Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Personnel note: Jonathan Zachem appointed DBPR secretary

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed Jonathan Zachem as the new Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary since January, has accepted the job of Vice President of Compliance for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing agency.

“DBPR is often on the front lines of supporting new and existing businesses across our state” Scott said in a statement. “With his leadership experience at DBPR, Jonathan understands the importance of reducing burdensome regulations while helping our job creators and families.

“I know that Jonathan will be a great leader as we continue to work together to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation,” the governor added. “I appreciate Matilde Miller’s service to the State of Florida and her dedication to our mission of growing jobs for our families.”

Zachem was the department’s deputy secretary. Before that, he was chief attorney and then director of DBPR’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked for the Prosecution Services Unit (PSU) of the Florida Department of Health.

Zachem received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, a graduate degree from the University of South Florida and a law degree from the Barry University School of Law, according to the Governor’s Office.

Four members of Florida Citrus Commission back Ben Albritton in SD 26

Citrus leaders are throwing their support behind Ben Albritton in his bid to replace Sen. Denise Grimsley in Senate District 26.

The Albritton campaign announced Tuesday four members of the Florida Citrus Commission, including Chairman Marty McKenna and Vice Chairman Mike Garavaglia, have endorsed Albritton in his Senate District 26 bid.

“Citrus is the heart of District 26, and as a grower and former board member, Ben Albritton has a unique understanding of the importance and needs of our industry,” said McKenna in a statement.

Garavaglia called Albritton a “champion of Florida agriculture” and said he will “continue to be an effective advocate for citrus and the entire agriculture industry in the Senate.”

Florida Citrus Commission members V.C. Hollingsworth III and Ned Hancock also endorsed Albritton.

“We know Ben Albritton to be a man of his word. He is a passionate and enthusiastic representative of Florida agriculture and deeply enjoys serving our state and its people,” said Hollingsworth and Hancock in joint statement. “We look forward to his continued leadership in the Florida Senate.”

First elected to the House in 2010, Albritton can’t seek re-election in 2018 because of term limits. He’s vying to replace Grimsley, who is foregoing re-election to run for Agriculture Commissioner, in Senate District 26, which includes parts of Charlotte and Polk counties, as well as DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

New mailers target Alex Diaz de la Portilla in SD 40

Making a Better Tomorrow is once again targeting Alex Diaz de la Portilla, including releasing a mailer that calls Senate District 40 voters to tell the former state senator they “don’t need his predatory politics.”

The new mailers are the latest in a series of mailers from the Venice-based political committee attacking Diaz de la Portilla in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

In one mailer, the group calls on Diaz de la Portilla out for voting to raise taxes, cut funding to education, and cut funding for senior programs. It calls him a “cut-throat career politician,” who “can’t hide his true nature from us.”

“Just like a leopard that can’t change its spots, Alex Diaz de la Portilla is who he is … a predator politician,” reads the direct mail campaign.

The second mailer focuses on education, and claims the Miami Republican doesn’t want “our kids to have a bright future.”

“Over 16 years in Tallahassee, Diaz de la Portilla raised tuition and cut billions to our public schools,” reads the mailer. “By cutting public classroom spending by billions, raising university tuition by at least 15% in just one year, and cutting Bright Future Scholarships, Alex Diaz de la Portilla has proven he doesn’t want our kids to succeed.”

Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected to serve in the Florida Senate. He served in the Senate until 2010, serving stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

He faces Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Lorenzo Palomares in the special election to replace Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal, in Senate District 40. The race for the GOP nomination is expected to be a bitter and expensive battle, with outside groups pouring thousands upon thousands of dollars into the race.

Making a Better Tomorrow has raised more than $289,331 million since 2014, according to state records. The group hasn’t received any donations since February 2017, when it received a single $4,000 contribution. State records show it ended May with $41,923 cash on hand.

 

Rick Scott approves 5G wireless bill over League of Cities’ opposition

A 5G wireless technology bill that was vigorously opposed by the Florida League of Cities was nonetheless signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott. 

The bill (HB 687), sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa in the House, pre-empts to the state the regulation of telecommunications companies putting “small wireless facilities in rights of way.”

