Florida became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings when Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday.
The measure was among 16 bills that Scott signed, including a bill that gives students and school employees a broader right to express their religious viewpoint in schools.
The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it will make their job more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.
That led Republicans to seek to shift that burden. They argued that it protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty. But opponents said it will embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.
Only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof – Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina – and all place it on defendants.
Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.
Florida changed that in 2005, so that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed to be. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common in pre-trial immunity hearings and during trials.
The 2012 killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.
Florida is taking extra steps to boost security at Jewish day schools across the state.
Lawmakers tucked $654,000 into the fiscal 2017-18 budget, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott law week, for security funding for Jewish day schools throughout Florida. The request for funding came after a string of bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the country earlier this year.
“There has recently been a dramatic rise in the threats against Jewish day schools and I was proud to join Governor Scott and my fellow Legislative members in taking immediate action to help protect our Jewish communities,” said Rep. Randy Fine, who joined Scott at the Orlando Torah Academy earlier this week to discuss the funding. “This funding will help provide Jewish day schools with important security resources and ensure our students, teachers and parents feel safe.”
Fine, a Brevard County Republican, pushed for the funding during the 2017 Regular Session. His proposal (HB 3653) received bi-partisan support; unanimously clearing the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and picking up a half dozen co-sponsors, ranging from Republicans Jason Fischer and Bill Hager to Democrats Joseph Geller, Jared Moskowitz, EmilySlosberg and Richard Stark.
The money, according to the Governor’s Office, will be used to help provide security and counter-terrorism upgrades such as video cameras, fences, bullet-proof glass, and alarm systems.
There were 167 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions in 38 states and three Canadian provinces as of March 21, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which is tracking threats made to Jewish institutions.
The ADL reported that 18 Jewish day schools, at least one of which was in Florida, received a bomb threat as of March 21.
“We want to make sure our students stay safe and focused on what is most important- getting a great education, and I appreciate the Florida Legislature for taking quick action to come together and fight for this important funding,” the Naples Republican said in a statement earlier this week. “We will continue to work closely with the members of Florida’s Jewish community and our partners in the state and federal government to do all we can to help keep all of our students and families safe.”
Medical marijuana has officially been added to the agenda for this week’s special session.
Gov. Rick Scottissued a proclamation Tuesday afternoon expanding the three-day special session to include medical marijuana implementing legislation. The announcement came shortly after Scott met with House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who carried the implementing legislation during the regular session.
“Medical marijuana was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, and I believe that it is the role of the Florida Legislature to determine how to best implement this approved constitutional amendment,” said Scott in a statement. “I am glad that both the Florida Senate and House are moving toward crafting legislation to help patients, and I have added medical marijuana to the call for special session.”
Sen. Rob Bradley has filed legislation that will be taken up this week. During a brief floor session Wednesday, Rodrigues told members the bills appeared to “match up” with the House’s position. He expected a bill on the House floor by Thursday.
The agreement calls for 10 new growers to be licensed this year, in addition to the seven that already hold a state license under the existing, limited cannabis program. Five new growers would be added for every 100,000 patients.
Retail facilities would be capped at 25; however, the cap on dispensaries will sunset in 2020.
“I know many members of the Legislature, including Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran, have worked hard on implementing Amendment 2 and I look forward to the Legislature passing a bill this week that puts Florida patients first,” said Scott in a statement.
The 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.
It brought Senate President Joe Negron into sharp focus, since he seems to be the one leading the charge to turn the quid pro quo reached in secret last week with Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott into a quid pro no.
It makes for dandy political theater and all, but shouldn’t all of this have been worked out BEFORE the three amigos appeared on stage together last Fridayto tout the budget agreement? The way it was presented made it sound like everyone had gotten something they wanted and all the other lawmakers had to do was see the brilliance of the compromise and pull out their rubber stamp.
Let’s try to make at least a little sense out of this, shall we?
Simply put, the way education will be funded in Florida appears to be at the center of this knockdown, drag-out.
Negron’s main interest appears to be increasing money for the state university system. He has long championed an effort to bring Florida’s institutions of higher learning into the same status as, say, those in Michigan and Virginia.
That’s not surprising. Negron is an educated man, holding a master’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from Emory University. He apparently wants to restore money to the university system that would otherwise be redirected to the K-12 public system.
He also wants to use some of the state’s reserve fund to restore $260 million in cuts to hospitals
Why he didn’t make that point during the now-infamous secret meeting last week with Scott and Corcoran isn’t clear. Then again, maybe he did and the other two weren’t paying attention.
I’ll bet they’re paying attention now, though.
In a pre-session memo to senators, Negron said, “I have made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session. Nor have I made any agreement to limit the subject matter.”
