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Personnel note: Matt Galka departs for Phoenix

Matt Galka, an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda‘s Capitol News Service, has left Tallahassee to join the FOX affiliate in Phoenix.

Galka, a member of the SaintPetersblog “30 Under 30” Class of 2015, will be a general assignment reporter at KSAZ starting Monday, Feb. 27, according to FOX spokeswoman Claudia Russo

He’s originally from Southington, Connecticut, where he lost more than 100 pounds in high school to get on the football team, eventually becoming team captain.

Galka graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a walk-on football player, and then got his master’s from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

In Florida, Galka won the “Best Overall” award in 2013 from Florida Associated Press Broadcasters, and followed that up with a “Best Continuing Coverage” award for his reporting on the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations at Florida State in 2014.

“I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” he said in a 2015 interview. “I’m not out there playing some character. It’s important to be honest in a world where so many aren’t.”

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Bar exam board now seeking public members

The board responsible for writing the state’s bar examination is looking for two more volunteer members.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners now is seeking “two public members” for three-year terms each, it announced in a Tuesday press release.

“A public member volunteer should possess education or work-related experience such as educational testing, accounting, statistical analysis, medicine, psychology or related sciences,” the release said. “A bachelor’s degree is required. Lawyers are not eligible.”

The Board “ensures that (Bar) applicants have met the requirements … with regard to character and fitness, education and technical competence before recommending to the Supreme Court of Florida an applicant’s admission” as a lawyer, according to the release.

Applicants “must be able to attend approximately 10 meetings a year in various Florida locations, with travel and (other) expenses reimbursed. Board members should be willing and able to devote the equivalent of 3-4 days’ work a month, or up to 350 or more hours per year on Board business, depending on committee assignments.”

Interested? You can download a questionnaire here or should call the Bar at (850) 561-5757.

Completed applications must be received by the Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300 or submitted via email to <specialapptapp@floridabar.org> by close of business on Monday, April 3.

On Monday, the Board announced it was also looking for two lawyer-members.

Florida’s bar exam is given twice yearly over two days, in July and February, at the Tampa Convention Center. The latest exam is happening today and Wednesday.

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House lobbying ban extension cleared for floor

A measure to increase the ban from two years to six years on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office is now cleared to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The House Rules and Policy Committee OK’d the measure (HJR 7001) unanimously on Tuesday. As its second and final review panel, it’s now available to be discussed on the House floor when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

Extending the lobbying ban is a plank of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s program to create a “culture of transparency” in state government.

The proposal, which requires a constitutional amendment, addresses “the perception, if not the reality, of the ‘revolving door,’ ” said state Rep. Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

“The public is entitled to have the perception corrected, at a minimum,” he added. Metz chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee.

The six-year ban, which would be the lengthiest in the country, already has raised some constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade.

The bill’s own staff analysis notes that “provisions of Florida law that regulate lobbyist activity have been challenged on grounds they violate First Amendment protections.”

President Donald Trump last month “issued an executive order prohibiting executive branch appointees from lobbying the agency which they were appointed to serve for five years after termination of employment,” the staff analysis adds.

Thirty-four states in all have some lobbying ban on former state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“While no state currently has a post-service lobbying ban longer than two years,” the Missouri House of Representatives is considering extending that state’s “lobbying ban applicable to former legislators and appointed state officers (who require confirmation by the state senate) to five years following vacation of office, from six months,” the analysis says.

Metz’s bill was changed Tuesday to remove “appointed state officers,” such as executive-branch agency heads, whose ban would remain at two years.

The rules committee also unanimously OK’d a second measure (HB 7003) that would codify the ban extension into state law and have an earlier effective date.

Measures that create state constitutional amendments have to be approved by three-fifths of each chamber of the Legislature. And any amendment needs 60 percent of the statewide vote to be passed.

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Francisco Gonzalez

Personnel note: Francisco Gonzalez leaves James Madison Institute

Francisco Gonzalez, formerly Vice President of Advancement for The James Madison Institute, has left the organization after nine years.

He’s been named the Director of Philanthropy for the National Review Institute, the parent organization of National Review magazine, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Gonzalez, who will continue to reside in Orlando, starts Feb. 27, He’ll further NRI’s mission with supporters across the country. He says he wrote a blog post last week that revisits his 9 years at JMI.

“While I am departing JMI, my loyalty to its mission will remain strong as it continues the legacy and vision of our great founder, Dr. J. Stanley Marshall,” Gonzalez said. “As a Floridian who believes in limited government and free-market principles, the success of JMI remains important to me and to this great state.”

