Aaron Bean Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Citizens address gamut of issues at Tampa meeting of constitutional panel

Florida’s vicennial Constitution Revision Commission made its first stop in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday.

Members of the public came before the 37-member council — organized to get together every 20 years — and were allowed only two minutes to discuss what amendments should, or should not, be placed on the 2018 ballot.

The first speaker, 18-year-old graduating high school senior John Alvarez, said one of the best ways to overcome income inequality in Florida would be to implement a state income tax, getting rid of the sales tax.

“We rank second for regressive and abuse of bottom income earners,” he said.

Andrew Vila didn’t want the Commission to make any changes, but if they did, he asked for them to ratify school choice into the state’s Constitution.

Mark Klutho blasted the Legislature for failing to implement recently passed constitutional amendments regarding solar power, the environment and medical marijuana that have been held back in part by the Legislature. “What are these amendments mean if the Legislature won’t do a damn thing when the taxpayer says this is what our vote is? ” he asked.

“The way I see it, this is just a big farce,” Klutho added, eliciting large cheers from the audience.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank took an opportunity to (once again) complain about how the Legislature failed to abide by a 2004 constitutional amendment transferring responsibility of funding clerks offices from counties to the state of Florida.

Frank said that collectively, clerks took in nearly $777 million in 2016, yet only $409 million went back to their offices.

There was lots of talk about guns both from Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates. Each side warned the commission not to allow changes to the constitution supporting the other side.

“Any changes are an abridgment to liberties of the citizens,” said Nicholas Malone.

Sarah Johnson, with the anti-gambling advocates at No Casinos, said gambling groups have violated the state constitution for years by no longer going through the people to expand gambling, going directly to state legislators instead.

“We believe this shift violates Article 10, Section 7 of Florida’s current constitution,” Johnson said, adding that the power to allow building casinos in a community should be left to the voters.

Johnson then called for support of the Voter Control of Gambling Amendment.

“Deciding whether Florida becomes the next Las Vegas or Atlantic City shouldn’t be up to the legislators, it should be up to the voters of Florida,” she said.

As was the case in several other CRC public meetings, members of the public called for open primaries, allowing independents to vote in Democratic and Republican primary elections.

“I’ve been a Republican for over 45 years,” said Penny Hunter, “and I can’t imagine why we closed our primaries.”

Hunter lamented about how phony write-in candidates prevent voters from a different party to run in the primaries.

Citizens at the meeting also advocated for ranked choice voting, public financing of campaigns and the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

Several members of the League of Women Voters repeated similar talking points, each calling for the commission to act with full transparency in their meetings.

Mickey Castor was concerned that the Commission would change the Fair Districts Amendment voters passed in 2010.

Gerald White requested that the Commission place a measure on the ballot to make the Secretary of State an elected Cabinet position. A bill sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean looking to do just that died on the last day of Session.

After most of the crowd repeatedly applauded statements made by progressives, Commission Chair Carlos Beruff castigated the audience, admonishing them to keep quiet.

Audience members then flashed green cards in support of statements, red cards in opposition.

The meeting was held at the Dale Mabry Campus of Hillsborough Community College.

House will not vote on fracking investment bill

A push by Florida’s largest power company to charge customers for out-of-state fracking appears dead for this session.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Monday he has “too many reservations” about Senate Bill 1238 and the potential consequences it would have on state ratepayers and the environment. He added the House would not vote on it if the Senate passes it.

Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill’s sponsor, said his proposal would have helped keep electricity costs down in the long run, but without a House vote the bill is as good as dead.

The bill would have reversed a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that said companies are overstepping their authority in charging customers for these investments.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Senate continues to roll bill making secretary of state an elected position

A bill to make Secretary of State an elected, Cabinet-level post advanced Wednesday through the Senate Rules Committee.

Legislation by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean (SB 882) rolled through the committee with neither debate nor discussion.

Historically, the Secretary of State in Florida was elected by the public, but that changed in 1998 when constitutional changes removed that position from the elected Cabinet of the executive branch.

Bean has argued in committee meetings that four is an odd number for the cabinet, and needs another member. Currently, 2-2 ties on votes in the Cabinet go to the side that the governor supports.

The bill needs two-thirds support in both the House and Senate to make it on the 2018 ballot as a constitutional amendment, where it would need 60 percent support of the public to become law.

Companion legislation is being sponsored in the House by Martin County Republican Gayle Harrell. 

Bill to eliminate sanctuary cities in Florida moves through another House committee

Legislation banning sanctuary city policies moved through another Florida House committee Tuesday.

Yalaha Republican Rep. Larry Metz‘s bill (HB 697) would force any “sanctuary city” or county in Florida to remove all formal or informal policies shielding undocumented immigrants from federal custody. It passed the House Subcommittee on Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs on a 9-5 vote on Tuesday.

