Jim Rosica - 3/100 - SaintPetersBlog

Jim Rosica

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Rick Scott rallies allies for VISIT FLORIDA

With VISIT FLORIDA chief Ken Lawson acting as hype man, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally inside the Florida Capitol to “save” the embattled tourism organization.

Scott, not typically a high-energy performer, worked up the crowd of hundreds in the building’s rotunda with the help of CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. In the background, Lawson hollered, “That’s right!” and “Yessir!”

“We need to remain the tourist capital of the world,” Scott said to cheers and whistling.

Meantime, dozens of hotel and restaurant employees and others in tourism-related businesses packed the Plaza level, many holding signs of support, such as “Tourism = Tax revenue,” while others recorded on their smartphones.

“I find it so hard to comprehend that all of you needed to leave your businesses to come here to fight for what the most obvious brand of Florida is, a family-friendly tourist destination,” Putnam said to applause.

He added that many agritourism and ecotourism attractions are thriving because “VISIT FLORIDA was there to help give them a leg up.”

The House voted last week to rein in VISIT FLORIDA, a public-private partnership largely funded with taxpayers’ dollars. It acts as the state’s tourism marketing agency, subsidizing advertising and PR for the industry.

The House wants to subject it to stricter oversight and reduce its budget. Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran took aim after the agency was embroiled in controversy after striking a secret deal, later revealed to be worth as much as $1 million, for Miami rap star Pitbull to promote the state through song, video and social media.

The House also passed a bill last week to abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and a host of business incentive programs.

The Senate, however, generally backs business incentives and tourism subsidies, suggesting the House effort won’t find traction there.

Supporters said the agency gave their marketing boost that they couldn’t alone achieve with their smaller budgets. Putnam urged lawmakers to stay the course, and continue to promote the state.

“As Lawton Chiles used to say, it’s a poor frog that won’t croak in his own pond,” he said.

Scott later told reporters VISIT FLORIDA “is important for jobs in our state. And people care about jobs.”

When asked if he would veto a budget that cut money for the organization, he added, “I never talk about what I’ll do at the end of a (legislative) session.”

“… I can tell you this: I’m going to fight every day for VISIT FLORIDA because it’s about people’s jobs. Look, it’s about families.”

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House ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill clears another panel — barely

The House “whiskey & Wheaties” bill has limped out of another committee with a one-vote margin.

And that was after its sponsor fixed a problem that could have cost the Department of Business and Professional Regulation more than $250,000 in lost liquor license revenue.

The legislation (HB 81) cleared the Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday by a 7-6 vote. It previously stumbled out of the Careers and Competition Subcommittee on an 8-7 vote.

The proposal, which aims to let retailers sell hard liquor in their main stores, has fractured the Republican and Democrat caucuses alike. Now, state law requires retailers to sell distilled spirits in a separate shop.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want a repeal of the liquor “wall of separation,” and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

“We talk about not picking winners and losers, but that’s what we’re doing” with the bill, said state Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Treasure Island Republican. “And the losers are going to be small businesses if this bill goes through, there is no doubt in my mind.”

For four years, various lawmakers have filed a proposal to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Wal-Mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

Alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent owners, have complained the bill is being pushed by the big retailers looking to expand their market reach. Publix Supermarkets also continues to oppose the bill, saying it’s invested in the separate liquor store model.

The panel also accepted an amendment from sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, to create dual “liquor package store licenses,” with “Type A” licenses going to stores keeping a wall of separation between booze and other retail items. “Type B” licenses would go to those selling liquor in the same general space as other goods.

The catch: Those getting a Type B license also must pay “an additional amount” on top of the annual license fee according to a sliding scale based on population. That makes the bill “revenue neutral,” he told the committee.

Otherwise, a staff analysis showed DBPR, which regulates alcohol, was set to take a $258,720 hit from a reduction in licensing fees, since retailers generally would need one liquor license per location, not two, to sell booze. Some of that money also goes to local governments, the analysis said.

Republican Jamie Grant of Tampa, who voted for the bill, questioned ABC Fine Wine & Spirits’ opposition to the bill, considering their partnership with Drizly, a company that developed a mobile app for on-demand delivery of alcoholic beverages.

That kind of technological advance also “guarantees jobs will be lost,” he said.