State Senator Jack Latvala tossed in a grenade of his own with this tweet: “Just 3 months ago @richardcorcoran wanted to abolish EFI and Visit FL. Now he wants to give them $150 million plus. What changed?”
For the acronym-challenged, EFI stands for Scott’s beloved Enterprise Florida jobs incentive program. Visit Florida is the tourism promotion arm. Corcoran used his opposition to both programs (CORPORATE WELFARE, he screamed) as a kind of Trojan horse so he could push forward with what appears to be his real agenda — an expansion of charter schools.
With the possibility of a Scott veto looming over Corcoran’s signature piece of legislation, they thought they reached the compromise that was unveiled last Friday. Scott seemed satisfied with the funding for his programs, and Corcoran threw in a few requirements in the name of accountability about how the money will be spent.
I guess they didn’t count on Negron’s last-minute gambit.
Corcoran responded to Negron’s memo with a lengthy statement that accused him of wanting “a massive property tax increase, wants to weaken accountability provisions for VISIT FL and EFI, and wants to raid reserves to give to hospital CFOs. Needless to say, the House is not raising taxes, not softening accountability rules, and not borrowing against reserves to pay for corporate giveaways.”
There is no way to know how this is going to end or how long it will take, so I won’t hazard a guess. The last time I tried to do that, I got whiplash. I don’t want to make it any worse.
As state lawmakers head back to Tallahassee for a special session this week, the Florida College System is are asking Gov. Rick Scott to reconsider millions upon millions of cuts to their base budgets.
Thomas LoBasso, the president of Daytona State College and the chairman of the Council of Presidents, sent a letter to Scott asking the governor to “reconsider the proposed Florida College System budget, which includes $30.2 million in recurring base cuts to one of Florida’ most critical economic engines.” The letter asks Scott to urge legislative leaders to restore cuts and “make the FCS whole again.”
“We are all focused on developing a world-class higher education system and building the workforce pipeline — continuing Florida’s course of outpacing the nation as you continue to build our economy, jobs, and education to be the best in the nation,” wrote LoBasso in his letter. “The $30.2 million in permanent funding reduction to the Florida College System will be detrimental to our state and local communities and could take years to restore and even longer to recover. The range of reductions at each college is between $190,000 at our smallest institution to over $4.6 million at our largest with the average a little under $1.1 million.”
LoBasso said the services that will be cut help the state’s “most vulnerable and underserved students succeed, and these budget cuts will hurt them the most — many of whom are first-generation college students, minorities, veterans, students from families with low incomes or nontraditional students returning to the classroom.”
“The Florida College System is essential in the seamless connection between K-12 and our university system,” wrote LoBasso. “As we all work together to boldly ensure student success for our 800,00 students, we urge you to reconsider the Florida College System budget during this special session.”
Scott signed the fiscal 2017-18 budget on Friday, vetoing nearly $11.9 billion, including the main state account that goes to public schools and $410 million in projects.
However, Scott has not yet signed a sweeping higher education bill, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. That bill (SB 374) calls for several reforms of the state college and university system. The bill, among other things, modifies oversight and operations of colleges, sets limits on what four-year degrees colleges can offer, and renames the state college system the Florida Community College System.
The Senate sent Scott the bill on June 5, and he has until June 20 to act on it.
A mailer from an Illinois based political committee targeting Senate President Joe Negron is landing in Treasure Coast mailboxes.
The Palm Beach Post reported voters living in Negron’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are receiving mailers from SunshinePAC, a newly formed Illinois-based PAC, criticizing the Stuart Republican over his support of a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069).
The mailer, according to the Palm Beach Post, calls Negron out for making making “backroom deals” and says “our schools are paying the price.”
“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the mailer says, according to the Palm Beach Post.
It also urges voters to call Gov. Rick Scott and encourage him to veto the measure, a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The bill, according to House records, has not yet been sent to Scott for his consideration. However, Scott is largely expected to sign the bill once he receives it.
According to the Federal Election Commission, SunshinePAC formed on May 26 and is headed by John Hennelly. Hennelly is a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union, and now serves as a consultant with Democracy Partners, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Among the bills Governor Rick Scott signed into law on Tuesday is HB 647, which eliminates of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission by December 31 of this year.
The agency, originally created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1970’s and the only one of its kind in the state, has been shrouded in controversy for years. It’s last executive director, Kyle Cockream, remains under investigation for his handling of public records.
The PTC had been criticized for years by local lawmakers, but previous attempts to dismantle the agency consistently fell short.
That changed however, after extensive reporting about the agency’s handling of ride sharing services Uber and Lyft ultimately compelled the entire Hillsborough County delegation to agree to a local bill sponsored by Tampa Republican House member Jamie Grantthat would dismantle the organization.
“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” Grant declared in announcing his legislation.
The beginning of the end for the agency started in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.
There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.
