Jim Rosica – Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Lottery ends appeal over multi-million dollar contract

As expected, the Florida Lottery has withdrawn its appeal of a lawsuit over a multi-million dollar agency contract launched by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A “notice of voluntary dismissal” was filed in the case at the 1st District Court of Appeal Wednesday.

“The issues raised on appeal were mooted by the General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2018-2019, and this matter is therefore resolved,” the filing said.

In December, the Lottery agreed to tweak a multi-year deal—for new equipment and other items—to require legislative oversight and approval.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, released redacted documents detailing changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month.

Corcoran had sued last February, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract was for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

Corcoran’s lawsuit said the Lottery “cannot enter into a contract that obligates the agency to pay more in subsequent fiscal years than its current budget authority allows.”

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed with Corcoran and invalidated the deal in March. The Lottery then appealed. Both sides asked the appellate court to put a hold on the case as they worked on a resolution.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Richard Corcoran: ‘Grave concern’ about gun-related CRC measure

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is telling the Constitution Revision Commission that a pending gun proposal is “inappropriate for inclusion in the state Constitution.”

The speaker sent a one-page letter to commissioners Wednesday.

He pointed to “an ‘assault’ weapons ban, a ban on specific magazines, and an extended waiting period,” saying he had “grave concern.”

An amendment, filed by CRC member Chris Smith, to Proposal 3 (P3) would prohibit “sale or transfer of assault weapons,” among other things. Smith, a former Senate Democratic Leader, is an appointee of Republican Senate President Joe Negron.

The underlying proposal, by Commissioner and former South Florida U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez, would “remove a provision authorizing laws that regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

“As you know, the Legislature recently made changes to aspects of firearm policy, including the age to purchase firearms, and the regulation of a device known as a “bump stock,’ ” wrote Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican and likely candidate for governor.

The Legislature recently passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a school safety, mental health and guns measure after the February shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Gun-related policies “are matters that are best left to the purview of an elected legislature in a constitutional republic,” Corcoran said.

“The Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. All firearm policies flow from that fundamental right and should remain policy matters for the Legislature,” he added. “I would respectfully request that the CRC reject calls to codify firearm policy in the state Constitution.”

Smith and CRC chairman Carlos Beruff were unavailable for comment as the commission was meeting Wednesday morning.

The letter, in trying to exercise influence over a proposal, is an unusual move for an elected leader who has appointees on the panel.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, has said he favors proposals that would raise the retirement age for judges and help with K-12 education “flexibility.”

But though he added he had “general conversations” with his appointees on his “guiding principles,” Negron said he trusts their “good judgment.”

Corcoran’s letter follows a recent call to action by the National Rifle Association with an email from former NRA President Marion Hammer asking supporters to contact Commissioners and “tell them to OPPOSE gun control amendments!”

Updated at noon — State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, responded to the letter in a statement, saying Florida NRA lobbyist “Marion Hammer has Richard Corcoran running scared.”

“Speaker Corcoran just opened the door for future legislatures to fully reverse even the weakest gun safety provisions signed into law after Parkland. His ‘grave concern’ over making any gun control permanent, exposes what we already knew. Florida Republicans are not committed to addressing gun violence over the long term and are eager to continue implementing the NRA’s extreme agenda once the attention has shifted elsewhere. Just like Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran is nothing more than an NRA sellout.”


‘Marsy’s Law’ wins initial OK as state constitutional amendment

A proposed constitutional amendment to give equal rights to crime victims won preliminary approval from the full Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) on Monday.

Commissioners voted 30-3 to send the measure (P96) to the panel’s Style and Drafting Committee for preparation as a ballot question.

Hank Coxe, Arthenia Joyner and Bob Solari voted against it. The proposal still faces a final vote by the full commission.

It would approve a Marsy’s Law for Florida, named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas. The California woman was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, the accused murderer confronted Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, at a grocery store. The family was not informed that the accused was released on bail.