ABC’s lobbyist, Scott Dick, at one point told the panel, “It’s too bad this issue has become as contentious as it has, but that’s Tallahassee.”

The legislation next moves to the Commerce Committee. A Senate version (SB 106), which includes a phase-in period, cleared all its review panels and is ready for the floor.

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Is House splitting the difference over the whiskey & Wheaties bill?

After the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill nearly whiffed in the House, a new twist was filed Monday evening.

A proposed amendment on the bill (HB 81) would create dual “liquor package store licenses,” with “Type A” licenses going to stores keeping a wall of separation between booze and other retail items, and “Type B” licenses going to those who sell liquor in the same general space as other goods.

Those getting a Type B license also must pay “an additional amount” on top of the annual license fee according to a sliding scale based on population.

The bill—sponsored by Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican—is set to be heard Tuesday by the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee. Avila also offered the latest amendment.

For four years, various lawmakers have filed a proposal to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

While the Senate version (SB 106) cleared all its review panels and is ready for the floor, this year’s House bill stumbled out of its first committee on an 8-7 vote, with its own chairman voting against it.

It was then temporarily postponed in the appropriations subcommittee earlier this month when it became clear it didn’t have enough votes to move forward.

Wal-mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

Alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent owners, have complained the bill is being pushed by the big retailers looking to expand their market reach. Publix Super Markets also opposes the bill, saying it’s invested in the separate liquor store model.

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Rick Scott stumps for economic development, tourism dollars in Tallahassee

Proponents of keeping Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA have been repeating the talking point that even Coca-Cola, king of market share, still advertises.

And so on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott kept driving home his counter-frame to House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s “corporate welfare” narrative that killing the state’s economic development organization and tourism marketing agency will kill jobs.

“Here in Tallahassee, we need to diversify the economy, we need to get more tourism, we need to get more manufacturing companies,” he said, at a business roundtable at the Danfoss Turbocor Compressors plant.

“It’s not going to happen if they shut down Enterprise Florida and if they decimate VISIT FLORIDA, so I’m going to be working every day, traveling the state fighting for jobs. This about making sure every family in this state doesn’t have the struggles mine did when I growing up.”

Scott is barnstorming against last week’s 87-28 House vote to kill Enterprise Florida and its 80-35 vote to rein in VISIT FLORIDA, both public-private partnerships that are overwhelmingly funded with taxpayers’ dollars.

But the legislation is likely to find far from a warm reception in the Senate, whose leadership generally backs business incentives and tourism subsidies. That fact didn’t daunt Scott’s enthusiasm to keep up the political battle.

When asked if he were still confident that the Senate was still on his side, Scott said, “everybody should be on our side because it’s about families’ jobs. So I’m optimistic, but look, I’m going to fight for jobs.”

At the event, he kept up the praising of those who voted against the legislation and the public shaming of those who sided with House leadership. That put him in the unusual position of giving attaboys to Tallahassee’s two Democratic lawmakers, Loranne Ausley and Ramon Alexander, and vilifying Republican Halsey Beshears of Monticello, who voted for the bills.

“I don’t how he could this,” Scott said of Beshears, as he was flanked by Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom, VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson and Department of Economic Opportunity director Cissy Proctor. “How do you vote against basic job creation?”

Scott also was asked about Senate proposals to tighten oversight and increase transparency of the agencies.

“There’s always things you can do better, but what you don’t do is shut it down,” Scott said.

The disagreement began when Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA last year it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. The rapper eventually disclosed the deal himself, revealing he was set to be paid up to $1 million. This session’s bills followed suit.

Scott’s offensive continues Tuesday with a “Fighting for Florida Jobs Tourism Rally” at the Capitol.

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Loranne Ausley

Loranne Ausley endorses Andrew Gillum for Florida governor

State Rep. Loranne Ausley on Monday announced her support for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, as governor.

“I have worked closely with Andrew since he was FAMU student body president, serving our community together from our respective roles in local and state government,” the Tallahassee Democrat said in a statement. “Andrew doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk.”

Ausley said they “share a passion for children’s issues and during his time in office, he has dedicated himself to ensuring that every child in our community has the chance for success.

“I look forward to being a part of his campaign team going forward and I know that as Andrew travels the state sharing his personal story and his commitment to expanding opportunities for Floridians from all walks of life, they will see the same bold leader I have been proud to work with for 16 years.”

