Jim Rosica - 5/100 - 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.
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Business groups oppose tax break swap

A coalition of Florida business groups is giving the thumbs-down to state Sen. Anitere Flores’ proposal to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

The legislation (SB 378) would swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Negron earlier this year said he was looking to eliminate the insurance deal this year, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state.

But the coalition – including Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Insurance Council (FIC) – on Monday suggested the move would be a net neutral.

Moreover, if the measure passes as is, Gov. Rick Scott could see himself jammed up by competing priorities: Cutting taxes for middle-class Floridians and keeping the state’s business community happy.

The state could see $300 million in communication tax savings, charged on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service, but that would be eaten up by “a $300 million increase in insurance premiums, negatively impacting all Floridians,” according to a press release.

“These premium increases will at least be equal to the reduction in the CST, leaving consumers without any actual economic relief,” it said.

“Doing away with the tax credit will increase the tax burden on Florida insurers who employ more than 200,000 Floridians in typically high-wage paying jobs, and will endanger future job growth in the industry,” said Cecil Pearce, president of FIC. “The salary tax credit reduces the premium tax liability, which helps keep insurance premiums as low as possible.”

Flores’ bill, which does not yet have a House companion, has been referred to the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, and the full Appropriations panel for hearings in the 2017 Legislative Session, which starts Tuesday.

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Lottery case now in judge’s hands; agency says it did no wrong

The Florida Lottery went on an illegal spending spree when it inked a multiple-year, $700 million contract for new equipment and “blew up” the state’s budget process, a lawyer for House Speaker Richard Corcoran argued Monday. 

The Lottery’s lawyer countered that it takes money to make money, and the agency simply did what lawmakers told it to do: Follow “its singular purpose” of maximizing its revenue for education, Barry Richard said. Lottery proceeds go to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. 

Both sides gave closing arguments after a one-day, non-jury trial over Corcoran’s contention that the contract with International Game Technology (IGT) went “beyond existing budget limitations,” as House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum told Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

Instead of first asking for approval from lawmakers in charge of the state’s purse, the Lottery went rogue last year by cutting a deal that costs the agency 37 percent more than a prior equipment contract, Tanenbaum suggested. 

“If you want to do more, you have to ask for permission first,” he said. 

Gievers did not rule immediately from the bench, saying she would take the matter “under advisement” and issue a decision “as quickly as I can.” The 2017 Legislative Session starts Tuesday.

Richard told Gievers the Lottery just followed its legislative mandate to act as an “entrepreneurial business enterprise” that’s allowed to do “alternative procurement” compared to other state agencies.

“The Lottery has done exactly as the Legislature has asked it to do,” he said. The agency surpassed $6.2 billion in sales during 2016, records show.

“It has been extraordinary successful, and the Legislature has never said, ‘You’re making too much money,’ ” Richard argued. 

He further argued Corcoran was overstepping his constitutional bounds: “The Legislature’s function is to appropriate funds and make law. Contracting power is a quintessential power of the executive branch,” he said, granting that legislators can, however, place limits on that power. 

Richard earlier in the day questioned Summer Sylvestri, the Lottery’s procurement director. She explained the agency negotiated a deal based on percentage of lottery ticket sales, and away from a flat rate based on the number of vending machines leased. 

IGT then agreed to come down on the percentage after the Lottery agreed to exercise the first of three available 3-year renewal options on the 10-year deal. That saved the state $18 million, she testified.

The new deal also provides much more than the previous equipment contract, including in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

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House witness calls Lottery contract “complete departure” from protocol

A multiple-year, $700 million contract for new Florida Lottery equipment is “a complete departure from the way we’ve operated for many years,” a House budget analyst testified Monday.

Bruce Topp, budget chief for the Government Operation and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, was on the stand for the non-jury trial between the Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the contract, made final last year.

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The Lottery’s outside counsel counters that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts.”

Topp told House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum that when he looked over the deal after it was done, he quickly figured it would cost the agency roughly $47.5 million to fund each year.

That’s more than the Lottery’s current appropriation for $34.6 million yearly under the previous equipment contract, he added.

“The quick determination … was that they did not have enough to pay for their contract … That really caught our eye,” Topp said.

With Lottery sales continually increasing, the agency pulled out the stops on a big deal to get new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

For example, the new agreement jumps the number of leased “full-service vending machines” from 500 to 5,000.

Lottery proceeds benefit the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education. The Lottery surpassed $6.2 billion in sales during 2016, it said.

