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chance the rapper

Craft beer debate includes … Chance the Rapper?

Craft brewers can thank Chance the Rapper for getting this year’s beer bill over its first legislative hurdle.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. Democrats Perry Thurston and Randolph Bracy joined Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto in opposing the bill.  

But Oscar Braynon, the chamber’s Democratic Leader, said he would support the legislation because of the example of the 23-year-old Chicago-based rap star.

The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing.

Braynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.”

The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

(Chance, however, may be staying independent, according to The New York Post; he’s allegedly turning down $5 million-$10 million offers from record labels.)

The measure, sponsored by Tampa Republican and craft beer advocate Dana Young, only applies to those who produce 7,000 kegs or less a year, which she called the “smallest of the small” craft beermakers who are “not on the radar of distributors.”

Still, 7,000 kegs—at 15.5 gallons each—equals 868,000 pints of beer.

Lobbyists for “Big Beer” concerns rejected arguments there is a shortage of distributors for small brewers and added that the bill would further chip away at the state’s three-tier system.

Thurston agreed: “We are looking at a dismantling” of that, adding Chance “gave his music away … for free” at first to gain a following.

But Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, looked confused. “I’ve never heard of Chance the Rapper,” he said before voting for the bill.

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House committee passes controversial changes to ‘Stand Your Ground’

Members of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice passed a highly-contested bill Tuesday, potentially changing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws.

If passed, it would place the burden of proof on the prosecution (or state) in cases of those who claim self-defense immunity in acts of violence when brought before judiciary proceedings.

HB 245 was co-sponsored by 41 legislators, led by Rep. Bobby Payne, who was present at the subcommittee.

The bill gives procedural clarification in those cases of self-defense by shifting the language in the original 2005 law from an affirmative defense to an automatic defense, Payne said.

“The state’s attorney office would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they can prosecute this case in a pretrial hearing,” Payne added. “Then, if they do have enough proof, they would move to a jury trial.”

Several members of the committee expressed concern about aspects of the bill, notably over scenarios in which only two people were present in the situation, where no one else was a witness and in cases of domestic violence.

Reps. Sharon Pritchett and Ramon Alexander both expressed trepidation as to whether or not the bill – in addition to the original 2005 law – would be used to disguise or deflect guilt, or would be used frivolously by those charged with domestic violence.

Advocates of the bill said it was about improving the due process in legal actions, something that had been lost through the years as the courts primarily viewed defendants as guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around.

“I think this bill places that burden of proof back on the government where it’s supposed to be,” Rep. Gayle Harrell said at the meeting. “I think we need to remind the courts of that.”

Greg Newburn, state policy director for the Florida chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, asked committee members to put aside their personal feelings about ‘Stand Your Ground’ and to think of today’s discussion as getting language into the law that should have been there in the first place.

“Even if you think ‘Stand Your Ground’ is not a good law, this is still a good bill here,” Newburn told the committee. “This is not the vehicle here today to oppose ‘Stand Your Ground.’ This is about fixing and protecting peoples’ fundamental constitutional rights. That’s what this bill is about. If you support those things, you should support this bill.”

For those who can’t afford tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees in what can often be a lengthy legal process, the current Stand Your Ground law – without the amendment – gives an advantage to defendants who are wealthy, represented by lawyers pro bono, or in contingency cases.

Detractors of the bill said the amendment would backlog the court dockets, prosecutor caseloads and keep law enforcement in court, rather than out doing their jobs on the street.

Phil Archer, the elected state attorney for the 18th Judicial District, spoke to committee members on behalf of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Archer said precedent had always dictated a defendant prove beyond the preponderance of doubt their innocence, but it has never been up to the prosecution to bear the sole responsibility of proof.

“That’s never been done before in this state,” Archer said. “It’s never been done anywhere in this country. … And it’s not a high standard. It’s going to be used every single time by defendants.”

He also said the fiscal impact of the bill could instantly raise expenditures by as much as $8 million across the state, citing an average of $1,000 prosecuting each case, with 104,000 currently active cases.

Nevertheless, after a spirited debate on the pros and cons of the bill, the bill passed.

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Senate Republicans begin targeting Bill Nelson in new digital ad campaign

Bill Nelson isn’t running for re-election for another year, but it’s never too early to start the campaign against him.

That’s what the National Republican Senate Committee is doing this week, unveiling a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s “liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

“Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

Although progressive Democrats in Florida have occasionally criticized Nelson’s voting record, he was largely in sync with Barack Obama over the past eight years on the main pieces of legislation.

He’s served in the Senate for over 16 years, defeating Bill McCollum, Katherine Harris and Connie Mack IV along the way. Although there are rumors of various Republicans who will challenge him in 2018, most observers believe Governor Rick Scott is the leading contender at this point.

Nelson has said he’s ready and willing for the challenge against Scott, saying“I only know one way to run, and that’s to run as hard as I can as if there’s no tomorrow.”

The digital ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats representing states won by Donald Trump in November.

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Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate PresidenAndy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 legislative session.

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Bill allowing women to sue doctors who perform abortions advances in Florida House

Women could sue doctors who performed an abortion on them without “informed consent” under a bill advanced by a House subcommittee Wednesday.

