Steve Crisafulli Archives - Page 6 of 36 - Florida Politics

In Florida, most legislative documents are public records

When Florida state House Minority Leader Mark Pafford puts a 6 a.m. workout before his legislative meetings on his daily schedule, it’s a public record.

When concerned parent Kimberly Jones of Plantation emails House Speaker Steve Crisafulli saying she has two children going to Florida State University and wants him to oppose a bill allowing guns on college campuses, that’s a public record too.

Reporters and other members of the public can get copies of those and almost all other legislative documents.

As part of a nationwide look at transparency of state legislatures, The Associated Press recently requested copies of all emails and daily schedules from the top four Florida legislative leaders for Feb. 1-7. All four acknowledged they were obliged to respond to the request and produced responses within a few days.

In some states that would seem outlandish, but Florida has a tradition of unusually comprehensive and strict laws on open government and open records. Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” law mandates public access to meetings and records at all levels of state and local government.

By law, you don’t have to say why you want the records. Requests for the records can even be made anonymously, and any charges for fulfilling the request must be reasonable.

The legislators provided relatively detailed schedules including names of those attending meetings.

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, and Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat, were swamped with hundreds of emails that week because of House consideration of contentious bills allowing open carry of firearms and carrying guns on campus. They said the request for their emails would require extensive staff time and fees; instead, AP narrowed the scope of the request instead.

“I’ve always supported Florida’s open records law and making sure the public has access to records,” Pafford said. “This is the people’s government. If somebody finds out I’m doing a workout or having a doctor’s appointment at a certain time, that’s OK. It’s on my schedule because my staff needs to know what I’m doing when.”

In practice, things aren’t always so open and transparent. Only the response from Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Demmocrat, for example, included substantial numbers of emails both to and from the legislator.

AP made the same request to Gov. Rick Scott, whose response consisted of references to the websites where he publishes his schedules and emails.

Scott has long published a daily schedule on the governor’s office website, and in 2012, he launched Project Sunburst, a website posting the contents of the email accounts of the governor and his top staff. However, after launching Sunburst, Scott stopped using his office email account to transact business.

In 2014, a lawsuit produced evidence that Scott and his aides had used private email accounts for government business, and a request from the AP, filled only after a three-month delay, showed Scott using his personal account for discussing state business with top aides, after having denied doing so.

While Scott publishes his schedule, meanwhile, it has occasionally omitted important meetings, and also omits some travel details for what his office calls security reasons.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Everglades Foundation commends lawmakers for final passage of “Legacy Florida” funding

The Everglades Foundation lauded lawmakers Friday for passing a bill that would fund Everglades restoration efforts with up to $200 million a year.

HB 989, put forward by incoming Senate President Joe Negron and Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell, would pull the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million from the money collected under the 2014 land conservation amendment each year.

That money would then be spread across Everglades projects at the South Florida Water Management District and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“The Everglades Foundation lauds Senator Negron and Representative Harrell for their tireless work to establish dedicated funding for Everglades restoration and carry out projects outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan under the ‘Legacy Florida’ bill,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.

Eikenberg also thanked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and both chambers for passing the bill, which he said, “will protect and preserve this national treasure.”

The Senate passed the bill Friday with a unanimous, and the House followed with a 113-to-1 tally shortly after.

“As this good measure heads to the Governor for his signature, we remain hopeful that he too will support this dedicated use of Amendment 1 funding that will allow the state to expedite planning and construction of critical restoration projects to significantly reduce damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers,” Eikenberg said.

Property Casualty Insurers “disappointed” by failure to pass ride-sharing regulation

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said it was disappointed lawmakers capped off the 2016 Legislative Session without passing insurance regulations for Uber and Lyft drivers.

“Twenty-nine other states have passed legislation addressing insurance coverage requirements for TNCs, and it is past time for Florida to do the same,” the group said in a Friday email. “PCI will continue to work with lawmakers on a solution for 2017 so that this is the last year rideshare drivers and passengers operate without the necessary protections in place.”

PCI’s sentiment echoes that of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, which also issued a statement Friday lamenting the failure of SB 1118 and HB 509 this session.

Both bills cleared their committee stops, and HB 509 even passed through the full House by a 108-to-10 vote, though neither bill was heard on the Senate floor.

The trade group, comprised of nearly 1,000 member companies, said that “drivers and their passengers need to know their personal auto policy will not cover them if they are injured or if the vehicle is damaged in an accident.”

