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Senate pays tribute to outgoing President Andy Gardiner

The man of the hour smiled as his colleagues told stories and reminisced about his time in the Florida Legislature.

They spoke of his commitment to his family, his dedication to his community, and his calm demeanor when dealing with the tough issues the state has faced in recent years.

“He is the George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in our state,” Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean said of Senate President Andy Gardiner. “He’s truly the richest man in the Florida Senate.”

Andy Gardiner's official Senate portrait. Courtesy of Florida Senate.
Andy Gardiner’s official Senate portrait. Photo courtesy of the Florida Senate.

For nearly two hours Monday, lawmakers paid tribute to Gardiner, who’s wrapping up his term as Senate President. The  Senate unveiled the official portrait of the 47-year-old Orlando Republican, and colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised him for his nearly two decades in office.

“There has not been a time where I’ve shown up to this office that I don’t look forward to being here,” Gardiner said. “It is an incredible opportunity.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2000, Gardiner served as the House Republican leader from 2004 until 2006. He was elected to the Senate in 2008, where he was the Majority Whip for two years, before becoming the Majority Leader in 2010. He has spent the past two years as the Senate President.

Gardiner – whose son, Andrew, has Down syndrome – has made improving the quality of life for people with unique abilities a priority during his time in office. Gardiner spent much of the past two years pushing legislation to create a path to economic independence for people with unique abilities.

This year the Legislature approved a bill (HB 7003) that expanded the personal learning scholarship account, now known as the Gardiner Scholarship Program, to more students; creates employment options for people with unique abilities, and creates a financial-literacy program for individuals with disabilities. Gov. Rick Scott has already signed the bill into law.

“The greatest accomplishment is bringing folks and families out of the shadows, making it known and expected that we will give them the best opportunities,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican. “If we did nothing else, we changed the culture.”

Gardiner’s wife, Camille, and three children — 12-year-old Andrew, 8-year-old Joanna Lynn and 5-year-old Kathryn Lucille — attended the ceremony Monday. His parents, in-laws and several friends and former legislators — including former House Speaker Dean Cannon and former Senate President and CFO Jeff Atwater — also attended the event. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran were also on hand.

“Thank you for embracing the Gardiner family on this journey,” he said.

Gardiner used his speech to thank his staff, family and friends for their support during his time in the Legislature. He became emotional as he spoke to his colleagues, encouraging them to continue to advocate for their communities.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a plan for each and every one of us,” he said.

Uber Florida uses app to call out Andy Gardiner on ride-sharing legislation delay

Uber has had a tough time getting legislation passed this session, and the ridesharing company is focusing its efforts on changing one lawmaker’s mind: Republican Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Starting Monday, Florida users of the ridesharing app will be prompted to “vote for Uber” the next time they call for a car. The “VOTE” app experience redirects users to a page asking them to “tell Senator Gardiner to stop holding up access to safe, affordable, reliable rides.”

“It’s not hard to hold an up or down vote,” the web page reads. “There are only five days left in the 2016 session for the state Senate to vote on allowing all Floridians access to Uber. A bill that would do just that passed the House 108-10, but Senate President Gardiner is refusing to even let the Senate take a vote.”

Customers aren’t the only one Uber hopes to get involved in the fight. The group also announced it made a radio ad buy and direct mail campaign in Gardiner’s Orlando-based district.

“The taxi companies and their well-connected friends are at it again,” the radio ad says over ominous piano music. “But this time, they are not alone. They have turned to their pal, State Senate President Andy Gardiner for help.”

The mail campaign hits a similar note, describing the Senate President as “selling us out to his rich taxi friends,” and urging Floridians to bombard the Orlando Republican’s Tallahassee phone line with pleas to pass the House’s ridesharing bill.

That bill, HB 509 by Shalimar Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, would pre-empt local regulations on ridesharing companies. It cleared its committee stops and a floor vote in the House with little opposition, but no Senator filed a companion version in the early days of Session, and HB 509 is currently languishing in the Senate.

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House lays Seminole Compact failure at feet of Senate

It’s the Florida Senate’s fault that the Seminole Compact wasn’t passed this session, two House leaders said Friday afternoon.

