Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - 2/88 - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

State lawmakers applaud Florida TaxWatch during annual State of Taxpayer dinner

State lawmakers applauded Florida TaxWatch this week, hailing the organization for its role in the legislative process.

“The folks that formed Florida TaxWatch had a good focus in mind,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “And as a result of Florida TaxWatch’s efforts, we’ve turned things around.”

The taxpayer advocacy group hosted its State of the Taxpayer dinner Wednesday. The annual event is meant to highlight issues affecting the average taxpayer, and features speeches from Latvala, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Jim Boyd and Rep. Manny Diaz. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was scheduled to attend, but was unable to make it, according to a spokesman for the organization.

While speakers used the event as a chance to promote the work they’re doing, some took a few moments to show their support for Enterprise Florida, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

Latvala, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at some point the state needs to start thinking about how it can balance its desire to keep taxes low, while still meeting the needs of the state.

“I believe the way we do that, just like the governor believes, is by growing the economy organically,” said Latvala. “We need to bring in high paid employees and get them in to the Florida economy, get them buying homes. And that’s been a function that’s been performed admirably by Enterprise Florida.”

While the program has come under fire in recent years, Latvala told attendees the program was the “creation of Republican leaders.” And before Enterprise Florida, there was a “zero match” when it came to companies putting in dollars to recruit businesses.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “If we get rid of our (economic incentive) programs, we’re going into the world in a competition situation naked as a jaybird. And I don’t want to do that.”

Florida TaxWatch has opposed legislation by the Florida House that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee last week, and is scheduled to get its first hearing in the full House on Thursday.

“The session has gotten off to a slow start, with not much happening in the next couple of days,” joked Lopez-Cantera.

Boyd, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, discussed what his committee was doing, and said the House wants what is best for Florida.

“I do believe with all of my heart, and I know leadership of the House does as well, that we’re all out for the same thing. At the end of the day we want a vibrant economy, we want jobs, we want good education,” he said. “I know that as we move through this process … we share the same goal. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re getting closer every day.”

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Mandatory recess bill sails through second Senate committee

Call it another small victory for recess.

The Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (SB 78) requiring school districts to provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, unstructured free play each week — or 20 minutes of free play each week — to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

While the bill received strong support from the committee, some members expressed concern they were issuing a mandate to local school districts.

“Who can be against recess? I loved it. It was one of my favorite portions of the day, and I was pretty good (at it),” said Sen. Doug Broxson. “However, this is a mandate and we are telling our 67 school districts that they must do this. I would’ve preferred to make a strong suggestion and see if they could work it out themselves, but it appears we’re not going to do that.”

Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor, said she would have preferred not to have had legislative mandate recess ether, but said “maybe the school districts need a little more guidance with this.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16.

Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it. But the report found found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“We know recess is essential for the health and well-being (of students),” said Marie-Claire Leman, a Leon County mother who supports the bill. “We know without your leadership, many kids across the state will continue to go without daily recess.”

The 2017 measure has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, and is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

While the 2016 bill sailed through the House, the 2017 proposal doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. The proposal (HB 67) has not yet received its first committee hearing.

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Senate committee unanimously approves bill to ban fracking

The Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee unanimously approved a bill to ban fracking Tuesday, marking a reversal from previous legislative actions on the issue.

“Florida has such a unique geological make up and one-of-a-kind environment that we should not be putting it at risk by allowing fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor. “This is the same sentiment that I’ve heard echoed from concerned Floridians from the panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys – we should not be jeopardizing our drinking water supply or our beautiful natural environment.”

The bill (SB 442) passed with little public comment, with most of the public speakers waiving in support or opposition of the bill. Four of the seven members of the committee are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Sen. Lauren Book, the committee’s chairwoman, and Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“As the old and wise voice of the Senate here, as was announced earlier all four people sitting here are co-sponsors of this bill,” said Latvala at the beginning of the public comment period, before encouraging speakers to waive their time. “I feel pretty confident of the success of this bill. You’ve got the votes here.”

Industry officials did not waive their time, using their time to speak out against the measure. And on Tuesday, an attorney for one landowner said the proposal indicated the proposal could lead to litigation.

Jake Cremer, an attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, said his firm represents Collier Resources, which manages and develops more than 800,000 mineral acres in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.

“No matter whether good policy or bad policy, this bill will be a lightning rod for litigation in the state,” he said.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial attorney who spent years representing consumers, pointed out more than 30 cities and counties have already passed bans. Farmer asked Cremer how many of those bans have resulted in successful litigation; Cremer said he didn’t know of any.

Young seemed unfazed by the threat of litigation, saying the bill doesn’t prohibit traditional oil and gas drilling.

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Advocates call on Legislature to focus on working Floridians during annual ‘Awake the State’ event

State lawmakers aren’t looking out for everyday Floridians, an advocate for one of the state’s largest labor unions said Tuesday.

