Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 5 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Andy Gardiner questions impact of changed Seminole Compact, gambling bill

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s still unclear whether changes made this week to the proposed gambling deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida would violate an existing deal between the two.

“We probably have to get some revenue estimating numbers to find out,” he told reporters after Thursday’s floor session. “There are some that will believe it affects the existing compact, and if it passes, the existing compact will go away.”

The tribe already has paid Florida more than $1 billion since 2010 for exclusive rights to offer blackjack. Those rights expired last year, requiring a new deal.

The new deal guarantees $3 billion over seven years for continued exclusivity to offer blackjack. The tribe now has blackjack at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and six other casinos.

Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner has said card games generate just under 20 percent of the tribe’s total gambling revenue, which is up to $1 billion yearly just at the Tampa location.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling in Florida, approved both measures (SB 7072, SB 7074) on Wednesday with changes. The full Legislature and U.S. Department of Interior still must sign off on the agreement.

Changes made this week include expanding slot machines beyond South Florida to pari-mutuel facilities, lowering the effective tax rate on the machines, and clarifying that fantasy sports play is a game of skill and not gambling.

Expanding the availability of slot machines likely will violate another portion of the existing agreement, which in some instances means the Seminoles can reduce or stop sharing gambling revenue altogether. That affects revenue available for the upcoming state budget.

“All the changes … make that bill a pretty heavy lift,” Gardiner added, saying he’d figure out what to do with the compact and related gambling legislation “in the next couple of days.”

“But it makes no sense to me to move it till we know what the fiscal impact is,” he said.


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

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Legislature wants to be dropped from federal redistricting lawsuit

The Republican-led Florida Legislature is asking a federal judge to dismiss the House and Senate from an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional map.

Lawyers for the House and Senate filed the request Tuesday. The state Supreme Court last month approved a new map for Florida’s 27 congressional districts that will result in changes to the state’s political landscape.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner said he does not see a reason for the Legislature to defend the court ruling.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has filed a lawsuit that contends her new district violates federal voting laws and diminishes the voting clout of minorities. The new map shifts the district of the Jacksonville Democrat from one that runs north-south to one that stretches westward to Tallahassee.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

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Senate committee passes 2 key bills expanding health care access

Bills that would iron out rules for direct primary care contracts and encourage healthcare companies to give free health care to low-income Floridians passed the Senate Committee on Health Policy Monday.

SB 1144, sponsored by Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, would allow new medical facilities to bypass a lengthy review process known as “certificate of need” if they commit to giving free health care to low-income patients.

“This regulatory framework promotes access to care, while protecting safety net providers from unfair competition,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Senator Gaetz’s legislation eliminates this burdensome process as long as facilities provide or fund a threshold level of charity care to low-income, uninsured residents.”

Under the bill, companies would need to give 1.5 percent of a new facility’s first-year profits to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and would have to match the area average for free health care from the facility’s second year and onward.

The committee also voted for a bill by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, SB 132, that clears up rules surrounding “direct primary care” – an arrangement where patients or their employers pay physicians a monthly fee for regular checkups and necessary care, rather than involving an insurance company.

“We know how important basic primary care is to our overall health, and we want to make sure more people can afford to purchase these services from a doctor they know and trust, rather than in a hospital emergency room when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable,” Gardiner said.

The bill would require direct primary care agreements to be in writing, specify what services are included in the contract and make clear that it is not a replacement for health insurance, among other provisions.

SB 132 is similar to HB 37, sponsored by Port Orange Republican Rep. Fred Costello. That bill made it through its last committee stop on Jan. 27 and is ready for a floor vote in the House.

Grimsley’s bill now moves to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, while SB 1144 is heading to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, led by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

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Senate budget eliminates direct funding for youth mentoring

State Sen. Joe Negron, a former budget panel chief, told his colleagues last month in an acceptance speech for his upcoming Senate presidency that the state must do more for its troubled children and teens.

“We should not and we will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people but, at the same time, let’s not criminalize adolescence,” he said, according to the Senate Journal’s version.

Most experts agree that after-school mentoring programs, such as those offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, are effective at helping kids, especially those at risk, to succeed in school and develop social skills.

But the Florida Senate, in its proposed $80.9 billion budget for next year, seemingly has gone to a “dog-eat-dog” approach, telling the state’s mentoring programs that to get funding, they’ll have to fight for it among themselves.

