Rick Scott Archives - Page 2 of 294 - Florida Politics

Joe Negron backs aid for agriculture industry

Florida lawmakers should provide financial help to the agriculture industry to aid its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the Senate president said Friday.

Without putting a price tag on the state’s contribution, Senate President Joe Negron appeared to favor tax cuts and mitigation measures rather than loans. He pointed to major damage sustained by citrus growers but also said assistance should go to other parts of the agriculture industry.

“I do think the effect of the hurricane was so catastrophic to the citrus industry that it merits the government, the state government, partnering with the industry to make sure that they can continue to thrive,” Negron said during an interview with The News Service of Florida.

Negron said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to become the next Senate president, and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, are expected to work on the issue.

Some lawmakers have already started to advance their own hurricane-recovery proposals for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in early October released an estimate that the agriculture industry had sustained $2.5 billion in damage from Hurricane Irma, with $761 million in citrus-industry losses.

But many lawmakers think the losses will be much higher than the October projection.

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, has outlined several proposed tax exemptions for the industry as part of recommendations submitted to the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

Albritton’s proposals include tax exemptions for material used to repair or replace damaged fences and structures and for fuel used to transport crops during an emergency. He also called for a reduction in the tangible personal property tax for farm equipment affected by the storm.

Meanwhile, Port Charlotte Republican Rep. Michael Grant has suggested a tax exemption for the purchase of generators used on farms.

Negron said he doesn’t anticipate that hurricane-relief spending will displace other legislative priorities in the upcoming 60-day Session.

“I still think there will be room for environmental priorities, educational priorities,” Negron said. “I don’t think the hurricane spending will necessarily mean that there are other things that simply can’t be done.”

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $21 million to help citrus growers as part of his budget requests for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in the Keys and in Collier County before plowing up the state, including causing extensive damage in agricultural areas.

Along with the projected $761 million in citrus-industry losses, the October report from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimated nursery-industry losses from Irma at almost $624 million. The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

The storm damages compounded misery for the citrus industry, which has struggled for a decade with citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that Florida’s citrus industry is on pace to grow 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than in the past growing season.

State leaders, such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, have been disappointed that Florida’s farmers and ranchers haven’t been addressed in a series of congressional disaster-relief package put together in response to Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and California wildfires.

House projects might get chilly reception

Heading into the 2018 legislative session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley says the House and Senate are not as far apart as casual observers, lobbyists and the media might believe.

“We agree on so much more than we disagree on,” the Fleming Island Republican told reporters after an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday that featured an overview of Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed $87.4 billion budget. “We’re all committed to having a fiscally conservative budget. We’re all committed to tax cuts. We’re all committed to the environment being pristine and education world class.”

But that “we’re all” doesn’t apparently extend to a plethora of budget projects proposed by House members. In the House, unlike the Senate, members are required to file individual bills for their spending proposals.

“I did notice that there is a high amount, the House members want to spend a lot on local member projects,” Bradley said. “I think we need to be very careful in this budget year to … be very judicious in these House requests for local projects, because they have requested a bunch.”

As of Thursday morning, House members had filed 1,099 different proposals – collectively worth just under $1.8 billion – since Sept. 29.

Included in those totals are 90 projects, worth $161.1 million, that were posted on Wednesday, including $450,000 for the Clermont South Lake Wi-Fi Trail (HB 4099), $1 million for the Land O’ Lakes Boulevard Beautification plan (HB 4033) and $50 million for the Data Science and Information Technology program at the University of Florida (HB 4063).

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has said priority for funding projects will go to proposals related to hurricane relief.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness also has received 141 recommendations to deal with storm-related issues, included extending north the Suncoast Parkway toll road as a new evacuation route, leasing a cruise ship to carry evacuees from the lower Keys or requiring utility lines to be placed underground.

The member budget proposals are separate from most of the recommendations before the select committee.