The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo serviceduring the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.
And then came Uber and Lyft into Hillsborough County in the spring of 2014. As those two companies refused to comply with PTC regulations (as they did in other jurisdictions throughout the country), PTC agents began citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.
Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are scheduled to provide an update to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday on how the transition of the duties of the PTC into other parts of Hillsborough County’s government are going. The county is also expected to sign an interlocal agreement with heath governments of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace on regulating for hire vehicles.
An effort by Florida’s Republican leaders to put aside recent acrimony and reach a new budget deal was falling apart on the eve of a three-day special session.
If legislators can’t reach an accord, Florida’s public schools could be in danger of losing billions for the upcoming school year.
Legislators are scheduled to return to the state Capitol on Wednesday. They plan to pass a new budget for the state’s public schools and set aside money for top priorities of Gov. Rick Scott, including spending more money on tourism marketing.
Scott last Friday vetoed nearly $12 billion from the state budget that takes effect on July 1. Most of the money was tied to the main account used to pay for school operations. Scott zeroed out the money with the expectation that legislators would return this week and increase the money that goes to each student by $100 over this year.
But Senate President Joe Negron warned Tuesday in a memo to senators that he has “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session.”
He also said that the Senate may try to override some of Scott’s other budget vetoes that were aimed at state universities and higher education. The governor last Friday vetoed more than $400 million in projects from the budget, a quarter of which were tied to the state’s 12 public universities. It would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override any vetoes.
Negron added that the Senate would also seek to dip into reserves to offset $100 million in cuts that legislators had made to hospitals during the session that wrapped up in early May. And he said that the Senate wants to use a rise in local property taxes – all of it coming from new construction – to help boost public school funding.
The Senate leader’s comments drew a scathing rebuke from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who called the Senate school proposal a tax hike and said House Republicans would not support tapping into reserves to “pay for corporate giveaways.”
“Without question, the House will not allow funding for our schoolchildren to be held hostage to pork barrel spending and special interest demands,” Corcoran said in a statement.
The new drama unfolding with the Legislature came after it seemed that Scott had brokered a deal with legislative leaders to resolve a long-running feud.
For weeks, Scott had harshly criticized GOP legislators for cutting money to the VISIT Florida tourism-marketing program and greatly scaling back the state’s economic development agency. The governor had repeatedly warned he could veto the entire budget.
But last Friday at a hastily arranged news conference at Miami International Airport, Scott announced a deal under which he said legislators had agreed to boost school funding, while also setting aside nearly $140 million that would eliminate cuts to VISIT Florida and pay for a new grant program that would help businesses. Both Negron and Corcoran stood by the governor while he announced the agreement and the special session.
But other senators said that Negron was not involved in the negotiations, and a spokeswoman for him said he joined the news conference because he was invited to it.
McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said that the governor was “very clear” about what he wants legislators to do this week and that he would not support legislators passing any other items that were not part of last week’s budget agreement.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, the revival of the Florida economy has been marked by annual job growth and tourism rates that outpace the national average. The inextricable link between Florida’s investment in its tourism industry and this economic recovery is affirmed by the statistics.
Visitor spending in Florida has increased by an average of 6.8 percent annually over the past five years, with $78.3 billion spent in 2010 growing to a $108.8 billion total by 2015. The impact of this job creation spending cannot be understated, with statistics showing that for every 76 visitors that visit the state, one job is supported. In addition, the return on investment Florida sees from VISIT Florida is irrefutably positive, with each dollar invested in VISIT Florida generating $3.20 in tax revenue.
To gauge just how disastrous major cuts to VISIT Florida would be, one must look to Colorado. Keep in mind that Colorado has a more diversified and equitable share of its gross domestic product among different industries, and is not quite as reliant upon the tourism industry alone for its revenues. So, presumably, the effects of defunding tourism marketing programs in Florida would be even more drastic than those seen in Colorado.
In 1993, an obscure provision in the state law allowed for the funding of the state’s tourism marketing mechanisms to expire. This meant that Colorado became the first state to essentially eliminate its funding for tourism marketing.
The effects were fairly immediate and more drastic than could have been anticipated. The elimination of their $12 million tourism marketing budget manifested in a 30 percent decrease in Colorado’s share of the domestic tourism market. In terms of dollars, this constituted a contraction of Colorado’s tourism revenue by $1.4 billion annually.
Eventually, this loss would consistently top $2 billion, with Colorado’s summer resort tourism share, previously No. 1 in the nation, falling to 17th place as a symptom of these ill-advised cuts to tourism marketing.
Even more troublesome is the reality that despite this self-inflicted annual hemorrhaging of Coloradans’ tourism revenue is the reality that it took seven years to reinstate a tourism marketing budget. We all know the wheels of democracy can be sluggish, but it could be avoidable. With billion-plus dollar losses within the tourism industry, enduring for seven years without real intervention is a frightening prospect. It is a prospective reality that the legislature should seriously consider as it continues to push for cuts in funding VISIT Florida.