Sponsored by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, HB 19 would allow women to seek damages from doctors who failed to adequately inform of the physical and psychological harms of abortion for up to 10 years.

Currently, the primary recourse women have on an injury during an abortion procedure is to file a medical malpractice claim.

Grall told the House Quality Subcommittee that it was “time-consuming process” that placed an “unnecessary obstacle” to a judicial remedy.

West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, the ranking member of the committee, asked Grall about the evidence of women suffering from psychological problems because of an abortion.

Although she didn’t provide statistics to back it up, Grall said that there had been “many women and many organizations” who came to her saying they had emotional distress after such a procedure.

“There is no hard research or data that I’m able to bring to you today,” she acknowledged, adding that she believed that, in any case, it was underreported.

Doctors and insurance companies strongly oppose the bill.

Mark Delegal, with the Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business, said passage of HB 19 could knock out all medical malpractice reforms passed by the Florida Legislature in 2003.

“There’s nothing to suggest that current law is insufficient to address the harm suffered by women who have had abortions — certainly nothing that justifies vastly expanding physician liability and treating those injured by abortions differently from all other medical malpractice claimants,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

Abortion rights advocates crowded the hearing room, and while most “waived in opposition” to the bill, several people did speak out against the bill.

Psychologist Rachel Roberts cited a 2008 study by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion that concluded that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is “no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”

“Most of you in this room would not have an audacity if she regretted having a baby, so I don’t know why you deem it acceptable to ask the one in three women like myself why we regret our abortions, “said Erin Foster, a Planned Parenthood volunteer from Tampa.

Douglas Murphy, with the Florida Medical Association, is a practicing OBGYN in Ocala. While he does not personally perform abortions, Murphy said if he did, and were just coming out of training, he would not want to practice in Florida if HB were to become the law of the land.

With the same committee hearing testimony last week about a doctor shortage in Florida, Democrats picked up on that cue in questioning Grall.

“This is just bad policy,” said Jones, “and if we’re trying to bring doctors into the state, we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

“I do believe what this is an attempt to eliminate abortions,” added St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton.

Fort Myers Republican Ray Wesley Rodrigues pointed out that the only doctors liable under the bill would be those who failed to give informed consent, which is part of current law.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “This is a good bill.”

Grall said she was speaking for the women not in the room who choose not to talk about the emotional pain suffered from an abortion, comparing it to legislation regarding children, who also rarely have a voice in the halls of the Legislature.

“So, there are plenty of times that we will be asked to speak on behalf of people who have no voice, ” she said. “And that is who this bill addresses.”

The bill has one more committee stop before reaching the floor of the entire House. There is no companion bill filed yet in the Senate.

If it were to pass in the Legislature, HB 19 would become the first such law in the country, though similar legislation is moving through the Iowa Legislature.

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horse racing

Senate adds bingo, doping, ADW to its 2017 gambling bill

The sponsor of the Senate’s 2017 gambling bill has filed a 134-page strike-all amendment, a day before the bill is scheduled to be heard by the Appropriations Committee and a House version to be heard by its first panel.

Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, filed the amendment early Wednesday.

On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are:

— A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. The new section would allow certain “veterans’ organizations” to offer “instant bingo … using electronic tickets in lieu of or together with instant bingo paper tickets.”

— A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races.

— Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound.

In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

For counties that pass a slots referendum, the amendment would allow state gambling regulators to “fix annually the time, place, and number of days during which operations may be conducted (as) ratified in the election.”

And it would give gambling regulators no more than 45 days to approve “rules for a new authorized game submitted by a licensed cardroom or provide the cardroom with a list of deficiencies as to those rules.”

The underlying bill (SB 8) was cleared by the Regulated Industries committee, which oversees gambling policy. If cleared by the Appropriations panel, it can be taken up by the full Senate.

Meantime, the House measure is slated to be first considered by the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, also on Thursday morning. The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

The bills are at odds in several ways: For example, the House bill outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games,” and the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

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We told you so; Eyeball Wars set to begin anew

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists.

But with the Legislative Session approaching, that fragile peace seems all but finished.

Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery, a proposal that scientific research suggests may not be a good idea.

Several signs indicate optometrists had become progressively uneasy since April 2013, when a compromise was reached after years of lobbying by the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) and Nova Southeastern University’s College of Optometry, which is one of the largest optometry schools in the nation.

House Bill 239, initially applauded by the industry, expanded the scope of practice by allowing optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and expressly prohibits optometrists from performing surgery “of any kind.,” providing a clear definition of surgery modeled after the guidelines of the American College of Surgeons.

Optometrists also cannot prescribe Schedule I and II controlled substances, and must complete 20 hours of additional training, pass an examination and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors.

HB 239 also required optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents — the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners. Optometrists are also mandated to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.

Over the past year, however, has noted a growing push to renew the Eyeball Wars. Representatives for optometrists have been increasingly active, especially in the last election cycle.

For example, the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of current Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

According to state lobbying records, Michael Corcoran will represent some of the biggest players in a renewed Eyeball Wars: the FOA, Nova Southeastern and the Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund. Corcoran is only one of a dozen lobbyists working on behalf of optometrists. In contrast, ophthalmologists only have three.