Asked during an appearance Wednesday on C-SPAN about how much Hurricane Irma will cost the state, Corcoran made the big-ticket items seem possible as he touted the state’s fiscal health.

“The simple answer to that is we have the reserves. We’ve been fiscally prudent. We’ve been great protectors of the taxpayer money,” Corcoran said. “And so, because we have those reserves, what’s more important is the lives of our citizens are protected.”

“The underground hardening of our infrastructure for power lines, that could cost some money,” he continued. “Extending our Suncoast Parkway all the way to Georgia and having that fourth arterial road, that will cost money but we have a transportation trust fund. It will just be more of a redirect, potentially.

“Obviously, putting the (proposed generator) regulations on the nursing homes and having them come into compliance, that will cost some money. But all of these things, including, we’re even talking of having a gas reserve. There were issues of getting gas during the hurricane, so if we had a huge gas reserve that we could keep in the middle of the state in a protected area, that could cost some money.

“But all of these things will make it so the next storm we have we’ll be better prepared, and our citizens will be able to get back to their lives as quickly as possible.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Details sparse on Rick Scott meeting with Israeli PM

One of the highlights of Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s trip to Israel was a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But if you were looking for meaningful information out of the Governor’s Office on it, you would be disappointed.

“Governor Scott and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed ways to strengthen ties between Florida and Israel during an hour long meeting,” asserted Lauren Schenone Thursday on behalf of the Governor.

We, of course, wanted to know more.

Among our questions: what specifics were discussed with the PM regarding future ties/investment between Israel/Florida.

And — given that Gov. Scott took a position before the trip that the US embassy should be moved to Jerusalem, as the President ultimately asserted — we wanted to know if that was discussed also.

If it was, we didn’t find out.

Tipping off what President Donald Trump would do, Gov. Scott asserted the following late last month.

“I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release with a Jacksonville dateline, even as he gave no hints of this position while talking to media in the city.

Scott expanded on his position while in Israel, per the Jerusalem Post.

“It’s the capital of Israel, our embassy ought to be located there,” Governor Scott told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We passed legislation… and we need to comply with the legislation instead of the waivers.”

Scott reiterated his position after a question from a Post reporter:  “I believe the embassy ought to be in Jerusalem. That’s what I’m going to support.”

As protests rage in the city regarding the position, and as many world leaders have come forth opposing the move, it would be interesting to know more about a position framed as a provocation by American allies and rivals alike.

Per the Post, Scott was more comfortable — no surprise to Florida reporters — with discussion of jobs and economic ties.

“There are a lot of people in Florida who are very financially supportive of Israel,” Scott told the Post. “They’re constantly calling me and letting me know that we have to do more business with Israel.”

Scott also explained his opposition to the BDS Movement, which calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, to Israeli press.

“It’s disgusting that people think about doing that. Israel is a sovereign nation; Israel deserves to be respected like everybody else. There should be no antisemitism in the world. I’m going to do everything I can to stand with Israel.”

All of that is helpful insight.

But the questions about specifics from the meeting of Gov. Scott and PM Netanyahu remain.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.8.17 — Progress report

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took a victory lap on Facebook this week.

“2.5 years in office. Much done- pension reform, public safety investments, board reforms, reforms on how we serve kids, storm prep & relief, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on. However, that’s yesterday. I’m focused on winning today. Big things ahead. Love y’all Duval. We are just getting started.”

 

None of this was a given.

Pension reform was a heavy lift both in Tallahassee and locally, with unions and the city council.

Board reforms saw Curry castigated by former Alvin Brown supporters, who charged him with politicizing the boards.

Public safety — the new hires are being trained up and integrated into the force. However, that is still clearly a work in progress.

But still, Curry can take credit for a lot in just over half a term.

In a time when Tallahassee is mired in the Jack Latvala drama and Washington D.C. struggles to get what passes for tax “reform” through, it’s telling that Jacksonville’s Mayor is positioned to take a victory lap.