Still, PCI thanked Sen. David Simmons and Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the bills, as well as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, primarily seen as Uber and Lyft’s biggest opponent in the Legislature

Harris Corp. pleased by $7M OK for police radio funding

Florida lawmakers went back and forth on funding for new police radios in their $82.3 billion budget, eventually deciding to fork over $7 million for the new equipment to current supplier Harris Corp.

The communications company couldn’t be more pleased that lawmakers ended up “putting the safety of first responders and Floridians first,” according to an email it blasted out after the legislature passed the budget Friday night.

The House had included funding for the radios in its budget proposal, eventually nixing in order to step in line with the Senate budget, which contended the Brevard County-based company simply wanted to offload radios that law enforcement didn’t need.

The line item ended up coming back to life with the help of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, who represents Brevard County.

Harris said the new radios will not only “give law enforcement advanced interoperable communication technology now” but will allow departments across the state to “retire radio models that are more than a decade old.”

“As hurricane season approaches and as Florida hosts more than 100 million visitors annually, it is critical that first responders have the right tools,” the email said. “We question why anyone would want our state law enforcement to be forced to use outdated equipment or wait another five years.”

Legislature approves $82.3 billion budget, adjourns Sine Die

The Florida Legislature overwhelmingly approved the state’s $82.3 billion spending plan, with just one lawmaker voting against it.

The Senate passed the fiscal 2016-16 state budget shortly after 5 p.m. Friday with no debate. The House approved the budget 119-1 earlier in the day. State Rep. John Tobia, a Melbourne Beach Republican, was the lone no vote.

“We had a great opportunity to work together and bring forth a great budget,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in remarks following the Sine Die.

The Merritt Island Republican said the Legislature “brought forth great opportunities” this legislative session. And Crisafulli said Floridians “can’t forget the balanced budget that was voted out of this Legislature 159 to 1.”

“That was something to be very proud of,” he said.

The budget vote came one day after House Democrats stood up in support of the budget. Many believe it was designed to send a message to Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed millions from the state budget in 2015.

“I think we need to notice this historic moment,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat, said Thursday. “I have a feeling we’re going to have more unanimity than we have had in the past. I think we all lost a little bit in this budget, but we’ve all gained a little bit in this budget.”

The budget increases public school funding by 1 percent, holds the line on tuition at state colleges and universities, and sets aside $132 million for Everglades restoration projects.

The budget does not include one of Scott’s top priorities — $250 million for an Enterprise Florida fund. It also includes a scaled down version of the governor’s tax cut proposal; cutting $129 million instead of the $1 billion Scott had requested.

Still, the Naples Republican tried brush off the legislative defeats. He declared victory of sorts, announcing plans to go on a 5-city “Million, Billion Jobs Victory Tour” on Monday. He told legislative revelers Friday they had a lot of be proud of, and called the 2016 legislative session a “very good session.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner declared a personal victory Friday. His chamber language to a health insurance bill that requires health insurance contracts to cover speech therapy, occupational therapy physical therapy and applied behavior analysis services for individuals with Down Syndrome. They are already required to be covered for people with autism spectrum disorder.

“Eight years ago, we ended session with an issue that was not resolved,” he said. “It got resolved tonight.”

The budget, and a host of other bills that passed Friday, now heads to Scott for his approval and vetoes.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lawmakers poised to approve nearly $82.3 billion budget

Putting behind a year’s worth of rancor, the Florida Legislature on Friday will approve a more than $82.3 billion budget that includes a slight boost in money for schools but also rejects many of Gov. Rick Scott‘s main priorities.

Just a few months ago the Republican-controlled Legislature was rushing to pass a budget to avoid a state government shutdown. This time the House and Senate put together a spending plan for this year that increases the state budget by about 5 percent without the arguing and finger-pointing that had consumed most of 2015. The vote guarantees that legislators end their session on time.

Along the way, though, legislators forged a budget that ignored much of what the GOP governor wanted. They shot down his bid for a $250 million fund to lure new companies to the state. Scott’s tax cut package, a centerpiece of his 2014 re-election bid, was scaled back significantly. Instead of using a budget surplus to give tax cuts largely to businesses, legislative leaders instead steered money to a small trim in local property taxes.

Both Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli insisted that their approach was a reaction to recent news that showed that Florida’s economic recovery may be faltering and that tax collections aren’t growing as robustly as once forecast.

“There’s a reality to how much money you have available and the resources you have and we had to recognize that,” Crisafulli said this week.