The League asked Scott to veto the measure, saying it will “deprive cities of their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way.” Such equipment, including antennas and related equipment, can be as big as a kitchen refrigerator.

“The G in 5G means it’s a generation of wireless technology,” PCMag.com explained in May. “While most generations have technically been defined by their data transmission speeds, each has also been marked by a break in encoding methods, or ‘air interfaces,’ which make it incompatible with the previous generation.”

The bill “may leave local governments minimal ability to control the aesthetics of their public rights of way, but it effectively hands significant control to the wireless industry,” League Executive Director Mike Sittig had said in a press release.

“Florida cities embrace the deployment of 5G (wireless) technology in their communities (but) this bill offers deep discounts to multi-billion dollar telecommunications companies at the taxpayers’ expense,” he added.

By setting this “arbitrary and artificially low cap on the fee,” Sittig wrote, “cities could lose $50 million to $100 million a year in revenues they would otherwise receive if free-market rates were allowed to apply.”

Sittig also noted in the release that “the telecommunications industry has acknowledged that the technology to enable 5G communications will not be ready to be deployed until 2022, and asked, ‘Why rush and pass legislation that creates and undercuts city police powers? Rather, Florida should protect the free market.’ ”

Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), applauded the bill’s signing.

“This new law … will make faster wireless communications, connected cars and smart cities a reality for Floridians sooner rather than later,” he said in a statement.

“Investing in Small Cell Deployment technology gives the Sunshine State the ability to attract innovative, technologically advanced companies, (which) will not only bring Florida into the technological future, it will create an economic environment where businesses can grow, innovate and thrive.”

drone

Governor signs drone regulation bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved the Legislature’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act,” which gives the state authority to regulate “personal delivery devices (PDDs) and unmanned aircraft systems.”

A “personal delivery device” is a machine for use on sidewalks, usually not traveling more than 10 miles per hour.

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies, for instance, makes a six-wheeled “self-driving delivery robot” that was starting to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of this year.

“The bill authorizes, subject to local government regulation, the operation of PDDs on sidewalks, but prohibits them on certain state-owned trails,” a staff analysis explained.

It also “prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (or drones),”  but they can “enact ordinances regarding illegal acts arising from the use of unmanned aircraft systems if the ordinances are not specific to unmanned aircraft systems.”

Limiting the operation of a drone means applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The bill was backed by Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville in the House.

“This bill adds important protections to Florida’s critical infrastructure and provides certainty and clarity to law enforcement,” Young said in a statement. “I’m delighted that Gov. Scott signed it into law.”

Leon County GOP head calls Andrew Gillum ’embarrassing’

The chair of the capital area’s Republican Party is firing back after Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum ignited a partisan firestorm this weekend over recent subpoenas into city-backed redevelopment deals.

Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times’ Windy March on Saturday, “ ‘I just know that based on the way they have come after me ever since — prior to my jumping into this race, back during Hurricane Hermine … all I can tell you there’s enough on the record” to suggest Republicans would like to sabotage his campaign.”

March, formerly The Tampa Tribune’s longtime political writer, noted Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s criticism of the city’s response after last year’s Hurricane Hermine, claims that Gillum quickly rejected at the time.

“I think I would say the Republicans are terrified,” Gillum told March. “And I believe that they are as intent on … trying to put as much dirt on me as they can.”

March wrote: “But asked directly whether there could be political motives behind the probe, Gillum said, ‘I don’t want to make any leaps of assumptions here … I cannot ascribe that to the FBI.’ ”

Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power, in a Monday statement, called it “embarrassing that Mayor Gillum would try to point to me and my fellow Republicans as the source of the problems in his campaign.”

“We did not tell him to turn down help during Hurricane Hermine, to create a political email system with tax dollars, or generate the FBI probe of Tallahassee,” Power said.

Gillum has previously denied charges he turned down the state’s hurricane response help: “Our people were practically working side-by-side in the field,” he said in September.

The mayor now is under a separate Leon County sheriff’s investigation into whether he violated the law by using a taxpayer-funded software program to send political emails to supporters.

