Influence Archives - Florida Politics

Rene Garcia: ‘The people of Miami-Dade County … cannot wait any longer’ for signature bridge

Sen. Rene Garcia is weighing in on a multi-million dollar bridge project planned for South Florida, telling the Florida Department of Transportation that the Miami-Dade community can’t wait any longer.

In a letter to FDOT Secretary Rachel Cone this week, Garcia said he was confident the procurement process established by the state transportation agency “followed the spirit and the letter of the law put forth by the 2013 settlement agreement between the city of Miami and the state.” His letter to transportation officials comes less than a week after Miami-Dade commissioners voted to ask the state to hold off awarding an $800 million contract to redo Interstate 395 so elected officials and residents could weigh in on proposals.

The Miami Herald reported last week that Miami-Dade commissioners voted unanimously to ask the state to stop the awarding of the contract, which includes building a “signature bridge” near the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Some local officials argue that FDOT might not have adhered to a 2013 settlement agreement, that allowed local leaders to help pick the design.

On May 12, the state Department of Transportation announced it intended to award the project to Archer Western-de Moya Joint Venture. The Miami Herald reported Archer Western received a score of 88.4 and was the group preferred by a committee transportation administrators. However, the Herald reported a second group — Fluor Enterprises and Munilla Construction Management — was favored by a local advisory council, which included the head of the Miami downtown business authority and County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, and received a score of 87.8.

Some local officials have said the state agency’s decision to go with Archer ignored agreements to give design aspects more weight in the process.

In his letter, Garcia said he was “in firm support of the way that the state has handled balancing local interests and its responsibility to the state taxpayers.”

“Through establishing an inclusive Aesthetics Review Committee including local leaders and interested parties, the public had numerous occasions to provide input and to review the aesthetic qualities each project brought to the table using a pass/fail grading system,” wrote Garcia in his letter, which he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “Additionally the rules of engagement for procurement were established in advance according to standard operating procedures within the department. All parties seeking procurement were aware of the criteria of evaluation, and were held to the same standards.”

Garcia went on to say that he hopes the department can “commit to the residents, families and drivers of Miami-Dade County that a bridge will be built according to the strictest timeliness put forth by the selection plan.” He also encouraged the state to make sure the project and contracts include the same “accountability measures that may include penalties to venders who cannot hold up their end of the bargain in order to prevent further delay over-runs.”

“This bridge is twenty years in the making, and the people of Miami-Dade County as well as the millions of visitors to our community cannot wait any longer,” he wrote.

Joe Gruters makes his pick for House Speaker

Rep. Joe Gruters is backing Rep. Paul Renner to be  House Speaker in 2022-24.

The Sarasota Republican said while he thinks everyone in the running for the position would do a great job, he felt Renner is the best person at this time. Gruters said he’s decided to make his position known because he didn’t want to give anyone false expectations or lead any candidates on.

“Like all my votes in the Legislature, I am committing to the person who I think is the best to lead our class,” he said in a message.

Freshmen House Republicans are scheduled to meet on June 30 to select their class leader and, assuming the GOP maintains its control of the Florida House in the next decade, the likely House Speaker for the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions.

Last weekend, a majority of GOP freshmen met at the Vose Law Firm in Winter Park. The meeting gave members a chance to hear from four likely candidates — Renner, Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, and Jamie Grant — ahead of the vote.

Gruters’ backing could be a sign of good things to come for Renner, a Palm Coast Republican first elected to the Florida House in a 2015 special election.

Gruters, the longtime chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, was an early supporter of Gov. Rick Scott, a little known Republican candidate for Governor back in 2010. He organized one of Scott’s first rallies in Sarasota, offering up free pie to attendees. Held near a retirement community, the rally attracted about 300 people.

His loyalty to the Governor has continued over the years. In March, Gruters was one of 28 House members who voted against a bill (HB 7005) that would have totally eliminated Enterprise Florida. He also voted against a measure (HB 9) to, among other things, slash funding for Visit Florida. Both bills were sponsored by Renner, and neither cleared the Senate.

Gruters was also an early supporter of President Donald Trump. He was the co-chair of Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida, convinced Trump to put his Florida primary headquarters in Sarasota, and helped build a network of loyalists in all 67 counties. He was one of his staunchest supporters throughout the campaign, often acting as a surrogate.