For comparison’s sake, in 2015 Colorado set a state visitor spending record with $19.1 billion collected. As noted, Florida’s 2015 visitor spending total was over $108 billion. One can understand that the impact of cutting tourism marketing funds in Florida would have exponentially significant and dire consequences to the state economy than Colorado experienced.
Fortunately, like Florida, Colorado’s tourism is now thriving, setting records in terms of visitor numbers, spending and tax revenues. Legislators acknowledge the critical role that marketing campaigns have served in producing record tourism numbers, and they have increased spending annually since the budget was reinstated in 2000. What started as a $5.5 million budget for tourism marketing in 2000 has become a $19 million resource pool in 2015, a relatively minor investment with a substantial payout.
Colorado provides a microcosmic, yet very real, cautionary tale regarding the value of funding marketing for Florida’s tourism industry. VISIT Florida, under the guidance of Gov. Scott, have installed a framework that spreads investment costs between the public and private sectors, all the while maintaining systems that allow for misspent money to be recouped.
Money spent through VISIT Florida is fiscally responsible, logical for businesses and critical to the prosperity of Florida’s citizens. For proof of their essentiality to Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, simply look to the West.
Pat Neal is former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.
Former state Senator Jeremy Ring, the only official candidate in the 2018 race to be Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, has just completed a book about his experiences working as a founding member of Yahoo.
Ring said Monday he plans to publish his book this fall.
“We Were Yahoo” will describe how the Silicon Valley-based company changed the world twice, Ring told a couple of dozen supporters who gathered to learn more about him at an appearance at the University Club in downtown Tampa.
“The first time on the way up it pioneered the entire digital information age, and everybody knows that, but on the way down the major missteps of that company allowed Facebook and Google to grow and mature and become the companies that they were,” he said.
Ring said that Yahoo executives twice rejected buying Google before the search engine company had fully blossomed in the early aughts. The second time, he says, Yahoo could have purchased Google for $6 billion, but only offered $3 billion (Shares in Alphabet, the holding company that includes Google, went over the $600 billion markin April)
Ring says that once the book is published, he “anticipates going on a significant book tour” which should be a nice boost for his candidacy.
Among the functions of Florida’s CFO are carrying out the state’s accounting and auditing functions, investigating fraud, regulating cemeteries and funeral homes, and licensing insurance agents and agencies.
Those aren’t the sexiest issues to campaign on, and one shouldn’t expect to hear Ring drone on about them. Instead, he’s using his candidacy as a platform to discuss a philosophical shift in Florida by creating an “innovation economy.”
“When people in Tallahassee talk about economic development, they’re not thinking about building the next Google, the next Apple. They’re thinking about how do I give X amount of money to create jobs,” he said. “I want to change the entire mindset.”
Among those in attendance included Democratic state Representative Sean Shaw, Hillsborough County Republican County Commission candidate Aakash Patel, and three members of the Tampa City Council: Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, who introduced Ring by saying that while the job of CFO may not be at the top of most voters radar screen, “I beg of everyone else to remember, that it is one of four votes on the Cabinet in the state of Florida, and right now, we don’t have any one of those votes.”
“A lot of us believe that he will make an excellent addition to the leadership in Tallahassee,” Cohen added.
Although the CFO’s job isn’t really a partisan one, Ring bemoans the fact that it is one. Certainly, his message of attempting to bring Silicon Valley values to Florida is theoretically a universal one among those who want to see the state’s economy diversify.
“How do we bring together great colleges and great ideas that students have, with early stage incubation that is helping in on business planning, executive recruiting, proof of sales, accounting, legal, other governance?” he asked the audience. “How do we find early gap funding? How do we find institutional capital for early funding? How do we create this entire innovation ecosystem?”
Although Ring is a multimillionaire, he said he does not intend on self-funding his campaign. Having said that, he says the question of whether he wins or loses the race won’t come down to money.
The “ask” he made of his supporters on Monday night was that they spread the word about his candidacy.
“Deliver my message to everyone you know,” he said, referring to the fact that Florida is a state with 20 million people, most of whom won’t be thinking about who the next CFO will be until they get the ballot in their hands next summer.
While Republicans have been filing for other cabinet positions over the past couple of weeks, no one has filed to run yet for CFO. Ring attributes that to the fact that Governor Rick Scott is expected soon to select a Republican to fulfill the remaining term of current CFO Jeff Atwater. Atwater was scheduled to leave the job to move on to another position at Florida Atlantic University after the legislative session was completed.
The Florida Legislature returns on Wednesday for a three-day special session, and there is the possibility they could return again before July.