The contract, with International Game Technology (IGT), is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery already exercised the first of its three available 3-year renewal options.

In cross-examination, Lottery attorney Barry Richard suggested a fail-safe was built in, that “if the Legislature doesn’t appropriate the funds, the vendor is entitled to nothing.”

But that would lead to a situation in which the agency could be seen as breaking the contract, Topp said, and doing so is a “substantial change in policy.”

Richard also noted that the Legislature has at least five times in the past given the Lottery extra money when it needed to buy more tickets from another vendor after increased sales.

Earlier, JoAnne Leznoff, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, testified that “multi-year contracts are the norm in state government,” but they must be “within the mission of the agency.”

Lawmakers often amend budgets mid-year for “unforeseen circumstances,” but agencies can’t cut deals by “assum(ing) an increase in their appropriation,” she said. 

Richard was expected to call his witnesses after a midday lunch break. Both sides said they expected to wrap up the case on Monday. It’s not clear whether Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers will rule from the bench by the end of the day.

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Trial to begin in Richard Corcoran v. Florida Lottery

Lawyers for the Florida Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran will square off today in what’s expected to be a one-day trial.

The non-jury trial, before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in the Leon County Courthouse, is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Each side has said they will call only two witnesses.

The speaker sued the agency, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, saying it was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiple-year, $700 million contract for new equipment from International Game Technology (IGT).

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The deal with IGT is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

Barry Richard, the Greenberg Traurig attorney representing the Lottery, has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts.”

He has said the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the contract discloses that any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers. Such a disclosure is required under state law.

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Construction at Capitol continues underground

Work on the grounds of the Florida Capitol and its underground parking garages continues after the Senate garage was closed last May.

It was shut down when its primary support girder showed signs of stress after years of water intrusion. 

“The next milestone for the Senate garage is structural repair as we work to restore that main girder,” said Maggie Mickler, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager.

The repair work, started last month, is expected to be completed in April, she added.

The Senate garage, in continuous use since 1978, was shut down “in an abundance of caution,” officials said. That meant 210 spaces were no longer available for use, with senators and staffers shunted to other state garages and surface lots downtown.

The original waterproofing, which contains coal tar pitch, had degraded over the years and was letting in water. Structural engineers then saw “an accelerated deterioration” of parts of the garage.

Throughout late 2016, workers installed shoring for structural stability and removed trees and roughly 6,000 tons of dirt—5,200 on the Senate and 900 on the House—from the Capitol’s grounds.

This January and early February, “construction work continued inside and around the garage, with crews conducting demolition of sidewalks and dirt excavation, as well as removal of the old fire sprinkler systems inside the garage,” Mickler said.

That’s in preparation of removing the original waterproofing material from the sides of the garage. Pilings will need to be installed and more dirt excavated up to 30 feet underground.

The remediation is part of a larger effort to renovate the Capitol grounds.

“When it’s over, the plaza will have fewer trees, more space for memorials and shady spots to sit and relax, and better public access,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported last August.

The entire project is expected to be completed by June 2018.

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper

This is the first legislative session that South Florida’s Oscar Braynon II will be the Senate’s Democratic Leader.

The 40-year-old, who succeeded term-limited former Leader Arthenia Joyner, was first elected in 2011 after serving in the House and on the Miami Gardens City Council before that.

Though he’s in the minority, Braynon has high hopes for legislative breakthroughs with the GOP majority under President Joe Negron. “We have a good personal relationship and we’ve helped each other before we were in leadership,” Braynon says.

That said, one issue he’s already behind on is “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The House supports it this year; the Senate does not.

Braynon’s in favor because it would allow his district’s Calder Race Track, which he said he lives “around the corner from,” to sell its racetrack land to developers for much-needed retail, restaurants and a movie theater.

The city of 112,000 has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III recently told lawmakers.

But Braynon may have better luck on initiatives like juvenile civil citations, which gives “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A bill now being carried by Anitere Flores, Negron’s right hand as President Pro Tempore, would expand their use.

Braynon gave a pre-session interview with FloridaPolitics.com last week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What are you hoping to get accomplished this year?

A: I’m looking to some serious reform in our civil and criminal justice system. I think both sides of the aisle have come to the conclusion that minimum mandatory (sentences), putting juveniles in jail for minor crimes, keeping people locked up for drug offenses, those things put a strain on our budget. Also it puts a strain on our communities. We should look more into treatment for drug issues, economic development for communities like mine, where people think that dealing illegal drugs is the only way out (of poverty). If they can get a real job, they can have hope. I’ll be looking at that not just this year, but my two years as leader. And I think I have a willing partner in the Senate President.

