Jim Rosica - 3/94 - 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.
Gaetz Smith

Don Gaetz, Chris Smith among Joe Negron’s constitutional review panel picks

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Joe Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, announced his list Wednesday in a press release.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate.

“Florida is fortunate to have so many private citizens willing to take time away from their families and careers to serve the public in this important capacity,” Negron said in a statement.

“My goal in selecting the nine Senate appointees was to choose individuals who represent a diverse cross-section of our state in terms of their personal, professional, and political life experiences,” he added. “The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

“The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.” Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are:

Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

 Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school choice organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

 Sherry Plymale, a past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chief of staff to state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University.

 William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar.

— Bob Solari, an Indian River County Commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman.

— Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher “with years of classroom experience instructing middle and high school students” who also was mayor of Sewall’s Point.

— Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County. She also has been a legislative assistant to former state Rep. Tom Warner, worked in the Governor’s Office, and was a judicial assistant.

They now join former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, who are Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three picks to the commission.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have not yet announced their decisions.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran also gets nine picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

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Unanimous jury bill unanimously OK’d in House

A bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence was unanimously cleared by a House panel Wednesday.

The Criminal Justice Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 527) by Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.

But the approval was after several public comments that the legislation didn’t go far enough to truly overhaul the state’s capital punishment system.

In 2016, the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill requiring at least 10 of the 12 members of a jury to recommend the death penalty.

But the Florida Supreme Court in October ruled 5-2 that jury recommendations must be unanimous for capital punishment to be imposed. Significantly, the court said the law can’t be applied to pending prosecutions.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Hurst v. Florida case, had previously ruled that the Constitution “requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” according to a legislative staff analysis.

In December, however, the state Supreme Court issued two decisions that opened the possibility for more than 200 Florida death row inmates to be resentenced.

When asked about other constitutional issues, Sprowls – a former deputy prosecutor for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties – said lawmakers are simply fixing the immediate problem.

“The court had an opportunity to review the death penalty statute,” Sprowls later told reporters. “They could have addressed other issues. They did not. They specifically zoned in on this one issue. That is the issue we are fixing.”

As of Jan. 15, “state attorneys reported a total of 313 pending death penalty cases of which 66 were ready for trial,” a staff analysis said.

“Because there is currently no constitutional sentencing procedure in place due to the lack of jury unanimity in a final recommendation for death, cases in which the state is seeking the death penalty have essentially ground to a halt.”

Rex Dimmig, the Public Defender for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, told lawmakers they were addressing only the “constitutional crisis du jour.”

When it comes to the death penalty, “Florida has been an outlier, and will continue to be an outlier,” he said.

A Senate companion (SB 280) also was cleared unanimously last week by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. It’s sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, the panel’s chair.

The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

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Pam Bondi steps into federal case over state’s abortion law

A federal case on the state’s new abortion law has taken another twist with a filing from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.

Late Monday, her office notified the court of proposed rules related to the law that could affect Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle‘s consideration of a pending request for a preliminary injunction.

The controversy in question involves part of the law that requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking the injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. The plaintiffs say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

Bondi, through Special Counsel Blaine Winship, asked the judge to take “judicial notice … of (a) proposed amended rule and registration form” newly developed by the agency.

Bondi’s filing says the new rule “clarifies that registration is only (required from those) ‘who are paid for the particular purpose of providing advice or assistance’ ” and “who provide advice or assistance to persons ‘in obtaining abortions or pursuing alternatives to abortion.’ “

Hinkle, during last month’s oral argument on the injunction, had raised questions on who was required to register. Bondi’s filing suggests, at the least, that the law does not apply to volunteers.

The rule and a “proposed registration form clarify that only registration is provided for, and not licensure, for which AHCA’s permission would be required,” it adds.

Another question in oral argument was whether the registration requirement constituted a form of licensing by the agency. The form sets the registration cost at $200.

“Moreover, neither the proposed rule nor the proposed registration form requires registration prior to advising or assisting persons,” the filing says.

Last month, Hinkle had mused that abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak.”

An ACLU attorney in Miami declined comment on the filing until staff there reviewed it further.

Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

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The Florida Bar

Florida Bar will oppose legislative “override” proposals

The Florida Bar‘s governing board has decided to oppose legislation that would allow state lawmakers to override court decisions they don’t like.

The Board of Governors adopted the stance at its Jan. 20 meeting, according to the Bar News on Tuesday. It also disapproved a companion measure aimed at federal judges who interpret state laws.

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, filed the two pieces of legislation (HJR 121HM 125) in December.