Though there are rivals to the Mayor who say that perhaps he gets too much credit — both in Jacksonville and Tallahassee — thus far he hasn’t had many missteps.

Could JEA privatization be a bridge too far? Or the proposed $18M+ purchase of land for a Peter Rummell development.

Time will tell. And so will Jacksonville Bold.

One Door to the slammer

After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — were sentenced.

No one got off easy.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Judge Timothy Corrigan said.

No one got off easy.

Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.

Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.

Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.

Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is also owed, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.

Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.

Travis Hutson on Jack Latvala: ‘Napalm and matches’

It was inevitable that Republican senators would have to weigh in on the ongoing war between Republican Sen. Latvala and Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate aide accusing him of serial sexual harassment.

Via POLITICO, one of the first was from Northeast Florida: Sen. Hutson of St. Johns County.

Republican senators are joining calls for Sen. Jack Latvala to resign in light of scandal.

“This highly respected and regarded establishment is being burnt to the ground, and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches,” Hutson told POLITICO.

“This is only going to get worse. And the best thing for everyone — every senator, every staffer, every accuser and/or accused — would be a resignation so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” Hutson said.

Hutson also told POLITICO that donors to Latvala’s political committee should ask for refunds.

There is a school of thought that Latvala may use his committee to exact revenge against clients of Brian Hughes — Perrin Rogers’ husband. Hutson’s comments seem to indicate that strategy could be undermined by a wave of refunds and a bipartisan condemnation of Latvala.

Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson — a Democrat — was somewhat more circumspect than Latvala.

 “First,” Gibson said, “I have continually maintained my sensitivity and support of women who believe they have been harassed in any way by anyone, being able to come forward and file a complaint. Secondly, Senator Latvala and/or Republican Leadership are the determinants on resignation matters.”

Cord Byrd’s fix for a ‘broken system’

A new bill in the Florida House would offer a vehicle for people with “legal disabilities” a road via circuit courts to the restoration of civil rights.

HB 903, filed by Jacksonville Beach Rep. Byrd, would offer remedies for those whose civil rights were suspended after felony convictions.

Cord Byrd introduced this bill Wednesday, holding a presser to push it.

“Currently,” Byrd wrote on Facebook, “the average wait time for Restoration of Rights is over nine years, with some as long as 11 years. Over 22,000 applications are pending, with only a few hundred being processed each year. Clearly, the system is broken.”

The Byrd bill allows those seeking restoration of rights to petition their county’s circuit court; exceptions to this rule would be registered sexual predators or sexual offenders.

Appeals are possible, and those petitioners who find their bids rejected have the right to file anew a year after said rejection.

Some people wait decades to get their rights back, long after they have proved that the threat they once posed to society has been removed.

Byrd’s bill would be a potential corrective to these onerous delays.

Jay Fant challenge to HRO?

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is also running for Attorney General, filed Tuesday what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act.”

Jay Fant, in the AG race, may have to enforce his law should it pass, and should he win.

HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.

Said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.

It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”

The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.

The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.

Plea deals for child deaths draw scrutiny in House bill

Legislation filed in the Florida House Monday would compel state attorneys to explain why they cut plea deals in cases where children were killed.

Rep. Tracie Davis’ bill is designed to provide more clarity in deaths from childhood abuse.

HB 867, filed by Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis, would require state attorneys to explain in writing why they accepted a plea deal to lesser charges and penalties than originally filed in the case of the death of a child.

On Tuesday morning, Davis told us that there are many cases in which children die at the hands of abusers, and that drove her to file this bill.

“The number of children dying by abuse is alarming and steadily increasing through our communities. As I worked with families, it was [disturbing] to discover that many perpetrators are given a plea deal to a lesser crime in order for them to reveal the details of the crime,” Davis said.

Often families are unaware of changes to the charges. Davis added.

“I strongly feel that families have the right to know when a charge involving a child killed in an abusive situation deserve to know why the charge was decreased,” Davis noted.

