Florida Senate Archives - Florida Politics

Art Graham, Ronald Brisé win nominations to be returned to PSC

Art Graham and Ronald Brisé on Thursday won nominations to be returned to their seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state.

If selected, both men would serve third terms; each was first appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council also decided on six people to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. Patronis’ term is up at the end of 2018. Those candidates are:

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

— Ted Schrader, a former Pasco County commissioner and Tampa Bay Water board member.

Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who served in the House 2004-2012.

Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation.

— Ritch Workman, a former state representative. The Melbourne Republican lost a bruising primary battle last year to fellow GOP Rep. Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.

The council also recommended another four for Graham’s and Brisé’s seats; their terms are up at year’s end. Those candidates include Conrad and:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member himself, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Anibal Taboas, an Illinois-based consultant and former U.S. Department of Energy official.

— Jody Ann Newman, who chairs the Florida Board of Nursing.

Taboas and Newman won their nominations in a runoff vote, after initially not capturing the required seven votes.

Losing candidates include Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who left the Senate to run last year for northwest Florida’s Congressional seat, losing to Matt Gaetz; and current state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee and is term-limited next year.

Another noteworthy applicant, former state Comptroller and retired Marine general Bob Milligan, was shut out early in the process, receiving no votes to move forward when the council met in Tampa last week.

The council will forward its recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, who will decide on the appointments, subject to final approval by the Florida Senate.

Senate demands information in harassment lawsuit against Maria Sachs

A federal judge has given an ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs till next Tuesday to explain why he shouldn’t provide information in his still-pending sexual harassment case.

Matthew Damsky, then 28, had sued the Florida Senate in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year.

Damsky, whose case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee, claimed that she “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

The Senate this week filed a motion to compel discovery, the gathering of information in preparation for a possible trial, saying Damsky was nearly a month late and has “no(t) produced a single document.” It has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

His attorney, Tallahassee’s Marie Mattox, had told the Senate’s lawyers her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” That was not explained in a court filing, but Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card. 

“The Senate is under no obligation to lie in wait indefinitely for Plaintiff to act,” said its filing by Sniffen & Spellman, the chamber’s outside counsel. “Therefore, given the looming discovery deadline and Plaintiff’s counsel failure to provide any assurances her client will either respond to discovery or be produced for deposition, the Senate has no option but to move to compel.”

Mattox said she could not comment at length, but told Florida Politics she plans to file a stay of proceedings on the civil case until the criminal matter can be resolved.

Records also show the case had been referred to mediation, with a report due to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle by Dec. 8. If the sides can’t resolve their differences, a jury trial is set to begin Feb. 20.

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says. He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings.”

Sachs has “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit the criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

The cost to the Senate to defend the case in court was not immediately available.

Now cancer-free, Dorothy Hukill says, ‘I’m back’

After being pronounced cancer-free earlier this year, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill says she “feel(s) great” and already is “excited” to return to Tallahassee for next year’s Legislative Session.

She’s also back in the saddle in her district. The Port Orange Republican’s schedule is packed this week: There’s a grand-opening event for a Titusville space-supplies firm, a speech at the Titusville Chamber of Commerce, and post-Legislative Session round-ups before the Lake Helen City Commission and at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.

And as early as next week, the Port Orange City Council could vote on a proposal to rename the city’s old police department to the “Dorothy Hukill Annex” to honor Hukill, a former Port Orange mayor.

“I am back,” she said Monday. “Through the grace of God, friends and family, a great medical team, and a great Senate family, I am feeling wonderful.” 

In November, Hukill disclosed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She missed the 2017 Legislative Session while she was undergoing treatment.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” she wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, “if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.”

Not being in Tallahassee didn’t mean she stopped working, Hukill added, saying she continued to oversee her district offices, Capitol staff and committee responsibilities remotely.

Finally, this March, Hukill told Negron that “tests show no remaining cancer” and her doctors were “optimistic for a cancer-free full recovery.”

Hukill said she was surprised at the support she got, not only from those she knew, but from strangers who also dealt with cancer.

“It’s amazing to hear from people who have gone through what I have, to offer to talk about their own experience, or even just to say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ ” she said.  