It’s supported by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, who was sexually abused for six years by her nanny. She has since formed Lauren’s Kids, an organization to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help survivors.

The amendment, if OK’d for the 2018 statewide ballot and passed by no less than 60 percent of voters, creates rights for victims or their surviving family members to be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among others.

“I’m extremely proud that support (for the measure) is broad-based and bipartisan,” said Commissioner Tim Cerio, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee who sponsors the measure.

A staff analysis has noted that “many of the constitutional rights established by the proposal currently exist under Florida law,” a point echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has called the measure “overly broad and unworkable in practice.”

Cerio acknowledged the criticism Tuesday, saying many provisions are on the books, “but are not followed.” Others are optional, he added, and not constitutionally required.

Commissioner and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martínez suggested the proposal could be an unfunded mandate, particularly when it comes to certain notice requirements.

“Clearly, there has to be some funding … but the impact may not be significant,” Cerio said.

Coxe, a Jacksonville attorney, was the most severe critic, calling Marsy’s Law “an insult” to every state attorney and sheriff in Florida.

CRC member Chris Nocco, Pasco County’s sheriff, soon countered: “I’m not insulted that he brought forward this idea.” Nocco has supported the plan.

“We are fixing a problem,” Cerio said after debate. “This is not a criticism of the system … It needs to be a beginning.”

Ultimately, the full CRC has to approve the proposal by at least 22 votes out of its 37 members. It then would have to be voted on at the November ballot.

Jeanette Nuñez yanks CRC proposal to change Tobacco Free Florida

After nearly an hour of discussion, a Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) proposal that would affect the state’s efforts to reduce smoking was postponed Tuesday.

CRC member and House Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez, who filed the measure (P94), pulled it from the floor after several commissioners questioned its necessity.

Tobacco Free Florida, the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program, now gets 15 percent of the annual proceeds from the historic 1995 settlement between Florida and major cigarette companies.


Nuñez told commissioners her motive for removing a funding requirement for anti-smoking marketing—already in the constitution—is because the amount is “an arbitrary number.” That’s one-third of the money the group gets.

Her proposal originally included a provision to redirect dollars from tobacco-prevention efforts to cancer research; she later removed that language.

But Commissioner Lisa Carlton soon asked Nuñez, “Where is the groundswell? … I haven’t heard from anyone asking for this.”

“I will tell you there is something to be said about the silent majority,” Nuñez answered. She also pointed out that Florida is below the federal government’s recommended funding levels for many of its other anti-smoking programs.

Carlton countered: “If you stop any amount of prevention, you will add people to the rolls of cigarette smokers. These companies have billions and billions of dollars at their disposal. We’d be allowing Big Tobacco to take over.”

After years of litigation, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997 signed off on a roughly $11 billion settlement with Big Tobacco industry, which he called “the straw that broke Joe Camel’s back.”

The idea was to use the tobacco industry’s own profits to help Florida pay for public health costs created by smoking-related sickness.

Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth was in office at the time and helped negotiate the deal. He opposes the amendment, as do many health groups, including the American Cancer Society of Florida.

But Florida Trend Executive Editor Mark Howard has said the settlement has created a “policy schizophrenia,” to wit: “One hand keeps tobacco money firmly attached to its budgetary lip, while the other does everything it can to quit the habit.”

Nuñez said she ultimately wants a “legislative review” of all of Tobacco Free Florida’s programs: “If more dollars are required for marketing, so be it. Right now, we cannot do that … (marketing funding) could increase, it could stay the same.”

Carlton, a former state senator, wasn’t buying it: “Why do we need to change the constitution (for lawmakers) to review it? The Legislature is completely free to review the money anytime they want to.”

If the proposal is revived, and eventually gets 22 votes out of the CRC’s 37 members, it would still have to be approved by no less than 60 percent of statewide voters to be added to the state’s governing document.

Amendment to button up ‘write-in loophole’ gets nod from CRC

A plan to close what’s known as Florida’s “write-in loophole” won a preliminary OK from the Constitution Revision Commission on Monday.