There are other places that legislators also bucked Scott. They agreed to borrow money in order to set aside more than $700 million in school construction projects. Florida in the past would routinely borrow money for building projects, but they had stopped because of  continued opposition from Scott.

Crisafulli defended the practice, saying that it makes sense to use bond proceeds for construction with interest rates so low. Still the move could risk a veto from Scott, who last year slashed nearly $500 million from the budget before signing it into law.

Democrats have usually been sharply critical of the annual budget. But this year they said they would vote for the budget to “send a message” to Scott. That means that the Republican-controlled Legislature should have enough votes to override Scott in case he vetoes the budget or spending items within it. It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto.

“We have a governor who refuses to govern and that has enabled us to cross party lines,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat.

Some legislators, however, said there are shortcomings in the budget. They complained it doesn’t include an across-the-board pay raise for state workers or boost spending enough in Florida’s troubled prisons system. A push by Florida’s prison chief to hire enough correctional officers to switch from a 12-hour shift to an 8-hour shift was not approved by budget negotiators.

Rep. Charles Van Zant, a North Florida Republican who is leaving his office because of term limits, harshly criticized GOP leaders for refusing to set aside more money for state workers and prison employees.

“We have the money, but we are cheating our employees,” Van Zant said.

Despite saying they didn’t have money for pay raises, legislators still spread throughout the budget tens of millions for hometown projects. Some of the same projects were vetoed by Scott last year, leading to rampant speculation that legislative leaders may have already agreed to override Scott. Crisafulli and Gardiner have continued to insist they don’t have any agreement on overrides.

“There’s going to be things in there the governor doesn’t like, there’s going to be things in there the governor likes,” Crisafulli said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says goodbye to “an incredible institution”

Courtesy of the Florida House
Courtesy of the Florida House

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli bid farewell to his colleagues Thursday, thanking his staff and fellow for making the House “an incredible institution.”

“It has been a true honor to serve with all of you,” Crisafulli said. “The past two years have been challenging; they have brought on extraordinary times. But I am so proud of this House on how we confronted adversity.”

Crisafulli was first elected to the Florida House in 2008 and served as the House Speaker from 2014 to 2016. The Merritt Island Republican can’t run again because of term limits.

During his brief remarks, Crisafulli thanked his family and staff for their support over the years. He spoke to lawmakers about the work they’ve done, and said he hoped he lived up to the promises Crisafulli made when he was first named Speaker.

“When I ran for office, you know that I never sought to hold this position. But it has been a role that I embraced, because it meant getting to know each and every one of you, whether Republican or Democrat,” he said. “When I took on this role, I felt that my role would be more of a manager in the process and not the dictator of it. I’m hopeful, in these last two years, that you’ve seen that as my role played out.”

Crisafulli made his remarks after his official portrait was unveiled. In the portrait, which was promptly hung on the walls of the House chamber, Crisafulli is shown standing with his hand on an orange that rests on a desk.

House members also presented him with a custom long-range rifle as a gift.

“Over the years of our service together, what has impressed me … is how strong your convictions are and how firmly you hold them,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican. “There have been very few things that I have seen that you would be unmovable on, but on those principles, you stood strong and did not waiver.”

Crisafulli told members he was looking forward to seeing what comes next for them, and encouraged them to remember their roots as they continue their public service.

“For those that will continue on in this institution, whether in this House or across the hall in the Senate, I ask you all to remember that you are not, or never will be, bigger than this process,” he said. “Check your egos at the door when you come into this chamber and the one across the hall. Remember how you got here and where you came from. Make the most of this special opportunity.”

With downtown campus funding in budget, UCF hopes it has satisfied Rick Scott

The University of Central Florida has walked a careful path to line up support for what had been a controversial plan for a downtown Orlando campus, and now the university has everything but the governor’s signature.

No one is taking that for granted, though.

Over the weekend, with pushes from Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, the Florida Legislature’s budget conference included the $20 million UCF needs.

That came a few days after the Florida Board of Governors signed off, even as key members of that board stated flatly they would not have done so based on how the plan had first been presented.

Last month the city of Orlando pushed all its chips onto the table, signing a memorandum of understanding that it would provide $68 million worth of land, buildings and infrastructure.

Civic leaders and organizations in Orlando also have chipped in on their own, raising $16 million in private donations over the past four months toward a promised goal of $20 million.

It all hinges, though, on a critical set of promises and concessions that the university agreed to in January after UCF officials and officials of Gov. Rick Scott met in December to sort out what the university could do to change his mind.