Gruters, a certified public accountant by trade, has been mentioned as possible contender to replace CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. He has also been mentioned as one of several Floridians who could be tapped for an ambassadorship or a position within the Trump administration.

environment

Amendment 1 lawsuit may rev up after Session

A lawsuit over the state’s environmental funding under a new constitutional amendment is expected to resume now that the annual Session is in lawmakers’ rear-view mirror.

An array of environmental advocacy groups had filed suit over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The constitutional change, approved by voters in 2014, mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Advocates—including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club—sued the state in 2015, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

But the legal action had been put on hold earlier this year by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. He cited a state law that allows litigation to be suspended during a Legislative Session and up to 15 days after the conclusion of one.

The 2017 Session ended on May 8, and the 15-day ‘stay’ ended Tuesday.

David Guest, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said they’re now awaiting a response from the state.

“We’ll see what they say,” said Guest, also the retired Tallahassee-based managing attorney of Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental law firm. “There are specific statutory accounting requirements regarding exactly how much is spent on land management, public access, and restoration projects.”

He contends that total is $310 million less than what the Legislature should have spent money on. “Then the question is, where’d it go,” Guest added. “They spent it on something else.”

One suit targeted the Legislature; another went after the agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Dodson later consolidated the suits into one action.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. The mechanism to do so is through the Florida Forever conservation program.

Florida Forever regularly received upward of $300 million annually after it became law in 1999, but those expenditures were dramatically reduced after the recession hit a decade ago.

This Legislative Session, lawmakers decided to fund the program through 2035, beginning in 2018-19, with $57 million for the first year and adding more money till it reaches $200 million in the final year.

Gobble, gobble: It’s turkey time at Florida TaxWatch

Florida TaxWatch is offering its annual serving of “budget turkeys” 11 a.m. Friday at the group’s downtown headquarters on Bronough Street.

These turkeys are not Thanksgiving staples, but “individual appropriations that circumvent a thoughtful and thorough budget process,” says the group’s website.

“The organization identifies budget turkeys to promote transparency in public budgeting, encourage meaningful legislative review of all appropriations and facilitate checks and balances within the budget process,” the nonprofit group declared in a news release.

Being called a turkey “does not signify a judgment of a project’s worthiness. Instead, the review focuses on the Florida budget process, … to ensure that all appropriations using tax dollars are subject to scrutiny.”

In 2013, one such “turkey” was $4 million budgeted for Pinellas County to help pay for a sequel to “Winter’s Tale” – the movie about the Clearwater Aquarium’s star attraction, Winter the Dolphin, which has a prosthetic tail.

Another example of the biggest turkey was identified in the following year’s state budget: $12 million earmarked for the Port of Tampa Bay’s gantry crane project.

Florida TaxWatch Vice President of Research (and resident budgetary turkey expert) Kurt Wenner will serve as master of ceremony for the Friday event.

More information on budget turkeys can be found here.

Rick Scott signs 16 bills into law

Foster families will get free annual passes to Florida state parks under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Lee in the House and Sen. Aaron Bean in the Senate, the new law provides families who operate a licensed family foster home free family annual passes and a discount on base campsite fees at Florida State Parks. Families who adopt children with special needs would be eligible to receive a one-time family annual entrance pass to the Florida State Parks.

It also requires the Division of Recreation and Parks to work with the Department of Children and Families to identify the types of documentation needed to establish eligibility for discounts.

The law requires the division to continue to partner with DCF to promote foster care and the adoption of children with special needs through events held during National Foster Care Month and National Adoption Month.

The law goes into effect on July 1.

The bill was one of 16 the governor signed into law on Wednesday. The Naples Republican also signed a claims bill to compensate Victor Barahona $3.75 million in an abuse case that took the life of his sister, Nubia.

He also signed into law a bill (HB 711) that would reduce registration fees for recreational vessels equipped with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon or where the owner owns a personal locator beacon.

Lawmakers in 2016 reduced registration fees for boat owners with the emergency radio beacon or personal locator. That fee reduction, however, was applicable for vessels registered between July 1, 2016 and June 30.

The new law further lowers the fees, and removes the repeal of the vessel registration discounts.

“Just two years ago, we suffered the heartbreaking loss of two teenagers after sailing from the Jupiter Inlet,” said Scott in a statement. “This important legislation encourages the use of safety measures to ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again. I’m proud to continue our efforts to keep Florida’s families and visitors safe by signing HB 711 today.”