“In 2010, Rick Scott said ‘let’s get to work.’ In 2014, he said ‘let’s keep working,’” said Rich Templin, the legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO. “The problem is, Florida is not working for most of our families and nobody in the building is fighting for them.”

Templin was one of several advocates who spoke out during the “Awake the State” event at the Florida Capitol. The annual event generally serves as a response to the governor’s State of the State speech, and this year speakers touched on a variety of issues, including poverty, the environment and immigrant rights.

Citing the United Way of Florida’s 2017 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, Templin said millions of Floridians are struggling.

“They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do, working a job, working two jobs, working three jobs, but they still have to make decisions between food and rent, medicine and child care, decisions no worker should have to make in this state,” he said. “Millions of Floridians are suffering, and the state is doing very little to support (them).”

Templin said the state is at the bottom when it comes to K-12 and higher education spending, and said schools have been “saddled with policies driven by ideology and a desire to privatize education, not by sound educational principles.”

Instead of focusing on programs like health care and education, Templin said state leaders have been focused on “slashing vital programs for big tax cuts for the wealthy and well connected in the process.”

“None of this is working for most Floridians,” said Templin.

Advocates called on Scott and lawmakers to invest in public education, increase access to health care coverage, protect the state’s natural resources, and upgrade infrastructure.

“This is Day 1. We have a lot of work to do,” said Francesca Menes, director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “This is just the beginning.

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Rick Scott criticized for not mentioning LGBT community in State of State

Advocates blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to mention the LGBT community in his State of the State address, despite dedicating a significant portion of his comments on the June shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“We heard about the horror that our state has experienced; we heard about the heroism from first responders and ordinary Floridians, and we heard about the pain of the families who lost loved ones,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida, during a news conference after Scott’s State of the State address.

“What we didn’t hear was any mention of the LGBT community. We didn’t hear … that the attack was a direct attack on LGBTQ Floridians in a nightclub in Orlando,” she continued. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough; we demand action. The LGBT community deserves action from our elected officials.”

Forty-nine people were killed, and dozens of others wounded, in a June shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The attack was the deadlines mass shooting the U.S. since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Scott spent days on end in the Orlando area, meeting with families and first responders. And the incident was featured heavily in his State of the State address.

“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children,” he said in prepared remarks. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”

Prepared remarks show the governor made no direct mention of the LGBT community in his speech.

“He called it a terrorist attack,” said Sen. Gary Farmer. “He had the audacity to not once mention the LGBT community that was so torn apart and was the target of a madman.”

Willard called on the Legislature to take action this year to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying the law was needed “more than ever before.”

“This piece of legislation has been introduced for almost a decade … and it does something very simple. It would add LGBT people to existing protections into our state, to make sure that no one faces discrimination in employment, in housing or in public spaces,” she said. “Every single Floridians deserved to be treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are and who they love.”

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

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Controversial public records bill clears second Senate panel

A bill giving judges some discretion over whether to award attorney’s fees in public records cases cleared its second committee hearing Monday, but not before being amended in an attempt to alleviate opponents concerns.

The bill (SB 80), sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, aims to give judges discretion in whether they should award fees to the plaintiff and requires request be made in writing in order to be eligible to collect attorney fees.

The committee amended the bill Tuesday to add provisions that allow the court to consider “if the request to inspect or copy the public record was made in bad faith or was made to harass the agency or to cause a violation … and if the responsible agency responded in good faith to request to inspect or copy the records.”

“What I’m trying to do is come to the middle as it relates to the opponents,” said Steube.

Opponents of the proposal have argued it puts up a financial barrier that could deter legitimate record requesters from filing suit and would essentially require records requests be made in writing.

But the amendment did not appear to alleviate concerns. Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, spoke out in opposition of the bill.

Still, public records advocates acknowledged something needs to be done. But some, Rich Templin with the AFL-CIO, and said they worried the “legislation goes far too far.”

“We have a real problem, and I know you are trying to address it,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat. “We have to get it right. I know you’re trying, but I don’t think you’re there yet. I can’t support the bill at this time.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens voted in favor of the bill, saying he record of voting against public records exemptions, but represents a community where bogus public records requests are a problem.

“I’m fine voting on this bill without the amendments,” said Clemens. “If it doesn’t make the bill acceptable for the people who oppose it, it doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

According to a staff analysis, the community filed a federal lawsuit against “a resident, the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, Inc., Our Public Records LLC, and other defendants based on their use of public records laws.”

The town alleged the defendants sent them bogus records requests intended to overlooked, then asked for settlements higher than attorney fees and costs, or filed frivolous lawsuits. The case was dismissed by a federal court judge, according to the staff report.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Steube said he is prepared to “work with anybody to try to bring it in for a landing.”

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Associated Industries of Florida shindig marks start of 2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Legislative Session kicks off Tuesday, which can only mean one thing: It’s time for a party.