Neither has had a hearing in the committee weeks that serve as a run-up to the 2017 Legislative Session that opens March 7.

One would create a constitutional amendment to be approved by voters that allows the Legislature to review judicial rulings that declare legislative acts void.

That means that if “the Supreme Court, (any) district court of appeal, circuit court, or county court” overturns a law, the Legislature could salvage it with a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling.

The second measure urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to “deem a law that has been declared void by certain federal courts active and operational.” Such measures, if passed, are non-binding.

The proposal says the judicial branch has taken “an increasingly activist role aimed at molding legislation according to the political beliefs of its members.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made an overhaul of the judicial branch, including appellate-court term limits, a top priority during the next two years.

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House panel takes on impeachment power, local government ethics reforms

A new House panel on Tuesday moved two measures aimed at tightening ethics requirements at the local government level.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Commitee, chaired by Yalaha Republican Larry Metz, OK’d proposals (PCB PIE 17-03, PCB PIE 17-04) that would increase local officials’ financial disclosure, clamp down on potential conflicts of interest and create a Local Government Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund.

Moreover, the committee continues to show an interest in the House possibly exercising its constitutionally-granted impeachment power. Metz had revealed last month he was looking into articles of impeachment against a Jacksonville judge before he quit the bench.

His committee also on Tuesday heard a case study of a trial judge under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he became a judge. That’s despite a rule of judicial administration that encourages matters to be resolved within 180 days.

Some members expressed surprise that 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker was still sitting on the bench with his ethics case pending. The Florida Supreme Court has had the case for 13 months without taking final action, records show.

Metz admitted, however, that the House can only act on “misdemeanors that occur in office,” not on earlier behavior.

One representative, Republican Randy Fine of Brevard County, was concerned Decker had not been made aware he was going to be used as an example.

“It does trouble me we don’t at least them know we’re going to be laying out all the bad things they’ve done,” he said. 

Metz said Decker has been investigated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, specially charged to look into claims of judicial misconduct.

“Their scope is different than ours … (but) it’s our duty to shine light on this,” Metz said. “We’re sort of parallel-tracking it.”

The committee previously moved a bill to increase the ban on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office from two years to six years by way of a constitutional amendment.

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Bill would let House impeach prosecutors, public defenders

State Sen. Greg Steube wants to add prosecutors and public defenders to the list of officials that the House of Representatives can impeach.

The Sarasota Republican’s measure (SJR 904), filed Monday, would require a constitutional amendment that has to be passed by 60 percent of voters statewide.

The state constitution now authorizes the House to impeach the “governor, lieutenant governor, members of the cabinet, justices of the supreme court, judges of district courts of appeal, judges of circuit courts, and judges of county courts” for any “misdemeanor in office.”

Steube’s proposal would add “state attorneys and public defenders.” As with other officials, the Senate would have to put the impeached prosecutor or PD on trial.

The amendment would apply “to state attorneys and public defenders who hold office on or after the effective date” of the new language.

After years of no impeachment activity, state Rep. Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committeetold committee members last month he had been quietly looking into articles of impeachment against a Jacksonville judge.

Metz said it was his idea to pursue impeaching Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III, for which Speaker Richard Corcoran gave his OK.

Hulsey, who eventually resigned from the bench, faced judicial misconduct charges over several improper comments, all of which he denied.

Neither Steube nor Metz could be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Both Buddy Jacobs, longtime lobbyist and general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and Nancy Daniels, spokeswoman for the Florida Public Defender Association, were out of the office Monday.

Daniels was the elected Public Defender for the state’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, based in Tallahassee, for nearly three decades.

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Ken Lawson “will continue to fight” for VISIT FLORIDA

Ken Lawson, the new head of VISIT FLORIDA, is telling supporters he won’t give up the fight for the state’s embattled tourism marketing agency.

Lawson, Ken (DBPR secretary)
Lawson

In an email, Lawson thanked the tourism industry for showing up to a House hearing this week where the Careers and Competition Subcommittee cleared a measure to eliminate the agency, the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and dozens of state incentive programs.

“You showed up to help and your voice was heard,” Lawson said. “… I could not be prouder of the way the industry has rallied to make a difference.

“I want to assure you that VISIT FLORIDA will continue to fight,” Lawson added. “I have already begun meeting with each and every legislator to ensure they know that VISIT FLORIDA serves a vital role in marketing destinations large and small in every community of this great state, and that a reduction in our public funding would mean the loss of tax revenue and jobs that benefit their constituents. Constituents just like you.”

