Scott Powers - 2/29 - SaintPetersBlog

Scott Powers

Showdown in Miami: Airbnb sues over vacation rental home ban

Airbnb and five of its clients filed suit against the city of Miami Friday over a controversial move the city made last month to ban vacation rental homes in residential districts.

At issue is whether and how cities can regulate vacation rental homes, a rapidly increasing part of the lodging industry in which homeowners turn their spare bedrooms or whole houses into short-term rentals to accommodate tourists and other visitors who prefer homes to hotels.

The Florida Legislature essentially prohibited cities and counties from banning them in 2011, except for those local governments that already had laws on the books. In March the Miami City Commission approved a resolution put forward by Mayor Tomas Regalado that essentially interprets the city’s ordinances, as outlined in the Miami 21 codes, as already banning vacation rentals.

That interpretation was news to Airbnb, the largest marketing company of vacation rental properties. In the suit filed Friday the company alleges the existing ordinances have no such ban, and also claims that the city of Miami is cracking down on those operating in Miami since the March 23 3-2 approval by the city commission.

No one was available at the Miami city attorney’s office to comment on the suit late Friday. The city has not yet filed an answer to the Airbnb complaints.

The Miami strategy began in 2015 with a legal interpretation adopted by the city’s zoning administrator, the suit charges.

“The Individual Plaintiffs had never heard of the City’s vacation rental prohibition before 2015, and it was not for a lack of looking. It simply was not in Miami 21,” the suit states.

The wording of the Miami 21 zoning code, the suit charges,  has no mention of a vacation rental ban, no published interpretations that it does, and that there had been no previous enforcements of any vacation rental prohibition, according to the suit.

The Airbnb suit seeks a court declaration that vacation rental homes are not probated as Regalado had maintained. It also demands that the city stop going after any owners of vacation rental homes in Miami.

Some of that crackdown has come against Miami residents who spoke in opposition of the resolution at that March 23 meeting, and Airbnb also alleges city officials are specifically targeting them, violating their First Amendment rights, the suit alleges.

“The City has recently undertaken an aggressive anti-Airbnb campaign that includes threats against individual Airbnb hosts who attended a City Commission meeting to publicly voice their support for vacation rentals in Miami. The City is now acting to make good on those threats,” the suit alleges. “Airbnb stands together with its Miami hosts in opposing the City’s unlawful efforts, and in particular stands with the brave individuals who have come forward and seek to protect their rights as Individual Plaintiffs in this action.”

Florida’s Hispanic voters optimistic on economy but down on Donald Trump

A new Hispanic consumer confidence survey from Florida Atlantic University finds Latino Florida voters more optimistic than the nation about the economy but about the same in assessing President Donald Trump.

The survey of 600 people, conducted by FAU’s Business and Economic Polling Initiative, found that 39 job approval rating for Trump, and a 60 percent disapproval rating.

It also found majorities are happy and optimistic about the economy, attitudes not shared by Hispanics nationally.

“Hispanics in Florida are better off financially and this is reflected in their feelings about the economy,” said Monica Escaleras,  director of FAU BEPI. “However, they still don’t approve of the president’s performance.”

The poll, conducted during the first three months of 2017, has a margin of error of 3.9 percent.

It found that 53 percent of Florida Hispanics said they expect good times financially for the next five years. This runs counter to the national Hispanic index that found 57 percent of Hispanics said they expect bad times financially for the next five years.

Florida Hispanics by a margin of 59 to 41 percent see business conditions as good for the next year. Overall, 68 percent of Florida Hispanics said they are better off financially than they were one year ago and nearly 4 out of 5 said they will be better off over the next year as well.

About one-third of Florida Hispanics (34 percent) expect the economy will get better, while 20 percent think it will get worse and 45 percent said it will stay the same.

Nearly 6 out of 10 Hispanics think it is a good time for buying a big item for their home. More than half (58 percent) think it is a good time to buy a house, while nearly 65 percent said it was a good time to buy a car.