JYDs roll out ‘cocktails with a candidate’ series

The Democratic race for Governor is beginning to heat up, and the Jacksonville Young Democrats are offering chances to meet with candidates via cocktail mixers in the coming months.

Libations and orations: Democratic gubernatorial candidates this winter in Jax.

Democratic candidates thus far have largely concentrated their efforts south of I-4, but Jacksonville’s young Democrats are clearly looking to change that.

The “Cocktails with a Candidate” series kicks off Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at downtown’s Zodiac Bar and Grill, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who appeared already at a JYD event in February.

Gillum — a pre-candidate at that point — discussed what his campaign would do to reach out to minority voters and young voters, as part of what he called an “18-month view of engagement” that would mobilize voters.

2018 brings — at least tentatively — two of Gillum’s opponents: Gwen Graham and Chris King to town.

Brian Hughes moves to Curry’s chief of staff

Comms specialist Hughes is — effective Jan. 2 — chief of staff for Mayor Curry, in a classic example of building something that lasts.

“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.

Brian Hughes, Lenny Curry’s new chief of staff.

“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.

City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had a reaction.

Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.

“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo-in for the job. She has served the mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.

That’s entertainment

Curry is closer to the big reveal of what his proposed downtown “entertainment district” will look like, per WJXT.

Ambitious plans from Lenny Curry.

“(The) riverfront. That’s where the Shipyards are. But also begin to think about an entire entertainment district moving a little bit north, between the football and baseball fields,” Curry said. “Just kind of a little teaser there. Big things could be coming.”

With a key rhetorical assist: Alan Verlander of the JaxSports Council.

“We need that fan district. We need a plug-and-play kind of place that people can go to. That’s the missing link here. You look at Nashville, look at Atlanta, you look at Dallas. Those places, they have destination points for their fans,” Verlander said. “We don’t have that here.”

“If they walk out the door and they see there’s things to do, they’re going to extend their stays for weekends around their conferences, and they’re going to have a great representation of Jacksonville,” added Visit Jacksonville VP Katie Mitura. “And when they leave, they are going to talk about the great time they had.”

Privatize, don’t criticize

The groundswell no one really predicted a month ago to privatize JEA continues to swell, per a Florida Times-Union dispatch.

Board chair Alan Howard gave CEO Paul McElroy 60-90 days to complete a report on such.

Outgoing board member Tom Petway made the pitch. Can Lenny Curry hit a home run?

“If, after what I anticipate will be a healthy debate, a decision is ultimately made to pursue privatization, that process will be open to all bidders so that we can achieve the best result possible for the citizens of Jacksonville and JEA’s customers,” Howard wrote.

T-U reported Nate Monroe notes that ratepayers may see savings: “The utility’s October survey of what other utilities charge showed a JEA residential customer pays $111.76 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours compared to $103.07 for a Florida Power & Light customer.”

We will see how it goes. The Mayor’s political operation is working this story hard, as a friendly dispatch in Sunshine State News indicated this week.

Kids Hope picks all but confirmed

To quote the departed Jim Nabors, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee did their best impression of Mayor’s Office staffers Tuesday, confirming six picks to the seven-person board of the nascent Kids Hope Alliance … with a seventh pick (Gary Chartrand?) held in abeyance.

Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee confirmed six picks to the seven-person board of Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance.

Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, an earlier Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers; and Tyra Tutor, a senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.

The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.

Wells doesn’t live in Duval County — a clear requirement of the ordinance.

But rules are made to be broken, and the Rules Committee was happy to accommodate. Despite protestations from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who is not on Rules but was visiting the committee, Wells joined the rest on Tuesday’s Consent Agenda.

Shazam!

No more room at the morgue

The opioid overdose crisis in Jacksonville has taxed city resources on a number of fronts, including those not visible to the public, such as the Medical Examiner’s office.

Numerous city hall conversations this year have spotlighted the pressures created by the unnatural and unbudgeted deaths of the overdose crisis.

Bodies on top of bodies in the Duval County Medical Examiner’s office.