Commissioners voted 21-12 to send the proposal (P11to the body’s Style and Drafting Committee for preparation as a ballot question. The proposal would still face a final vote afterward.

Commissioner Sherry Plymale, who filed the measure, said the current write-in system is responsible for “delegitimizing elections.”

Her measure would “let all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation,” vote in a primary election “if all the candidates … have the same party affiliation and the winner will be opposed only by one or more write-in candidates in the general election.”

Here’s how it works now: A Florida primary is open to all voters if candidates from other parties don’t qualify to run.

The 1997-98 CRC placed an amendment on the ballot, passed by 64 percent, that “allows all voters to participate in primary elections when all candidates belong to the same party and will have no opposition in the general election.”

But state elections officials have since opined that a write-in candidate qualifying for a general election in a race keeps a primary closed.

Here’s how political parties and others have gamed the system: They’ve been known to line up a political novice to file as a write-in to close a primary, which usually benefits the incumbent.

On average, primary elections in 10 of 67 counties will be closed because of write-ins, Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards previously told commissioners.

Some voters also indirectly game the system by registering with a party just so they can vote in a primary, then switch back to no-party affiliated status, or NPA.

Nearly 27 percent—around 3.4 million—of Florida’s almost 12.9 million active registered voters were not registered with a political party, according to the state’s Division of Elections.

Even some of those in favor Monday were dubious about the need for the proposal.

I’ll vote for it today because enough Floridians have called me about it … but I’m going to vote against it in November,” said Commissioner Chris Smith, a former Senate Democratic Leader. “People will always find a way to manipulate elections.”

But Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, said “voters (first) approved what we’re talking about 20 years ago.”

“This is nothing more than to fix than what was supposed to happen in 1998,” he said. “It should allow everyone to vote.”

Proposals that the commission clears for the November 2018 ballot still must get at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Constitutional review panel’s “Process” has its own lobbyists

From A. Duda & Sons, Inc., to Zurich American Insurance Co., 44 pages’ worth of concerns now have registered to lobby the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The 37-member panel, which began meeting in Session Monday, convenes every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document.

The list of “principals and of lobbyists (259 pages) represents nearly interest and industry in the state, such as education, health care, technology, alcoholic beverages, local governments, and gaming, to name a few.

The commission will begin considering 36 individual proposals to amend the constitution, including ‘bills of rights’ for nursing home residents and crime victims, raising the retirement age of judges, and clarifying the duties of the lieutenant governor.

Proposals OK’d off the floor will go to the panel’s Style and Drafting Committee, which will mold the ideas and combine them into language to go onto the November statewide ballot. Then they will subject to a final vote.

Proposals that make onto the ballot must receive at least 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.

Commissioners criss-crossed the state in the last year, holding public meetings to discuss ideas, including a final meeting in St. Petersburg that attracted about 1,200 people.

As of now, the commission is expected to meet through May 4; it must file a report with Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.

On Monday, three commissioners were excused from attending the opening day, accoridng to CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice: Attorney General Pam Bondi, Darlene Jordan, and Tom Grady.

Joe Negron reflects on past, looks to future

In a brief ‘exit interview’ last week with Florida Politics, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron said lawmakers over the last two Sessions “made tremendous progress” on goals he set out in his 2015 designation speech, “a blueprint of things I tried to accomplish.”

Among those, beefing up higher education “with world class faculties,” addressing pollution in Lake Okeechobee, and “decriminalizing adolescence” with pre-arrest diversion programs and making it easier to expunge juvenile arrest records.

In other highlights:

— What “didn’t get a lot of attention” last year, the Stuart Republican said, was reforming eyewitness identifications in criminal cases “to reduce the chance of wrongful convictions.”

— The Constitution Revision Commission, on which he has nine appointees, starts its Session Monday.

Negron, an attorney, said he favors proposals that would raise the retirement age for judges and help with K-12 education “flexibility.” He’s had “general conversations” with his appointees on his “guiding principles,” but added he trusts their “good judgment.”  