The legislation would fine local governments that don’t comply with immigration officers between $1,000 to $5,000 a day. It requires local officials to report violations, but exempts employees of school districts and educational records. The proposal leaves local officials open to being sued if a Florida resident is injured by an undocumented immigrant because of a sanctuary policy.

Cities and law enforcement agencies would also be barred from having laws or policies blocking communication with federal immigration agents.

Taxpayers would have to foot the bill for enforcing federal immigration policies — with no guarantee of federal reimbursement.

“We are very very concerned that the underlying bill is unconstitutional,” warned Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who offered up seven different amendments to the bill, all of which were shot down by the GOP-controlled committee. He said that detainer requests “are not worth the paper that they are printed on.”

Smith said that there are 925,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida, and they have constitutional rights. “This bill violates their constitutional rights. Their presence, while it may be unlawful, is not a criminal act. It is a civil violation,” he said.

Miami Democrat Daisey Baez, a native from the Dominican Republican and a solider with the U.S. Army, said that it was a hostile environment when she served as a young soldier in Central Texas when she spoke limited English, but “I have never felt as unwanted and as vilified as I have felt now,” she said as her voice broke. “We are not criminals.”

Baez called the legislation “misguided,” and an example of “big government, of paranoia and persecution. That is not the nation that we are.”

“This is a terrible bill,” added Belle Glade Democrat Joseph Abruzzo.

For such a controversial and sensitive issue, the debate was mostly civil. Mostly.

“This is one step towards Nazism in the United States,” said Gail Perry with the Communications Workers of America.

In his closing statement, Metz said that his grandparents were immigrants from Germany, but that it was important to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration.

“It’s very important to recognize the rule of law in our country,” he said. “We’re simply saying cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement efforts, so that we can have seamless enforcement of the rule of law.”

In late January, President Trump signed an executive order pulling all federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal officials looking to weed out and deport undocumented people. A day after that announcement, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez signed an order demanding that Miami-Dade County’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation comply with every aspect of Trump’s plan.

The legislation is being sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean (SB 786). Abruzzo predicted it would die in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Senate committee passes bill allowing free state park access to foster families

Legislation requiring the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to give free access to the state’s parks for foster families was passed by legislators Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources unanimously passed bill, CS-SB 64, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, would waive, or offer discounted entry, into all state parks for specified and adoptive families.

The Division of Recreation and Parks within the DEP would come up with uniform documentation standards for such families to enjoy those benefits, according to the bill.

In addition, a continuing partnership between the DEP and the Department of Children and Families would be established to promote attendance to certain events in state parks by fostered and adoptive children.

The subcommittee heard no other bills Wednesday.

 

Bill permitting Florida PSC to allow natural gas investments passes Senate committee

A Florida Senate committee unanimously passed a proposal Tuesday giving electric utilities the opportunity to invest in natural-gas reserves and recoup money from customers.

The legislation would allow any Florida power company using natural gas for 65 percent or more of its electricity generation to explore out-of-state for natural gas using residential ratepayer’s money.

The bill from Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean bill (SB 1238) is a response to the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection last May to Florida Power & Light’s program of investing ratepayers money into a controversial Oklahoma natural-gas project.

In 2014, FPL received the go-ahead by the Florida Public Service Commission, which approved a request to invest in the drilling and production of natural gas in an area known as the Woodford Gas Reserves Project in Oklahoma.

But the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last year that the PSC did not have the authority to grant that option. The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

Bean told the committee that the PSC would have authority to allow energy companies to go forward if each investment expects to generate savings for the customer over the life of the investment. He added that each investment must have at least 50 percent of the wells classified as proven reserves by the Securities and Exchange Commission; and the total volume of gas approved would be limited to 7.5 percent in 2018, 10 percent in 2019, 12.5 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2021.

There were several members of the public who spoke out against the bill.

“If they think it’s a great idea, why would we have a speculative risk on backs of ratepayers as opposed to the shareholders?” asked Susan Glickman, the Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This is about socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.”

Attorney Jon Moyle, representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said that the effect of power companies mitigating their risks by hiding fuel costs has cost ratepayers big time over the past 15 years.

Moyle cited statistics that show consumers had lost more than $6.5 billion in hedging, and FPL lost more than $4 billion since 2002.

“If FPL wants to use shareholder money and form an unregulated company … we don’t have any objection,” Moyle said. “If they want to get into the oil and gas wildcatting business wherever, as long as their not doing it with ratepayers money, then that’s something that probably would not draw the opposition that it has.”

Several of the speakers also compared the proposal to the extremely controversial nuclear cost recovery plan in Florida, which allowed public utilities to collect money from shareholders for nuclear power plants that may ultimately never be built.

