Jim Rosica - 4/100 - 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.

Senate Rules panel temporarily postpones prejudgment interest bill

A Senate bill that would allow plaintiffs to recover prejudgment interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering, was suddenly postponed during its final review panel Thursday.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, moved to yank the bill (SB 334) from consideration during its public comment period before the Rules Committee.

When done during a hearing, such a move suggests a lawmaker has counted votes and determined a measure isn’t going to pass.

The bill is being pushed by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube. A companion bill is in the House.

Business interests largely oppose the proposal because they fear it will increase the cost of doing business; the state’s trial lawyers are in favor.

“Prejudgment interest is the interest on a judgment which is calculated from the date of the injury or loss until a final judgment is entered for the plaintiff,” a bill analysis says.

Current law provides for prejudgment interest only on economic claims, or tangible financial losses, or when both sides bargained for it in a contract.

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Senate redistricting bill clears last review panel

A bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases cleared its last committee Thursday.

The legislation (SB 352) was OK’d by the Senate Rules Committee on a 7-3 party-line vote. It’s now ready for the full Senate.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” the bill’s analysis says.

That’s because bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges, he said.

“We need more transparency,” Hutson told the committee.

To that end, according to the analysis, his bill asks judges—but does not require them—to:

— Conduct public hearings involving proposed district configurations.

— Record and maintain minutes of meetings on the plan if the meetings are closed to the public.

— Provide a method for the public to submit and comment on additional maps.

— Offer the public an opportunity to review and comment on any map before a plan is finalized.

— Maintain all e-mails and documents related to the creation of the remedial plan.

But opponents, including The League of Women Voters of Florida, raised concerns about separation of powers. Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

“The Florida Supreme Court issued eight separate apportionment opinions, the trial court issued additional opinions, and litigation spanned nearly 4 years in the state courts,” the analysis said.

“The litigation often proved confusing to candidates hoping to qualify and run for office because the candidates were uncertain where the district boundaries were located,” it added.

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Vote-by-mail ballots fix clears last committee

A bill that would let voters fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted has cleared its second committee.

Cruz

The House Government Accountability Committee OK’d the bill (HB 105), carried by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, by a unanimous vote on Thursday.

It would require supervisors of elections and their staff to allow voters to turn in an affidavit to cure any signature discrepancies until 5 p.m. the day before an election. They would need to present a driver’s license or other state ID.

The legislation is now ready for consideration by the full House. A Senate companion has not yet had a hearing.

It would help older voters who have “arthritis or other physical disabilities” and younger voters who may have signed their voter registration cards “carelessly,” Cruz told the committee.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections support the bill. Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, called it “long overdue.”

The measure is a statutory fix in response to a federal case last year. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the state to give thousands of voters a chance to make sure their vote-by-mail ballots count.

The Florida Democratic Party challenged the state law governing mismatched signatures. The judge said county election offices should notify voters if their signature on a vote-by-mail ballot and their voter registration forms don’t match.

Otherwise, voters whose signatures don’t match aren’t told about the problem until after the election is over, Cruz said.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

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Smoker’s widow fights for multimillion-dollar jury award

A lawyer for the widow of a Florida man “addict(ed) to cigarettes” asked the state Supreme Court Monday to reinstate her $30 million jury award for punitive damages.

Tallahassee attorney John S. Mills, who represents Joan Schoeff, told the court the conduct of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.(RJR)—in selling a product they knew was killing 500,000 people a year—stopped just short of “intentional genocide.”

Mills called RJR “the worst of the worst,” saying the cigarette maker was aware their customers “were going to die and continued (selling cigarettes) to make money.”

The suit is one of many Engle progeny cases in which the court, after a monumental 1994 class action, allowed individual smokers with claims against tobacco companies to each sue for their own damages.

The case is being closely watched by the state’s trial attorneys.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat and longtime civil-trial lawyer, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief for the Florida Justice Association, formerly known as the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.

At trial, a jury found smoker James E. Schoeff 25 percent at fault in his death, “from lung cancer caused by his addiction to cigarettes,” according to court documents.

Jurors awarded his wife, Joan Schoeff, $10.5 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, even after her lawyer asked jurors not to go above $25 million.

The trial judge later reduced the compensatory damages award to almost $7.9 million but let stand the punitive damages amount. R.J. Reynolds appealed, calling the punitive damages “unconstitutionally excessive.”

The 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach agreed with RJR that the award “falls on the excessive side of the spectrum,” according to its opinion. One judge in the three-judge panel dissented. Schoeff then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Justice Peggy A. Quince noted that the lawyer at trial asked for Schoeff’s fault in his death to be factored into damages. Mills explained that was because “we didn’t know if we were going to win.”

Donald B. Ayer, representing RJR, faulted jury instructions that he said confused jurors about how to decide the harm caused to Schoeff. 