— Though redistricting has afforded him an extra two years in the Senate after his 2016-18 presidency, he said he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll serve that bonus time.

Negron was elected to the House in 2000, serving for six years, including a term as Appropriations Committee chair in 2005-06 under then-House Speaker Allen Bense. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009, and also served as budget chair there in 2012-14.

“I’m going to take a few weeks to think about it,” he said. “Term limits are there for a reason.”

— Negron now is focusing on his business litigation work for the Akerman firm in its West Palm Beach office.

“I’m a lawyer first, a legislator second,” he said. “This was one part of my life that I greatly value … but my primary professional identity is as a lawyer. I’m back in the office. I enjoy what I do.”

— When asked what advice he’d give to future legislative candidates, he said he’d repeat the advice given him by Bense in 2000. 

“He told me in order to be strong in Tallahassee, be strong at home. (Candidates’) political efforts and philosophy should be grounded in their community.”

Quick budget turnaround cuts TaxWatch off at the pass

Talk about pre-emption.

With Gov. Rick Scott speedily approving the 2018-19 state budget and issuing line-item vetoes just two days after it hit his desk, Florida TaxWatch was prevented from holding its signature event: The annual presentation of “Budget Turkeys.”


“This historically, exceptionally fast turnaround time did not allow Florida TaxWatch to fully complete the meticulous review of all appropriations required to produce our annual Budget Turkey Watch report before the governor exercised the constitutionally provided check-and-balance known as the line-item-veto,” said Dominic M. Calabro, TaxWatch President and CEO.

The group defines turkeys as “legislatively directed projects, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized by the public and subjected to the budget committee process, or that circumvented established grant and other selection processes.”

The nonprofit organization, which bills itself as anindependent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute,” usually holds a press conference every year at Tallahassee’s Press Center to roll out the report.

“We certainly hope the Governor’s hard-working staff had time to duteously review every expenditure of public dollars on behalf of the taxpayers statewide who will be funding these projects,” Calabro added in a Friday statement.

There was some good news, he added: “Because of good rules governing appropriations projects … , the vast majority of these projects do not qualify as Budget Turkeys under the established Florida TaxWatch criteria.”

Nonetheless, the roughly $88 billion budget “also contains a startling number of local transportation member projects—nearly 60 projects worth $120 million … for which there is no formal evaluation and selection process.”

Better luck next year.

No quilts for you: Rick Scott vetoes museum money

Out of $64 million in budget vetoes issued Friday, Gov. Rick Scott killed $270,000 slated for the acquisition of the Florida Quilt Museum building in Trenton, the county seat of Gilchrist County.

That gladdened Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat who inveighed against the money during debate on the state’s spending plan.

“I am pleased to see that Gov. Scott took appropriate action on this particular line item veto,” Jenne said in a text message.

“The State of Florida should not be doling out $270,000 for a quilt museum with a taxable value of $98,000 and no quilts. It was the height of fiscal absurdity and had no place in our budget funded on the backs of taxpayers.”

Earlier Friday, he tweeted: “It’s the little victories that keep me going.”

Stephanie Metts, the museum’s founder and a board member, first learned of Scott’s line-item veto from a Florida Politics reporter. 

“What a shame for this little community that is so struggling,” she said. Trenton’s population is a little over 2,000.

The museum is “not funded by anybody; my husband and I are the only ones putting any money into this,” Metts said.

She also denied the “no quilts” claim: “We have all kinds of quilts,” Metts said, mentioning there were over 100 now on display through loans. “We own very few quilts because it takes money to buy quilts, which we don’t have.

“There’s one traffic light here and not even a motel,” she added. “We’ll try to raise more money … We’re getting older and we can’t keep doing this.”

Greyhound racing ban passes legal muster, ‘pregnant pig’ lawyer says

The lawyer that successfully represented a pig farmer who sued over the state’s ‘pregnant pig’ constitutional amendment now says another proposed amendment to do away with greyhound racing is legally sound.

