from International Game Technology (IGT).

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The deal with IGT is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

Barry Richard, the Greenberg Traurig attorney representing the Lottery, has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts.”

He has said the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the contract discloses that any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers. Such a disclosure is required under state law.

 

 

Florida’s legislative leaders talk issues, personalities

Florida Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are Republican lawyers. But the similarities start to drift from there.

Negron calls himself boring and is the quiet, deliberative type. Corcoran likes listening to music at top volume, and his approach to leadership reflects that.

The Associated Press interviewed each separately about their backgrounds, personalities and priorities as they prepare for their first legislative session as their chambers’ leaders. Here’s what they had to say:

___

What motivated you to first run for office?

Corcoran said his interest in government was a lesson he learned from his parents, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. “They always were very involved in understanding and following and trying to affect our government at all levels because they recognized and lived through the horrors of what bad government or the wrong philosophy lead to.”

Negron: “I’ve always been fascinated by how the political process works, and I have strong opinions on some core issues, like the sovereignty of the individual. In government service, you have an opportunity to advocate and promote those things you believe in and make a tangible and measurable difference.”

___

What is the one bill you are most proud of passing?

“I couldn’t tell you one,” said Corcoran, who listed several bills. The first one he mentioned was a billed passed his freshman year in 2011 that requires urgent-care centers to post the costs of their 50 most frequently provided medical services. Negron sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Negron: “We passed a bill saying that out-of-state insurance companies had to follow the same Florida consumer protection laws if they wanted to sell policies in our state.”

___

What are your 2017 priorities?

Corcoran: “Scaling back the size of government; eliminating and getting a hold on pork barrel spending and wasteful government spending and cutting that out of the budget, and creating much bigger transparency and accountability; having the toughest ethics standards of any state in the nation; holding elected officials accountable by creating finer lines on the separation of powers, and reining in a Supreme Court that’s writing law and trying to be two branches instead of one; cutting taxes; and getting government as much as we can out of the people’s pockets.”

Negron said increasing water storage capacity south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce and eliminate discharges that have cause algae blooms in rivers flowing to the coast. Also, he said increasing funding to state universities.

___

How would you describe your leadership style?

Corcoran: “The book that over the last six years that our class used a lot was ‘Good to Great’ and we talked about having a real leadership team with people having input.” The subtitle of the book is “Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t” and it’s a management book on how to improve companies.

Negron: “My colleagues supported me to be the presiding officer based on my commitment to work as a team. I try to make up with attention to detail what I lack in charisma. … I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

___

What are the similarities and differences between you and the other chamber’s leader?

Corcoran: “Both of us would like to accomplishment a tremendous amount.” On differences, he said, “He doesn’t drink; he doesn’t smoke cigars. When you get together with Joe it’s literally business for like 30 minutes.”

Negron: “His growing up was very much revolved around playing sports and being competitive with siblings. That’s very similar to how I grew up. We both have a strong work ethic and respect for our parents who worked hard for everything they got.” On differences, he said he analyzes issues apart from the issue, and Corcoran dives right in. “He’s a little bit more animated than I am.”

___

What’s your greatest nonpolitical achievement?

Corcoran: “Being a husband and a father are the things I enjoy the most.”

Negron cited a legal case in which he helped exonerate a man wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

___

What brought your family to Florida?

Corcoran said his family was living in Toronto when his father invested in a Florida concrete plant with some friends. “It was going under and it was losing money, so they got together and they said ‘One of us needs to go down there and see what’s going on.’ So, my dad said he would. He went down and of course people were stealing and all that kind of stuff, so he came down to manage it.”

Negron: “My grandfather came from Ponce, Puerto Rico, to New York through Ellis Island and then moved to South Florida.”

___

What is your most interesting hobby or recreational activity?

Corcoran: “Pretty much anything sports. All sports.”

Negron: “Visiting courthouses. I’ve probably personally been in, of our 67 counties, at least 40, maybe as many as 50. Especially in small towns. I just like to go into courthouses and just walk around, poke my head in courtrooms and sit in the back seat for 30 minutes.”

___

Who is your favorite author?

Corcoran: “For fluff, I’ll read any of the best-sellers. I’ll read (John) Grisham, but I’ll also read where there’s a new one out like ‘The Girl on the Train.’ When I see it in the bookstore or see it The New York Times rankings 20 weeks in a row, still in the top 10, then I’ll go out and read it.”

Negron: “George Will. I’ve been reading George Will since I was in high school.”

___

Who is your favorite musician or band?

Corcoran: “U2. That’s easy. I crank U2.”