The new fee reduction goes into effect July 1, 2017.

The governor also signed into law:

— SB 80, which requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

 — HB 7041, a bill dealing with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation fees

— SB 818, a bill dealing with timeshares

— SB 852, a bill dealing with human trafficking

— SB 884, a bill that codifies a prohibition against shark finning established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

— SB 886, a public records exemption bill

— SB 1020, a bill dealing with collective bargaining impasses

— HB 1233, a bill making it easier for cottage food operations to sell and accept payment for goods over the internet

— HB 7045, a bill dealing with the OGSR/reports of Unclaimed Property

— HB 7067, A Review Under the Open Government Sunset Review Act, and

— HB 7107, the homestead exemption implementation

 

Rick Scott signs claims bill for abuse survivor Victor Barahona

Gov. Rick Scott agreed the state needs to pay the remainder of a $5 million settlement to a boy found doused in chemicals while his twin decomposed in the back of their father’s pesticide truck.

Scott signed the claims bill (SB 18) to pay Victor Barahona $3.75 million in an abuse case that took the life of his twin sister, Nubia.

The twins suffered extreme abuse by their adoptive parents, and in 2011, he was found suffering chemical burns along Interstate 95. He was 10 years old at the time.

The Department of Children and Families has been criticized for allowing Jorge and Carmen Barahona to adopt the children despite signs of abuse.

According to a special master’s report provided to the Florida Senate, there were allegations of medical neglect in 2004. The report noted the department became aware that there were reports of sexual abuse, and the children’s school appeared to make several reports of abuse.

The final report of abuse came on Feb. 10, 2011, when, according to the report, a therapist for the Barahona’s niece said the two were tied “by their hands and feet with tape and made to stay in the bathtub day and night as a form of punishment.”

The children were found on the side of I-95 in Palm Beach County on Feb. 14, 2011. The Barahonas have been charged with murder, according to the Miami Herald.

A report commissioned by then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins found the agency’s “failure in common sense, critical thinking, ownership, follow-through, and timely and accurate information-sharing” defined the care of Nubia and Victor.

DCF initially agreed to pay $5 million to the family and had already paid $1.25 million.

__

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

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Time growing short for Rick Scott to decide ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill’s fate

A history of alcoholism in Gov. Rick Scott’s family will inform his decision about whether to sign the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill, which would tear down the wall of separation between hard liquor and other goods.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on that bill,” Scott told reporters.

“I’ve had family members who have had the challenge of alcoholism,” he said when asked about that history. “It concerns me. As I review the bill — I think I have to be finished sometime tomorrow on it — I take all those things into consideration.”

Scott said he was scheduled to talk to representatives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — one of the big-box stores supporting the bill — and ABC Fine Wines & Spirits — which is opposed.

Scott still wasn’t prepared to say whether he would veto the state budget approved by the Legislature during an extended session this month. “I’m going to review my options,” he said.

“One thing the governor doesn’t have the opportunity to do is put more money into the budget,” he said.

“I’m going to continue to fight for making sure that we do everything we can to fully fund Visit Florida and fully fund Enterprise Florida. If we don’t, it’s more difficult to believe we’re going to continue to see the job growth rate that we’ve seen.”

The Legislature took away Enterprise Florida’s economic incentives budget, and gave Visit Florida about one-quarter of the $100 million Scott requested.

Meanwhile, Scott took at least some of the credit for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s six-month extension of temporary protected status for Haitian refugees, announced Monday.

Scott said he’d pleaded their case to Secretary John Kelly.

“I brought up the issue that our Haitian community is dealing with,” Scott said. “He was receptive.”

Tom Delacenserie taking over Kentucky Lottery

Tom Delacenserie, the outgoing secretary of the Florida Lottery, is getting a pay raise to become the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery.

Delacenserie, who submitted his resignation to Gov. Rick Scott last week, will be paid $204,000 a year. His current Florida state salary as agency head is $141,000.

Delacenserie was confirmed by the Kentucky Lottery’s board of directors on Tuesday, according to a press release. His first day is June 5.