George Gainer, Jeff Brandes reverse positions on Tri-Rail, push bill to let controversial contract stand

Tri-Rail’s controversial, one-source, half-billion, operations contract could go forward under an amended bill pushed Thursday by the Gov. Rick Scott administration and state Sens. George Gainer and Jeff Brandes.

Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored an amendment Thursday that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract.

Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract.

Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things.

Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted it unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously, Thursday.

The amendment and the bill drew strong objections from representatives of the companies that lost the Tri-Rail contract, which runs commuter rail trains through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Several argued that their companies had agreed to continue current operations contracts until a new one could be rebid, so that there would be no disruption in services for passengers. The new contract, switching operations management to Herzog, is set to begin July 1.

There was little explanation or defense of the change of position from Brandes, or Gainer, or anyone else during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Brandes’ office said the state got assurances it needed through language in the amendment.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Jack Stephens said it was a good day for Tri-Rail and its riders in South Florida. He said the bills’ amendments were the results of negotiations between the authority, the governor’s office, and the FDOT secretary’s office. The key was working out a state financing model that could give the state more control yet allow the authority to keep paying its bills.

The state financing model was spelled out in the amendments to SB 1118 and to a related bill, Senate Bill 842, which also eased up on a threatened crackdowns on Tri-Rail. Amendment sponsor Frank Artiles said it was at the behest of Scott’s administration, after the negotiations with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

The amendments require the transportation authority to receive FDOT approval for any new, extended or renewed contracts that use state money, and to submit monthly invoices to FDOT for reimbursements, rather than just receive lump-sum quarterly transfers totaling $42 million a year in taxpayer money. There also are other new accounting requirements. “I believe the principal concerns have been addressed, and they have been addressed to the benefits of all involved, in regards to the governor’s office, the secretary’s office and ourselves, and the citizens of South Florida, of course,” Stephens said.

Tri-Rail still faces a budget proviso in the House of Representatives that would require the transportation authority to rebid the contract if it wants to receive state money. Stephens said he was hopeful that, too, could be dropped, though he cautioned he did not want to predict.

Tri-Rail also faces the prospect of court challenges to the bid, from any or all the five companies that offered lower bids that got thrown out by the transportation authority’s procurements director. All of that happened before the single remaining bid, from Herzog Transportation Services, was brought to the authority’s board for consideration and approval in late January.

There also is a Florida Department of Transportation Inspector General investigation of the contract underway.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome,” said Tom Martin, head of Business Development for Bombardier Americas, which had submitted an operations bid that was $115 million less expensive than Herzog’s.

He said all the companies wanted was the state to assure a fair contract competition.

Asked about the prospect that Bombardier might take the Tri-Rail contract to court, he added, “I think we will keep all of our options open.”

Committee Substitute to SB 842 drew less outrage from Herzog’s competitors, but also cut Tri-Rail some slack.

A budget proviso had required that the state Department of Transportation would from now on review and approve all the transportation authorities’ contracts if it were to continue to receive about $42 million in state subsidies.

However, SB 842 draws a tight distinction between funding the transportation authority gets from the state and from other sources, including the federal government and fares, and allows that any contracts paid for with those non-state monies could be exercised without state approval.

Baseball has been very, very good to Airbnb

Apparently there’s nothing like a home-away-from-home for baseball fans wanting to take in Florida spring training.

Airbnb, the leader in marketing vacation rental home, announced Wednesday that all 12 Florida cities that host spring training camps and stadiums for Major League Baseball teams saw remarkable spikes in bookings during the baseball spring training that ended last week.

And the company’s surveys show most of that spike was due to baseball fans, coming down to catch a few spring training games and to watch big-league players and prospects work out and train.

All the cities saw significant increases in Airbnb vacation home rental bookings during the five-week spring training, Feb. 23-March 31, compared with the previous five weeks.

Smaller cities such as Jupiter (64 percent Airbnb spike), Lakeland (82 percent), Port St. Lucie (95 percent), Dunedin (205 percent) and Port Charlotte (78 percent all benefitted significantly from local Airbnb hosts helping to expand lodging capacity and welcome more visitors during spring training, the company claimed in a press release.