Tuesday saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee discuss facilities, including short-term and long-term solutions.

The short-term fix would be cooling trailers, but Medical Examiner Valerie Rao is angling for a new building.

That concept has support from Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who believes the project should be prioritized in the city’s capital improvement plan.

However, Rao nettled other Finance members by not having outlined the business case for the new building with specifics.

The building she suggested as a model — in Orlando — cost $16 million to build in 2010.

Jax Council candidate blames sexual harassment on female ‘libido’

Jacksonville City Council candidate Earl Testy may be losing the money race to fellow Republican opponent Randy DeFoor in District 14; however, he certainly is garnering earned media.

But not for reasons any sane person would want.

Testy took a provocative position on the current tsunami of sexual harassment charges Monday.

Testy took women to task, asserting “they have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men.”

“Feminists have no more call to be proud of their abuse of sex than men do, albeit seemingly passive,” Testy asserted.

Testy equated the current spate of revelations with “Gay Pride logic.”

“Sin is sin,” Testy asserted, “regardless of male, female, homosexual or heterosexual orientation.”

Testy advanced his insights in reaction to an article on National Review Online by longtime conservative pundit Mona Charen, a woman who has never asserted that the female libido is “to blame.”

Terror plot foiled

In custody right now: A Filipino national who was willing to die to kill as many people as possible at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.

Per CBS News, 69-year-old Bernandino Gawala “Nandie” Bolatete was arrested this week for possessing an unregistered silencer, a federal crime.

Bernandino Bolatete, a foreign national, was stateside on a green card.

Bolatete, a gun enthusiast, had a purpose in mind.

“I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know,” the foreign national told an undercover detective.

“The suppressor is not really that ‘quiet’ but it can be used on the 4th of July or New Year (sic) time, it can easily blend with the sound of fireworks,” Bolatete added.

Per Action News Jax, Bolatete’s lawyer argued that this was just “talk,” but as one might expect when a foreign national travels to the states to kill a bunch of Americans, his bond request was rejected, and he’s still in lockdown.

Forever Florida, St. Johns proposals get Senate backing

Measures that would double Gov. Rick Scott‘s spending request for the Florida Forever conservation program and earmark money to improve the St. Johns River continued to move easily through the Senate on Thursday.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously backed a proposal (SB 370) to designate $100 million a year for Florida Forever. Also, it approved a bill (SB 204) that would increase annual funding for springs projects from $50 million to $75 million and set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

Both proposals are sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will hear the bills next.

“Our state is known for a lot of things, but the character of the state, the true character of the state is defined by its rivers, it’s beaches, it’s springs,” Bradley said. “We have an obligation to make sure future generations enjoy those wonderful gifts we get to enjoy.”

Neither proposal has a companion bill in the House. Scott requested spending $50 million on Florida Forever as part of his proposed 2018-2019 budget released last month.

Money for both Senate bills would come from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that requires a portion of real-estate “documentary stamp” tax revenues to go toward land and water conservation, with the money funneled through the trust fund.

That portion of the documentary-stamp tax is expected to generate $862.2 million next fiscal year, according to an August estimate by state economists.

Lawmakers in the past have carved up part of the annual funding so at least $200 million goes for Everglades projects, another $64 million goes for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee and $5 million goes to the St. Johns River Water Management District for projects dedicated to the restoration of Lake Apopka.

But they have also used the money to cover agency expenses, which backers of the 2014 constitutional amendment contend is not allowed.

Bradley has said a review needs to be done to determine how much of the trust fund goes into agency overhead.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart said she was “proud” to be able to vote for Florida Forever bill, which would use the money “the way the voters had hoped to see it funded.”

The Florida Forever program was created in 1999 as a successor to an earlier version known as Preservation 2000.

Since 2001, Florida Forever has been used to purchase more than 718,000 acres for $2.9 billion. But the program has languished since the recession and as some key legislators have questioned the need for Florida to buy more land while struggling to manage the acres it already owns.