And the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida are looking at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum, who was not named in the subpoenas, has said FBI agents assured him he was “not the focus” of the investigation.

“It is sad that when people start hearing the real record of Mayor Gillum he has to grasp at such fantastical straws,” Power added. “Tallahassee and the State of Florida deserve much better than the failed leadership of Mayor Andrew Gillum.”

Donald Trump signs VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The measure — which passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House on a 368-55 vote earlier this month — had the support of VA Secretary David Shulkin, and received significant bipartisan backing, including from Sen. Bill Nelson.

The bill signing comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. The agency has been plagued with problems, and critics have complained that too few employees have been punished over the years.

“We have seen scandal after scandal come out of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and today we turn to a new chapter. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act puts meaningful reforms in place to ensure VA employees are fulfilling their duty to serve veterans,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a statement Friday. “If a VA employee is involved in misconduct, they should be demoted, suspended, or fired. Certainly not promoted or given a bonus. If a VA employee sees misconduct and wants to report it, they should not fear retaliation. This legislation is common-sense, and strongly bipartisan.”

Bilirakis wasn’t the only member of Florida’s congressional delegation who applauded Trump for signing the bill, Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican, called the measure a “necessary reform” that was “long overdue and is essential to ensuring that our veterans are receiving the very best care.”

“This new law makes clear to VA managers: get the job done, or make way for someone who can,” he said in a statement. “Our veterans deserve better, and it’s time for serious accountability and oversight. I’m hopeful that we are providing Secretary Shulkin with the tools he needs to run the agency properly.”

Trump promised to reform the VA on the campaign trail, and cast the bill signing as a fulfillment of a campaign promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” he said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

New mailer targets Jose Mallea over tax increases

Miami Republican Jose Mallea is the target of a new mailer, which claims he helped usher in a massive tax increase during his time in city government.

The mailer — which appears to be from Conservatives for Truth PC, a Coral Gables political committee — claims Mallea, who served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz played a role in “increasing taxes by $74 million on Miami residents.”

“Jose Mallea helped usher in a massive windfall of new tax revenue, to the tune of $74 million dollars,” reads the direct mail piece. “This massive tax increase was very damaging to many of us in the Miami area. Jose Mallea stood by and watched a 41 percent increase in taxes bleed many in our community dry.

The increases, according to the mailer, came during fiscal 2004-05 and fiscal 2006-07.

Mallea faces Daniel Anthony Perez in the special election to replace Rep Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. Diaz, a Miami Republican, resigned effective Sept. 26 to run for the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned amid scandal earlier this year, in Senate District 40.

Mallea has racked in several big name endorsements, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and former House Speaker Will Weatherford, and has raised $140,156. He ended the most recent fundraising period with $88,488 cash on hand.

Perez has raised $83,450, and ended the most recent fundraising period with $35,418 cash on hand.

The special GOP primary is July 25. The winner will go on to face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon in the Sept. 26 special general election.

 

Medical marijuana implementation bill signed into law

As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.

Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.

With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.

On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.

Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.

The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.

 

Jorge Labarga names Council of Business Partners members

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Friday announced the first members of a panel to advise the Florida Supreme Court‘s commission on helping the state’s poor and working poor get legal help.

The Council of Business Partners will advise the Commission on Access to Civil Justice, created by Labarga in 2014.

“Employers, too, have a stake in this,” Labarga said in a statement. “Employees who have challenges accessing justice have higher absenteeism and reduced productivity.

“It is in all our interests to address access to justice,” he added.

Those appointed include:

— Tere Blanca, president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Miami, who will serve as liaison between the Council of Business Partners and the Commission on Access to Civil Justice.

— David Faulkenberry, president of FBMC Benefits Management, Inc., Tallahassee.

— Cathy Roth, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, Universal Parks & Resorts, Orlando.

— Byron Russell, chair and CEO, Cheney Brothers, Inc., West Palm Beach. 

— Lynne Wines, Harvard University, Advanced Leadership fellow, Fort Lauderdale.

The commission has been seeking solutions to the perennial problem of providing civil legal help to those who can’t afford it. That includes things like child custody and landlord-tenant cases.

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