Ausley, an attorney, first served in the Florida House 2000-08 until she was term limited, then was again elected last year to House District 9, representing Leon County. She is now Democratic Ranking Member on the Careers and Competition Subcommittee.

Gillum said he was “thrilled to have the support of a long-time leader in Leon County and Tallahassee in state Rep. Loranne Ausley. She has been a steadfast advocate for children as both a legislator and a mother, and I’m excited that she’s joining our people-powered campaign for governor.”

The nascent campaign of Gillum, who officially announced March 1, already has been marred by news that Tallahassee State Attorney Jack Campbell asked the county sheriff to investigate whether Gillum improperly used city-owned software to send campaign emails.

Gillum previously said he was “certain there are no grounds for further action … I have apologized for the human error and reimbursed the city for the expense of the software. I look forward to bringing this inquiry to a speedy conclusion.”

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DEP responds to House records request, defends payment of legal bills

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on Friday night released its response to the House of Representatives’ request for documentation of the legal billing in a longstanding river water use fight against Georgia.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews also sent a letter, saying his agency had “denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel.”

A cursory review of the records shows not only invoices for legal fees but also, for example, a $272,000 contract between DEP and the University of South Florida for oyster reef research. Another file showed a Nebraska company was paid $49,000 for “video production in support of (the) litigation.”

The 16-year long court fight centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay, on which oystermen have depended for decades for their catch.

The department had planned to ask lawmakers for an additional $13 million to pay ongoing legal bills from the still-unresolved case.

The litigation already has cost the state tens of millions of dollars, and a federal court official last month ruled in favor of Georgia by recommending against tough water consumption limits on the Peach State.

Meantime, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said his chamber wouldn’t entertain any more funding for the lawyers without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

The speaker also was perturbed when former Secretary Jon Steverson quit for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of the outside law firms he approved payment to.

Corcoran tasked state Reps. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican, and David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, with looking into the billing from outside law firms. Both men are CPAs.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews provided House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum with the records and the letter. (The records are available via this link.)

“For 26 years and under five administrations, Florida has been fighting for its fair share of water due to Georgia’s reckless water use,” Matthews said. “Our fight is to protect our communities, marine fisheries and the vital economic impact of Apalachicola Bay which supports thousands of jobs.

“Based on (the) Latham Watkins (law firm’s) expertise, the Attorney General’s Office retained them on this case and I want to thank Attorney General Pam Bondi and her team for fighting for families in Apalachicola Bay,” he added.

“As evident in the records, DEP staff carefully reviews every invoice to verify that the expenses comply with the terms of the contract with outside counsel and Florida law,” Matthews said.

“In instances where outside counsel does not comply, the expenses are denied,” he said. “In fact, since July 2015, DEP has denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel retained on this case.

“Our scrutiny of expenses also ensures compliance with Florida’s per diem and travel policies as defined in law. DEP also carefully analyzed all hourly charges to ensure they were in compliance with the contract and rejects all charges that are not previously authorized or do not fall within the contracted terms.

“DEP will fight for families and the thousands of jobs at risk in Apalachicola Bay and we are optimistic we will prevail.”

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stacks of files and paperwork

Supreme Court case reporting bill passed by House

A bill requiring the state Supreme Court to produce a yearly report on how many cases it’s finishing with opinions got the thumbs up from the Florida House on Friday.

The legislation (HB 301), which has an identical companion in the Senate, was approved 78-37.

The bill, by Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, would require the court to tally in detail “each case on the court’s docket … for which a decision or disposition has not been rendered within 180 days.”

The Republican-controlled House has long been antagonized by Supreme Court rulings its leaders have characterized as “judicial overreach.”

White’s bill also requires a “detailed explanation of the court’s failure to render a decision or disposition” in pending cases older than six months. It instructs the court to tally cases it decided in the previous year but took longer than six months.

The report “shall be submitted in an electronic spreadsheet format capable of being sorted” and sent to “the Governor, the Attorney General, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

After the House session, White—an attorney—told reporters he didn’t expect the justices to divulge any private deliberations on cases to explain any delays.

“They can simply say they don’t have a majority on a case, or they’re still deliberating,” he said. “They could also say other factors, such as complexity (of a case). We’re leaving it to their discretion, to a degree.”