They rejected claims that there weren’t enough votes in the House, saying instead there was no point in moving a bill that wasn’t going to be considered across the Capitol Rotunda. (For today’s background, click here.)

The Senate gave up on it earlier this week, with President Andy Gardiner saying the compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle.” This is his last year in office.

“We wanted to keep hope alive, but obviously nothing panned out,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. “We figured there was no life in it … as for 2016, it won’t have an opportunity to come back up.”

“It just couldn’t get done in the Senate,” he added. “There wasn’t a compromise opportunity to get it done.”

Gardiner and other Senate leaders weren’t available Friday night because that chamber was still meeting.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the Finance and Tax Committee, said he believed there were “no fewer than” 80 votes in the 120-member House to pass the re-negotiated agreement.

He also feared that now the courts will essentially make gambling policy for the state as several related suits are pending.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to consider a challenge by a Creek Indian-operated racetrack in Gretna that it and pari-mutuels in five other counties can offer slots because voters approved the machines in local referendums.

Competing lawsuits are also before two federal judges.

In one, the Seminoles say the state violated a previous promise of blackjack exclusivity by allowing card games known as player-designated games, similar to some versions of player-banked poker.

The tribe offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa.

In another suit, the state alleges that the tribe current offering of blackjack is technically unauthorized because one part of the previous agreement expired and Seminole blackjack going on now is illegal gambling.

“If we don’t take action, we will surrender the state’s involvement in this critical decision-making,” Gaetz said. “If there is judicial action that deems the state in violation of the Compact, we’ll have the deprivation of revenue, a loss of control on the expansion of gaming … and we look dysfunctional.”

The previous blackjack deal was worth at least $1 billion over five years to the state treasury, though payments usually exceeded $200 million per year. Revenue from the tribe stops without a new deal.

It wasn’t clear whether the new Compact would still go to the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees Indian gambling, for review and separate approval.

Seminole Compact dies (again) in Florida Legislature

The Florida House of Representatives “temporarily postponed” consideration of this year’s troubled gambling legislation, suggesting last-minute whip counts showed a lack of votes to pass the bills.

Friday’s move signals that any possibility of legislative approval of the state’s new gambling agreement, or compact, with the Seminole Tribe of Florida is dead for the session, which ends next Friday.

The Senate had already given up on it: The compact “will be for another day, and for somebody else to handle,” President Andy Gardiner said earlier this week. This is his last year in office.

“Gaming bills tend to die of their own weight,” he added.

It’s now up to the tribe whether it triggers its ‘nuclear option,’ making good on a promise by Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen that the tribe would lay off thousands of casino workers across the state if the deal died this year.

Gov. Rick Scott this Wednesday repeated the threat before reporters: “According to the Seminoles, if the Compact is not passed, 3,700 people are going to lose their jobs.”

Gary Bitner, the Seminoles’ spokesman, “respectfully declined comment” Friday night.

The new Seminole Compact was worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but also contained key provisions that critics said expand gambling in Florida, such as allowing the Tribe to offer craps and roulette.

Moreover, lawmakers trying to appease pari-mutuel interests, such as horse and dog tracks, added on even more measures to expand gambling, including slot machines and card games. But that move ensured its demise among legislators shy of seeming too cozy with gambling interests.

We’ll add more comment to this story as we get it.


Jim Rosica (jim@floridapolitics.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

Mitch Perry Report for 3.3.16 – Mittens returns

Mitt Romney returns full circle to the political circus today with a speech he’s going to give in Salt Lake City at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Politico has some excerpts from the text. Here’s the killer sound bite.”

“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat. … His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”

Since nothing to date has affected Teflon Don, can this make a difference to anyone, specifically Florida registered Republicans who are currently voting and will be up to March 15?

Meanwhile, Trump’s upcoming speech this Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is being protested by groups who simply don’t think that the man is a conservative, and thus shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Boy, the GOP is in serious crisis mode. Or do you disagree?

What’s led to this debacle? Former Florida Democratic House Minority Leader Dan Gelber writes in his blog that the Republicans need to stare at themselves in the mirror.