“Why would we, as a matter of law, decide that the core of the action is negligence versus … the intentional wrongdoing of the tobacco industry over decades?” Justice Barbara Pariente asked.

“There’s no question that it’s harm from a product,” Ayer said. Product liability claims generally are founded in negligence, which is about carelessness, not intent.

The court, as usual, did not indicate when it would rule.

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Film Florida gives up the fight for incentives this year

The president of Film Florida, the state’s nonprofit “entertainment production association,” says her group is taking a “step back” from fighting for film and TV show incentives this year.

“For the first time since 2004, Florida does not have a statewide program to entice film, television and digital media projects and companies to our state,” wrote Film Florida President Kelly Paige in a Tuesday email to supporters.

As part of a plan to get rid of business incentives deemed “corporate welfare” by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, legislation would “close the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment (the State Film Office)” and “also end the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption program,” Paige said.

Her group “will continue meeting with and educating legislators so they understand the importance of our industry to Florida’s jobs and tourism economies,” she added.

But “with the philosophical conflict in Tallahassee, we do not believe the time is right for Film Florida to pursue a new program.”

In 2010, lawmakers set aside nearly $300 million for incentives to bring movies and television projects to Florida. That money ran dry soon afterward.

The problem, critics said, was that money was doled out on a “first come, first served” basis. That resulted in available funds being gone within the first year of the program.

The film incentives took the form of tax credits granted a production after it wrapped in the state and underwent a thorough audit, including being able to show it provided jobs for Floridians.

When “the timing is right,” Paige said, the nonprofit has “an innovative plan that will put Floridians to work at home, generate new revenues, increase tourism, and continue the state’s investment in students that earn film or digital media degrees from Florida’s world-renowned colleges, universities and technical schools.”

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Bill Galvano tells Seminole Tribe his gambling bill “will move forward”

Bill Galvano, the Florida Senate’s point man on gambling, has told the Seminole Tribe of Florida “inaction … is not an option” this year.

Galvano, the Bradenton Republican in line to be Senate President in 2018-20, responded this week to a letter sent by Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola to legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott.

Both chambers have gambling legislation filed this year with competing priorities, but both contemplate a new agreement, or “compact,” with the Tribe offering exclusive rights to keep offering blackjack in return for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years.

“Approval of a new, revised compact must occur concurrently with, and is interdependent upon, resolution of a number of gaming issues, including matters relating to and affecting Florida’s pari-mutuel industry, cardrooms, designated player games, blackjack, and operation of slot machine facilities in the referendum counties,” Galvano wrote.

“Without a doubt, resolving these matters will require patient and thoughtful, good-faith negotiations between and among all the affected parties,” he added. “I am prepared, on behalf of the Senate, to do just that.”

At the same time, he said the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8) “will continue to move … forward.”

But Osceola had objected to the Senate bill, saying it “would require higher payments … (and) would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida.”

He also included a copy of an advisory letter from the federal government’s top Indian gambling regulator, who said the feds would be “hard-pressed” to approve the proposed new blackjack agreement as is.

The Seminoles offer blackjack at five of their casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

Galvano closed his own letter by asking for a meeting with members of the Tribe “to discuss this matter in detail.”

Meantime, an appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Tribe to keep offering blackjack, compact or no compact, has been scheduled for an April 11 mediation, court dockets show.

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Scratched: Judge sides with Richard Corcoran, tosses out Lottery’s $700M contract

A Tallahassee judge has invalidated the Florida Lottery’s $700 million contract for new equipment, essentially agreeing with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers issued her 15-page order late Tuesday afternoon. She presided over a nonjury trial in the case Monday.

The multiple-year contract involved new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets. The Lottery is booming — it sold more than $6.2 billion in tickets last year, records show.

“The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today’s ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. “I strongly disagree with today’s decision and we will appeal.”

Corcoran, in a statement joined by House Rules Committee Chairman Jose Oliva and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chris Sprowls, called the decision “a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law.”

“It reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out-of-date philosophy,” they said. “In truth it is one of the bedrock principles of our republican government and is essential to protecting the liberties and livelihoods of Floridians.

“No branch of government is above the law and the people’s House will use every power within our means – from the committee room to the courtroom – to ensure those liberties and livelihoods are protected.”

Gievers agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the deal broke state law by going “beyond (the Lottery’s) existing budget limitations.”

Because Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT (International Game Technology) contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers wrote.

She faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding.

A message seeking comment was left for a spokeswoman for Las Vegas-based IGT. Corcoran’s spokesman said a response was coming later Tuesday evening.

The new deal provides much more than equipment, with provisions for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

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Jose Oliva talks doughnuts and incentives after Rick Scott speech

House Republican leaders defended their assault on Gov. Rick Scott‘s economic development and incentive plans, saying success in business shouldn’t depend on a government handout.