The Senate budget, released Friday afternoon, essentially zeros out funding for individual providers and instead creates a $30 million “competitive grants” program where organizations will have to apply.

Under the Senate plan, money will be awarded by a committee of members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and could include Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and other top officials.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, the Niceville Republican who chairs the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was unavailable for an interview, his assistant said.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta provided a statement from Gaetz: “The grant process is designed so worthy groups can be funded on the basis of their value to children and their results. Our committee is recommending more money in this fund than the total funded for these purposes in the past. (It is) a fairer process based on evaluation of results, not dependent on lobbyists, and (provides) more money for these worthy causes.”

In a Tuesday hearing, Gaetz warned the nonprofits that before they issue calls to “go to the Capitol and burn the place down,” they should realize their funding won’t be “on a line-item basis (but) they’re not being cut.”

When state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, questioned the overall education spending plan, Gaetz told him, “The concrete is poured, and it’s hardening … Everything is a zero-sum game.”

Representatives of the state’s nonprofit children organizations say they’re flabbergasted — and feeling betrayed.

“We’ve been getting funding from the Legislature for 19 years,” said Daniel Lyons, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs. “We did everything we were asked to do, so this came out of nowhere.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs mentor about 6,000 children in over 200 facilities throughout the state.

Lyons said converting funding into grants for which each group will have to apply means organizations like his won’t get paid, if at all, until well after the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

“Talk about being bowled over and slapped in the face,” he said.

Jody Clifford, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida, said she didn’t immediately know how many youths are in her mentoring programs “but it’s a huge number.”

Having to compete and wait for funding “could have a huge negative impact on the already low-performing children we help,” she said. “We’re absolutely stunned.”

On the other hand, the House proposed budget, also released Friday, keeps a method of direct funding to specific groups with a $14.8 million pot of money.

From it, $2.2 million is slated for Big Brothers Big Sisters, $3 million goes to the Florida Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs, and $6.2 million is for Take Stock in Children, a nonprofit led by Jillian Hasner, wife of former state Rep. Adam Hasner, the House Republican Leader in 2008-10.

Money for mentoring has been decreasing in recent years’ state budgets, going from $30.5 million in fiscal year 2014-15 to $18.4 million for 2015-16.


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Senator Gaetz’s “concrete” quote was in response to a question from Senator Ring. It also includes an updated comment on the Senate spending plan from Gaetz.

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Rick Scott makes pitch for hospital transparency proposal at American Enterprise Institute

Florida Gov. Rick Scott made a pitch for his hospital transparency legislation, this time laying out his plan to a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

Scott, a former hospital executive, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. The Naples Republican used his appearance as a chance to outline a proposal that, he contends, would make hospital pricing more transparent.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, that we should not know what things cost,” he said. “What I pushed for this year is that all hospitals should post all of their prices on their website. On top of that, if you go in for something, like to the emergency room, (hospitals) shouldn’t be able to charge you more than a certain percentage over their average price.”

Scott said hospitals need to tell patients “how much money they make, what their executive compensation is,” so they can make informed decisions.

In May, Scott created the Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding to look at ways government spending on health care can be more efficient. Scott and the board heard from Floridians who reported price gouging, and Scott said his proposal would attempt to put a stop to that.

“It’s wrong that our hospital industry doesn’t tell us what things cost,” he said. “It’s not fair to patients.”

Scott’s speech came as the state Senate health and human services appropriations subcommittee passed legislation aimed increasing transparency and availability of pricing and quality of service information.

The Senate proposal requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to work with vendors to create a database that consumers can research the cost of health care services. It also provides for penalties for “unconscionable prices.”

“Patients in need of medical treatment deserve to know how much they should reasonably expect to pay for particular services,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a statement. “This bill will make that information more readily available and also includes penalties for those entities who would charge unconscionable prices to Floridians in need of medical attention.”

Scott, however, told the crowd at the American Enterprise Institute that House and Senate proposals don’t go far enough, and there need to be penalties to ensure the law is enforced.

“Everyone should know what everything costs,” said Scott. “The information should be posted online, and you’ve got to have penalties. I think it’s important.”

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Brian Pitts suing Rick Scott, lawmakers over “invalid” state budget

Perennial gadfly and Capitol fixture Brian Pitts is suing Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for “preliminary and perpetual relief” from what he calls an “invalid” state budget for this year.