Lawmakers didn’t direct any money to Florida Forever for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Bradley’s bills are filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts next month.

Bill to review government efficiency sails through committee

Legislation providing for a review of efficiency in government procurement is making its way through the Legislature.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff BrandesSB 368 cleared the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government Thursday with a unanimous and undebated yes vote.

Brandes’ bill — which is accompanied in the House by Wauchula Republican Rep. Ben Albritton’s similar HB 111 — would create a task force within the Department of Management Services for the “purpose of evaluating the effectiveness and value of state and local procurement laws and policies to the taxpayers in this state and determining where inconsistencies in such laws and policies exist.”

The secretary of DMS, currently Erin Rock, would be given the option to appoint someone to chair the task force or chair it themselves. Gov. Rick Scott would be given seven appointments. The Senate President and Speaker would be given two each, consisting of a member of their respective chambers and a lawyer proficient in procurement law.

The task force would be finalized by the end of July and dissolved by Dec. 31, 2019.

The legislation specifies that members of the task force will not be paid for their work.

A comparable bill from Brandes died last year in its last committee of reference, but Brandes expects it to have widespread support this Session.

Brandes’ St. Petersburg colleague, Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, has co-sponsored the bill.

House advances bill giving regulators sole discretion on underground power lines

Legislation to give the Florida Public Service Commission “exclusive jurisdiction” for deciding whether underground transmission lines are required for power-plant projects advanced through a House committee Wednesday.

Pace Republican Jayer Williamson, who co-sponsored the bill in the House with Palatka Republican Bobby Payne (HB 405), told the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee that while the language in the official bill is cumbersome, it essentially does three main things:

— It revises the definition of the word “development” to exclude work done by certain utility providers through certain corridors;

—  requires a concrete certain uniform variance standard, and

— clarifies that the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has exclusive jurisdiction to require underground transmission lines.

The bill passed on a 13-1 vote.

Dave Cullen with the Sierra Club was the only member of the public to speak out against the bill. He said his organization opposed the legislation when it was introduced in the 2017 regular Legislative Session because it had the potential of creating 350-foot towers going through Everglades National Park.

“I understand this is an issue; if this bill passes, FP&L (Florida Power and Light) could bring that proposal right back to the PSC, and we could be right back where it is,” Cullen told the committee. “Fundamentally we think localities have to have the ability to make the decisions that their constituents and residents want.”

David Childs, with the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, said the PSC would have the exclusive authority to require undergrounding power lines, but Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet would have the final say over any environmental impacts to an area.

The issue goes back to 2014, when the governor and the Cabinet, acting as the state’s power-plant siting board, approved an FPL nuclear-power project in Miami-Dade County. The 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned that decision, ruling in favor of local governments.

The appeals court ruling said Scott and Cabinet members erroneously determined they could not require underground transmission lines as a condition of the project approval. FPL argued that the Public Service Commission — not Scott and the Cabinet — had authority over issues involving installation of underground lines.

Thonotosassa Republican Tom Lee filed a companion bill in the Senate.

Three qualify for Senate District 31 special election

The qualifying deadline for candidates looking to replace Fort Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens passed at noon, and two Democrats and one Republican have made the cut according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Democrats Lori Berman, currently in the Florida House, and Arthur Morrison will face off in a primary race, while Republican Tami Donnally will face the victor in the general election for Senate District 31.

Berman and Morrison were originally slated for a three-way Democratic Primary with former state Rep. Irv Slosberg, but he announced earlier this week he would step aside and support Berman in the special election.

“You know, Lori and I were always good friends; she was always on the side of road safety. She was right by my side. I think she’s going to make a great senator,” Slosberg said.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott set the special primary election for Jan. 30, 2018, with a special general election to follow on April 10.

So far Berman is the only candidate to file a campaign finance report for the race. Her first report, which only covered the last day of October, shows $177,504 in contributions, including $100,000 in loans. After $6,218 spent, she has $171,286 on hand.

