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David Simmons condemns Frank Artiles comments; calls for due process, suggests PTSD might be factor

Republican state Sen. David Simmons sharply condemned racist and vulgar comments made earlier this week by state Sen. Frank Artiles. 

The behavior is nothing new, Simmons said, but he puts his faith in the Senate’s due process to determine a judgment by the body.

Simmons, of Altamonte Springs, then suggested that Artiles’ behavior might be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder — or some other circumstance — and the Senate needs to hear of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances before passing formal judgment.

Artiles has acted like this before, he added.

“I consider his comments reprehensible and unacceptable. I believe that at the same time that he is entitled to a full and fair hearing,” Simmon said.

On Tuesday night, in the Governors Club in Tallahassee, Artiles reportedly accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, who are both African-American, calling her a “b***h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, but refused growing calls for his resignation.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday. Simmons said that process needs to proceed.

“I do not believe this is an isolated incident of conduct. I believe that Sen. Artiles has spoken to multiple people in this fashion,” Simmons said.

“I also know that he is an Iraq veteran. I know while there’s no question that he said these things, because he’s admitted it and apologized fort them. The question I have is what aggravating and mitigating circumstances exist regarding why he is and has been acting in this manner. I don’t believe that he should be denied the ability to show that he may have PTSD; he may have some other circumstances,” Simmons continued. “I don’t know. I’m not going to prejudge the type of judgment that we should impose upon him as a Senate.”

Simmons explicitly said he condemned Artiles’ comments Thursday, a declaration that came after the Orange County and Seminole County Democrats jointly issued a statement Thursday afternoon demanding that Simmons speak up. Simmons said he had previously spoken up, giving a similar response to another reporter before the Democrats’ joint statement.

The Orange and Seminole Democrats’ statement, signed by Orange Democratic Chair Wes Hodge and Seminole Democratic Chair Jeff Wilkinson, denounced Artiles’ comments as “bigoted” and called on Simmons, “to immediately condemn his colleague’s remarks. They do not represent Central Florida’s values, and cannot be allowed to go unaddressed.”

Simmons, who says he’s 98 percent decided to run for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District for Orange and Seminole counties, a seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, did just that, calling Artiles’ comments “reprehensible,” and part of a pattern of behavior.

“We all know they’re not the only comments he’s made. He made comments against the Senate president. He’s made comments against other Republican senators. And he’s made comments to other senators, on other occasions,” Simmons said.

Report: Pam Bondi suggests Frank Artiles step down over disparaging remarks

Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined Sen. Frank Artiles’ chorus of critics, suggesting her fellow Republican leave office for directing slurs, including a version of the N-word, at colleagues.

“There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi told POLITICO Florida.

“I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues,” she told the website Thursday.

The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference has called for Artiles to step down. So has the Legislative Black Conference and Jewish Conference. Dozens of protesters gathered outside Artile’s Kendall district office to demand the same thing.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

Appropriations chiefs sound hopeful as clock ticks on state budget negotiations

With two weeks and change remaining in the 2017 Legislative Session, House and Senate budget leaders are professing optimism that they can resolve their differences and adjourn on time May 5.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo — and Jack Latvala, his Senate counterpart — both said Thursday they hope to begin formal budget conference negotiations soon.

“We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” Trujillo told reporters.

The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die May 5,” he said.

“It (the budget) needs to rest on the table for 72 hours prior to that. We want to give ample time for debate, for members to analyze it, to study it. We have to give proper time to conference. We’re really, really getting towards that line in the sand that we need to start moving.”

“I think we’re making good progress,” Latvala said.

“I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” he said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

The chambers are $3.8 billion apart on spending.

Among their differences is what to do about a Trump administration promise of $1.5 billion for a low income pool, or LIP program, compensating hospitals for treating charity patients. The Senate budget includes $600 million for the program. The House bill does not.

Trujillo has been talking about spreading that money around elsewhere, possibly in tax cuts. House leaders cite projections for stagnant growth in tax revenues next year and declining returns going forward.

“Do we really think, going into years of economic recession, we should be growing the budget, or do you think we should be saving money?” Trujillo asked.

Not only that — state leaders haven’t seen the “terms and conditions” the administration plans to impose on the LIP money, he said.

That information should arrive next week, he added.

Presuming it arrives in time, “that’s unencumbered general revenue and should be spent in any part of the budget,” Trujillo said.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed that the LIP infusion could free $200 million to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, and to boost funding for Visit Florida to $100 million. The House wants to spend one-quarter of that amount on the tourism agency.

“It’s pretty late in the session,” Trujillo said. “We hadn’t heard about that until last week. If you look at the governor’s proposed budget, it had about $76 million for Visit Florida and no money for the dike. I think it will be very difficult, given the late stage.”