“Being a survivor transcends your background, your politics,” Hukill added. “One of the things you learn is that it’s a very special community.”

Rick Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors

Gov. Rick Scott Thursday announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session.

Kitson, 58, CEO of Kitson & Partners, “had a notable career in the National Football League, playing offensive guard for both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Scott’s statement said.

Kitson’s term runs this Thursday through Jan. 6, 2024.

Jordan, 50, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, also is a member of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Oxbridge Academy Board of Trustees, the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She was previously an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. Jordan’s term also begins now and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Scott also appointed Alan Levine, 49, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and formerly Secretary of Health for Louisiana and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan.

The Board of Governors is a 17-member board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state of Florida.

Legislative leaders announce committee week schedule

Florida lawmakers will head back to Tallahassee in mid-September to kick-off the 2018 Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran outlined the interim committee week schedule in memos to their respective members Thursday. The schedule, as it stands right now, includes one week in September, two weeks in October and November, and one in December.

The first week of committee meetings begins on or after 1 p.m. on Sept. 12. Members will then return for meetings during the week of Oct. 9 and Oct. 23.

They’ll be back in Tallahassee for meetings during the week of Nov.6, but both Negron and Corcoran note “meetings will conclude prior to the observance of the Veterans’ Day holiday” on Friday, Nov. 10. Members will be asked to return to the capital city for committee meetings during the week of Nov. 13.

The only committee week scheduled in December is during the week of Dec. 4.

According to Negron’s memo, travel to Tallahassee is authorized for senators and one member of district staff beginning on Sunday of each week of scheduled committee meetings. Travel from Tallahassee back to the district is authorized at the conclusion of the meeting.

The 2018 Legislative Session begins at noon on Jan. 8. The annual 60-day Session is scheduled to end on March 9.

Mural

Absent any takers, Senate mural in limbo

You can’t give away some art these days.

At least 10 museums or other institutions have declined an offer from the Florida Senate to donate its “Five Flags Mural“—now in storage—that formerly adorned the wall outside the chamber’s 5th floor public and press galleries in the Capitol.

“Most cited the size of the mural and their limited capacity for storage as the reason why they could not accept it,” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Thursday.

The nearly 40-year-old mural, installed during construction of the current 1978 Capitol building, is 10 feet by 16 feet.

But it may not help that it also depicts a Confederate general and flag. Contention has been stoked recently across Florida, including Tampa and Orlando, and the South as cities debate and have begun removing Confederate statues and other memorials.

This week, an effort to rename several roads in Hollywood bearing the names of Confederate generals led to angry confrontation. One black state legislator, Democrat Shevrin Jones, told the Miami Herald he was called the N-word and a “monkey.”

According to Betta, institutions that have turned down the mural include:

— Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala.

— Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.

— FSU Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee.

— Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

— Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

— West Florida Trust in Pensacola.

— Jacksonville Historical Society.

— Jacksonville Museum of Science and History.

— Florida Park Service.

— Tallahassee Museum.

The mural, painted by artist Renee Faure of Jacksonville, includes a Confederate general and flag. The Senate voted to remove a Confederate flag from its official seal and insignia in 2015.

Then-Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa had explained that the flag is a “painful symbol of oppression.”

The flag is over the shoulder of Gen. Joseph Finnegan, commander of the Confederate forces at the February 1864 Battle of Olustee in north Florida, the largest Civil War battle fought in the state.

But Betta previously said the mural was taken down during the Senate chamber’s renovation last year because it was showing signs of age, including fading and peeling.

Since then, it “has been properly cared for and stored by the Historic Capitol,” she added Thursday.

“The Senate plans to keep the mural stored in its current location for the time being,” Betta said. “The Senate remains open to the possibility of transferring ownership, if an institution comes forward with the capacity to display the mural.”

As Special session opens, the Florida Senate asserts its prerogatives

That deal everyone assumed Gov. Rick Scott struck with legislative leaders to ensure a smooth special session?

It didn’t exist. At least, it didn’t include Senate President Joe Negron.

Scott invited him to Friday’s press conference held to announce that he was calling a three-day special session on education, Visit Florida, and Enterprise Florida, Negron said Wednesday. He went out of respect for the governor, but there was no meeting of minds.