At the same time, new Speaker Richard Corcoran has ushered in a host of changes for 2017, many which could have a substantial impact on a resurgent Eyeball Wars. No longer can House members text lobbyists during official meetings, enter formal business deals with registered lobbyists or fly on planes owned by lobbyists — which some consider an apparent swipe at highflying groups such as optometrists.

Interestingly enough, the greatest clue that Wars will soon heat up is OD-EYEPAC, the political arm of the Florida Optometric Association.

Last year, OD-EYEPAC gave more than $1.1 million to committees and candidates through July 29. The Florida Optometric Association also gave $535,000; while the Florida Optometric Eye Health Care Fund gave $260,000.

And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call.

“Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time,“ Lawson wrote. “I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

After connecting the dots, it appears organized optometry is going against its word and once again attempting to gain surgical privileges in the state of Florida.

Despite the agreement passed in 2013, optometrists have decided to push for unwarranted expansion of their scope through relationships with lawmakers, not by going to medical school, completing the required four-year residency in ophthalmology, and actually completing a fellowship.

That said, one could only assume that they decided it is easier to buy something than to earn it.

Be warned; nothing has really changed — and the Eyeball Wars will soon begin anew.

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Lisa Wheeler-Bowman endorses Barclay Harless in St Pete City Council District 2 race

District 7 St. Pete City Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman is endorsing Barclay Harless in the race for City Council District 2.

“We need to make our city better in all corners and give all residents an equal playing field and opportunities. Barclay has worked in Midtown, and he understands we need to improve neighborhoods throughout our city by working to improve transportation, eliminate food deserts, bring sustainable jobs into all areas and give our kids the skills to compete for livable wage jobs,” said Wheeler-Bowman in a statement issued out by the Harless campaign.

“I know we have a lot of challenges and I need another fighter like me on city council to get things done for all of St. Pete and work to eliminate disparities in any neighborhood, that is why I am endorsing Barclay Harless and look forward to working with him on behalf of St. Pete residents and small businesses.”

Harless is a commercial banker and former aide to state Representative Darryl Rouson. He’s opposed by real estate agent Brandi Gabbard in the race to succeed the term-limited incumbent, Jim Kennedy.

“We have so much to celebrate, yet our community faces serious challenges today. I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work. I am running to tackle the tough challenges and provide meaningful results; I am not interested in finger-pointing or playing the blame game,” said Harless. “Having worked across the aisle in the Florida Legislature, with local leaders on the Pinellas County Charter Review Board, with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce and with the small businesses that have revolutionized our urban core, I am ready to take on the issues facing our city. I thank Lisa for her leadership and I’m looking forward to working with her on city council.

“The two together will be a powerhouse for progress on council,” says Nick Janovsky, Harless’ campaign manager.

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Sunburn for 2.22.17 – Session is coming; Lyft & Uber bill heads to floor; Negron’s nice CRC picks; press conferences galore

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


With two more weeks till the 2017 Legislative Session, the battle lines already are being drawn between Richard Corcoran’s House of Representatives and Gov. Rick Scott.

Whoops, there we go again. The press does this every year: Gin up a compelling narrative to lead into the session. Shocker, it usually involves some type of conflict.

Like … Despite the governor’s best attempt to publicly shame lawmakers who support the measure, a House effort to kill Enterprise Florida and many business incentive programs, and strip VISIT FLORIDA down to its financial birthday suit was voted out of Appropriations Tuesday.

The other side of the rotunda signaled it doesn’t want to play along, with Jeff Brandes in the Senate emerging as a voice of reason.

He filed legislation to provide more oversight to the controversial public-private economic development organization, focus on small business, and include the $85 million Scott has requested for incentives.

So where’s the middle ground? Is there any? (See, that’s high-minded concern for compromise and progress.)

“Not that I’m aware of,” House budget chair Carlos Trujillo told the press corps, keeping to his script. “I think philosophically we’re opposed to the notion of the state [cliché alert!] picking winners and losers in economic development.”

Does that mean, heaven forbid, that the chambers and Scott are in “collision course” mode on incentives, with a possibility of “blowing up” Session, to combine another two of the Capitol’s favorite but tired expressions?

“If we pass a bill and the Senate doesn’t pass the bill, then obviously it’s a non-starter,” Trujillo said. “If both chambers agree to pass some substantive legislation, then it goes to the governor’s office and he can make a decision as to the merits.”

Yes, that is the way the system works, in a Schoolhouse Rock sort of way. But c’mon Carlos, ratchet up the drama! We need a story! Should we, say, gird for a special ‘veto override’ session this year? Eagerly awaiting an answer…

SESSION IS COMING — As if we weren’t already thinking the 2017 Legislative Session was going to be interesting enough, the House released a new video Tuesday previewing the upcoming 2017 Legislative Session. The 60-second spot is reminiscent of a “Game of Thrones” advertisement, with ominous music, stormy skies of the Old Capitol and snippets of Speaker Corcoran’s swearing-in speech. Click on the image below to watch the video.