“When preserving power by any means becomes the singular goal of your party, virtue is bound to be replaced with bombast, and thoughtful policies supplanted by callow rhetoric,” Gelber writes. “And don’t get me wrong, Trump will be formidable because appealing to the worst instincts in people can sometimes be effective. But at least, this election will present clear choices.So don’t blame Donald Trump because more than half your party adores the fear, anger, misogyny, racism and xenophobia he spouts. Don’t blame Donald Trump because his adolescent pronouncements and charlatan promises have become your organizing principles.”

In other news …

Club for Growth Action, a super PAC designed to stop Donald Trump, has had some success in running ads against the Manhattan mogul in Iowa and Oklahoma, where he lost out to Ted Cruz both times. The group is now doing a $1.5 million ad by targeting Trump in Florida.

With Florida being ground zero for new HIV infections, the Florida Legislature has finally passed a needle-exchange pilot bill for Miami-Dade County. 

David Jolly is sponsoring a bill that will look at the link of prescription drugs prescribed to veterans who have killed themselves after serving overseas.

Eric Lynn has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women PAC in his race against fellow Democrat Charlie Crist in Pinellas County. The former Obama administration official told a crowd of Pinellas Democrats about the news while Crist sat in the audience.

Frustrated by what appears to be yet another Florida Legislative session that will fail to address ride-sharing, Uber is going nuclear against the man they perceive to be the holdup, Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Meanwhile, the Florida Taxi Association is firing back at Uber (and Lyft) regarding TNC legislation.

Congressman Vern Buchanan is calling the Pentagon to reinstate a decorated war hero who was punished for standing up to a child rapist in Afghanistan.

Uber ad blames Andy Gardiner for failure of ride-sharing legislation in Senate

Uber is publicly blaming Senate President Andy Gardiner for the collapse of a deal that would create a legal framework for the ride-hailing technology company to operate in Florida.

LobbyTools reports that the San Francisco-based company is holding the Senate president personally responsible for blocking the bill.

“Senator Gardiner’s actions raise a very important question,” Uber spokesman Colin Tooze told reporters. “Is Senator Gardiner going to listen to the voices of the people of Florida, or is he beholden to one special interest taxi company?”

The “special-interest taxi company” Tooze alludes to is Orlando-based Mears Transportation. Gardiner is a longtime friend of CEO Paul Mears III.

Uber had intended to run an ad blasting Gardiner in the Tallahassee market during the Republican presidential primary debate but held off as the bill progressed.

Since the proposal now seems to be dead on arrival, LobbyTools says the company will now reconsider running the 30-second ad called “Floridians Want Uber.”

Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons, sponsor of SB 1118 — the Senate version of the bill — also criticized Uber, saying the ride-sharing company shouldn’t dictate to the Legislature.

“The negotiations … are not breaking down in any way,” Simmons said Tuesday. “Remarks that are made by Uber about President Gardiner are grossly unfair and inaccurate. I was surprised by this.”

Gardiner brushed off accusations that he should receive blame for delaying the bill.

“During the 2016 Legislative Session, no Senator filed a companion to the House Bill requiring state pre-emption,” Gardiner representative Katie Betta told LobbyTools in an email. “The bill filed in the Senate is related to liability and insurance and is on the Senate calendar and available for a vote on the Senate floor.”

Mitch Perry Report for 3.2.16 – How safe will it be for Republicans to endorse Donald Trump?

We were prepared not to weigh in on the results from last night’s Super Tuesday results, but watching the evisceration of Chris Christie on Twitter last prompted a closer look at what Florida GOP strategist Rick Wilson writes about in today’s Daily Beast.

“Far from having the same kind of Kevlar media armor Trump enjoys, if you think you inherit his invulnerability, you’re deeply, sadly mistaken,” Wilson writes, referring to Republicans like Christie, who have come out and endorsed the GOP front-runner, or are thinking about it. “You’re about to become a bullet magnet for every controversial statement Trump has made … and if you try to out-Trump Trump, you’ll be laughed off the stage.”

Perhaps that’s what David Jolly was thinking when he released a statement last night saying that he wouldn’t endorse in the Florida presidential primary on March 15.

Folks, short of a miracle, Trump will be giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Will the party rally around him?

Nothing sticks to him, as we’ve seen about two dozen times over the past year. Nothing. Is that going to work for a Republican in a contested primary? Good luck with that.