“It was very clear to the governor, in my communications with him, also through our staff, that any particular details of how the special session would unfold were not agreed to by the Senate. In fact, we were never even approached about those particular details,” Negron told reporters.

“Some falsely interpreted the events as a narrative involving the House, the Senate, and the governor,” he said.

“The Senate’s been very clear that we’re here to do the people’s work.” Just as Scott and the House have their priorities, “the Florida Senate has its own ideas and its own ways that we think the budget can be improved,” Negron said.

For his part, Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala bristled at suggestions the Senate was bound to any deal.

“The mood of the chamber is, we want to do what’s right for the people we represent. And we’re not going to told what to by somebody else,” he said.

The Senate began bucking as soon as it left the gate. It voted to override Scott’s vetoes of various public schools and higher education projects — as an “insurance policy” against House high-handedness regarding the plan to boost spending by $215 million, Latvala told the senators.

The Senate also asserted its prerogatives on the economic development package, and will debate reinstating $100 million in Medicaid reimbursement cuts to charity hospitals.

Sen. David Simmons plans to offer an amendment to divert $389 million pledged to HB 7069 — the Schools of Hope Bill — for the public schools.

Some $100 million of that would provide wrap-around services to kids in underperforming schools — meaning “intensive assistance to children in low-performing schools,” Simmons said — the very ones targeted by Schools of Hope charters.

Simmons argued to reporters that there’s no way the program can get off the ground during the new budget year. In the meantime, it makes sense to spend the “fallow” money on pressing needs, he said.

Latvala saw irony in the House’s cooperation with Scott on the incentives package in light of criticism of the Legislature over behind-closed-doors deal on the Appropriations Act. The governor was among the critics.

“When you give the Senate a bill that you have written between the governor’s office and the House of Representatives and say, ‘This is what we want,’ what’s different about that? Out of the three, it’s just a different two of the three making the decision,” he said.

Sen. Anatere Flores is carrying legislation that would restore $100 million of the $200 million in cuts to hospitals that treat Medicaid patients under the Appropriations Act. That would draw an additional $160 million in federal funds.

She would get the money from the state’s rainy day fund, which, fed by Scott’s line item vetoes would still total around $3 billion, Flores said. There’d be $1.3 billion in the working capital fund, enough to preserve the state’s bond rating.

“We would be somewhat derelict in our duties if we didn’t go back and say, there are some other issues that we could take a stab at,” Flores said.

“These are pregnant mothers. These are children. This is their safety net,” she said.

Is she talking to House leaders?

“I think that we’re all just talking right now. Soon, maybe, we’ll be talking to each other. I hope.”

Regarding the outlook for a timely adjournment on Friday, Negron was conciliatory after the Senate concluded business for the evening.

“The Senate’s relationship with the governor has been very productive,” he said.

“I don’t take it as an offense when the governor exercises his constitutional right to get a final review of the budget and to veto certain items,” he said. “Under our constitutional system, the Legislature gets to also make a review.”

And he welcomed the House’s movement toward positions Scott and the Senate have embraced all along.

“We’ve made a lot of progress. We certainly understand where the House is on their priorities. I hopeful over the next two days we can continue the dialog,” Negron said.

Senate sends $82.4 billion budget to Rick Scott

The budget is on the governor’s desk.

Senate President Joe Negron sent 13 bills, including the 2017-18 spending plan, to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday. Scott now has until June 15 to act on the $82.4 billion spending plan, but exactly how he plans to proceed remains unclear.

The Naples Republican has been tight-lipped on his plans for the budget, telling reporters in Fort Myers on Tuesday he can veto the entire budget, a portion of the budget, or veto a line in the budget.

“I’m going to do what I do every year,” he said. “I’ll look through the budget and make sure the dollars are allocated in a manner that I think is good for the state.”

Scott has spent the past few weeks traveling the state criticizing lawmakers for their decision to cut funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. The fiscal 2017-18 budget includes $25 million in it for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. The budget includes some funding for Enterprise Florida operations, but does not include the money Scott requested for business development incentives

The governor did not receive as large of a tax cut he had requested; and state lawmakers didn’t include money in the budget for the Herbert Hoover Dike, a late-in-the-game request made by Scott.