Q: On the other hand, what are you hoping the Legislature avoids acting on?

A: I hope we avoid some of the repeats of what we did or tried to do in terms of tax cuts and cutting services … I think the fewer services you provide is not investing in the biggest and best resource of the state, its people. When you don’t invest in education, health care, mental health, the aged, DCF, the weakest among us, then you starve the infrastructure that is our way to get our state considered a premier state. Our mistake was we cut government and then on the other end we cut taxes for corporations, saying this is how we’re going to ‘save’ Florida. Look at us now. We’re looking at projections where we may be in another (budget) deficit. I call it crazy, because if it doesn’t work, why do it again?

Q: Which initiative gives you the most confidence to get done this year?

A: The civil citations bill, now pushed by Sen. Flores, is something our caucus has pushed for a long time. For the president pro tem to have it, that shows us being together on that issue of creating more juvenile civil citations statewide. I believe the concern on the other side has been being seen as ‘weak on crime.’ They think you’re not allowing children to be accountable for whatever (bad) things they did. But I don’t want to give them a mark for the rest of their lives.

Q: How do you think the current conflict between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran—who are warring over Enterprise Florida (EFI), VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives—will affect this session?

A: (Laughs.) It’s not any different from previous years. It’s the same thing. Whether you take the money from (business in the form of taxes) or you give them so money back, it’s semantics. Whether you call them tax cuts or incentives, it’s a ridiculous argument. Look, businesses are doing well in Florida. We have a business-friendly environment. But we’re ranked low in mental health, education. I’m more than happy to watch them fight it out … And they all are going to fight, not just about this, but a whole number of things. Wait till we get to the budget, and who controls the process. It should not be up to the House. Then there’s land buying, and judicial term limits. The list is long. You could solve the EFI thing tomorrow and they’ll have seven other things they’ll disagree on. I do believe VISIT FLORIDA plays a role, but they could be more lean and transparent. As to incentives, I’m still waiting for someone to fully explain to me why they are really so necessary.

Q: Have you heard from Chance the Rapper yet? (Braynon supported a bill for Florida’s smaller craft brewers because it would help start-ups, likening them to the Chicago-based artist who rose to fame after distributing his own songs without a music label.)

A: No! I did not get a follow yet (from the rapper on Twitter).

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Alimony rears its head

Get ready for a rumble: Lawmakers will again tackle the sticky issue of alimony in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate aim to overhaul state alimony law to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

Neither bill had a hearing in the committee weeks leading up to this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

Given its history, the effort promises to be one of the most contentious the Legislature will deal with this year, and both sides are primed for the fight. Last year, a hollering battle sparked outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office as reform advocates shouted down opponents of the bill.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

The First Wives Advocacy Group calls this year’s legislation “one-sided, inequitable, and harmful to Florida families, especially women and children.” Proponents say the measures won’t be retroactive; these ex-spouse advocates disagree.

“As written, the legislation will retroactively tamper with thousands of prior divorces, giving payors a virtual do-over at the expense of the recipient,” the group said in a statement. “During their divorces, many women sacrificed equitable distribution for the security of permanent alimony.  

“This legislation would result in (those paying alimony) filing for modification upon retirement, regardless of prior agreement, need, and ability to pay,” the group adds. “This is clearly not equitable.”

But Alan Frisher, chair of the National Parents Organization of Florida, called “the concept of permanent alimony … outdated in today’s society.”

“Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” he said.

The 2017 bills “would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation,” Frisher added.

This year’s measures (HB 283, SB 412) don’t address the child custody provisions that garnered Scott‘s disfavor in 2016.

He nixed that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.” He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is carrying the House bill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring its Senate counterpart.

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Showdown over gambling—again

With competing legislation now set up in both chambers, the question remains whether lawmakers finally will pass a gambling overhaul or whether the effort will founder as it has in years past.

Hanging in the balance is a new blackjack exclusivity deal for the Seminole Tribe of Florida that promises a cut to the state worth $3 billion over seven years.

Negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott in late 2015, it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last session as it got bogged down by a fight over expanding games for the state’s pari-mutuel facilities, such as horse and dog tracks.

Indeed, the battle has usually been between pari-mutuels, who want to offer more gambling and be free of the state’s requirement that they run live races in order to offer cards or slots, and “family-friendly” tourism proponents, chiefly Disney. 