CLICK AND READ THE ENTIRE BLOG POST – HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL TWO WEEKS BEFORE SESSION via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print – On a nice night in northeast Tallahassee, Florida’s two legislative leaders appeared before a modest-sized crowd at Holy Comforter Episcopal School to give their thoughts on the upcoming 2017 session. … While he cracked jokes about his escalating feud with Gov. Scott over the fate of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, Corcoran and Negron did not contradict each other or dismiss each other’s ideas. Corcoran stressed that education – not the demise of economic development programs such as Enterprise Florida – was the “number one priority” for the House this year.

Corcoran, while noting that the “details” may prove challenging, also agreed with Negron that something should be done to reduce the discharges from Lake Okeechobee that led to toxic algae blooms along Florida’s coast. This is noteworthy since the agricultural community and sugar growers are exerting considerable pressure to defeat Negron’s bill to acquire land south of the lake in order to store water. In the past Corcoran had questioned the plan because of its cost and its reliance on borrowing by issuing bonds for the land purchase.

… Negron for his part said he remains an “optimist” that he and other Republicans can set aside their differences in the weeks ahead. He said there were a lot of “large issues”  to sort out and that he thought the instant back-and-forth played out on social media was a disruptive force But he also noted that the three most powerful men in Florida – Scott, Corcoran and Negron – are all lawyers. “We all realize there’s a time and place for debate, there’s a time and place for trying to make your point in a colorful persuasive way, and then there’s a time to get the job done, a time to do what the people sent us here to do,” Negron said.

SPOTTED at Holy Comforter for the panel: Slater Bayliss, Mike Harrell, Paul Hawkes, Emory Mayfield, Paul Mitchell, Adam Potts, Jay Smith

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Business. Bright House Networks Business Solutions is now Spectrum Business, and we are committed to delivering your business with superior business Internet, Phone, and TV services to help power your success. We offer the best value in business with the fastest Internet for the price, advanced phone with unlimited long distance, cloud-based Hosted Voice and reliable TV – all delivered over our reliable, state-of-the-art, fiber-rich network.  Find out why so many businesses in your area trust their communications needs to Spectrum Business. Learn more.***

BILL TO KILL BUSINESS INCENTIVES, ENTERPRISE FLORIDA CLEARED FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Florida Politics – A House bill that would abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, eliminate a throng of business incentive programs, and strip the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency down to a barebones $25 million budget cleared its second and final panel Tuesday. That means the measure (HB 7005), OK’d by the House Appropriations Committee on an 18-12 vote, is ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. The vote was another hit to Gov. Scott, an advocate of both agencies and economic incentives, which he says create jobs for Floridians … (But the bill) could well be dead on arrival in the Senate. State Sen. Jeff Brandes … filed his own economic development legislation Tuesday. It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

UBER-FRIENDLY RULES IN FLORIDA CLEAR ANOTHER HURDLE via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – The House Government and Accountability Committee voted favorably 21-1 on House Bill 221 by Reps. Jamie Grant and Chris Sprowls … . The proposed rules include level one background checks that don’t require a driver’s fingerprints. Uber and Lyft have both objected to fingerprint background checks. Instead, drivers would have to undergo a background check analyzing multistate/multijurisdictional criminal records, the national sex offender database and a complete driving history.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS, DEATH PENALTY BILLS CLEAR FINAL HOUSE COMMITTEE VOTES via Florida Politics – Bills that would require unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty, and ask voters whether to impose term limits on appellate judges, were headed to the House floor following their approval Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee. … The committee also approved HB 65, which would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators and their enablers in state court; and HB 301, requiring the Florida Supreme Court to report each year to the the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders the number of cases still pending 180 days after oral argument.

FLOOD INSURANCE, HMO LIABILITY LEGISLATION CLEAR SENATE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics -A Senate committee approved bills Tuesday that would encourage Florida insurers to write flood insurance as an alternative to expensive federal coverage, and would allow patients to sue HMOs for declining to cover doctors’ treatment recommendations in bad faith. “Why shouldn’t the HMOs be held liable for the decisions they make and the doctors aren’t making, and people are dying?” said Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican behind SB 262. … Sen. Jeff Brandes sponsored the flood insurance bill — SB 420. “We want more admitted carriers to write,” Brandes said following the 7-1 vote in favor his his bill.

IN MAJOR TALLAHASSEE REVERSAL, MANDATORY SENTENCES CALLED A WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee … voted unanimously for SB 290 that would end minimum mandatory sentences for non-violent offenses like Powell’s. The massive shift in the tough-on-crime bills of the last two decades that filled prisons and created what both liberals and conservatives now believe has been a subclass of lifers in jail and a waste of tax money. The “prison diversion bill” will save the state $131 million in avoided costs and put 1,001 fewer people in jail, said Sen. Darryl Rouson, the bill’s sponsor. The measure allows judges to depart from the 118 minimum mandatory sentences in Florida law but excludes drug traffickers. It restores the Florida Sentencing Commission, which existed from 1982 to 1997, but limits its scope to determining the severity ranking that adds points to an offenders’ record based on certain offenses. Anyone who commits a violence offense, is not eligible for the court’s leniency.

HOUSE LOBBYING BAN EXTENSION CLEARED FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – 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 Speaker Corcoran‘s program to create a “culture of transparency” in state government.