Obviously, Rick Scott doesn’t really care about that. Though the Florida Governor didn’t endorse last night, there’s no question that the two businessmen turned Republican candidates/lawmakers are simpatico. Then again, Scott’s lack of popularity has never seemed to hurt him too much to date. If he runs for Senate in 2018, well, that’s light years away.

But for those who are on the ballot this November? Let’s go back to quoting Wilson:

“I’ve knocked out any number of Democrats using ads associating them with the brand toxicity of Reid, Pelosi, and Obama, and before that Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, and others. All the Democrats have to do is what I did, in reverse. If Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is being sworn in come 2017, this family of ads will be the thing that put him there.”

In other news …

It’s interesting to note that when some lawmakers run for president, their popularity increases, and some, like Chris Christie in New Jersey, see their numbers tank. Add Marco Rubio to the latter, as the GOP presidential candidate actually trails Rick Scott in popularity now.

Some folks won’t let Marco’s “conversion” on undocumented immigration slide. A group representing the families of victims who were met with violence by the undocumented penned a harsh letter about Rubio on Monday, warning Super Tuesday voters not to be fooled by the Florida Senator.

As another legislative session appears to be winding down without any regulation of ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, Uber takes it out on Senate President Andy Gardiner.

A Public Policy Polling survey shows that, as in other recent polls, while most Floridians aren’t sure at all about who’s running for U.S. Senate, among those who do, David Jolly and Alan Grayson are the early leaders.

While Bernie Sanders‘ dream of capturing the Democratic presidential nomination may be on the ropes, the dreams of the U.S. looking more like Scandinavian isn’t, or so say a local think tank official.

Rick Scott’s proposal to fund Enterprise Florida to the tune of $250 million may be on the legislative rocks, but Tampa Bay Partnership head Rick Homans wants to make sure that House and Senate Budget appropriations chairs Richard Corcoran and Tom Lee realize how much it means to the economic development of the Tampa Bay area.

Judicial term limits bill likely dead in Senate

A House initiative to place term limits on state Supreme Court justices and appellate judges was assigned to three committees of reference in the Senate late Tuesday: Judiciary, Ethics & Elections, and Rules.

Under Senate rules, though, “Unless approved by the President, no committee shall meet after the fiftieth (50th) day of a regular session except the Rules Committee.”

Tuesday was the 50th day of the 2016 Legislative Session, which is scheduled concludes March 11.

“It received the same references as the Senate companion, which was not heard in its first committee of reference,” said Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner.

“To bring a bill to the Senate floor that was never heard in a Senate Committee requires unanimous consent” of the chamber, she said. That suggests the bill is lifeless.

The House approved the measure (HB 197) on a 76-38 vote. Because imposing term limits on appellate judges and justices requires changing the state constitution, it needed three-fifths of the House, or at least 72 votes. And as Betta said, its companion measure (SB 322) was not heard in the Senate.

The proposal would mean a constitutional amendment that would also have to be approved by 60 percent of voters in the next election.

It would limit district court of appeal judges and state Supreme Court justices to 12 years on the bench, or two six-year terms.

House Democrats have said the bill was a result of Republican displeasure with the state Supreme Court over what the controlling GOP caucus perceives to be overly liberal interpretations of law by most of its justices.

Republicans publicly winced over the court’s ordering that Florida’s congressional and state Senate districts had to be redrawn, saying GOP legislative leaders had unconstitutionally gerrymandered them to favor Republicans.

Appellate judges now can serve virtually unlimited six-year terms, after appointment by the governor, until mandatory retirement at age 70.

Such judges must stand every six years for yes-or-no “merit retention votes” that no judge has lost since the system began in the 1970s.

No other state has imposed term limits on its appellate-level judges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Uber blasts Andy Gardiner as being impediment in getting ride-sharing bill passed

Will 2016 finally be the year the Florida Legislature implements rules of the road for ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft?

In late January, the Florida House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill (HB 509) addressing Transportation Network Companies (TNC), but its fate in the state Senate is unknown, and officials with Uber on Tuesday blamed President Andy Gardiner’s intransigence for that holdup.