He added: “I look forward to working to help NRI spread its mission, support its talent, and strongly promote conservative intellectual ideas at a very pivotal time for our country.”

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Florida looks to expand gun rights in wake of Pulse shooting

Florida Republicans are more determined than ever to pass bills expanding gun rights in the wake of the deadly Pulse nightclub and Fort Lauderdale airport shootings.

They say law-abiding gun owners should be allowed to take their weapons to airports, government meetings and state universities, and would be in a better position to protect themselves and others if a mass shooting should erupt in one of those places.

“Anytime you create a gun-free zone, you essentially are creating a safe haven for mass shooters and the criminal element and you put law-abiding people at a disadvantage,” said Marion Hammer, who has lobbied for the National Rifle Association for more than 42 years.

There are about two dozen gun-related bills filed ahead of next month’s 60-day legislative session and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried, as one opponent said, “pretty much everywhere.”

“If it’s a reaction to the Pulse shooting and Fort Lauderdale, it’s a very odd reaction,” said Patti Brigham, a vice president at the League of Women Voters of Florida and co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s like bad gun bills on steroids.”

While Democrats have responded to the mass shootings by proposing more restrictions, including a ban on assault-style rifles and large capacity ammunition clips, they have virtually no chance of passing while Republicans dominate both legislative chambers.

Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, whose bill would ban assault-like rifles, said expanding areas where guns can be carried isn’t the right approach. “Their solution is, ‘We want guns everywhere, all the time, by every person,’ which is not going to address these problems. It’s going to make them worse,” he said.

Republican Rep. Jake Raburn of Valrico said many of this year’s Republican proposals were easily approved in the House last year and will likely pass the chamber again this year. And he sees a better chance that the Senate will pass gun-right expansions, especially since the chamber’s top advocate, Sen. Greg Steube, chairs the Judiciary Committee – the first stop for gun legislation.

Raburn is sponsoring the bill to allow guns at airports, an issue he proposed before the Fort Lauderdale shooting. He said hypothetical arguments against the idea just don’t hold weight, such as police not knowing which person holding a gun is an active shooter and which is a permit holder defending himself.

“Florida is one of only six states that doesn’t already allow that,” he said. “We haven’t seen any of these ‘what if?’ scenarios of law abiding permit holders being a problem in airports.”

The following is a look at gun-related legislation that has been filed by Republicans and Democrats.

Bills filed by Republicans would:

— Allow licensed handgun owners to openly carry their weapons.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry a gun in nonsecure areas of airports.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at any legislative meeting or committee meeting.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on state university campuses.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at county and municipal government meetings.

— Allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns at career centers.

— Allow members of the state Cabinet who have concealed weapons permits to carry guns anywhere not prohibited by federal law. Reduce the penalty the violating the current open carry ban from a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine to a noncriminal civil fine of $25.

— Holds business owners who ban guns from their property liable for injuries suffered by a concealed weapon permit holder who is attacked

— Allows concealed weapons permit holders to bring guns to courthouses and temporarily surrender them to security. The courts must keep the weapons in locked storage space.

— Expand the “stand your ground” to give more protection to people using the self-defense claim by placing the burden of proof on prosecutors to prove people charged with assaulting or killing someone else wasn’t acting in self-defense.

— Place on the November ballot a measure asking voters to exempt law enforcement officers from the 72-hour waiting period to buy personal handguns.

Bills filed by Democrats would:

— Ban semi-automatic assault-type rifles like AR-15s and AK-47 and detachable ammunition magazines that hold more than 7 rounds.

— Bans guns at performance arts centers and theaters.

— Removes exceptions to a law requiring guns in homes occupied by minors be stored in locked boxes or with trigger locks.

— Increases the penalties for displaying concealed weapons in a threatening manner on or near school properties or activities from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Increases penalties for people who fail to store a gun in a way to prevent access by minors.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Adam Putnam’s committee adds another $500K in February

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised more than $500,000 for his political committee in the first half of February according to a newly updated financial report.

The committee, Florida Grown, brought in about $200,000 of its $538,000 haul from the Associated Industries of Florida and one of its related political committees. Another $100,000 came from Vero Beach businessman Robert Stork, and Disney chipped in another $50,000 on February 1.

February’s running total has already eclipsed January’s numbers, which saw the Polk County Republican add just over $400,000 to its coffers.

Those numbers were boosted by a $250,000 check from Florida Power and Light and $100,000 from Disney.

Most expenditures this month have been for payroll and office services, though the committee did shell out $82,000 to Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting on the first of the month.

Florida Grown finished January with about $4.7 million on hand, and through the first two weeks of February, that total looks to have breached the $5 million mark.