Negron: “Billy Joel. I saw him when I was in law school and then I saw him in New York last year.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Final push for fundraising before 2017 Session kicks off

Think of it as the last hurrah before the 2017 Legislative Session.

Members of the House and Senate can’t raise money while the Legislature is session, putting a 60-day pause on fundraising each year. And while that may be good news for their most loyal contributors’ pocketbooks, it does mean you can expect a mad dash for last minute fundraising before clock starts on the 2017 Session.

House Majority, the fundraising arm of House Republicans, has a bevy of fundraisers planned for Monday. All of the events are hosted by Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Jose Oliva, and Rep. Chris Sprowls.

Reps. Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer will kick off their fundraising early in the day with a reception at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Yarborough will be back at the Governors Club at 5 p.m. for another fundraising reception, this time with Reps. Thomas Leek and Stan McClain.

The Southern Public House, 224 East College Ave, is the place to be Monday evening from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. That’s where you’ll find a fundraiser for Reps. James Grant, Mel Ponder, and Halsey Beshears. Rep. Brad Drake will be raising dough a few blocks away at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams Street. His fundraiser is also scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

If hanging out at bars aren’t your style, then the fundraising reception for Reps. Cary Pigman, Michael Grant, Bryon Donalds, Joe Gruters, Ralph Massullo, and Julio Gonzalez might be up your alley. The event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Governors Inn, 209 S. Adams Street.

Senators are also getting in on the action. Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Bill Galvano, Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, and Sen. Jack Latvala will host a fundraiser for Ed Hooper, who’s hoping to replace Latvala in the Florida Senate, from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Governors Club.

Galvano and Simpson are also hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Frank Artiles and Rep. Manny Diaz, who is running for Senate in 2018, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Maddox House, 510 North Adams Street.

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper

This is the first legislative session that South Florida’s Oscar Braynon II will be the Senate’s Democratic Leader.

The 40-year-old, who succeeded term-limited former Leader Arthenia Joyner, was first elected in 2011 after serving in the House and on the Miami Gardens City Council before that.

Though he’s in the minority, Braynon has high hopes for legislative breakthroughs with the GOP majority under President Joe Negron. “We have a good personal relationship and we’ve helped each other before we were in leadership,” Braynon says.

That said, one issue he’s already behind on is “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The House supports it this year; the Senate does not.

Braynon’s in favor because it would allow his district’s Calder Race Track, which he said he lives “around the corner from,” to sell its racetrack land to developers for much-needed retail, restaurants and a movie theater.

The city of 112,000 has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III recently told lawmakers.

But Braynon may have better luck on initiatives like juvenile civil citations, which gives “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A bill now being carried by Anitere Flores, Negron’s right hand as President Pro Tempore, would expand their use.

Braynon gave a pre-session interview with FloridaPolitics.com last week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What are you hoping to get accomplished this year?

A: I’m looking to some serious reform in our civil and criminal justice system. I think both sides of the aisle have come to the conclusion that minimum mandatory (sentences), putting juveniles in jail for minor crimes, keeping people locked up for drug offenses, those things put a strain on our budget. Also it puts a strain on our communities. We should look more into treatment for drug issues, economic development for communities like mine, where people think that dealing illegal drugs is the only way out (of poverty). If they can get a real job, they can have hope. I’ll be looking at that not just this year, but my two years as leader. And I think I have a willing partner in the Senate President.

Q: On the other hand, what are you hoping the Legislature avoids acting on?

A: I hope we avoid some of the repeats of what we did or tried to do in terms of tax cuts and cutting services … I think the fewer services you provide is not investing in the biggest and best resource of the state, its people. When you don’t invest in education, health care, mental health, the aged, DCF, the weakest among us, then you starve the infrastructure that is our way to get our state considered a premier state. Our mistake was we cut government and then on the other end we cut taxes for corporations, saying this is how we’re going to ‘save’ Florida. Look at us now. We’re looking at projections where we may be in another (budget) deficit. I call it crazy, because if it doesn’t work, why do it again?

Q: Which initiative gives you the most confidence to get done this year?

A: The civil citations bill, now pushed by Sen. Flores, is something our caucus has pushed for a long time. For the president pro tem to have it, that shows us being together on that issue of creating more juvenile civil citations statewide. I believe the concern on the other side has been being seen as ‘weak on crime.’ They think you’re not allowing children to be accountable for whatever (bad) things they did. But I don’t want to give them a mark for the rest of their lives.

Q: How do you think the current conflict between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran—who are warring over Enterprise Florida (EFI), VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives—will affect this session?