“We are calling on Senator Gardiner to set his personal self-interest aside, set special interest politics aside, and follow through on his word,” said Colin Tooze, Director, Public Affairs with Uber, in a conference call.

The “personal self-interest” is a reference to Gardiner’s relationship with Roger Chapin, the vice president with Mears Transportation in Orlando and board member with Florida Taxicab Association. That group has been pushing the Legislature to enact tough regulations on Uber and Lyft.

The key difference between the Senate and House bills has to do with the Senate’s insistence requiring that the ride-sharing driver to have insurance coverage even when he or she is not logged into the Uber or Lyft app.

The House legislation, sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, includes insurance requirements of $50,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 in coverage for property damage while logged on to the network. It would also set requirements for driver background checks and would block local governments from establishing rules for rideshare programs. That provision has drawn opposition from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

A measure in the Senate sponsored by Altamonte Springs Republican Dave Simmons and supported by Gardiner has yet to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Its insurance requirements for Uber and Lyft are more expensive than the House version.

It would require ride-sharing companies to have $125,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per person, $250,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per incident and $50,000 in coverage for property damage when logged on to the network or engaged in a prearranged ride. And when the driver was not logged into the system, drivers would have to maintain $25,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per person, $50,000 in coverage for death and bodily injury per incident and $10,000 in coverage for property damage, all levels that are higher than the state’s personal injury protection insurance requirements.

Uber’s Tooze called those “unprecedented concessions” and said he thought he thought that the company had a deal with the Legislature, but said that, “Unfortunately, Mears and their powerful benefactor in the Senate changed their minds and have walked away from a deal that would have ensured access to safe transportation options and flexible work for all Floridians. It’s apparent now that they were never serious about it in the first place,” adding that “something’s not on the level.”

“The pound of flesh they demanded was more expensive insurance policies than anywhere else in the country, making it more expensive for Uber to operate in Florida,” Tooze added, disdain dripping from his voice.

Chapin said he didn’t know what Uber was talking about. He said he’s met with officials from the company a few times this year, but said, “I don’t think we have ever come away from the table with a deal, so I’m not sure where that’s coming from.”

He said that he’s never gone over ride-sharing legislation with Gardiner, but has with Senate bill sponsor Dave Simmons. “I think they’re just rolling into an example of where they haven’t gotten their way like they have in other places, and it’s kind of pissed them off,” he said of the Uber official spokesman comments.

Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Senator Gardiner, said the issue is that there is not a true companion bill in the Senate to Gaetz’ bill in the House.

“During the 2016 Legislative Session, no Senator filed a companion to the House bill requiring state pre-emption,” she wrote to FloridaPolitics.com in an email. “Pulling a House bill with no Senate sponsor that has never been heard in a single Senate Committee from its committees of reference and taking it up on the Senate floor requires the unanimous consent of the Senate. Any Senator can make such a motion.”

Before the conference call took place, the Florida Taxicab Association issued a statement referencing how Uber’s website states that drivers need not bother with alerting their personal insurance carriers when signing up to drive for the company, stating that, during the time that a ride-sharing partner is available but between trips, most personal auto insurance will provide coverage.”

The post went on to quote Josh Mohrer, an Uber general manager, who recently acknowledged that drivers’ personal auto insurers do deny claims for accidents that occur during the gap between the driver logging onto the app and when he or she accepts a ride.

The Taxicab Association said such a statement called into question whether insurance covering the cost of an accident “most of the time” is a sound policy.

An Uber official emailed a response to FloridaPolitics.com upon seeing those comments:”Uber has insurance in place at all times when a driver is logged into the app, both in the period before a driver accepts a trip and during the trip. While on a trip, there is $1 million in coverage in place, more than 4 times what taxi is required to have under Florida law.”

Budget conference to begin this weekend

Legislative leaders issued a joint statement on the 2016-17 state budget Thursday night:

Members,

We are pleased with the progress President (Tom) Lee and Chair (Richard) Corcoran (the Senate and House budget chiefs) have made and are optimistic we will be ready to begin the budget conference this weekend.

We will update you as early as possible tomorrow, so you can make the appropriate travel arrangements.

Thank you for your patience as we work through this important process. We look forward to providing you with more information as soon as possible.

President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli

Stay tuned for an update Friday morning …

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