Putnam, a former congressman, is currently serving his second and final term as Agriculture Commissioner, though he is thought to be eyeing a run for governor in 2018.

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The bad, the ugly and the downright horrible – a roundup of today-in-DCF news

Guns, children, neglect, animal abuse, human trafficking and forced prostitution.

These aren’t the beautiful, cliché, sundown-on-the-beach Florida stories, but in an attempt to raise public consciousness about these issues we at Florida Politics bring you today’s ‘DCF Files.’

***

On Monday, the Palm Beach Post published a story citing chilling figures from the Florida Department of Children and Families — in an annual human trafficking dossier, fiscal year 2015-2016 — in which 1,892 reports of human trafficking were recorded during the period.

It marked a roughly 54 percent increase from the year before. Here’s another comparison to raise your consciousness on the issue: In fiscal year 2010-2011 in Florida human trafficking reports totaled 480. The worst region of the state for this infernal problem, according to report, was the Central region, followed by the Suncoast.

According to the Polaris Project — a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that monitors the number of calls to the national trafficking hotline database — Florida ranked third-highest in the nation with reported cases in 2016, trailing only California and Texas.

A large percentage of those abducted wind up in sex trafficking, as the Post pointed out a few days ago when three men in their 20s kidnapped a 19-year-old female with the intention of selling her for sexual services on social media. Other abducted are used for indentured servitude — or slaves. And more and more of the victims tend to be younger, the report noted.

Feel good yet? Let’s move on.

In a few weeks we’ll know more about what will be happening in the case of four-year-old Avion Weaver when on Jan. 20, while alone at home, he discovered the loaded 9 mm handgun of his mother’s boyfriend and fatally shot himself in the in the face, reported Leesburg, Florida’s hometown newspaper, The Daily Commercial on Monday.

Police are deciding whether or not the boyfriend, Demeko Robinson, should be held responsible for the boy’s death. He lived at the residence with the boy and his mother, but was apparently outside talking with friends when the incident happened inside the home, according to The Daily Commercial. Avion’s mother, Deja Perry, was on her way home from having picked up her car after it had been repaired.

DCF has opened its own investigation. Avion had been taken into DCF custody for six months during part of 2014 and 2015. The agency is conducting a review of their own staff to determine whether or not they did their job appropriately, something that keeps coming up with the agency as of late, as cited herehereherehereherehereherehere and in this example, in which it was discovered by The Orlando Sentinel that more than 70 DCF case workers had falsified information during investigations over a two-year period.

Don’t stop reading. Stay with us here because there’s a reason we’re dragging you through this.

WJXT NewsJax4, out of Jacksonville, reported Monday Heather Stevenson had been arrested for aggravated child abuse and child neglect in connection to her two-year-old son. Meanwhile, Stevenson’s other son, Chance Vanderpool, 4, who was autistic, died in her care in November.

“According to the original arrest report, investigators found several old injuries on Chance’s body, including bruises on his lower back and upper buttocks, swelling and bruising to his nose, eyes and forehead and a ‘large cigar-size’ burn on his left foot,” WJXT reported.

Last one: Christopher Adam Perez, 28, is facing animal cruelty charges after starving his dog, found by authorities in an emaciated state and yellow-stained feet from urine in his cage, reported The Austin-American Statesman on Monday. The police discovered the animal as a result of responded to investigate a nine-month-old baby who had died in the home.

You might wonder why Florida Politics would bring you such a depressing roundup of news.

Something awful is happening in the state of Florida. We’re not sure who’s to blame — certainly there’s enough neglect on the part of inept and careless parents, and poorly trained child welfare workers, to go around. But is the fault of the overall state system?

Over the course of the 60-day Florida legislative session, we hope to ask many of this state’s elected leaders that, and many more questions in an attempt to highlight what has become an atrocious epidemic sweeping across this state, now known as one of the very worst in the nation in protecting its children.

And that’s just unacceptable. We hope you think so, too.

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Bill Nelson seems undaunted by prospect of primary challengers

Is Sen. Bill Nelson up for a contested Democratic primary in his re-election bid next year?

“You want to do a contest on pull-ups or push-ups?” Nelson replied to a reporter who asked that question during an informal news conference in Tallahassee Monday.

News reports have mentioned Tim Canova, who tried and failed to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Congress, former U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith, and state Sen. Randolph Bracy as primary challengers to Nelson, 74, widely seen as a moderate at a time when his party is enflamed by anti-Donald Trump fervor.

Nelson pointed to 2000, when Republicans lured state House Democratic leader Willie Logan into an independent race, hoping to divert enough African American votes to throw the election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack to their candidate.