Scott vetoed money last summer for the campus. He still has not made any statements about whether he’ll change his mind this time. That’s where the UCF memorandum of understanding, approved by the UCF Board of Trustees in January, becomes critical.

UCF Senior Vice President for University Relations Dan Holsenbeck called the budget appropriation a “huge relief,” but not the final relief.

“Honestly, it would not be possible without, first and foremost, the real support and tenacity of the Speaker and the President,” Holsenbeck said.

“But we also have to recognize that we worked with the Governor and his staff over the holidays and addressed most of his issues,” he said. “I’m not speculating that he is going to sign it or not veto it, But we worked out the issues of concern to him.”

Those issues included UCF promises:

  • to focus the academic offerings on majors that would address downtown workforce needs;
  • to review progress and weed out programs that have low student demand;
  • to pursue the goal of 100 percent job placement in the two most popular degree programs within a year of graduation;
  • to set up an instructional model that would involve about 46 percent of instruction coming from traditional classroom lectures, 38 percent from hybrid methods, and 16 percent as on-line studies;
  • to not build its own student dormitories downtown, but to allow private developers to offer private student housing; and
  • to not seek any more state money until after the campus opens for the 2018-19 year.

The downtown campus was not the only major UCF project to get funding in the conference budget.

UCF also is getting $14 million for continued development of a joint-use set of facilities for military research in the university’s research park. It also got more than $3 million to finish renovations of a UCF engineering building, and more than $4 million for a multidisciplinary lab building on campus.

Next up for UCF, and for the University of South Florida: anticipation that they could get money and recognition as universities of “emerging preeminence.”

Both universities are hoping the new category is created as a notch below the current universities of preeminence category that brings the University of Florida and Florida State University additional funding.

Bills are alive in both legislative chambers to create the new category, and the universities are hoping the money will appear in the budget. They expect $20 million to be set aside for UF and FSU to split, and an amount equal to half of what the preeminent universities get — $10 million this year — for UCF and USF to split.

Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, other Florida politicians react to Nancy Reagan’s death

Politicians throughout Florida responded to Sunday’s report of the death of Nancy Reagan at the age of 95. Reactions come from federal, state, and local Republican elected officials.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has described himself as among the “children of the (Ronald) Reagan Revolution,” tweeted his condolences, writing that “today our nation mourns the loss of Nancy Reagan, a true example of integrity and grace. My prayers are with the entire Reagan family.”

Later Rubio issued a longer statement:

“Nancy Reagan was a woman of incredible grace and strength who served as an inspiration to an entire generation of Americans. As First Lady, she chose not only to lead with her distinctive style and poise, but also to take a stand on tough issues, such as the prevention of recreational drug abuse.

“For conservatives, she has been a powerful living link to her husband’s legacy as one of the greatest modern presidents. Through her work with the Reagan Library she has been active in extending the impact of his leadership and message to a new generation.

“It was an honor to have met Mrs. Reagan when I spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2011. She went out of her way to warmly welcome Jeanette and me. She will be sorely missed by those who knew her,” Rubio concluded, “and forever remembered by a grateful nation.”

U.S. Rep. David Jolly acknowledged specific aspects of Mrs. Reagan’s indelible legacy:

“Today the world lost someone who defined dignity and grace, a survivor and role model and a First Lady who cared deeply about our youth and this nation. Nancy Reagan was also a strong voice, a fierce protector and confidant to one of the greatest American Presidents in history.

“A loving and devoted wife to Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan saved countless lives with her efforts to fight drug abuse through her ‘Just Say No’ campaign. A cancer survivor, she encouraged women to get annual mammograms and her Foster Grandparents campaign connected children who she said ‘needed to be loved and grandparents who needed to feel wanted.’   My prayers and condolences go out to the Reagan family.”

State officials, from Gov. Rick Scott on down, likewise offered their thoughts.

Governor Scott said, “Ann and I join the nation in mourning the loss of Nancy Reagan, former First Lady of the United States and dedicated wife to the late President Ronald Reagan. Throughout her life, Nancy’s incredible commitment to her country and her family did not falter, and she will continue to inspire all us to live bravely and selflessly. Nancy Reagan made a monumental impact on our nation, and I know her legacy will live on, just like her husband’s legacy has. Ann and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Reagan family and all those who knew her.”