“Locking in ratepayer responsibility for a lengthy period of time, would be unreasonable in our opinion, considering the volatility of the prices for a pinnacle form of fuel, the development of alternative forms of energy,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP. “And also considering the development of ever-changing technological advancements which increase the efficiency of energy usage.”

Sam Forrest, vice president of FPL’s Energy Marketing & Trading division, came before the committee to refute several of the claims made by the bill’s critics, claiming “these are the same folks who have opposed us along the way as we have made long-term investments in affordable, clean energy infrastructure since 2001.”

He denied that there was any speculating going on with the bill, saying that FPL would start drilling in a well that was known for certain to have natural gas in it, and then move on to a well immediately next to it. “You’re drilling consistently in very proven technologies,” he maintained.

Regarding the billions lost in hedging since 2002, he said the PSC has always been “very supportive of hedging and continues to be supportive of hedging.”

Forrest also disputed the claims by opponents that no other company has ever done what FPL had been doing until stopped by the high court last spring, saying that the Florida Municipal Power Agency has invested in gas reserves, as have a “number” of others around the nation. He also stated that all the money that FPL spends on energy is to out-of-state sources.

“There’s no natural gas production; there’s no oil production; there’s no coal production that exists in the state of Florida.”

Forest also denied that this was another version of early cost recovery, saying customer would be paying for the energy “as it’s being used.”

The bill passed the committee unanimously, 8-0.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur is sponsoring a companion bill in the House (HB 1043).

Florida doesn’t need an elected Secretary of State, or Agriculture Commissioner

It would tax the imagination to come up with anything that Florida needs less than to elect a secretary of state once again. Why would the Legislature even consider that?

Sen. Aaron Bean, the sponsor, explained it the other day. As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, the Fernandina Beach Republican told the Senate ethics committee that in the main he wants a fifth position on the Cabinet to avoid tie votes that require the governor to be on the prevailing side or the motion fails.

Actually, he and nearly everyone else are incorrect when they refer to that group of four as “the Cabinet.” Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the Cabinet to consist of an attorney general, a chief financial officer, and a commissioner of agriculture. The governor is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a member of the Cabinet.

And because they are elected, it’s not “his” Cabinet even though the members too often vote as if it were. They oversee 12 agencies in their collective role as — to put it accurately — “the governor and Cabinet.”

To the extent that the tie vote issue is a problem, there’s a simpler and less expensive way to deal with it than the creation of yet another statewide pooh-bah with yet another six-figure salary.

That’s to get rid of the elected agriculture commissioner. Let the governor appoint the position, as does now with the secretary of state. Or have the governor and the remaining two Cabinet members jointly select someone in the same manner as the head of the office of financial regulation.

But avoiding a tie vote situation strikes me as the lamest possible pretext to elect the secretary, which Florida last did in 1998.

The more important issue is how best to oversee elections, which is the function of the office that the public cares most about. The record-keeping, the corporations’ division, the arts, library and archives are less about policy than professional management. You don’t need to elect anyone for those.

But electing a secretary of state doesn’t guarantee that the duty will be carried out in a bipartisan, nonpolitical and professional manner. The present secretary, Ken Detzner, has been accused of doing what the governor wants to discourage rather than encourage voting. The last elected secretary, Katherine Harris, is best remembered for the infamous 2000 campaign in which she was first a co-chair of George W. Bush’s campaign and then made critical decisions in his favor.

Harris’s predecessor, Sandra Mortham, spoke at the committee hearing and referred to the dicey position of governor-appointed secretaries as “very, very, very difficult” for them. She also noted that local elected supervisors of election would be better off with a popularly elected state leader than with one named by the governor.

Those are better points, to be sure, than the tie vote issue. Harris’ tenure, though, was hardly a shining example of political independence.

Though nearly half the states have elected sectaries to state to manage elections, nine have appointed boards or commissions that are bipartisan, at least in theory. One of them is in North Carolina, where despite fierce efforts by a Republican and legislature to suppress voting, the GOP-dominated board acted respectably last year. Florida should consider that method of governance.

“I think there is no magic bullet,” says Ion Sancho, Leon County’s recently retired election supervisor, who is a nationally recognized figure in the field. “It doesn’t matter a darn bit if you elect the person if they have to follow the rigged election laws passed by the Florida Legislature.

He sees no point, however, in enlarging the elected Cabinet.

There used to be six Cabinet members, plus the governor, each with their own departments, in charge of an array of agencies they governed collectively. That system was created in the aftermath of post-Civil War Reconstruction to deliberately keep the governors weak. Trouble was, with everyone supposedly watching the store no one actually did. In modern times, two of Florida’s best governors, LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew, tried unsuccessfully to be rid of the system.