Yet bigger cities with large, year-round tourist industries such as Sarasota and Kissimmee also saw considerable spikes, the company noted. Sarasota’s Airbnb bookings were up 91 percent, and Kissimmee’s 46 percent.

In 10 of the 12 Florida cities, residents of the MLB team’s home state accounted for the top supply of Airbnb guests during spring training. For example, Dunedin, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, saw a 1,860 percent increase in guests from Ontario, Canada, while Jupiter, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, saw a 3,400 percent increase in guests from Missouri.

“Spring Training represents a foundational component of the local economies for these 12 Florida cities,” Tom Martinelli, public policy director for Airbnb Florida, stated in the release. “By expanding lodging capacity for regions with limited hotel inventory, Airbnb hosts helped welcome more families and baseball fans to their cities while serving as ambassadors for their local communities.”

Governor’s office affirmed prosecutorial discretion, state attorneys’ independence, in letter last year

Among material filed Tuesday with Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden.

Ayala’s attorneys Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C. and Marcos Hasbun of Tampa included the letter as an appendix to their writ of quo warranto, which asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders used to strip cases from Ayala.

The governor issued those orders reassigning first-degree murder cases from her to 5th Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King because the governor believed she overstepped her authority when she claimed prosecutorial discretion and refused to pursue death penalties.

Yet almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services.

The governor’s office has not yet had a chance to review and respond to the filing and the appendix.

“Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.

“The state attorneys operate independently, and as elected officials, they answer only to the voters of their individual jurisdictions,” Davis’s letter continued.

Ayala’s petition for a writ, filed Tuesday by Austin and Hasbun, cites amendments to Article V, Section 17, to the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1972 and 1986 saying they “expressly required for the first time that ‘the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts’ in his or her judicial circuit and made it clear that any exception to this must be ‘provided in this constitution.’

“Until the last few weeks,” the writ continues, “the Office of Governor Scott agreed that the Ninth Circuit State Attorney had discretion over the cases in his judicial circuit.” It then cites the April 21, 2016 letter.

Aramis Ayala files challenges of Rick Scott with Florida Supreme Court, federal court

Arguing Gov. Rick Scott had no legal basis to strip murder cases from her jurisdiction, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed challenges Tuesday morning in both the Florida Supreme Court and federal court.

In complaints filed by her attorney, Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C., Ayala contends that she legally exercised prosecutorial discretion in deciding not to pursue death penalty prosecutions in the 9th Judicial Circuit. Ayala was not found by guilty of any misconduct.

Consequently, Ayala argues that Scott’s executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to another state attorney were only because he disagreed with her determination not to pursue death penalties.

The state action, seeking a writ of quo warranto, asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders. Ayala’s petition cites Article V, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution, which declares that “the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in that circuit,” and contends that Scott has no legitimate grounds to overcome that.

Ayala’s federal suit, filed in Florida’s Middle District of U.S. District Court, seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Scott in his official capacity as Governor of Florida and in his individual capacity, as well as against Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King in his official capacity.

It argues that Scott denied both the will of the voters of the 9th Judicial Circuit and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“This is about justice and it’s about fairness,” Austin said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “Ms. Ayala was elected to ensure the fair administration of justice in the 9th Judicial Circuit. That is what she plans and is going to fight for. That involves everybody, the people in her office, the families of victims, the community she represents.”

The moves set forth the anticipated monumental showdown that will determine both the breadth of the power of the governor and breadth of prosecutorial discretion of Florida prosecutors.

The federal suit asks the federal court to defer for now to the Florida Supreme Court, so the state will get the first crack at the issues, based on state law and the Florida Constitution.

There is no question that Ayala’s decision to not pursue death penalties ignited a political firestorm, with Scott, State Attorney General Pam Bondi, many other Republicans and many police representatives expressing angry disagreement, while a number of Civil Rights, faith-based and legal organizations and a handful of Democrats have sided with Ayala, a Democrat.