With a special election comes special filing deadlines. Berman’s next report, and the first for Donnally and Morrison, is due Dec. 19 and will cover from their filing date through Dec. 14.

SD 31 opened up when Clemens resigned in late October after admitting to an affair with a lobbyist.

“I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement at the time. “But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better.”

Since his exit, House District 114 Rep. Daisy Baez has also stepped down and pleaded guilty to perjury in a case related to her residency.

The SD 31 and HD 114 special elections are currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by Florida Democrats pushing for earlier election dates in order for lawmakers representing the districts to be in place for at least part of the 2018 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 9 and ends March 9.

A motion filed in that suit to move up the special election dates will be heard in Leon County circuit court Thursday.

Rick Scott, Marco Rubio back Donald Trump’s embassy move to Jerusalem

While the pundit class may gnash its teeth over President Donald Trump announcing a move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Gov. Rick Scott stands with his “partner in the White House.”

In a video released Wednesday, Scott made comments at the Western Wall.

“This is a great day,” Scott said. “President Trump is going to declare that the capital of Israel will be Jerusalem, and commit to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. I stand with Israel. I stand with all the citizens of Israel. The state of Florida stands with all the citizens of Israel. This is an outstanding day.”

Scott, currently on a trade mission to Israel, indicated support before leaving the state.

“As we prepare for this important trade mission, it is clear that our entire nation must also continue to strengthen this partnership with Israel. I strongly believe that the U.S. Embassy belongs in Jerusalem and I am hopeful that a decision will be made to finally move the embassy to the its rightful destination in Israel’s capital city,” Scott said in a press release.

Sen. Marco Rubio likewise backed the move.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which Congress passed during the Clinton administration, requires the United States not only to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but also to eventually move the American embassy to Jerusalem,” Rubio said.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there,” Rubio added.

Some South Florida Democrats joined with Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation in also calling for the move. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton went so far as to issue a joint press release with Republican U.S. Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

“The President’s decision today is a recognition of existing U.S. law that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. embassy should ultimately be located in the capital,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen stated in their release. “There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection. The fact is that Jerusalem – an ancient and holy city to all three monotheistic faiths – will remain the capital of the Jewish state in any iteration of a negotiated two-state solution. Today’s decision does not preclude our shared goal of two states for two peoples to be negotiated between the parties themselves. Now is the time for urgent progress towards the President’s stated objective of achieving a real and lasting peace.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston declared, “My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths. I strongly believe that we must continue to work toward a two state solution that achieves two states for two peoples. We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach stated, “Our nation’s embassy is currently in Tel Aviv, which is disrespectful, dismissive, and wrong. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will send the Palestinian Authority a message that their days of denying Israel’s existence are over, and that they must become an honest partner in peace. I commend President Trump today for honoring our friend and ally Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”

Florida House aims to roll out slimmer version of budget than Rick Scott

As Florida House members work to roll out their budget, the chairman of that chamber’s budget committee said Tuesday they are aiming for a simpler version of the massive $87 billion budget Gov. Rick Scott has proposed.

“Our goal is to pass a balanced budget — I don’t want to say one that is more conservative than the governor’s, but one that is more simplified,” state Rep. Carlos Trujillo said.

The governor’s proposed budget this year is the largest in state history — and more than $1 billion additional spending than the current year’s plan. A large chunk of Scott’s proposal is tied to Hurricane Irma expenses and Medicaid.

When Trujillo was asked by reporters what he meant by a simpler budget, he implied that it would cover the state’s basic functions, but his chamber would likely not pack their budget with as many member projects sought by specific members.

The Miami Republican said his chamber is likely to craft a slimmed down version of Scott’s spending plan. That proposal is expected to be unveiled in roughly two months.

The governor’s proposal is often seen as a recommendation for lawmakers, who ultimately write the state budget. Scott exerts his influence on the process on the back end with his line-item veto power.

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