Scott has criticized lawmakers for the lack of transparency, saying Floridians didn’t know what was in the budget until the last minute.

“This is my seventh budget and every year, I have a team that works with me,” he said Tuesday. “But what’s different or frustrating is we knew nothing about the budget until right at the end, because it was done all behind closed doors.”

Scott vetoed more than $256.1 million in spending lawmakers presented him with the 2016-17 budget last year. According to data compiled by LobbyTools, the governor has vetoed more than $1.9 billion during his first six years in office.

There are currently 108 bills on the governor’s desk. He must act on more than a dozen of those bills by the end of the day today.

The hangover: Rick Scott vetoes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill

Saying it could hurt job creation, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a contentious bill that would have removed the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Scott filed his veto letter of the measure (SB 106) on Wednesday night, his deadline to act on the bill. It’s the first veto of a bill from the 2017 Legislative Session.

It would have removed the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

But independent liquor store owners and other opponents flooded the Governor’s Office with thousands of emails and petitions against the bill.

Scott was careful to explain his position in his veto letter, balancing his concerns over jobs with the desires of big businesses that sorely wanted him to approve the legislation.

“Since becoming governor in 2011, I have repealed almost 5,000 regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on Floridians,” he wrote. “From the day I took office, I have been committed to eliminating regulations that impose duplicative and unnecessary requirements on Florida’s citizens and businesses.

“I carefully reviewed this bill and I have met with stakeholders on both sides,” the governor added. “I listened closely to what they had to say and I understand that both positions have merit.

“Nevertheless, I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida. I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”

For example, Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay, told lawmakers earlier this year that if the proposal became law, “we are finished … There’s no way we can even compete with” big box stores, which will “put pallets and pallets” of booze out in the open.

Amit Dashondi, who owns liquor stores in Brevard County, said his customers had been rooting for a veto.

“They love their independent liquor stores,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We know our customers by name. That’s not going to happen in big, corporate stores. They know how to take your money, and that’s it.”

Most recently, Costco had joined Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Scott to sign the bill, known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

“Requiring retailers to segregate spirits into a separate store is outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary in a modern marketplace,” said Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, which supported the bill. “Florida consumers want the same convenience of one-stop shopping that consumers in most states enjoy. We encourage the Legislature to make this a priority in the next session.” 

Whole Foods Market and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association also were for the bill. But the Publix supermarket chain was against it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

The veto effort was a rare effort by rivals: Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits opposed the measure, as did the Florida Independent Spirits Association, representing smaller, independent liquor stores. Both were led by lobbyist Scott Dick, who fought against the proposal every year since it was filed in 2014.

There was last-minute lobbying on the measure: Scott’s public schedule for Tuesday shows he had taken a call with Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran, and met in Tallahassee with ABC’s CEO and Chairman Charles Bailes III. 

“Thanks to Gov. Scott, we now have the opportunity to keep our doors open and keep our Florida workforce going strong,” said Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, in a statement.

Added Bailes: “We believe he made his decision based on what is best for the State of Florida. We applaud the governor for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors.”

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Among other things, the bill would have required miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allowed for a 5-year phase-in. It further called for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

whiskey Wheaties

Big-box chains, others make one last push for ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

Costco now is joining Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Their Floridians For Fair Business Practices coalition on Friday released a tranche of letters sent to Scott encouraging him to OK the legislation (SB 106) known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

They also include representatives of Whole Foods Market, the Distilled Spirits Council and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

It could be an uphill fight—as of Wednesday, the Governor’s Office reported 2,649 emails opposed to the bill and 315 supporting, as well as 3,245 people who signed a petition against the bill.

The office also took 177 calls against and 123 for, and 569 printed letters opposed and seven letters in favor—all from pro-bill coalition members, spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

The governor has till May 24 to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. His office has said Scott will “review” the legislation.

It remain whether the “jobs” governor will be swayed by opponents—including independent liquor stores—who are calling the proposal a job-killer and asking Scott to nix it.

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Filed every year since 2014, it removes the 82-year-old ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other items enacted in Florida after Prohibition. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles.

Among other things, the bill requires miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in. It further calls for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits also opposes the measure, as does the Publix supermarket chain, because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

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