Pitts, a trustee of his St. Petersburg-based Justice-2-Jesus church group, filed a 30-page complaint in Leon Circuit Civil Court last week, according to court records. The suit also names House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

He’s well known to observers of The Process, often speaking at committee hearings where he hectors lawmakers for what he considers flawed legislation. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In the sometimes rambling document, mystifyingly laid out in landscape format, Pitts said the 2015-16 state budget, passed in a Special Session last year, is both “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Pitts laid out a laundry list of offenses bolstering his argument, including a lack of itemizations and improperly defined line-items, though Pitts acknowledges “there are just too many (deficiencies) to number.”

Surprisingly for a plaintiff in a court action, Pitts seemingly apologizes for having to file suit.

“Plaintiff, truly, has learned to love … each unique and highly esteemed member of the Florida Legislature, but they cannot continue in their pattern of unbridle(d) discretion or abuse,” he wrote. “To be honest, in all sincerity, plaintiff never thought he would ever be filing such a massive relief application” but his “conscience will not allow ignoring this any longer.”

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III, who recently presided over the state Senate redistricting challenge, finding for the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs, resulting in a redrawn district map.

Pitts also filed to pursue his action under indigent status, asking to be relieved of usual court costs. He seeks unspecified damages, costs and attorney fees; he filed the case “pro se,” meaning he is acting as his own attorney.

In 2003, Pitts spent nearly four months in the Pinellas County jail on a charge of practicing law without a license, which he said was a wrongful arrest. Claim bills have been subsequently filed in Tallahassee seeking to reimburse Pitts up to $350,000, records show.

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Florida GOP, Blaise Ingoglia get truce offer from Rick Scott one year after split

The Republican Party of Florida kicked off the 2016 election year with offers of truces from Gov. Rick Scott and incoming Florida Senate leaders though the party still will have less of the state’s Republican campaign money and political messaging under its control.

With unity being a critical theme in a presidential election year commonly carried by Democrats, an emissary for Scott and incoming Senate President Joe Negron both pledged just that Saturday at the party’s annual meeting in Orlando. The pledges come a year after a Scott and current Senate President Andy Gardiner effectively split with Florida GOP leadership, took back money they had contributed to the party, and set out to run fundraising, Republican campaigns and agenda messaging more independently of the party.

The rift occurred after state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill got elected the new chairman of the RPOF in what had essentially been a grassroots coup last January, ousting Scott’s hand-picked party chief, Leslie Dougher. Ingoglia, calling for a party refocus on grassroots, then cleaned house of much of the RPOF staff under Dougher, infuriating Gardiner.

But now, about 10 months from the general election, everyone is insisting they want to be on the same page.

The money that Scott and Gardiner removed from RPOF coffers is not likely to come back; and Scott, the  Senate Republicans and others will continue to run their independent political committees to promote Republican campaigns and political agendas. But Saturday everyone vowed to be on the same page, and even help the RPOF with its fundraising.

“Governor Scott’s agenda is the party’s agenda, and the party’s agenda is the governor’s agenda,” Scott Hopes, a medical services executive who is a Scott designee to the party, told the RPOF general meeting.

And he offered more, an end to outright competition for Republican contributions. In the past year, Scott’s fundraising efforts have focused on his own Let’s Get To Work committee rather than the party.

“We are calling on all Republicans across the state to unify for the cause, including raising money for the party,” Hopes said. “Mr. Chairman, we look forward to helping you raise money for the party.”

Ingoglia accepted.

“We love the governor,” he told the meeting. “The governor is the head of the party, and, like Scott [Hopes] said, the governor’s agenda is our agenda, and our agenda is the governor’s agenda.”

Ingoglia insisted in his report to the party that it “has never been in a better position than we are in right now.”

But it has been a challenging year as the splits of the governor and Senate president accelerated what might have been an inevitable shift anyway, how the party itself can raise money and direct the Republican campaigning and messaging. Nationwide super PACs and other committees have been rising to compete with national and local parties for money and control of candidates’ campaigns and political messages.

Ingoglia insisted later that the party and the governor’s staff have never fallen out of communication. But he added, “Any involvement the governor has with the party, we welcome.”

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Legal battle over state Senate districts coming to an end

A contentious battle over Florida state senate districts is coming to an end.