“With about five candidates in the race, he got something like 1 percent of the vote,” Nelson said.

Nelson visited Tallahassee to speak to STEM students at Florida A&M University and deliver a pep talk to the Senate Democratic caucus.

“My message is going to be: It’s worth it to keep fighting for your values.”

He acknowledged re-election won’t be easy — particularly if Gov. Rick Scott gets in as expected and invests some of his personal fortune.

“We have to assume that the Democratic candidates for governor and in my race for the Senate will always be outspent,” Nelson said.

“In the federal races, you have so many of these unlimited, undisclosed PACs. It makes it harder for me to raise large sums of money. Until the Supreme Court changes that or Congress does, it will be an imbalance.”

Will Trump be a factor?

“You’re guess is as good as mine,” he said.

Democratic senators must defend 10 states that Trump won, including Florida. Nelson observed that many of those margins were quite close — 116,000 in Florida, 50,000 in Pennsylvania, 30,000 in Michigan, and 10,000 in Wisconsin.

And this — “You omitted the big factor. Charles Schumer. He’s a money-making machine,” Nelson said, referring to his Senate party leader.

He praised Stephen Bittel, the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising ability — not easy, he said, in a state where Republicans dominate government and the lobbying corps.

“Stephen, he’ll go around the lobbying corps,” Nelson said. “He’ll go to all his outside contacts.”

Nelson talked up legislation he and Marco Rubio have filed that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess and redistribute shares of the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola river system to be fair to Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.

And he warned that turning Medicaid into a block grant program, as many Republicans in Washington and Tallahassee would like to do, would deal a “double whammy” on poor people in states like Florida, which didn’t expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

 

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Lottery says it’s generated $1 billion for education this year

The Florida Lottery, now being sued by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Monday said it had reached “another record – $1 billion in contributions to education for the 15th consecutive year.”

On Friday, Corcoran – a Land O’ Lakes Republican – filed suit against the state agency for “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiyear, $700 million deal for new equipment.

The Lottery reports to Gov. Rick Scott.

In a press release, it said it had “reached the $1 billion mark for this fiscal year earlier than any other year in Florida Lottery history. This brings the Lottery’s life-to-date education contributions to more than $31 billion.”

The state’s fiscal year runs July 1-June 30. Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

“This milestone would not have been possible without the support of our loyal players, dedicated retailers and hardworking Lottery staff,” Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a statement.

“The Lottery will continue working hard every day to advance our mission of maximizing contributions to education in a manner that is consistent with the dignity and integrity of the state.”

The release added: “Florida Lottery contributions represent approximately six percent of the state’s total education budget. Lottery funds are appropriated by the Florida Legislature and are administered by the Florida Department of Education.”

Corcoran sued the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The deal, with International Game Technology (IGT), will provide the Lottery with new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

In a press release last September, the company said the contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Florida Lottery “simultaneously exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.”

But Corcoran’s suit asserts “there is insufficient budget authority for the contract to be paid under the current appropriation assuming current conference estimates of ticket sales,” according to a press release from his office.

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WTSP exposé examines Florida’s ‘weakest in nation’ texting, driving laws

Florida lawmakers will probably not make texting while driving a primary traffic offense in 2017, although it is the law in 41 other states.

Right now, Florida doesn’t allow officers to pull over drivers for texting and driving unless they notice another potentially dangerous or deadly offense at the same time.

In an interview with Noah Pransky of WTSP, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran suggested that legislators may need more information before they decide to change the law, perhaps by seeing what such a change had accomplished in other states.

“You need to have evidence,” Corcoran said in a brief clip posted on Facebook. “Let’s look at what those other 41 states are doing … the number of incidents they have related to texting and driving and what it has done [for] their safety … comparisons based on population, based on demographics, based on cities.”

Corcoran added that by studying the data, the Legislature could come to an “objective decision” whether to make texting while driving a primary offense.

In another Facebook video, Pransky says gives three reasons legislators are in no rush to change “some of the country’s weakest distracted driving laws.” They claim texting isn’t dropping in the states where texting while driving laws are in place; banning such activities could represent a potential threat to civil liberties and police could abuse those rules to pull anyone over, for practically any reason.

Pransky calls those ideas simply “excuses” for lawmakers dragging their feet.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway tells WTSP that his department needs a driving while texting law to crack down on this dangerous behavior effectively.

“We need that tool in our toolbox so we can educate our people,” Holloway said.

Pransky will have a two-part report on Florida’s texting while driving and distracted driving laws Monday and Tuesday night at 11 p.m. on WTSP.

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