Associated Industries of Florida will host its annual pre-session welcome back reception for legislators, lobbyists and a host of other politicos this evening. The shindig has helped kick off the annual 60-day legislative session for more than 30 years, and is considered the place to see — and be seen — the night before the big day.

“AIF is proud to host this event every year as it signals the start of the legislative session,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF, in a statement. “Each year, the event draws a couple thousand attendees from the governor to cabinet members, lawmakers and AIF members and of course Capitol watchers.”

Event organizers expect about 2,000 people will attend this year’s festivities. And while the party is meant to be a last escape before the work begins, you can bet a little shop talk will be on the menu (as well as 200 pounds of steamed shrimp, 30 gallons of pasta and 15 gallons of ice cream.)

If you’re heading over to the party tonight, might as well take a few minutes to bone up on the organization’s priorities, just in case you need something to chat about while waiting for a cocktail.

The organization on Thursday released its 2017 Legislative Priorities, which includes:

— Opposing proposes that would eliminate and defund agencies like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida;

— Supporting equitable funding for capital outlay for public charter schools; removing artificial enrollment caps that prevent public charter schools from meeting the demands of students on waiting lists; restricting the authority of school districts from imposing additional regulatory burdens on charter schools; and charging formulas tor require that funding follows the individual student; and

— Supporting any legislation or rule that encompasses timely notification by emitters of pollution with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the subsequent evaluation and dissemination of the threat level by the FDEP through appropriate communication channels to affected Floridians.

The ticketed event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Associated Industries of Florida, 516 North Adams Street.

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Jack Latvala, Kathleen Peters file beach renourishment bill

The state’s sandy shores have a powerful ally in the Florida Legislature.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala announced Friday he filed legislation aimed at saving the state’s beaches from continued erosion. The proposal (SB 1590) would, among other things, dedicate a minimum of $50 million a year to beach nourishment and inlet management restoration projects in Florida.

The proposal also adds transparency and accountability measures to the use of state funds; directs the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a new three-year work plan for beach repair, similar to the Department of Transportation’s five-year work plan; and refocuses attention on effective sand management at the state’s inlets.

“We’ve got tangible evidence that the health of our beaches is a big return on our investment. Everyone acknowledges that, even the House acknowledges it,” said Latvala, who announced the legislation at Lowdermilk Park in Naples. “We’re fighting over some of the other economic development programs, but no one’s fighting over this. So let’s at least get this done right.”

While Latvala’s district includes between 25 to 30 miles of beaches, there was a reason behind his decision to unveil his legislation a few hours south of his home turf. He attended the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association Convention in Naples back in September, and committed to do what he could protect Florida’s beaches. A spokesman for Latvala said the senator wanted to return to the community to make good on his commitment.

But that wasn’t the only reason Latvala decided to head to the Paradise Coast to announced the legislation. Latvala said the reason he decided to announce in Naples was because of the “really outstanding effort the Naples Daily News has put forward on this issue and bringing this issue to our attention.”

In November, the Naples Daily News released a four-part series called “Shrinking Shores” looking at beach nourishment programs and how much money the state has set aside to re-nourish beaches. The report found that state lawmakers have some years failed to deliver money promised under state law, leaving beaches vulnerable to erosion.

Rep. Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena Republican, introduced the House companion measure.

“For years, I have expressed the importance of taking care of our beaches,” said Peters. “This bill will make sure we prioritize coastal projects that need our attention and ensure our state appropriately manages one of our greatest economic drivers.”

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Bring on the orange juice: Denise Grimsley schedules breakfast fundraiser for March 7

It’s never too early in the day to start fundraising.

Sen. Denise Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee.

The reception, according to a copy of the invitation, is hosted by Sens. Aaron Bean, Dennis Baxley, Rob Bradley, Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson, Kelli Stargel, and Greg Steube.

The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

A Sebring Republican, Grimsley was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, and has served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

Grimsley filed to for the statewide office earlier this month, and has already lined up the backing of former state Sen. JD Alexander. And several Central Florida agriculture industry leaders appear to be lining up behind her, with many listed on an invitation for a fundraiser at Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales next week.

She isn’t the only member of the Legislature eyeing the agriculture post. Last week, Rep. Matt Caldwell told FloridaPolitics.com he intends to file to run for the seat later this summer.

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Philip Levine launches political committee, hires Matthew Van Name

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid, launching a political committee earlier this month and hiring staffers to help coordinate a statewide tour.

Levine launched All About Florida earlier this month. State records show the Miami Beach political committee filed its statement of organization on Feb. 10.

Levine has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union.

The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is schedule to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future.

Often mentioned as a 2018 contender, the rumor mill picked up in January when he announced he would not seek another term as Miami Beach mayor. In video, the Democrat said he looked forward to figuring out ways to “best to serve my community and my state; how to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Around the same time, Christian Ulvert, one of Levine’s advisers, said the mayor would begin traveling the state to “listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves.”

He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

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