Another official statement came Sunday afternoon from Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

“I am saddened to hear the news of the passing of Former First Lady Nancy Reagan. May we all take comfort knowing that today, Mrs. Reagan will be reunited with her husband in heaven. She was truly devoted to her husband and her country, and Renee and I send our prayers to her family,” Lopez-Cantera said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had this to say: “Today our nation lost a great woman who served our country with compassion and grace. Nancy Reagan was a true public servant, dedicating her time to helping the elderly, our veterans and people with disabilities. Her efforts to stop drug abuse impacted an entire generation of American youth, and her legacy will live on through the lives that she touched.”

Other responses have been on social media.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam posted to Facebook: “Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was truly a class act, and as America mourns her death, may we also be grateful for her many contributions to our country.”

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli tweeted: “Rest in peace, Nancy Reagan. She was an incredible leader for our party and our country.”

Rep. Shawn Harrison tweeted: “Sad news this morning. Nancy Reagan has passed. She was the rock to the Gipper. RIP First Lady.”

State Sen. Thad Altman tweeted: “Prayers for the Reagan Family on the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.She graced us w/her devotion and love to family and country.”

State Sen. Rob Bradley posted to Facebook Sunday morning along similar lines: “A Nation mourns the passing of a great American. God Bless the Reagan family.”

And State Senator Dorothy Hukill tweeted: “Prayers for the family on the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.”

Candidates have had their say also.

CD 2 Republican Neal Dunn said, “We are saddened by the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who served as First Lady with great dignity by President Reagan’s side. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Reagan family during this sad time. We can all take comfort in knowing that both Nancy and President Reagan will live on in the hearts and minds of Americans for generations to come. Seldom in our history have we had a President gifted with such wisdom, tenacity and  charismatic leadership.”

Congressional District 6 Republican Brandon Patty: “Nancy Reagan’s unwavering love and support helped make President Reagan the man he was. Her leadership came at a critical time in our country and is still felt today.”

Rebecca Negron, running in House District 18, said that “former First Lady Nancy Reagan will always be remembered for her dedication to her family and her country.  She served alongside her husband, a true conservative, with such grace and passion for the American people.”

Alexander Pantinakis, GOP Committeeman from Duval County, posted a picture of the Reagans, with the poignant message: “Together again. Rest in peace Nancy Reagan.” to Facebook.

State Sen. Tom Lee and state Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Appropriations chairs for the Senate and House respectively, observed a moment of silence for Mrs. Reagan before their Sunday conference meeting.

House lays Seminole Compact failure at feet of Senate

It’s the Florida Senate’s fault that the Seminole Compact wasn’t passed this session, two House leaders said Friday afternoon.

They rejected claims there weren’t enough votes in the House, saying instead there was no point in moving a bill that wasn’t going to be considered across the Capitol Rotunda. (For Friday’s background, click here.)

The Senate gave up on it earlier this week, with President Andy Gardiner saying the compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle.” This is his final  year in office.

“We wanted to keep hope alive, but obviously nothing panned out,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. “We figured there was no life in it … as for 2016, it won’t have an opportunity to come back up.”

“It just couldn’t get done in the Senate,” he said. “There wasn’t a compromise opportunity to get it done.”

Gardiner and other Senate leaders weren’t available Friday afternoon because that chamber was still meeting.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the Finance and Tax Committee, said he believed there were “no fewer than” 80 votes in the 120-member House to pass the re-negotiated agreement. A majority in the House, enough to pass legislation, is 61.

He also feared that now the courts will essentially make gambling policy for the state since several related suits are pending.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to consider a challenge by a Creek Indian-operated racetrack in Gretna that it and pari-mutuels in five other counties can offer slots because voters approved the machines in local referendums.

Competing lawsuits are also before two federal judges.

In one, the Seminoles say the state violated a previous promise of blackjack exclusivity by allowing card games known as player-designated games, similar to some versions of player-banked poker.

The tribe offers blackjack at seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

In another suit, the state alleges that the tribe’s current offering of blackjack is technically unauthorized because one part of the previous agreement expired and Seminole blackjack going on now is illegal gambling.

“If we don’t take action, we will surrender the state’s involvement in this critical decision-making,” Gaetz said. “If there is judicial action that deems the state in violation of the Compact, we’ll have the deprivation of revenue, a loss of control on the expansion of gaming … and we look dysfunctional.”

The previous blackjack deal was worth at least $1 billion over five years to the state treasury, though payments usually exceeded $200 million per year. Revenue from the tribe stops without a new deal.

It wasn’t clear whether the new Compact would still go to the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian gambling, for review and separate approval.

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