Fixing water overflows from the lake — and related discharges of toxic algae — are a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. SB 10 would earmark $1.5 billion to address the problem through measures including construction of reservoirs south of the lake — an element Scott endorsed.

“Scott’s support always helps,” Latvala said.

But he was unwilling to predict how the governor’s proposal would play.

“I can’t tell you what the other 39 guys in the Senate will agree to. I think everything as it pertains to SB 10, and the intentions and our reasons for doing it and our goals, I’m very, very happy with the way it’s all working out.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, asked during his regular Thursday afternoon news conference about using the LIP money, shared Trujillio’s skepticism.

“I hate to always say this, but show us the money,” Corcoran said.

“I do know that, just like the governor, the president does not have authorization to spend — that is wholly within the jurisdiction of the legislature, and I don’t think they’ve done that,” he said.

Trujillo saw areas where the House could move toward the Senate’s position. “There are a lot of areas in the budget, absolutely,” he said.

Required local effort isn’t one of them. The Senate wants to leave mandatory local property tax levels where they are, to capture rising property values for the schools; the House sees that as a tax increase.

“We won’t raise taxes,” Trujillo said. Otherwise, “we’re committed to considering their priorities. And we hope that they’re committed to considering ours.”

“I’m really not going to get into the conversations that we’re having,” Latvala said. “I find it better just to have those conversations and announce a result. But I’m very happy with the way those conversations are going.”

Legislative Jewish Caucus urges Senate to expel Frank Artiles

The Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus “denounced” state Sen. Frank Artiles Thursday, urging his Senate colleagues to toss him out of the Legislature.

“(We) denounce Senator Frank Artiles for his racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory comments directed at some of his Senate colleagues,” they said in a statement.

The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, chair, and Reps. Lori Berman, Ben DiamondJoe Geller and Emily Slosberg, and Sen. Kevin Rader. All are Democrats.

“We stand in defense of our African-American and women legislative colleagues and any public official or private citizen subjected to this type of abusive behavior,” the statement added.

“We urge the Florida Senate to take the highest level of disciplinary action, including expulsion.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

Lawmakers approve attorney fee tweak to public record law

Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote.

The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

Local governments have for years complained they’ve been bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an excuse for requesters to take them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, countered that previous legislative fixes would have hurt legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.

“The bill is a compromise, certainly, and I hope it deals with the issue of the predatory public record requests without unduly hindering those who simply want the records they’ve requested,” said Barbara Petersen, the First Amendment Foundation’s president.

“I see this as a first step — the Legislature needs to consider passage of a enforcement mechanism so that those who’ve been wrongly denied access to public records have an alternative other than going to court,” she added. 

If Scott signs it into law, it won’t apply retroactively, Petersen said, meaning that it doesn’t affect any pending public record request.

House approves six-year lobbying ban for former lawmakers, elected officials

The Florida House approved tough new ethics legislation Thursday barring members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues for six years after leaving office.

The measure also would prevent officials from leveraging their authority to seek jobs from or going into business with lobbyists.

CS/SB 7083 passed on a vote of 118-0, even though House Speaker Richard Corcoran has conceded the Senate has little interest in boosting ethics laws this year, and with the scheduled end of session a little more than two weeks away.

Corcoran has pushed for more stringent ethics rules since becoming speaker. He oversaw rules changes tightening oversight of the lobbyists he views as wielding too much influence in Tallahassee, and imposing more transparency on the budget-writing process.

Existing law restricts lobbying by former lawmakers and elected officials for two years.

Appropriations Committee vote sends solar tax break bill to the Senate floor

Senate implementing legislation for last year’s solar energy referendum passed its final committee test Thursday, when the Appropriations Committee voted its unanimous approval.

The bill by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes  would implement $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes, approved by Florida voters via Amendment 4 in August.

SB 90, supported by environmental groups and solar panel installers, lacks the same safety standards and disclosure requirements found in the House version, HB 1351.

Brandes said the House is moving toward the Senate’s position.

“We’re going to continue to work with them. The landing site in in sight on this bill,” Brandes said.

“I would imagine there will be some changes to this bill as we get to the floor,” he added.

Seventy-three percent of Florida voters backed the constitutional amendment, which shields the increased value of a home due to renewable energy improvements such as solar panels in property value assessments.

The Senate version would would apply to solar devices on all real property, including commercial establishment, irrespective of date of installation.

House advances juvenile justice bill, adding adult diversion program

Over the past month, juvenile justice bills moving through the Florida Legislature this spring have veered off in different directions.

On Thursday, the House version (HB 205), sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, changed again in the House Judiciary Committee.

Ahern’s bill would expunge the arrests of juveniles for certain first-time misdemeanor crimes. That differs significantly from its Senate companion. Miami Republican Anitere Flores bill (SB 196) would mandate civil citations to juveniles for a number of first-time misdemeanors.

Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s amendment to HB 205 would allow adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who began a pre-arrest diversion program in October, gave the concept a boost. Since then, more than 800 people have participated, and more than 400 have successfully completed a program — performing over 11,000 hours of community service.

“It’s making a difference, they’re completing the program and they’re getting the exact same sanction — community service and restitution — and importantly, they’re not getting that criminal record,” Gualtieri said.

That insertion upset Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez, who for more than a year had been working on the legislation to address juveniles. He said a number of issues regarding the juvenile component of the bill remain unresolved.

Those issues were now “tainted” by the discussion over adults, Gonzalez argued.

“It opens up a completely separate discussion that I don’t think is conducive to finding out what the best solution is for children,” he said.

Ben Diamond disagreed, citing Gualtieri’s statistics.

“The numbers do show a tremendous success story in our community in Pinellas County,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said.

Fort Myers Republican Heather Fitzenhagen also supports the bill but expressed concerns over adding adults to the legislation.

“I’m going to take a look at it before it gets to the floor,” she said, “and make sure I have a comfort level with those two things being intertwined.”

Several speakers once again called on Ahern to amend the bill back to its original language, which would mandate diversion for juveniles arrested for certain offenses, marrying it to the Senate bill. Some contended that Ahern’s bill could harm those who might want to join the armed services.

Alex Kerr of the Department of Military Affairs confirmed to the committee that the military does ask questions about civil citation and even traffic tickets. But waivers are offered in those circumstances, he said, depending on the nature of the offense.

Gualtieri supports the House version and is dead against the Senate proposal. It’s a “bad thing” to take away the discretion of law enforcement to choose whether or not to arrest a youth who commits a crime, he said.

“Under mandatory civil citation, you take a kid with drug paraphernalia, with a crack pipe and a heroin syringe. That’s paraphernalia. Mandatory civil citation. No discretion,” the sheriff explained. “And so by eliminating that law enforcement discretion, it puts law enforcement in a situation where we can’t act to affect good public safety.”

Joe Henderson: What damage could follow as Frank Artiles’ rant reverberates around the globe?

The damage wrought by state Sen. Frank Artiles’ racist rant has ripples that extend far beyond the seats of power in Tallahassee.

All it took to confirm that was to type his “Senator Frank Artiles” into Google. Within seconds, a collection of stories popped up that confirms how much impact the bile from his bigoted psyche had when he called African-American colleagues … aw, you know what he said by now.

You know what else though?

Readers who follow the BBC‘s U.S. and Canada site now know. They know about him from the Houston Chronicle. The Washington Post wrote about it. Minneapolis. Oregon. The Daily Mail in London. It was even news in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

If I wanted to dig deeper, I’m sure I could have found stories about this in many, many other places.

So, consider this: While Gov. Rick Scott is campaigning to spend $100 million on VISIT Florida to market the state for tourism, the word is going out through media that our state senate has a racist member.

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Artiles, as I write this, is defiant beyond belief. Not only does he say he won’t do the right thing and resign, but he seriously says he will run again when it’s time for re-election. I doubt it will ever come to that, but you never know.

Artiles is now a cancer, both in the Senate and on the way Florida presents itself to the world. Even if just a small percentage of the people who read this story change their minds about visiting Florida or moving businesses here, the economic damage wrought by Artiles’ unhinged tongue could be considerable. We have to do it better in the South.

There are racists in every part of this nation, but whenever something like this occurs in the South it just reinforces the notion that we’re a bunch of redneck yahoos still fighting the Civil War. We have our share of those for sure, but we’ve done a pretty good job of reducing their number.

Then, along came Sen. Artiles. Can’t you just hear the tittering tsk-tsk around the globe as the weight of judgment comes down on 19 million people because one guy shot off his mouth?

Don’t believe me?

Just go to Google.

Richard Corcoran actually thanks FSU for returning controversial appropriation

House Speaker Richard Corcoran thanked Florida State President John Thrasher for returning money from a now controversial appropriation.

The university got part of an appropriation for Florida Psychological Associates, a firm operated by friends of Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican.

“I recognize that the lack of direction … placed FSU in a situation it did not seek,” Corcoran wrote in a letter dated Tuesday, saying Thrasher’s willingness to return the money was “commendable.” The letter was released Wednesday.

While saying he still had “concerns regarding expenditures that fail to return sufficient value to taxpayers,” the Speaker recognized the school “attempted to develop good measures” for the Mental Health Early Screening program.

The Naples Daily News has reported that Bean helped his friends secure state money for their business and claimed it was “hidden” in the state budget. Corcoran said the company “fell short of expectations.”

The letter is reprinted below:


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