IMPASSIONED MOMS GATHER IN TALLAHASSEE TO RAIL AGAINST GUN BILLS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Some of the bills passing through this year’s legislative session would lift “gun-free” zones for concealed carry permit holders and allow them to carry their weapons in places like airports and public schools. Other bills would allow CCW permit holders to bring their firearms to public meetings and on college campuses and another would shift the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases. Moms Demand Action, a wing of the Everytown organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, intends to send a message to state lawmakers and big time gun lobbyists that these laws could have dire consequences on public safety. “The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” said Florida chapter leader Michelle Gajda. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight.” Florida gun groups criticized the group for their statements, calling Everytown’s attempt to assume the mantle of a grassroots organization taking “hypocrisy to new heights.”

— “’Arnold Palmer Expressway’ designation gets committee nod” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Bill to make Miami-Dade County Sheriff an elected position advances in Florida Senate” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “Funding for St. Johns River, Keystone lakes gets initial nod in the Senate” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

— “Linda Stewart bill would extend homeowner protections from bad drywall projects” via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer

— “Senate committee OK’s 3 bills: job protection, veteran IDs, emergency management” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics

SHOULD FOOD STAMPS BE USED TO BUY SODA AND CANDY? A TAMPA BAY LAWMAKER SAYS NO via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto … an industrial engineer and a dermatologist, says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children. “The fact that we’re allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease,” Massullo said … “I don’t want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don’t want government making us sick.” Massullo filed House Bill 593, which would add soft drinks and candy to the list of items that cannot be bought with electronic benefit transfer cards issued as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, along with alcohol, gambling, slot machines, commercial bingo halls and adult entertainment. It’s a public health issue but it’s also about the extent to which conservative, free-market Republicans want to control behavior.

TOUGH QUESTIONS FOR POLITICIANS BLOCKING TOUGHER TEXTING & DRIVING LAWS via Noah Pransky of WTSP – With public support overwhelmingly in support of tougher texting-while-driving laws … 10Investigates took tough questions to Florida’s leading lawmakers, including those described by Tallahassee insiders as “roadblocks” to toughening the state’s weak texting laws. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and State Sen. Jeff Brandes both listed a litany of reasons Floridians probably shouldn’t expect any changes to the texting law in 2017, but three themes stood out: 1) Concern that texting bans may not make roads safer; 2) Concern over civil liberties; 2) Concern over civil liberties. When asked why it was any different from the state’s seat belt ban, Brandes had trouble explaining. “The major difference…is people (get pulled over for not) putting on their seat belt. But (with texting),” Brandes said, “(officers) can just pull you over because they see you have a phone in your hand.”

***Sen. Jack Latvala is fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala you support him and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at***

PREPARING FOR AN EFFECTIVE CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION via Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte for the Tampa Bay Times – If the legislative leadership is interested in having a productive commission process, they can do three things: Appoint a diverse commission, free from instructions and able to listen to suggestions from the public. Provide adequate resources for the commission to operate and communicate. Use the Legislature’s joint resolution power to clean up useless and outdated language in the Constitution even before the commission makes its proposals. Finally, the Legislature can begin cleaning up the Constitution before the commission meets. Over the years, the document has accumulated numerous outdated sections and much useless language. In three articles, the Constitution allows the two chambers to eliminate useless language by adopting a joint resolution, requiring no action by the governor or the electorate. This can begin with the 2017 Legislative Session.

WITH ‘NICE’ PICKS TO CONSTITUTION COMMISSION, DID JOE NEGRON JUST HAND RICHARD CORCORAN AN OPPORTUNITY? via Florida Politics – 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. Of the nine picks, former Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are the most notable. Undoubtedly, the great orator Gaetz will be one of the loudest voices on the CRC. Yet, for the most part, Negron’s selections were greeted with shrugged shoulders by most of the capital crowd. ‘Who?’ was asked more than once as the names were read out … But, as has been proven this year by the Speaker’s willingness to filet any number of Tallahassee sacred cows, it’s likely Corcoran has more radical ideas for the CRC. And because Negron did not put on the CRC a full slate of loyalists – Don Gaetz’ loyalty lies with Don Gaetz; Chris Smith is a Democrat – Corcoran should appoint a block of like-minded thinkers, including himself.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will discuss legislation to shift the burden of proof to the state in “Stand Your Ground” cases when it meets at 8:30 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee will discuss legislation that could change local government’s ability to regulate businesses during its 1:15 p.m. meeting in 212 Knott; while the House Health Innovation Subcommittee will consider a proposed committee bill on “Medicaid Block Grants” when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 306 House Office Building. The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss ending the so-called “tampon tax” during its meeting at 10 a.m. in 401 Senate Office Building. Craft beer — and how it is distributed — is on the agenda when the Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets at 12:30 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building; and the Senate Rules Committee will take up the unanimous jury decisions when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: About 100 cancer survivors, patients and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) volunteers will hold a brief rally at 9 a.m. at the Florida Heritage Fountain at Waller Park on the west side of the Florida State Capitol to kick off ACS CAN’s annual Advocacy Day event.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Florida Chamber of Commerce will host a conference call at 10:30 a.m. to announce the launch of Floridians for Ridesharing, a coalition advocating for a consistent statewide framework for ridesharing services. The conference call will include David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Kim Galban-Countryman, executive director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend; Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The conference call line is 888-392-4560, and the access code is 1005794.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. David Santiago will take part in a news conference in which the United Way will release a report about the number of people who earn more than the federal poverty level but have a hard time affording necessities. Availability begins 12:15 p.m., fourth-floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Ramon Alexander and Rep. Shevrin Jones will hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. outside the House chambers on the 4th floor to discuss their efforts to “Ban the Box.” Both men have proposed legislation that would ban employers from inquiring about criminal histories on an initial employment application.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Congressman Matt Gaetz and members of the Florida Legislature will hold media availability at 3 p.m. in House Room 333 to discuss health care reform and block grants.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Matt Caldwell and U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney will hold media availability around 4:30 p.m. in House Room 333 to answer questions about Everglades restoration and the continuing state and federal partnership. Both Caldwell and Rooney are scheduled to testify during the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee meeting at 3:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building.