Twenty years ago, the Constitution Revision Commission set out to trim the Cabinet to the only two offices that truly need to be independently elected: the attorney general and the chief financial officer. But agricultural lobbies threatened to defeat the entire reform at the polls if it didn’t retain the agriculture commissioner. Finding themselves with four voting officers instead of the intended three, the Commission came up with the curious tie-breaking rule. Eliminating the elected agriculture commissioner would dispose of that.

Agriculture is still one of the pillars of Florida’s economy, but it’s difficult to see why it needs its own surrogate governor any more than tourism or construction do. Rick Scott’s well-advertised faults as governor don’t mean that his successor shouldn’t be trusted with agriculture to the same extent as education, which once had its own elected Cabinet member too.

___

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

Bring on the orange juice: Denise Grimsley schedules breakfast fundraiser for March 7

It’s never too early in the day to start fundraising.

Sen. Denise Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee.

The reception, according to a copy of the invitation, is hosted by Sens. Aaron Bean, Dennis Baxley, Rob Bradley, Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson, Kelli Stargel, and Greg Steube.

The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

A Sebring Republican, Grimsley was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, and has served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

Grimsley filed to for the statewide office earlier this month, and has already lined up the backing of former state Sen. JD Alexander. And several Central Florida agriculture industry leaders appear to be lining up behind her, with many listed on an invitation for a fundraiser at Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales next week.

She isn’t the only member of the Legislature eyeing the agriculture post. Last week, Rep. Matt Caldwell told FloridaPolitics.com he intends to file to run for the seat later this summer.

Appropriations committee votes to OK gambling bill, now cleared for Senate floor

A wide-sweeping gambling bill is now ready to be heard by the full Senate when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month, after it cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning.

The bill (SB 8), sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, ratifies the 2015 Seminole Compact, subject to the approval of amendments to conform the agreement to provisions outlined in the bill and other actions to be taken by the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, and would expand the number of facilities where slot machines can be operated.

“Florida is a diverse state and our constituents have many different opinions, beliefs and convictions regarding gaming. This legislation does not attempt to make value judgments about the private activities of free, taxpaying Floridians, instead it presents a comprehensive approach to regulating a voter-approved industry that has contributed billions of dollars to our economy for education, health care and infrastructure, while providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Floridians over the course of nearly 100 years,” said Galvano in a statement after the vote.

The bill passed 14-2, with Sens. Aaron Bean and Kelli Stargel voting against it.

“I don’t feel like we need to go down this path,” said Bean, who commended Galvano for his effort. “I see us going on the continued road of a slippery slope.”

The measure was amended Thursday to add a bingo provision for charitable organizations. Under the new section, veterans’ organizations may conduct instant bingo using electronic tickets instead of paper tickets.

The amended bill also appears to outlaw advance deposit wagering, a form of gambling in which the bettor must fund his account being allowed to place betters. The amendment makes it a third degree felony to accept those wagers on horse races, but not on dog races.

It also toughens standards for race animal doping; changes the name of the Office of Amusements, which would regulate fantasy sports, to the Office of Contest Amusements; and gives 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.”

Several members expressed hesitation about what the bill could mean for the state’s future, before voting for it. Sens. Anitere Flores and Rob Bradley were among those who said they faced a difficult decision, but felt inaction was no longer an option.

“This is a difficult issue for me,” said Bradley. “If I could do one thing to wave a magic wand in our state government, I would get rid of the lottery and move on in a different direction on gaming, because I think Florida is about something different. We’re about beaches and sunshine. Not gaming. But ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have a magic wand, none of us do.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, called the measure a jobs bill and said he hoped it will be “one more place where the Senate comes down strong for jobs.”

The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d its own gambling bill Thursday.

Impressive roster of GOP leaders line up for Ed Hooper fundraiser

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper is assembling an impressive number of high-profile state lawmakers for a Tallahassee reception next month. Hooper, a former state representative, is seeking the open Senate District 16 seat currently held by Jack Latvala.

Hooper’s campaign fundraiser will be Monday, March 6, from 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 South Adams Street.

The host committee reads like a Who’s Who of GOP state leaders, including Senate President Joe Negron and nearly all the Pinellas County/Hillsborough delegation: Sens. Latvala, Bill Galvano, Wilton Simpson, Dana Young and Jeff Brandes.

Republican senators from beyond the Tampa Bay area will be there, too: Lizbeth Benacquisto, George Gainer, Denise Grimsley, Frank Artiles, Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, Keith Perry, Robert Bradley, Doug Broxson, David Simmons, Kelli Stargel and Greg Steube.

The House will also be well represented, with Larry Ahern, Ben Albritton, Chris Latvala and Kathleen Peters.

A former Clearwater firefighter who served four terms in the House before term limits forced him out, Hooper ran for Pinellas County Commission in 2014, losing to Democrat Pat Gerard after a contentious campaign.

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