When asked if he thought “judges were lazy,” White said he didn’t, but added that “everyone needs deadlines.”

Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters has declined comment on the bill, but in January said the court had 785 pending cases.

“The court disposed of 2,432 cases in calendar year 2016,” he added, adding that number “is subject to correction as we routinely audit the final results.”

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House to Enterprise Florida: Drop dead

The Enterprise Florida economic development organization and a multitude of business incentives would be eradicated under legislation passed by the Florida House Friday.

The bill (HB 7005) passed on an 87-28 vote, with some members voting against their respective parties’ position.

The measure was pushed by Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare.”

But the legislation goes to a Senate that largely backs incentives and wants to keep the organization that, though a public-private partnership, doles out mostly public dollars.

Gov. Rick Scott supports it, saying it helps bring companies and their jobs to the state. The House earlier Friday also voted to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

“Today, politicians in the Florida House passed job-killing legislation,” the governor said in a statement. “We can all agree that VISIT FLORIDA and EFI need to be absolutely accountable and transparent, and both agencies have already taken major steps and implemented reforms to ensure their operations meet our high expectations.

“However, today’s actions by the House curb the mission of VISIT FLORIDA and bury it in more government bureaucracy – along with decimating Florida’s economic toolkit and the very programs which are directly tied to the creation of thousands of jobs for Florida families,” he added.

“Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear: A vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida. I will continue to fight for Florida jobs and never stop standing up for the families and businesses whose livelihood depend on a strong and growing economy,” Scott said.

Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, delivered an impassioned defense of the organization: “I don’t want it to end, I want to keep it going … I want to keep the governor on his plane recruiting companies to this state.”

He added: “Killing this program will hurt people. I will not be a part of this … I want to preserve something that does so much good for our communities.”

But Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, said the data on the organization’s effectiveness “is not kind,” in fact showing it an “abject failure,” and eliminating it “is not going to kill jobs.”

Legislative chief economist Amy Baker has told lawmakers that state incentive programs are more often losers than winners, with only a few incentives making money for state coffers.

In particular, Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith derided the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund as Scott’s “slush fund.” He can draw up to $2 million from it without legislative approval to entice businesses to the state.

Though the state’s “return on investment” from QAC projects was $1.10 per dollar four years ago, it’s now down to 60 cents per dollar, Baker said last month.

Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, homebuilder, and chair of the state’s Republican Party, told the chamber how he moved from New York to Florida in 1996 with $1,600 in his pocket.

“I moved for one word: ‘Opportunity,’ not ‘subsidy,’ ” he said.

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House passes 6-year lobbying ban on former lawmakers, others

The Florida House has approved extend the state’s lobbying ban on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers from two to six years.

With no debate, House members on Friday voted 110-3 for the measure (HB 7003), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill now heads to the Senate.

If signed into law, the measure would be the longest lobbying ban in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it has raised constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade among critics.

The new ban, carried by Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, is aimed at “the perception, if not the reality, of the ‘revolving door,’ ” he has said.

It would apply “only to those individuals who were members of the Legislature after November 8, 2016, or who were statewide elected officers after November 8, 2016.”

Metz later said he said believes the longer ban will withstand legal attack because it addresses only paid lobbying.

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Sponsor proposes changes to VISIT FLORIDA bill

As the House gets ready to start considering a bill to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA, its sponsor filed an amendment to dilute some of its strict requirements.

The measure (HB 9) will be on the House floor today (Thursday) for questions. Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, filed the amendment Tuesday, records show.

It would impose new reporting requirements on the state’s tourism marketing agency only when a project it funds is slated to get over 50 percent of its budget “from funds derived from a tax.” The bill now applies to deals that involve any amount of public dollars.  

But the proposal still mandates disclosures such as “specific performance standards,” “the value of any services provided,” and “salaries of all employees and board members … and (their) projected travel and entertainment expenses.”

Originally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, aimed to abolish both Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization and dispenser of many of the state’s business incentives, and VISIT FLORIDA.

Both are officially public-private endeavors, but both are overwhelmingly funded through taxpayers’ dollars. House leadership later decided to split the legislation, still eliminating Enterprise Florida but saving and overhauling VISIT FLORIDA.

The speaker had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

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