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at***

HAPPENING TODAY — LAWMAKERS HOLD FUNDRAISERS ACROSS TALLAHASSEE — The House Majority, the fundraising arm of House Republicans, will host a fundraising reception for Alex MillerGrallCyndi StevensonAmber Mariano, and Jackie Toledo at 11:30 a.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams Street. Miller and Toledo will be back at the Governors Club for another event a 5 p.m.; while Reps. Dane Eagle, Mike La Rosa, and David Santiago will hold a fundraiser at their residence, 419 East Georgia Street, at the same time. A fundraiser is scheduled for Rep. Jay Fant at the Florida Realtors starting at starting at 5:30 p.m.; while Rep. Jay Trumbull will be raising money at the same time at The Governor’s Inn. Democrats are also getting in on the fundraising action, Sen. Vic Torres and Reps Richard Stark, Joe Geller and Amy Mercado hosting a fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Realtors Association.

HAPPENING TODAY – SOLAR INDUSTRY DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Solar industry advocates and stakeholders will be at the Capitol all day to tout the 1,700 new solar jobs created in 2016 and to raise awareness about Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, which implements Amendment 4. The day-long event is hosted by the Solar Energy Industries Association, FlaSEIA, Advances Energy Economy, and Vote Solar. Tesla is also expected to participate, and will have two Teslas available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Capitol Courtyard for test drives by legislators, staff and other enthusiasts.

SAVE THE DATE: The 3rd annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 15 at Madison Social in Tallahassee. Sen. Dana Young will sling drinks for the Red Team and Rep. Evan Jenne will pour them for Team Blue. The bipartisan event combines dogs, politics and friendly competition to raise money for the Tallahassee Animal Shelter Foundation, Last Hope Rescue, and the Leon County Humane Society. Last year, Red Dog Blue Dog celebrity bartenders raised nearly $4,000.

UBER, VOLUNTEER FLORIDA TEAM UP TO PROVIDE #SUITSFORSESSION FOR NEEDY – #SuitsForSession  asks well-dressed denizens of the Florida Capitol – members of the Legislature, lobbyists, the private sector, local nonprofits, state agencies and more – to drop off new or gently worn suits, dresses and shoes Wednesday, March 15, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the Third-Floor Rotunda. Volunteer Florida will donate the clothing to nonprofits that serve job-seekers: Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America in Orlando, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program. For those unable to make it to the Capitol, donors in Leon County can open the Uber app between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. that day and select the GIVE option at the bottom of the screen. Uber will pick up clothing donations for free and deliver them to Volunteer Florida all day.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians.  PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

STATE ECONOMISTS SEE TOURISM GROWTH CANCELING OUT LAGGING HOUSING STARTS via Florida Politics – Nothing emerged during a numbers-crunching exercise by state economists to change the economic picture the Legislature will confront this year — growth in tourism and slack housing starts will offset each other as overall growth produces about $31 billion in general revenues. “Those are going to compensate for each other. So, overall, you end up about where you were, on the same path where we were heading,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research. Multifamily housing starts ought to be growing faster than they are, Baker said — particularly given young people’s penchant to cluster in rental apartments in cities. The economists suspected a lag time to put together construction deals. Or perhaps builders were awaiting the results of the presidential election. Overall, construction “is growing with population growth, because our population is growing. But the amount it grows per new person is pretty steady,” Baker said.

RDOP IN FLORIDA HOME OWNERSHIP BUT GAINS IN FORT MYERS AREA via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Figures by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the home ownership rate in Florida dropped from 64.8 percent in 2015 to 64.3 percent last year. However, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area had the nation’s third biggest gain in the homeownership rate of major metro areas, going from 62.9 percent to 66.5 percent. At the same time, the Sarasota-Bradenton area had the nation’s second-biggest drop in the homeownership vacancy rate. It went from 3.3 percent to 1.2 percent. Miami had Florida’s lowest homeownership rate at 58 percent. Sarasota had the highest at 73 percent.

‘WE CHOOSE LIFE,’ SAY CHURCHES CALLING TO STOP EXECUTIONS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Members of the Florida Council of Churches and representatives from the AME and Catholic denominations called on lawmakers to pass a moratorium on executions, citing high cost of death penalty appeals, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the impact on victims’ families being forced to relive their loved one’s murder repeatedly in court. “Even if we pass unanimous juries, we still haven’t solved the economic issues and we still haven’t solved the fact that families keep being dragged through this trauma over and over again,” said Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran pastor from Tampa and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. What’s more, they say, there is a moral problem with the state killing people – even the most depraved criminals. “The church has come today on the issue of life and death,” said AME Rev. James Golden. “We choose life.”