Broad & Cassel attorney M. Stephen Turner, who represented Florida pig farmer Stephen Basford, wrote an opinion letter – provided to Florida Politics Thursday – for GREY2K USA Worldwide, the organization that seeks to end dog racing.

Greyhound owners say that the amendment at issue (P67), would amount to an unconstitutional ‘taking’ if passed. In constitutional-law parlance, a taking is when government “uses, regulates, (or) seizes private property” and doesn’t pay for it.

Florida also has its own law, the “Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act,” to protect property owners from takings that don’t rise to a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and former appellate judge Paul Hawkes, who now represent the Florida Greyhound Association (FGA), say the amendment’s passage will subject the state to lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

The dog-racing ban is one of 36 to be considered by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) when it convenes in Session, beginning Monday in Tallahassee. Turner’s letter was sent to commissioners earlier Thursday.

The panel is formed every 20 years to review and consider changes to the state’s governing document. The CRC can place amendments directly on the ballot, but they still must be approved by at least 60 percent.

Proposal sponsor Tom Lee, a CRC member and Republican state senator from Thonotosassa, plans to tweak it to include a ban on the “commercial” racing of dogs altogether, not just betting on dog races, as it currently stands.

Turner won Basford’s case over the pig amendment, passed by voters in 2002 and in effect by 2008, that said pregnant pigs could not be “confined” in such a way that “prevented (them) from turning around freely.”

Basford had to shut down his pig operation; he eventually won over $500,000 in a decision upheld in a 2-1 ruling by a 1st District Court of Appeal panel.

“In contrast, gambling on dog races is a nuisance at common law, and a constitutional amendment reverting that activity to illegal status would not cause taking of property,” Turner wrote. “… Its prohibition is well within (the state’s) police power.”

Turner’s letter, however, is based on a ban on wagering on greyhound racing, not the outright ban on dog racing that Lee now contemplates. Lee filed that change Wednesday.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Turner he obviously wrote his opinion before” Lee filed the change, said Jack Cory, the FGA’s spokesman and lobbyist. That change “only strengthens our position.”

Still, “to the extent that dog owners, breeders, trainers and kennel operators might claim their personal property is devalued … even a regulation directed to personal property cannot constitute a taking if there is some remaining use that can be made of the property,” Turner wrote.

“The voters deserve the opportunity to decide whether commercial greyhound racing should be phased out,” said Christine Dorchak, co-founder, president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide. “Proposal 67 deserves a place before voters in November.”

But Kottkamp and Hawkes, writing in an op-ed sent this week to Florida Politics, see a potential deluge of claims.

“Nothing in CRC Proposal 67 prohibits bleachers, but the state would most likely have to compensate the owners of the bleachers or viewing stands at each of the racetracks because (they were) part of the ‘functionally integrated nature’ of the property,” they wrote.

“The question then is: What is the fair market value of all the real and tangible property in Florida that would be adversely affected by the passage of CRC Proposal 67?” Added to that figure would be litigation cost and attorney fees as in the Basford case.

Racing greyhounds “are routinely purchased for as little as $2,000 or as much as $50,000,” they added. “You could assume a very conservative average of $5,000 per dog, which would total $40 million. You would then add the value of the approximately 7,000 racing greyhounds on farms that are being raised and trained. A very conservative figure for greyhounds in training would be $3,000 each or another $21 million.

“Thus, an extremely conservative estimate of the damages just for the racing greyhounds that could no longer race as the result of CRC Proposal 67 would be over $60 million. This does not include the partial taking and loss-of-value claims related to kennel property and equipment.”

Updated Friday — Dorchak responds in an email: “The Florida Greyhound Association does not understand the proposed legislation and is desperately trying to confuse Commissioners. Proposal 67 outlaws commercial dog racing, and prohibits new racing licenses. The Broad and Cassel memo makes clear that racing licenses are not property and do not trigger recovery under the Bert Harris Act. This carefully prepared analysis applies equally to the initially filed text and to the new strike-all language.”

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