Younger audiences don’t want to bet on horses or dogs, the pari-mutuels say, and are more taken with diversions like fantasy sports, which would be made expressly legal in Florida in other legislation filed for this year.

Valery Bollier, CEO and co-Founder of Oulala Games, which offers fantasy soccer games in the U.K., told an International Casino Conference audience this month that the gambling industry “will fall off a cliff if they do not adapt to a millennial audience.”

“Young generations are not playing the same games as their parents,” Bollier said. “…They have access to such amazing skill games on their consoles and constant social interactions on their mobile phones.”

The two bills this year (SB 8, HB 7037) come at the issue from different directions, with the House seeking to “freeze” gambling in the state, and the Senate generally allowing expansion of gambling opportunities.

For example, the House outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated-player games,” which are similar to poker in that people play against each other.   

Moreover, the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines, including to counties that passed a slots referendum. 

The House also would direct Seminole gambling money to education, including for “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” and funding “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

But Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. In 2012, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.

Two years after that, then-House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.

It, too, died during the Legislative Session.

And this year, neither bill addresses an idea proposed by Young, now a state senator, and others: Establishing an independent gambling commission, as in Nevada and New Jersey. Now, the state regulates gambling through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Izzy Havenick, who with his family owns Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing in Bonita Springs, says he’s once again “cautiously optimistic” something will pass this year. Lee County is one of those that passed a slots referendum; his facility, which offers poker, competes with the Seminoles’ Immokalee casino, that has slots, about a 45-minute drive to the east.

“It’s hard to be in an industry where you never know what your rules and regulations are going to be,” Havenick said. “We hope they pass legislation that allows us to compete with the gambling that is all around us.”

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Pam Stewart, Jimmy Patronis among Rick Scott constitutional review panel picks

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday released the rest of his appointments to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), the panel that meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document.

Unsurprisingly, his selections are heavy with friends, appointees and supporters, including Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and former state Rep. and now Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis. The picks also are rife in conservative bona fides.

“These members stood out as exemplary choices for this historic Commission whose diverse backgrounds and experience in education, business and policy will ensure we continue to champion policies that make Florida the best place for families for generations to come,” the governor said.

In a press release, Scott disclosed the remaining picks, after previously announcing Carlos Beruff, the Manatee Republican homebuilder who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, as chair and Jeff Woodburn, currently the governor’s Policy Director, as the executive director.

According to the release, they are:

Dr. Jose “Pepe” Armas of Miami, “a distinguished physician and healthcare executive whose focus on patient-centered care has defined his career.” He currently serves as the Chairman of MCCI Group, which he founded in 1998, a physician healthcare group in the Southeastern United States. Scott appointed him in 2011 to the Florida International University Board of Trustees, and reappointed him to in 2016.

Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton of Sarasota, a lawyer and “an eighth generation Floridian and co-owner and manager of the Mabry Carlton Ranch, Inc. in Sarasota County.” She’s also a director for the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and founding member of the Florida Historic Capitol Foundation.

Tim Cerio of Tallahassee, the governor’s former general counsel now practicing with the GrayRobinson law firm. He also was chief of staff and general counsel at the Department of Health and now serves on the 1st District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission.

Emery Gainey of Tallahassee, a veteran law enforcement official and “member of the Attorney General’s senior executive management team and currently the Director of Law Enforcement, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs. Scott also tapped him to serve temporarily as Marion County sheriff last year.

Brecht Heuchan of Tallahassee, who helps run Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee. He founded and is CEO of ContributionLink, a political data analysis and fundraising firm. He also owns The Labrador Company, a political and government affairs firm, and was House Speaker Daniel Webster‘s liaison to the 1997-98 CRC.

Marva Johnson of Winter Garden, chair of the Florida State Board of Education and regional vice president of state government affairs for Charter Communications. She previously was a member of the Florida Virtual School Board and Advisory Board for Rollins College’s Crummer Center for Leadership Development.

Darlene Jordan of Palm Beach, executive Director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, “a nonprofit organization that supports education, health and youth services, and the arts.” Scott appointed her last year to the Board of Governors of the State University System. She’s a former assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Fred Karlinsky of Weston, the governor’s go-to man on insurance issues and co-chair of the Greenberg Traurig law firm’s Insurance Regulatory and Transactions Practice Group. He’s “recognized as one of the top insurance lawyers … throughout the U.S. and internationally in a wide variety of business, operational, regulatory, transactional and governmental matters.” Scott named him to the 17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and the Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

Belinda Keiser of Parkland, vice chancellor of Keiser University and past member of the Workforce Florida board of directors, where she also served as chair. She also sits on the 17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors.