Lawson, who was tapped to lead the agency by Gov. Rick Scott after his time as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, asked supporters to “call or email your legislators to let them know you support VISIT FLORIDA and oppose the bill.”

“Be sure to tell them how you and your business benefit from working with VISIT FLORIDA – those personal and local examples are what really make the difference,” he said. “We are in this fight together.”

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More bad news as Florida orange crop drops again

Florida’s grapefruit crop held steady at nine million boxes, but its orange crop went down slightly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s February forecast.

Thursday’s report projects a one million box reduction in the state’s orange crop to 70 million boxes. That’s after last month’s forecast also predicted a decrease. 

“Today’s forecast reflects a true utilization of early, mid-season, and Navel varieties,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, in a statement.

“We hope for higher numbers of Valencia production as we continue through the second half of the season.”

The state’s citrus industry has been hobbled by a citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

Last month, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam noted that “production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago.”

“The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, depends on a long-term solution in the fight against greening,” he said in a statement.

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“Whiskey and Wheaties” bill now cleared for Senate floor

A Senate bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods won approval from a second committee, clearing it to be considered by the full Senate.

The bill sparked an unexpected objection from National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer after an amendment came up banning liquor from being sold in the same store as guns and ammo.

The Rules Committee on Thursday OK’d the legislation (SB 106) by a 6-4 vote, with Democrats and prominent Republicans in opposition.

“I just don’t see the fervor,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who also chairs the Appropriations Committee. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.” He also was concerned the bill would allow workers under 18 to be around liquor. 

Trilby Republican Wilton Simpson, expected to be Senate President in 2020-22, also voted no. 

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming 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.

Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican carrying the bill this year, admitted it was “not a top 10 or even top 100 issue, but we deal with these things all the time.”

The bill was amended Thursday mainly to allow for the “phasing in” of retail goods-liquor integration over four years, starting in 2018.

Pure-play alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have complained the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

But 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.

Latvala unsuccessfully tried to modify the bill to grant local control, allowing retailers to sell spirits in the same space as other items if the area in which they’re located OKs it “by a municipal or county ordinance.”

Flores argued against the change, saying that “to take this down to 67 counties means we fail as state lawmakers … this is an issue we should be deciding statewide.”

Simpson, citing crime concerns, offered his own amendment that would have barred retailers who sell firearms from also selling hard liquor.

That caused Hammer, who was in the committee for an unrelated Stand Your Ground-related measure, to stand up and object. She had concerns that some big-box stores in rural areas might give up guns to sell hard booze instead.

“I’m afraid that will be to the detriment of the constitutional right to bear arms,” she told the committee. “These stores will opt for the profit margin.” Simpson then withdrew the amendment. 

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House, Senate trying to avoid budget showdown over rules

The Florida Senate and House have agreed to work together on a joint rule to avoid a “who blinks first” approach to this year’s budget negotiations. 

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee, Thursday told the Rules Committee he was “pleased to report” House leaders had agreed to consider what’s known as a “joint rule” to streamline the process.

The Naples Daily News reported Wednesday the Legislature could be headed to “a partial state government shutdown” over a disagreement on how requests to fund hometown projects get into the state budget.

The House now requires each request to be filed separately; those were due Tuesday. But the House’s method also required any senator’s project request to have its companion filed in the House or that chamber would not consider it.

Latvala called that an “unprecedented situation” at the Rules Committee meeting Thursday.

He said he consulted with Senate President Joe Negron, who agreed the Senate “could either pass a budget and see who blinked first, or be proactive and try to resolve the situation.”

The compromise offered to the House would allow, among other things, “funding of projects (to) be included in a conference committee report if the information … is provided to the public at the time the funding is proposed … and the conference committee has provided time for public testimony.”

The rationale behind the House’s system stems from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s desire for greater transparency in the budget process, particularly on local project funding.

At deadline, 381 House project bills had been filed, worth over $796 million.

“I think this approach will bear fruit,” Latvala told the panel. 

Corcoran previously told the Daily News that the House’s “concerns in regard to member project openness, project accountability and other central issues still remain, (but) we are always willing to work with our Senate counterparts, and we hope we can have a constructive dialogue.”

An existing Senate rule, however, limits what the Senate can consider in conference, when members of both chambers get together to hammer out a final state budget to present to the governor.

“A conference committee, other than a conference committee on a general or special appropriations bill and its related legislation, shall consider and report only on the differences existing between the Senate and the House, and no substance foreign to the bills before the conferees shall be included in the report or considered by the Senate.”

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