BAR EXAM BOARD NOW SEEKING PUBLIC MEMBERS via Florida Politics – 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.”

CHILD WELFARE INVESTIGATOR, MOTHER ARRESTED FOR COCAINE, HEROIN IN HOME via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A recently-fired employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who had worked as a child protection investigator since 2015, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies on drug trafficking charges after a warrant was issued for her arrest … Laymeshia Hicks, 25 … and her boyfriend, Xzaiveous Scott, 31, are each facing charges of trafficking in heroin, trafficking in cocaine, possession of a structure to traffic drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia. Deputies found the drugs in the master bedroom when they responded to an armed home-invasion call … Scott’s nephews, ages 16 and 18, were there when two intruders forced their way inside and ransacked the house Feb. 17, she said. Investigators found 68 grams of heroin and 288 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $35,000 … Sheriff Grady Judd said Hicks’ 3-year-old child was living in the house. Sheriff Grady Judd said Hick’s 3-year-old child was living in the house.

DISABLED TEEN STUCK IN BROWARD JAIL PURGATORY MAY GET TREATMENT via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – Last week, Broward Circuit Juvenile Judge Michael Orlando ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice not to discuss the teen, 17-year-old Keishan Ross, with the staff of psychiatric hospitals or drug treatment centers who might be considering admitting him. DJJ said the order was just broad enough that it feared a staffing — a discussion with other agencies to go over treatment options — might violate it. The agency asked Orlando to lift the order so administrators could meet in the afternoon with other agency heads. Orlando declined to lift the gag order. The judge signed the order following a hearing last week in which Keishan’s lawyers at the Broward Public Defender’s Office accused a DJJ probation officer of sabotaging an agreement they had reached with a Fort Lauderdale psychiatric hospital. The hospital was going to admit Keishan for a battery of tests to determine his intellectual capacities and the severity of his mental illness. But hospital administrators changed their minds, the lawyers said, after DJJ disparaged the youth and described him as violent and remorseless.


WITH POLL, PROGRESSIVE GROUP PRESSES BILL NELSON TO OPPOSE NEIL GORSUCH via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The left-leaning Progressive Change Campaign Committee tried several arguments against Gorsuch in the poll, conducted in seven key states by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. The one that worked best: characterizing Gorsuch as favoring Wall Street over Main Street … In Florida, 64 percent of poll respondents opposed or strongly opposed Gorsuch when the pollster said the judge “sided with big insurance companies, sided with employers who denied wages and retirement benefits to employees, and generally protected big corporations from accountability.” Twenty-three percent said they would support Gorsuch given that description, and 13 percent said it had no impact on their opinion. The message particularly resonated with Democrats, though less so with independents and Republicans.

LIBERAL ACTIVISTS PLAN ‘EMPTY CHAIR’ TOWN HALL FOR MARCO RUBIO IN TAMPA via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – “Join fellow Tampa Bay constituents as our invited (yet unconfirmed) guest Senator Marco Rubio hears and responds to constituent questions, concerns and issues brought forth in a format of an organized Q&A style evening,” reads a Facebook notice from Indivisible Tampa. Rubio won’t be anywhere near Tampa, Miami or Washington. He’s in Europe this week. A Rubio spokesman last week was dismissive of the tactics and said staff had met with “dozens of these liberal activists.”

HAPPENING TODAY: U.S. Congressmen Brian Mast and Tom Rooney will attend an event with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II interactive cockpit demonstrator beginning 1 p.m. at the Pratt & Whitney West Palm Beach Engine Center, 17900 Bee Line Highway in Jupiter.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) here.***

— “Known unknowns: Trying to divine the real numbers in the lobbying compensation reports” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics


 Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc.

Gregory BlackJames DaughtonPatricia GreeneWarren HusbandAllison Liby-SchoonoverAimee Diaz LyonAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: Florida Creditors Bar Association, Inc.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonfanti, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Florida Public Utilities Co

Sarah BuskJustin Day, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners LLC: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association, NEMA

Martha Chumbler, Carlton Fields Jordan Burt: The Villages

Brittany Dover, Hopping Green & Sams: Shuler Limited Partnership

Christopher FinkbeinerWilliam RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Western Governors University

Lauren Jackson, Ericks Consultants: Handy, Inc.

Scott Ross, Capital City Consulting: OBS Real Estate Holdings, LLC DBA Ocala Gainesville Poker and Jai Alai

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: American Civil Liberties Union of Florida

PERSONNEL NOTE: FRANCISCO GONZALEZ LEAVES JAMES MADISON INSTITUTE via Florida Politics – Gonzalez, formerly vice president of Advancement, 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.

PERSONNEL NOTE: MATT GALKA DEPARTS FOR PHOENIX via Florida PoliticsGalka, 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 … “I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” Galka said in a 2015 interview.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Southern Strategy Group’s Nelson Diaz.