The key questions are: how far can a state attorney take the long-standing legal concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” which essentially holds that the prosecutor can decide how to prosecute cases; and how much power does the governor have to manage the affairs of state and local officials whom the governor determines have overstepped their authorities.

The federal suit stands ready to test the issues on a bigger scale.

The complaint charges: “Scott violated the Constitution of the United States, usurped Ayala’s authority, and deprived voters in the 9th Judicial Circuit of their chosen State Attorney when, under color of law, he removed Ayala from 23 pending homicide cases in her circuit and replaced her with King, a State Attorney who was not elected by voters from Orange and Osceola Counties.”

For the first time, the federal case argues Ayala did indeed consider the facts of the case of Markeith Loyd, the alleged Orlando cop-killer who is also charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend.

Loyd’s first-up on her agenda, and it was her refusal to pursue a death penalty that led Scott’s first action, taking that case from Ayala and reassigning it to King.

“After extensively researching the relevant law, as well as the facts of the Loyd case, Ayala determined that she would seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in Loyd’s case, not a sentence of death,” the suit states.

“Separately from building her case against Loyd, Ayala began formulating her office’s policy for handling death-eligible cases generally. She reviewed research showing that the death penalty: has no positive impact on public safety; is racially discriminatory; discriminates against the poor; is enormously expensive; leaves victims’ families in a state of uncertainty, and is imposed on innocent people too often

“She also met with victims’ families, reviewed files from other cases, and spoke with other people involved with the criminal justice system,” the suit contends.

Cook Report: How Florida’s 27 congressional districts stack up in partisan divides

The latest Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index finds that just one Florida congressional district leans more than 20 percent Republican while two lean more than 20 percent Democrat – and two Republicans occupy seats in districts that lean Democratic.

The report, on the partisan makeup and voting records of all 435 districts in the 115th Congress, shows that Florida still has a number of districts drawn with sure-fire party preferences, though nothing like some other states, notably Texas, New York, Tennessee, and California.

Two members of Florida’s 27-member delegation represent districts that lean toward the other party: Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, whose Congressional District 26 leans six points toward Democrats; and neighboring Republican U.S. Rep.  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, whose Congressional District 27 leans five points toward Democrats, according to Cook’s scoring.

Both of their districts went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and also went for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Not so much confusion among voters in Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz‘s Congressional District 1; nor  in Democratic U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson in Florida’s Congressional District 24, and Alcee Hastings Congressional District 20. They all have extraordinarily safe districts for their parties.

Wilson’s Miami Gardens-based district has a whopping 34 percent lean for Democratic voters, while Hastings’ Miramar district has a 31 percent lean, according to Cook.

Gaetz is Florida’s only Republican with a 20 point or greater cushion for his party: 22 points total in his Fort Walton Beach-based district.

However, there are plenty others with safe seats of 10 or more points, in both parties.

Here are how Florida’s other members of congress, stack up, according to Cook:

– Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, +18 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Florida’s 4th Congressional District, +17 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida’s 11th Congressional District, +15 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida’s 19th Congressional District, +13 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida’s 17th Congressional District, +13 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, +12 Democratic.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, +11 Democratic.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Florida’s 10th Congressional District, +11 Democratic.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Florida’s 8th Congressional District, +11 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, +9 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida’s 21st Congressional District, +9 Democratic.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th Congressional District, +8 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida’s 6th Congressional District, +7 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida’s 14th Congressional District, +7 Democratic.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida’s 16th Congressional District, +7 Republican.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida’s 15th Congressional District, +6 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, +5 Democratic.

– Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, +5 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th Congressional District, +5 Democratic.

– Republican U.S. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida’s 25th Congressional District, +4 Republican.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida’s 13th Congressional District, +2 Democratic.

– Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida’s 7th Congressional District – even.

Pam Bondi declines to file writ for Armamis Ayala

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is declining to file a challenge supporting Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala against Gov. Rick Scott and may intervene to oppose anything Ayala files.