A: (Laughs.) It’s not any different from previous years. It’s the same thing. Whether you take the money from (business in the form of taxes) or you give them so money back, it’s semantics. Whether you call them tax cuts or incentives, it’s a ridiculous argument. Look, businesses are doing well in Florida. We have a business-friendly environment. But we’re ranked low in mental health, education. I’m more than happy to watch them fight it out … And they all are going to fight, not just about this, but a whole number of things. Wait till we get to the budget, and who controls the process. It should not be up to the House. Then there’s land buying, and judicial term limits. The list is long. You could solve the EFI thing tomorrow and they’ll have seven other things they’ll disagree on. I do believe VISIT FLORIDA plays a role, but they could be more lean and transparent. As to incentives, I’m still waiting for someone to fully explain to me why they are really so necessary.

Q: Have you heard from Chance the Rapper yet? (Braynon supported a bill for Florida’s smaller craft brewers because it would help start-ups, likening them to the Chicago-based artist who rose to fame after distributing his own songs without a music label.)

A: No! I did not get a follow yet (from the rapper on Twitter).

Combative House Speaker vows contentious Session

The outcome of this year’s Florida Legislature session may depend largely on a 51-year-old firebrand attorney with a deep conservative streak and a love for cigars and the band U2.

New House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken on rapper Pitbull, gotten in a knock-down fight with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and vowed to keep legislators in session for months if he doesn’t get his way on property taxes.

He has an ambitious agenda for the 60-day session that starts next week, which also includes term limits for Florida’s most senior judges and throwing out some of the state’s regulations on health care providers. While at one time he lashed out at then-candidate Donald Trump, Corcoran has adopted the president’s populist tone in vowing to fight a “culture of corruption” in a town where Republicans have held sway for nearly 20 years.

Corcoran is unapologetic for his combative ways.

“I think certainly in the political arena, that the hardest thing, in my opinion, that determines a person’s character is what a man does when everyone is looking and you know you are going to go against the grain,” he said last month at a Tallahassee private school appearance.

Corcoran has flummoxed fellow Republicans and stirred speculation he’s more interested in grabbing headlines in anticipation of a potential run for governor in 2018. Corcoran has declined to discuss future political plans.

“Richard is not a political opportunist, he’s never been one,” said Mike Fasano, the Pasco County tax collector and a former legislator who met Corcoran nearly 35 years ago when he was a teenager helping out on local legislative campaigns. “He’s trying to accomplish what he truly believes in.”

Born in Toronto, Corcoran moved to Florida when he was 11. At a young age, he became enamored of conservative thinkers such as author William F. Buckley Jr., and drops names of philosophers like Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau in his speeches. He earned a law degree from Regent University, the school established by evangelist Pat Robertson.

Corcoran works at a well-established law firm and once did legal work for Scott before either was elected. But most of his career has been in politics, including as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff for then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, when he helped write Rubio’s blueprint entitled “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

After two unsuccessful runs for the Legislature, Corcoran finally got elected to a Pasco County House seat in 2010. He quickly rose through the ranks and secured enough pledges to become speaker.

He pushed to have the Florida House reject billions in federal aid available under President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul. During a floor speech now famous in Tallahassee, Corcoran made it clear during a standoff with Senate Republicans over Medicaid expansion that the House would never go along.

“They want us to come to the dance? We’re not dancing. We’re not dancing this session. We’re not dancing next session. We’re not dancing next summer – we’re not dancing,” Corcoran said.

Since he became speaker in November, Corcoran sued to force Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, to reveal how much it paid to Pitbull to promote the state. Corcoran then pushed legislation to scrap the state organization that uses incentives to lure companies to the state. Those moves have angered Scott, whose political committee labeled Corcoran a “career politician.”

Corcoran has put both Scott and Senate Republicans on notice he will not go along with a plan to use a hike in property values – which trigger higher tax payments – to boost funding on schools. Yet at the same time, Corcoran has hinted at his own ambitious plans for education, which will likely mean more money for charter schools. Corcoran’s wife, Anne, founded a charter school. They have six children, and met while attending law school.

Corcoran is a maze of seeming contradictions.

He has railed against the influence of lobbyists, banning them from texting or emailing legislators during committee meetings. Yet his own brother, Michael, is a long-time lobbyist. While at times he sounds stern, he can quickly run off a stream of sarcastic comments and jokes.

“Every day Gov. Scott and I get together and take long walks in the park together,” he quipped recently.

Yet despite harsh treatment leveled at him by the governor, Corcoran says he remains grateful that Scott once hired him, adding: “If Gov. Scott poked me in the chest or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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