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Judicial ethics watchdog could suffer in fight for independent Florida courts

Is Florida’s judicial ethics commission about to become collateral damage in a battle over the independence of the courts?

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Land O’Lakes Republican, appears to have targeted the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) along with the courts themselves in his campaign to curb the independence of the judiciary.

The JQC and the Supreme Court had not concluded an ethics case against Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III of Jacksonville when Corcoran scheduled an impeachment hearing a month ago. The judge resigned.

Such intervention in an ongoing JQC matter was an event with scant precedent. Since the agency was established in 1966, there have been only three instances among more than 200 known cases, and none was exactly comparable.

— In 1975, the House held impeachment hearings on three justices after the Supreme Court had rejected the JQC’s recommendation to remove two of them for ethical violations. Two of the three, Hal P. Dekle and David L. McCain, resigned.

— In 1978, the House impeached and the Senate removed Circuit Judge Samuel S. Smith of Lake City despite his attempt to resign after his federal conviction for conspiracy to sell 1,500 pounds of seized marijuana. Gov. Reubin Askew called for the impeachment to make sure that Smith could never hold office again or collect a pension.

— In 2003, legislators dissatisfied with the Supreme Court’s reprimand of a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge, as recommended by the JQC, threatened to impeach him and he resigned. The judge, Charles W. Cope, was accused of conduct unbecoming a judge for drunken behavior at an out-of-state conference.

The case against Hulsey, who was accused of racist and sexist comments from the bench, had not progressed nearly as far.

Asked for comment on that point, Corcoran’s spokesman, Fred Piccolo, said in an email:

“In this case, the JQC had all the information we had and still delayed. The Speaker believed taxpayers should not be paying a judge like Mr. Hulsey at all, let alone to not hear cases. The Speaker had every confidence that the Judge’s conduct warranted impeachment

” I can say with confidence that this Speaker will not hesitate to use impeachment to remove officers of the government who abuse their office.”

At that point, however, the JQC’s formal case against Hulsey was only five months old. According to the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the average JQC proceeding takes 13 months from the receipt of a complaint to the filing of a disciplinary recommendation with the Supreme Court.

Last week, one of Corcoran’s House committees took on the court itself with criticism for a JQC case that has been awaiting the court’s decision for more than a year, an uncommonly long time. It consists primarily of alleged ethical violations as a lawyer and judicial candidate on the part of Circuit Judge Andrew Decker of Live Oak.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee gave no warning to Decker or his attorney, who knew nothing about the meeting until it had been held. The agenda noted only that there would be a report on an unspecified JQC case.

That was a far cry from fair. The chairman, Yahala Republican Larry Metz, was quoted as saying the judge wasn’t invited because “we’re not voting on anything.”

The JQC was created in 1966 to provide a more efficient alternative to impeachment for judges accused of misconduct. Two legislative impeachment efforts had failed.

Though the agency got off to a slow start, it turned aggressive under the chairmanship of Richard T. Earle Jr., a St. Petersburg attorney, who fearlessly pursued corruption on the Supreme Court itself.

Since inception, the JQC has now filed formal charges against more than 200 judges.

When it gets to that point, it rarely ends well for the judge. Of the 206 known cases, by my count, 77 — more than a third — ended with the judge off the bench: 19 removed for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, 25 resignations, 4 election defeats, 4 forsaken re-election campaigns, 21 enforced retirements for various disabilities, and 4 under threatened or actual impeachment.

Most of the rest were publicly reprimanded by the court, some also with fines and suspensions. The reprimands, almost always administered in person in public sessions of the court, are meant to be humbling, even humiliating, and the cases become everlasting records. Only seven cases have ever been formally dismissed. Four, including Decker’s, are pending.

So, from what we know, the JQC has been doing a good job — to hear some judges, too good a job.

It’s what we don’t know that may be a problem. The Constitution makes all JQC proceedings confidential until the agency files formal charges. That means no acknowledgment, much less an explanation, for any of the many complaints it dismisses.

According to its most recent report, the JQC received nearly 800 complaints in fiscal 2015 and summarily dismissed about 570 of them. Only 10 proceeded to formal charges.

“A great majority of complaints,” the report said, are about nothing more than dissatisfaction with the outcomes of cases and “that is the province of the appellate courts.” The JQC’s constitutional jurisdiction is limited to conduct that “demonstrates a present unfitness to hold office.”

But as OPPAGA remarked in a January 2015 report, the confidentiality rule left it unable “to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of Commission processes, as well as the consistency of its decisions and actions.

“The Commission documents we were unable to review included complaints screened out by staff, cases dismissed by the commission either summarily or after investigation, and letters of private admonishment. In addition … we were not permitted to attend investigative panel meetings,” the report said.

The case for confidentiality is this: Judges don’t deserve to be embarrassed by publicity about unfounded complaints.

But I don’t buy that. The facts should be allowed to speak for themselves. Judges should accept that as a consequence of public office.

When the Constitution Revision Commission meets, it should provide for eventual disclosure of every complaint to the JQC — not necessarily at the outset, but once it has been either dismissed or moved further along. That’s something that Corcoran’s nine appointees could insist upon without harming the courts.

The public’s trust is something to be earned, not assumed.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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