Frank Kruppenbacher of Orlando, an attorney who has been on the Florida Commission on Ethics, Florida Commission on Sales Tax Reform, Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Ethics & Campaign Finance Reform Taskforce, Orange County Oversight Committee, Orange County Charter Commission, Central Florida Zoological Board, Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Orange County Sheriff Department Oversight Board. He now is chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, appointed by Scott.

Dr. Gary Lester of The Villages, its vice president for community relations and a Presbyterian minister. He too has served on a number of boards and advisory groups,  including the United States Military Academy Nominations Board and the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Middle District of Florida.

Jimmy Patronis of Panama City, former state representative from Bay County and now a Scott-appointed member of the Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities. With his brother Jimmy, he owns and runs the Capt. Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City Beach. He also has been on the Florida Elections Commission and Bay County-Panama City International Airport and Industrial District.

Pam Stewart of Tallahassee, the state’s education commissioner.  She has a 37-year history in education, beginning as a classroom teacher, and later guidance counselor, testing and research specialist, assistant principal and principal in both elementary and high schools, and asa district deputy superintendent in St. Johns County.

Nicole Washington of Miami Beach, state policy consultant for the Lumina Foundation, an educational grant maker. “In Florida, Ms. Washington has served as the Associate Director of Governmental Relations for the State University System Board of Governors, as well as the Budget Director for Education in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget (OPB).” She’s on the board of Florida A&M University, the LeRoy Collins Institute and the Veterans Trust Board.

Scott also picked three alternates: Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; and Judge John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

Scott’s appointees join the 12 previously-released selections of Senate President Joe Negron and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. (Those appointments are here and here.)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before the 2017 Legislative Session begins.

The state constitution says the commission must be “established … within (30) days before the convening of the 2017 regular session of the legislature.” A first meeting of the panel has not yet been announced.

The “commission shall convene at the call of its chair, adopt its rules of procedure, examine the constitution of the state, hold public hearings, and, not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file … its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” it says.

As governor, Scott chooses 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate. The chief justice is alloted three 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.

The nonprofit Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has suggested several issues the commission could address this year, including transportation, natural resources, crime and justice, representation, and “youth, elderly & the underserved.”

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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Supreme Court suspends judge considered by House impeachment panel

A North Florida judge used as an example by a House panel looking into impeachment of public officials has been suspended for six months by the Florida Supreme Court.

Decker

The court’s 46-page decision, released Thursday, also orders 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker to get a public reprimand and pay investigative costs. A judicial misconduct hearing panel had recommended the same, but only a 90-day suspension.

Decker had been under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he was elected a judge in 2012.

State Rep. Larry Metz, chair of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has been critical of the court for sitting on the case for over a year without taking final action.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy A. Quince, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and C. Alan Lawson concurred in the per curiam ruling.

Justice Barbara Pariente also concurred but wrote a separate opinion, joined by R. Fred Lewis, saying “Decker’s ethical missteps as an attorney … are compounded by the false and otherwise unethical statements he made on the campaign trail.”

At the same time, she agreed that “despite his professional misconduct as an attorney, Judge Decker has ably served the citizens of the Third Judicial Circuit since assuming the bench.”

Decker had been charged with a number of ethical breaches as a civil litigation attorney, including not disclosing conflicts of interest to clients in one case and inappropriate communication with an opposing party in another matter.

During his campaign for judge, he took part in a televised debate in which he said he had never been accused of having a conflict of interest. “The statement was false because less than four months earlier, a formal complaint was filed with The Florida Bar by a former client, alleging conflict of interest,” the opinion said.

Moreover, “at a judicial forum sponsored by the Lafayette County Republican Executive Committee, then-attorney Decker stated to the audience that he is a registered Republican, that his former affiliation with the Democratic Party was an error, and that he is ‘pro-life.’ It was alleged that these statements violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” which also applies to candidates.

Last month, Decker was used a case study by Metz’s panel as it looks into exercising the House’s constitutionally-granted impeachment power.

The Yalaha Republican admitted, however, that the House can only act on “misdemeanors that occur in office,” not on earlier behavior. Metz was not immediately available for comment.

State Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, raised concerns Decker had not been made aware he was going to be used as an example: “It does trouble me we don’t at least (him) know we’re going to be laying out all the bad things (he’s) done.”

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m sure the judge is too,” said Tampa lawyer Scott Tozian, who representied Decker in the misconduct investigation.

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