That sets the stage for Ayala to likely present her challenge early next week, seeking to get a judge to declare that, short of a finding a state attorney violated the law, Scott has no constitutional right to reassign cases from one state attorney to another, as he has done over the past month.

Ayala announced in March that she has concluded the death penalty to be unjust for all, and won’t pursue it in first-degree murder cases. So Scott, who was highly critical of her conclusion, stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her 9th Judicial Circuit and reassigned them to State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

Ayala intends to challenge Scott’s authority to do so, and earlier Friday her lawyer, Roy L. Austin, asked Bondi to initiate that challenge on her behalf. Specifically, they asked her to petition a court for a writ of quo warranto.

Bondi has sided with Scott all along, arguing that what Ayala did violates Florida law, and what Scott did is supported by statute.

And so, writing in response to that formal request to Bondi, Associate Deputy Attorney General Chesterfield Smith Jr. advised Austin late Friday that the attorney general’s office would not do as he asked on Ayala’s behalf.

That is essentially a formality out of the way for Ayala, allowing her and Austin to now pursue the writ without having to go through the attorney general’s office. Earlier Friday Austin said he expects they will do so early next week, seeking

Smith indicated the attorney general is prepared to oppose anything Ayala pursues in court against Scott.

“This office declines to commence such a proceeding and may seek to appear in any such proceeding to ensure that the laws of this State are properly interpreted and faithfully enforced,” Smith wrote.

Aramis Ayala asks Pam Bondi to initiate challenge of Rick Scott’s murder case orders

An attorney representing embattled Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala has initiated the process to challenge Gov. Rick Scott‘s murder case reassignment orders by asking State Attorney General Pam Bondi to petition the court on Ayala’s behalf.

Ayala intends to challenge the legality of Scott’s now 23 and counting executive orders stripping 9th Judicial Circuit first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s jurisdiction and reassigning them to be prosecuted by 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

The governor did so after Ayala announced she had concluded that death sentences were unjust for all involved and that she would not pursue them. That angered Scott — and Bondi — leading Scott to reassign all of Ayala’s first-degree murder cases.

Bondi has supported Scott. But in this request, she may have no choice but to comply, as a perfunctory obligation, said Ayala’s attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., of the Washington law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis.

Specifically, the letter asks Bondi to petition a court for a writ quo warranto against Scott and King.

Florida law requires state attorneys to go through the attorney general for such actions, Austin said.

“We have to ask her,” Austin said of Bondi. “But what it’s meant to signal is that Ms. Ayala is definitely going to be responding to the governor, making it clear that his actions were unconstitutional.”

“We’re going to do so next week, early next week,” Austin added.

Austin asked Bondi to notify him no later than 5 p.m. Monday on whether she would file for the writ. “If you do not intend to file such an action, state Attorney Ayala will file a petition for a writ quote warrant soon thereafter,” Austin wrote.

In the letter, he summarized Ayala’s position this way: “As the duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, state Attorney Ayala cannot be forcibly removed as the prosecuting officer for trial courts in the Ninth Judicial Circuit absent a finding that she has violated the law. By unconstitutional and unlawful executive orders issued by Gov. Rick Scott, State Attorney Brad King is wrongfully purporting to exercise the right of state Attorney Ayala to prosecute a number of cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.”

Frank Attkisson killed in bicycle-car crash

Former Osceola County chairman, Florida state representative, and Kissimmee Mayor Frank Attkisson was killed Thursday night when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Attkisson, 61, was riding on Kissimmee Park Road near St. Cloud around 6:30 p.m. Thursday when his bike was struck from behind by a car driven by 26-year-old Kristie Jean Knoebel of St. Cloud, according to the patrol. The crash is being investigated.

Attkisson was transported to Osceola Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The Republican served a long political career that began on the Kissimmee City Council in the early 1990s and included a stint as Kissimmee mayor from 1996-2000. He served in the House of Representatives from 2000-2008, when he was term-limited out.

In 2010 he ran for and won a seat on the Osceola County Commission, and two years later was elected the commission’s chairman. However, he lost re-election in 2014.

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