The Florida Senate is not going to appeal a redistricting ruling handed down in December. Circuit Judge George Reynolds in that decision signed off on a map drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups.

That decision means that Republicans could lose control of the state Senate. That’s because the map chosen by Reynolds is split nearly evenly between GOP and Democratic-leaning districts and will likely create four South Florida seats that could be won by Hispanic candidates.

Senate President Andy Gardiner decided to accept the ruling after discussing the ruling with attorneys and Sen. Bill Galvano. Galvano said he concluded that it would not be “prudent” to pursue an appeal.

Voting rights groups in 2012 sued over the existing Senate districts.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Legislature passes measure to aid disabled

In what Senate President Andy Gardiner called the last of a “trifecta” of first-week bills, a measure to help people with disabilities get jobs is heading to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved the bill (HB 7003) on Friday.

Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, has a son with Down syndrome and has pushed several bills this year to help those with disabilities.

The final bill in the package is intended to encourage state agencies to hire disabled employees. It also establishes a financial literacy program for those with disabilities and recognizes businesses that advance the cause of employing the disabled.

“This has been a good week for the citizens of Florida,” Gardiner said, seemingly beaming from the dais. “We’re changing lives.”

On Thursday, the Legislature approved a bill that would expand a program providing scholarships up to $10,000 a year to families of children with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

It also passed a comprehensive water policy bill sought by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

• • •

Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

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Big-name groups, leaders trumpet progress on legislative priorities

A major trio of political players at the Florida Capitol are happy with progress made Thursday on big-ticket priorities in the Legislature.

The H2O Coalition, a water policy consortium affiliated with Associated Industries of Florida, applauded the further progress of what it calls comprehensive water reform in the Legislature.

The praise comes after the House gave final approval to SB 552 by Sen. Charlie Dean, which is identical to HB 7005 by Rep. Matt Caldwell, who led the House’s efforts to update state water policy after voters’ overwhelming approval of Amendment 1 in 2014.

“Today is a historic day for Florida. Floridians should be proud of the leadership demonstrated by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Representative Matt Caldwell, Senator Charlie Dean and Commissioner Adam Putnam in passing a comprehensive water policy that should serve as a model for other states,” AIF Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis said in a prepared statement Thursday afternoon.

“If enacted, the impact of this comprehensive water policy will be far-reaching and felt long after the members of this body are in office,” Bevis said. “Future generations of Floridians will remember the 2016 Legislative Session as the time when lawmakers upgraded our water policy with higher water quality standards, stronger protections for our springs, and a forward-thinking approach that integrates water planning into economic development.”

The AIF executive and policy advocate concluded his remarks with a clarion call to the governor, who must sign the legislation for it to go into effect.

“As this bill goes to Governor Scott’s desk for his consideration, I join representatives from Florida’s business, environmental and agricultural communities in urging him to sign it,” Bevis said. “The future of Florida’s water supply depends on it.”

Foundation for Florida’s Future, for its part, celebrated the approval of greater educational funding and support for children with unique abilities.

“I am particularly grateful to the Legislature, which today expanded the Gardiner Scholarship Account Program to include 3- and 4-year-olds as well as students with muscular dystrophy and autism spectrum disorder,” FFF Executive Director Patricia Levesque said after the passage of SB 672. “This measure will give parents more options and resources to ensure brighter futures for their children. Thank you to Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Erik Fresen for sponsoring this measure, and to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for supporting and leading the House to support.

“But my deepest appreciation goes to Senate President Andy Gardiner. His passion and drive has turned a personal crusade into a state priority. The impact of his advocacy will make a profound difference in the lives of children – with unique abilities – for generations to come. It is an outstanding legacy and one that will be long remembered.”

Finally, the Senate President himself took a victory lap after securing the relatively easy passage of a raft of priorities, chiefly the aforementioned support for children with disabilities.

“I am so grateful to Speaker Crisafulli and my colleagues in the House for making our cradle-to-career pathway to economic independence a reality for people with unique abilities and their families,” Gardiner said.

“There are so many Floridians with unique abilities who can benefit from the opportunity to personalize their education and to learn the skills needed to contribute to Florida’s workforce in a meaningful way. This comprehensive package will give people with unique abilities and their families a road map to education and employment opportunities that will help them on the path to economic independence.”

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