Oliva

Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Jose Oliva, slated to be speaker in 2018-20, spoke with reporters Tuesday after Scott’s State of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Florida, like other states, incentivizes businesses to move or expand here through a variety of tax breaks and public-paid subsidies. Scott, a proponent, says spending public dollars on private companies is worth it for the jobs he says they create.

“I will admit it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed, to understand this,” Scott said in his speech.

“If you have never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency,” Scott added. “I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for families just like mine growing up.”

Oliva, a cigar company executive, said Scott underestimated House members’ experience.

“Very many of us in that chamber know what it’s like to be poor,” said Oliva, who remains as CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. after selling the company last year to a European concern. “We know what it’s like to have a car repossessed, to have the power cut in your house.

“We also know what it’s like to start a business,” he added. “I don’t know that when I was building my business I would have liked some of my tax dollars to go to help a competitor.”

Scott, who didn’t mention it specifically in his Tuesday speech, often has spoken of a doughnut shop he ran in the 1970s.

“Imagine if the governor, while he had that same doughnut shop, had his tax dollars go to Dunkin’ Donuts so they could come across the street and compete against him?” Oliva said.

Corcoran suggested that Scott doesn’t get the “optimism” of his legislative program.

“We’re saying what makes our country different is when anybody can engage in spirited, civil debate,” he said. “… Yeah, there’s passion and back-and-forth and sometimes quotes you want to take back. At the end of the day, … good things happen.”

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Joe Negron backs Gulf Coast compensation process

Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday said he was committed to getting $300 million in settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill to affected communities in northwest Florida.

Negron spoke to reporters on the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session.

“I don’t believe that we should set up some complicated bureaucracy,” said Negron, a Stuart Republican.

He said he’s working with Sens. Bill Montford, Doug Broxson and George Gainer, all of whom represent coastal areas in the Panhandle, to make sure constituents “get compensated for their actual economic damages.”

He toured affected areas at the time, telling a story of one hotel that couldn’t get any guests and had to lay off all its employees.

“This isn’t just a policy priority. It’s a personal priority,” Negron said.

Millions of barrels of oil surged into the Gulf in April 2010 after an oil well ruptured under BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Eleven rig workers died and 17 were injured.

It took until that July to cap the well; meantime, tarballs and oil washed up on 1,100 miles of coastline, keeping away the usual summer tourists and their money. Hotels, restaurants and tourism-related businesses were hit hardest.

A House measure filed recently would eliminate some oversight for the Triumph Gulf Coast board selected to allocate the settlement money, the Panama City News-Herald has reported. It also would have exempted tourism businesses from getting paid.

Negron said legislation needs to be passed soon: “We need the state of Florida to write a check,” he said.

He also opined on medical cannabis, charter school funding, Everglades restoration, and said he supported some sort of pay raise for state workers this year.

A Periscope video of his remarks can be viewed below:

Senate President Joe Negron https://t.co/ilZ2L2d4t0

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Rick Scott gets personal in 2017 ‘State of The State’ address

In what was his most personally felt State of the State speech so far, Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday delivered an impassioned plea for Florida’s economic development organization and business incentives targeted for elimination by the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is seeking to abolish Enterprise Florida and other financial programs he has termed “corporate welfare.” Though the Senate is not backing the House’s moves, Scott fought back, criticizing the negative narrative.

The governor, who once ran the privately-held Columbia/HCA hospital and health care chain, told a joint session of the state’s House and Senate that he knew “what it’s like to be poor.”

“I have lived in poverty,” said Scott, repeating his rags-to-riches story. “I watched my parents struggle to put food on the table. When most kids were playing Little League or riding bikes, I had a job … I went from delivering papers, to opening a small business so my mom could have a job, to running the nation’s largest health care company.”

Tuesday’s speech opening the 2017 Legislative Session is Scott’s second-to-last State of the State address. With less than two years left in office, the governor is beginning to eye his legacy.

“It’s easy to throw out catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare,’ ” he said. “(T)hat’s not what we are doing. We are competing with 49 other states and hundreds of countries for jobs. When we bring new jobs to Florida, there are only winners.

“… I will admit it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed, to understand this,” Scott said.

“If you have never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency. I will just leave it like this: I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for families just like mine growing up.”

The governor still had time for moments of levity, however, as when he greeted the state’s Supreme Court justices: “You look great in your robes, by the way,” he said, mentioning his appointed of the court’s newest member, C. Alan Lawson.

He also said he and wife Ann were expecting twin grandchildren soon, making six since he took office, then joked that his daughter must have taken his slogan literally: “Let’s get to work.”

Scott also took a moment to thank former Senate President and current state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater for his service. Atwater is resigning at the end of the legislative session to take a similar position with Florida Atlantic University.

He took note of last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting, thanking Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings for the law enforcement response, singling out SWAT officer Michael Napolitano, whose Kevlar helmet stopped a bullet to his head.

Napolitano and fellow officers demonstrate “the courage to serve in the face of evil,” Scott said.

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