“I’m very much looking forward to joining one of the premier lotteries in the country,” Delacenserie said in a statement. “My dedication will be to continuing the Kentucky Lottery’s emphasis on increasing both sales and proceeds to the Commonwealth. I’m committed to providing exciting products and winning experiences to our retailers and lottery players.”

Delacenserie was lottery secretary since November 2015, when he replaced former Secretary Cynthia O’Connell, and has overseen the growth and escalating sales of Lottery products. The Lottery’s profits go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which among other things pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued the agency in February, saying it went on an illegal spending spree last year when it inked a $700 million deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment. The next month, a Tallahassee judge sided with Corcoran and invalidated the contract.

Judge Karen Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding. The case is now under appeal.

Delacenserie began with the Lottery in 2000 as the Fort Myers district manager, later promoted in 2005 to the Lottery’s Director of Sales.

In 2013, he became the Lottery’s Deputy Secretary of Sales and Marketing, then served as interim secretary after O’Connell’s departure. She quit after four years as secretary amid questions about her work habits, travel schedule and spending.

Delacenserie replaces Arch Gleason, the longtime head of the Kentucky Lottery, who retired last year after 23 years at the agency.

Updated May 24 — An offer letter to Delacenserie released to FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday after a public records request shows that it includes a $20,000 relocation reimbursement, $1,000 per month in “vehicle allowance,” and an opportunity for a 10 percent bonus based on salary his first year, jumping to 15 percent in later years.

GOP mocks national Dems for ‘zero chance’ of beating Vern Buchanan in 2018

Though the 2018 congressional elections are still a year and a half away, the news headlines continue to make Democrats believe that 2018 will be a wave election that could see them take over the House of Representatives.

It won’t be easy, even if the daily revelations from Washington continue to chip away at President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s ratings.

On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced 20 more congressional districts targeted for recruitment and potential investment, bringing the total to 79 GOP-held districts.

The new list includes Florida’s 16th Congressional District, held for the past decade by Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan.

Buchanan narrowly defeated Democrat Christine Jennings in his first race by just 369 votes under disputed circumstances in 2006 (Jennings claimed that voting machine problems resulted in some 18,000 lost votes). Since then, however, he’s never been seriously challenged by a Democrat, and his supporters say that will remain the case in 2018.

“The only thing more egregious than Hillary not campaigning in Wisconsin would be if the DCCC spent even just $1 attempting to defeat Vern Buchanan,” scoffs Sarasota County Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, who worked as a congressional aide for Buchanan for several years in Washington and Sarasota. “Locally, the Democrat Party lacks grassroots & donor excitement, the party registration isn’t there for them and most importantly, they do not have one credible individual on the bench that would be able to serve as anything more than a ‘paper candidate.”

“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” adds Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, noting his high re-election margins.

New College of Sarasota political science professor (and Democrat) Keith Fitzgerald says this is the time when the DCCC begins recruiting candidates for the next election cycle. He sees the new list as a sign that they are casting for candidates beyond districts where performance histories would usually suggest they would succeed.

“They want qualified candidates in place in advance of a possible wave election,” he says. “It is too early to say that a wave election is coming, but the early indicators are stronger than they were when the Republicans cleaned house in 2010.”

Fitzgerald is a former state representative who ran and lost a congressional bid to Buchanan in 2012. He says that the new list of DCCC targets (which also includes Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District) are mostly incumbents who normally would be considered safe politically, including Buchanan.

But after a cacophonous two weeks of political news, even some Republicans have invoked the word “impeachment” about Trump’s problems, which led the Justice Dept. to select former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between the campaign and Russian officials.

“Rep. Buchanan, supported legislation that would devastate many of his constituents,” says Fitzgerald. If the tsunami comes, there is no telling how far it will roll ashore,” he says. “Representatives who have placed extreme ideology ahead of the health and security of their voters could be swept away.”

Buchanan supported the American Health Care Act earlier this month, which remains extremely unpopular with the American public. The controversial bill, which would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, is already being considered dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, with a Quinnipiac poll showing only 21 percent support in the country.

The Democrats need to flip 24 seats to retake the House.

Florida CD 27 Republican incumbent Illeana Ros-Lehtinen announced earlier this month that after since serving in Congress representing her constituents in Miami-Dade County since 1988, she will not run for reelection next year. The DCCC is hoping to flip that seat, and are hoping that other Republican incumbents will follow suit.

Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the CD 27 by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons