Rick Scott Archives - Page 7 of 172 - SaintPetersBlog

15 big questions facing Florida politics heading into summer

Summer is here — well, unofficially at least. And with it comes cookouts, summer vacations, and the start of the 2018 election cycle (again, unofficially). With a tumultuous legislative session in our rearview mirror and a jam-packed election cycle on the horizon, the answers to these 14 questions (plus a fill-in-the-blank) could shape the future of the state.

Does Gov. Rick Scott veto the budget? The Naples Republican isn’t saying whether he plans to veto the $83 billion spending plan; but really when it comes down it, he isn’t saying much of anything about his plans. Scott has repeatedly taken swipes at lawmakers for slashing funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, as well as raising concerns about transparency. But when asked whether he’ll veto it, Scott has noted he could veto all or part of it.

If Scott were to veto the 2017-18 budget, it would trigger a special session to get a new spending plan in place before the end of the fiscal year. And after a year of legislative defeats, vetoing the entire budget could be a risky move: The House and Senate could overturn a veto with a two-third vote of members present and voting.

The budget passed the House on a 98-14 vote; while the Senate voted 34-4 to approve it, effectively giving it a veto-proof majority in both chambers, assuming no member changes his or her vote.

Will there be a special session? Forget a special session to tackle the budget. Let’s talk about medical marijuana.

Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent support in 2016. And almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended, calls for a Special Session began to pour in.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he supported one, as did Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Chris Sprowls, among others. Senate President Joe Negron didn’t close the door on it, although he asked for input from his membership; and more than a dozen lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State in hopes of triggering a special session that way. A special session to tackle medical marijuana is also backed by John Morgan, who bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 constitutional amendments, and the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposed it.

But with about a month until the Department of Health is required to have its rules in place, it’s not entirely clear whether lawmakers will call a special session this summer or wait until committee meetings begin in the fall.

How will the House Speaker’s race play out? Republicans in the House approved a rule that said Speaker candidates can only officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30. But the shadow campaign, well that’s been ongoing.

The freshman class is expected to hold a vote June 30, with Rep. Larry Metz counting ballots, on June 30 to determine their caucus leader and the future House Speaker, if Republicans hold the majority in the House.

The race appears to be between Reps. Paul Renner, Jamie Grant and Randy Fine. Renner is believed to have a number of votes lined up behind him, including Rep. Joe Gruters who said he planned to back Renner. Grant is pulling in a significant number of anti-Renner votes, while Fine could play the role of spoiler if neither Grant nor Renner wins outright.

But Renner, Grant and Fine aren’t the only names in the pot. Naples Republican Byron Donalds is also a contender, and Erin Grall is said to be considering a run.

Who will be the next Chief Financial Officer? When CFO Jeff Atwater announced earlier this year he was leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University, he said his departure would come at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

While Atwater is sticking around until the 2017-18 budget is resolved, speculation of who Scott will pick to replace him have been swirling about for weeks now. Former Sen. Pat Neal is believed to be a top contender, and Sen. Aaron Bean has said he is interested in the position. Other names that have been floated include Gruters, a longtime ally of Scott’s, and former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

Republicans will be watching who Scott selects, since it’s likely that person will run for the seat in 2018. And speaking of the upcoming election: Democrat Jeremy Ring filed to run for the seat in 2018, becoming the first person to officially throw their hat in the race.

What impact do the special elections have on the Legislature? Sen. Frank Artiles resignation from the Florida Senate has created a domino effect in the South Florida legislative delegation, with special elections scheduled in Senate District 40 and House District 116 this summer.

The South Florida Senate seat is seen as a must-win for Democrats, who lost the seat last year when Artiles defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Three Democrats — Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith and Annette Taddeo — have already qualified for the race.

Rivas Logan ran for the seat in 2016, but lost the primary to Bullard. She previously served in the Florida House as a Republican. Taddeo, meanwhile, ran for Congress in 2016 and was Charlie Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor when he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

The Republican race pits former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla against Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. Republican Lorenzo Palomares also filed to run.

Diaz resigned his seat to run for Senate District 40, triggering a special election in House District 40.  Republicans Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez have filed to run, as has Democrat Ross Hancock. Mallea has received the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Not to be outdone, Central Florida voters will also head to the polls this summer to replace Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in House District 44. Several legislative hopefuls have already thrown their hat in the race.

Can Democrats recruit? The special elections this summer could the first test of the Democrats power going into the 2018 election cycle.

With a new chair at its helm and a host of new staffers, the state party says its confident it will “build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

At the state level, Democratic House Victory announced it was bringing on Reggie Cardozo, who worked with the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns in Florida, as its general consultant; as well as Janee Murphy, a Tampa political consultant and an ally of incoming Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

With several vulnerable congressional seats up this election, including the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democrats are going to need to be able to recruit good candidates across all levels of government. And that could mean pulling from robbing from one level — as could happen in the case of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — to help another.

How long before Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate bid? It seems like more and more the discussions about whether Scott will challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018 are turning into not if, but when conversations.

The Naples Republican is already starting to sound like he’s running for something, calling members of the House and Senate “politicians in Tallahassee.” His frequent trips to Washington, D.C. haven’t gone unnoticed; neither has the $3.26 million his state political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has raised since January, despite the fact Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018.

And he seems to be laying the groundwork for a political operation. He recently announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC headed up by Melissa Stone, his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2014 re-election bid.

Scott has been coy about whether he’ll run, saying it’s an option before going on to say he’s focused on his current job. With an early session in 2018, he might hold off making any formal announcements until after next year’s Legislative Session.

What can Bill Nelson do to hold off Scott? The Orlando Democrat has already said he’s running for re-election in 2018, and several polls earlier this year showed Nelson leading Scott. But with millions upon millions of dollars expected to be spent on the race, Nelson might have to ramp up his efforts if he wants to guarantee another win in his column.

As the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, look for a lot of pressure on Nelson to perform. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is already attacking him, and it’s expected millions upon millions of dollars will be poured into the race to try to defeat the 74-year-old.

Nelson has already raised nearly $2.1 million for his re-election campaign, and had $3.6 million cash on hand at the end of the first quarter of 2017. Look for Nelson to take a more outspoken stance against President Donald Trump, an ally of Scott’s, in the coming months as he begins to ramp up his campaign.

What will Jack Latvala do? The Clearwater Republican is one of the big question marks when it comes to the 2018 race to replace Scott.

Latvala has made no secret of the fact that he’s considering a gubernatorial run. He’s been making the rounds across the state, and his fundraising committee has raised nearly $1.5 million since the beginning of the year.

In May, he told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club if he runs it would keep career politicians from taking over Tallahassee like they’ve done in Washington, saying the state needs “a business perspective. We need experience in the real world. I just don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the governor’s race.”

But Latvala is hardly an outsider. He served in the Florida Senate from 1994 until 2002, and was elected again in 2010. He currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and arguably one of the most powerful state lawmakers in the House and Senate.

While he isn’t a household name, Latvala could spice up the Republican race to replace Scott. And his support for Scott’s top priorities this session — namely Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida — could earn him some Brownie points from Scott.

Latvala said he plans to announce his intentions in August. If he gets in, watch for a heated primary between him and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who many consider the front-runner. Latvala’s son, Rep. Chris Latvala, is already taking jabs at Putnam on social media, using the hashtag #PutnamIsStale when tweeting about Putnam.

Does Phil Levine really want to run for governor (and as a Democrat)? Earlier this year, the Miami Beach Democrat seemed to be on track to announce a 2018 run.

He started a political committee, All About Florida, and hired Matthew Van Name to coordinate efforts. State records show he poured $2 million of his own money into the committee, but hasn’t raised any coin beyond that.

With three Democrats — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Chris King — already vying for their party’s nomination, Levine’s entry would make a crowded field even more crowded. And that appears to be something he’s cognizant of, even opening the door to an independent run during a Tampa Tiger Bay Club event in May.

A big Democratic fundraiser, Levine would have put raise lots of cash — and put plenty of his own on the line — in order to boost name recognition. And with a wedding and baby on the way, one has to wonder if Levine wants to invest the time (and money) to get his name out there.

How much money will races pull in? We’re already seeing big numbers when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race, and with more than 400 days until the Aug. 28 primary that number will surely be on the rise.

But it isn’t just the governor’s race we’re watching. With all the Cabinet positions, several competitive state House and Senate races, a U.S. Senate race, and a couple of congressional districts in play, the 2018 election cycle could be one of the most expensive cycles to date.

It isn’t just candidates (and their political committees) we’ll be watching, though. Already you’re seeing outside groups, like the American Action Network, pour money into Florida, and it will be interesting to see how much groups are willing to pay to play in the Sunshine State.

Which Rick will come out on top in St. Pete? The race between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman for St. Petersburg mayor is shaping up to be one of the must-watch local races this election cycle.

Baker, the former Republican mayor, is hoping to make a comeback, and polls show he has a wide margin over Kriseman, the city’s current Democratic mayor. A recent poll from St. Pete Polls showed 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

You can expect the city’s recent sewage issue to be a big factor when voters head to the polls in the upcoming mayoral race. According to the recent St. Pete Polls survey 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.”

What will the CRC do? It’s been 20 years since the Constitution Revision Commission last met, and this uniquely Florida board seems to be off to a rough start.

The commission still hasn’t adopted rules, something that has drawn the ire of several organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters. And with Republicans controlling the Governor’s Mansion, the House and the Senate, the 37-member panel has a distinctly Republican lean, leaving some Floridians to worry about what will end up on the ballot come 2018.

The commission has held a series of meetings across the state, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on what they think should be changed. And voters have sure sounded off, suggesting the Florida Constitution be amended to address abortion, privacy, voting rights and even secede from the United States. But since committee members have remained mostly silent during the meetings, it’s hard to say where they stand on any of the proposals.

Will a hurricane sweep through Florida? We are talking about a political storm, although if you ask Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a weather event can turn into a political one in the blink of an eye.

No, we’re talking about the weather. Florida got hit with two hurricanes last year, after a decade-long dry spell. The weather woes put the Sunshine State in the spotlight, and forced everyone — including politicians in impacted communities — to make sure they were ready for the storm.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is predicting 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which could become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, NOAA’s forecast calls for two to four to become major hurricanes.

While it’s impossible to say whether a storm will hit Florida’s shores, one thing is clear: Another storm season like 2016’s could have a major impact on the state this year — and could have a ripple effect on politics in the year to come.

— Any list of questions facing Florida politics has to include a fill-in-the-blank section because you truly never know what event will occur to reset the axis. Will it be another tragedy, like last year’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub? Or will a prominent Florida pol take their act from the Sunshine State to the Donald Trump administration? You never really know because, as we like to say about trying to predict Florida politics: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

Celeste Philip: Current indicators improved, but Zika threat remains serious

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip and Gov. Rick Scott told a roundtable of Orange County public health officials in Orlando Tuesday that Zika preparedness is up and incidents and rain down this year, but the risk of another major disease outbreak remains significant and no one should abandon precautions.

Florida has seen 50 confirmed case of Zika infection so far in 2017, all from overseas transmissions, and less than half of what was seen by this time in 2016. The dry spring has helped, as has more vigilance by officials and citizens, Philip said, and that must not change.

Real mosquito season is coming, and last summer’s experiences, with hundreds of confirmed cases and a local outbreak from infected mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County.

“Compared with last year’s experience, we are better positioned,” Philip said.

“Good news, but as long as there are Zika cases anywhere else in the world, and as long as we have as many travelers that we do, we have to remain vigilant and be proactive, and take steps to prevent transmissions,” Philip said.

That means covering exposed skin, using mosquito repellent, preventing standing water, even a bottle cap full, from appearing anywhere outdoors, to take extra precautions in infected countries, and to take sexual precautions for at least six months after traveling to any countries with Zika outbreaks.

Last year’s Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade led to Florida’s worst fears: that the infected mosquitoes could get established here, as they have in Puerto Rico and many Caribbean and Latin American countries most notably Brazil. The real threat is to pregnant women, as Zika can cause a range of birth defects up to microcephaly.

Last year Scott allocated $61 million to the Florida Department of Health for mosquito control and $25 million to accelerate development of a vaccine and to improve testing. Last year, much of the testing had to be done out of state, causing delays that left pregnant women in terror for weeks, who are eligible for free assessment tests. Now that testing all can be done in Florida, greatly shortening the turnaround time, Philip said.

“The focal point of our meeting today is to make sure everyone continues to stay focused to make sure we don’t see Zika expansion,” Scott said. “We’re going to see more rain … and when we see more rain we will see more mosquitoes.”

“We have not had any local cases in 2017. We have some individuals that were tested and diagnosed in 2017, but based on where they were and some other circumstances, we believe they were likely exposed in 2016.

Rick Scott still mum on 2017-18 budget veto plans

Gov. Rick Scott hammered state lawmakers over reduced funding for two of his top priorities, but once again declined to say whether he’ll veto the budget when it gets to his desk in the coming days.

“I’ve been in business all my life and I love to see people succeed, to take risks, and when they do that they hire more people,” said Scott during a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “So the most important thing for me to do is create an economy where everybody can get a job.”

While the Naples Republican highlighted job growth during his stop at Fish Tale Boats in Fort Myers, he also took a swipe at state lawmakers, who cut funding for both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida in the fiscal 2017-18 budget.

“We have to keep fighting for jobs,” he said. “We are on a roll right now, but unfortunately the politicians in Tallahassee turned their back on two agencies that create jobs.”

The fiscal 2017-18 budget includes $25 million in it for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency. The budget includes some funding for Enterprise Florida operations, but does not include the money Scott requested for business development incentives.

Scott said the reason the state has been doing so well in recent years is because “we’ve marketed our state well.”

While the governor has been critical of the budget, he has avoided saying whether he will veto the entire spending plan when it reaches his desk. That could happen any day now; the Tampa Bay Times reported the Senate could send the budget to Scott as early as Tuesday.

“I’m going to do what I do every year,” said Scott when asked by reporters Tuesday about budget vetoes. “I’ll look through the budget and make sure the dollars are allocated in a manner that I think is good for the state.”

The governor went on to say he expected to receive the budget “sometime this week” and will have 15 days to review it.

“I can veto the entire budget, I can veto a portion of the budget or I can veto a line in the budget,” said Scott. “This is my seventh budget and every year, I have a team that works with me. But what’s different or frustrating is we knew nothing about the budget until right at the end, because it was done all behind closed doors.”

Scott vetoed more than $256.1 million in spending when he was presented the 2016-17 budget last year. According to data compiled by LobbyTools, the governor has vetoed more than $1.9 billion during his first six years in office.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the 2017-18 budget had not yet been sent to Scott.

First Amendment Foundation calls on Rick Scott to veto education bill

The First Amendment Foundation is weighing in on a wide-sweeping education bill, asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure when it gets to his desk.

In a letter to Scott on Tuesday, Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the organization’s concerns “relate only to the lack of transparency in the process by which major policy decisions regarding Florida’s education system were decided.”

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill (HB 7069) on the final day of the 2017 Legislative Session. The proposal, which is tied to the state budget, was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and, among other things, steers more money to privately run charter schools, requires recess in elementary schools and tinkers with the state’s standardized testing system.

While the measure includes several education changes legislators had been considering, the final bill was negotiated largely in private and wasn’t seen by the public until the final days of the session.

“The secretive process precluded any opportunity for public oversight or input on major changes to Florida’s education policy,” said Petersen in her letter to Scott. “Alarmingly, local school officials were also shut out of the process, as were many legislators who were ultimately asked to approve this voluminous and complicated legislation decided in a manner closed even to them.”

Petersen said Floridians deserve “the respect and the commitment of our elected leaders to uphold our Florida Sunshine laws, a 33 years old tradition and benchmark of good government.”

One of the major provisions of the bill creates the “Schools of Hope” program, which would offer financial incentive to charter school operators who would agree to take students attending chronically failing schools, many in poor areas and urban neighborhoods.

The bill has been criticized by state’s teacher unions, parent groups, and superintendents of some of the state’s largest school districts.

The First Amendment Foundation has also called on Scott to veto the entire fiscal 2017-18 budget once it reaches his desk. Much like the organization’s request to veto the education bill, the group said its concerns relate “only to the lack of transparency in the process” and it wasn’t “objecting to any of the substantive programs and issues.”

Neither the budget nor the education bill have been sent to Scott.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Joe Henderson: Frank Deford’s passing deserves a moment of pause and reflection

There are important things going on in the state today; I probably should pay more attention to them.

Will Gov. Rick Scott wield his veto pen? The nation’s policy on Cuba is attracting attention; 55 U.S. senators signed a letter urging travel restrictions on visits to that island nation be lifted.

That stuff, and more, will still be there tomorrow.

Right now, though, I want to talk about Frank Deford. He died Sunday at his winter home in Key West.

People have rightly praised him as a consummate story-teller, wordsmith, and a giant in the world of sports writing – although, for Frank, a more appropriate description would be writer, period. Never mind the subject.

In the introduction to a book called “The World’s Tallest Midget” — a compilation of his best long-form stories from Sports Illustrated — he said of sports writing: “It is, surely, the only form of literature wherein the worst of the genre is accepted as representative of the whole.”

I was a sports writer, primarily at the Tampa Tribune, for nearly four decades, and I don’t think as a group we ever escaped that shadow. In newsrooms across the country, sports was mockingly called the toy department. Still is, I would imagine.

Even after I moved from sports to become metro news columnist, occasionally I would get an angry email from a reader with the suggestion I should go back to sports. They probably thought that was witty because a sports writer couldn’t possibly understand politics and government. The “serious” work of gathering “important” news was done by professional journalists. The rest of us were just hacking out copy about ball games.

Frank Deford didn’t hack.

I was a young pup in the business in the 1970s and 80s when Deford was, as he described tennis star Jimmy Connors in one profile, “champion of all he surveyed, Alexander astride Bucephalus astride the globe.”

He was that good.

Like wannabe’s everywhere, I poured over each line of a Deford story in Sports Illustrated. He routinely did things with words that I could only imagine. The magazine wisely granted him time and space to dig deep into a subject, and he repaid by producing lasting literature.

He wrote a profile of a junior college football coach in Mississippi named Robert “Bull Cyclone” Sullivan called “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” In the story, he described the team’s top rival — a school called Pearl River.

Years later, on a road trip to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play New Orleans, I might have (maybe) manufactured an excuse to drive up from there to Pearl River for a story just because Frank Deford made traveling to an obscure small college in Mississippi sound like something interesting to do.

It was, too.

Later, he produced commentary for NPR. I am sure it amused him on some level that listeners went, “Wow. Not bad for a sports writer.”

A few years ago, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg held a private reception for Deford after he gave a talk there. As a reward for teaching a class at Poynter, I was invited. I sat with five or six other sports writers as we gathered ‘round the legend to soak it all in. It was riveting. I wish I had a picture, but I’ll never forget what that evening was like.

Deford and columnists like Jim Murray and Red Smith elevated sports writing and inspired a generation to take its craft, and itself, seriously.

Young boys grew up wanting to be like Mickey Mantle or Johnny Bench.

I grew up wanting to be like Jim Murray or Frank Deford.

One of the beautiful things about literature is that it survives eternally. These men wrote prose that happened to be about sports. They turned words into pictures and reminded everyone that when done properly, telling the story is an art. They made that matter. Godspeed, Frank Deford.

Oh, and one more thing.

Thank you.

Florida could pave new changes in ‘stand your ground’ laws

Lucy McBath is afraid many more people will die if Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill making it harder to prosecute when people claim they commit violence in self-defense.

She already lost her son, an unarmed black teenager, when a white man angry over loud music and claiming self-defense fired 10 times at an SUV filled with teenagers.

The measure before Scott would effectively require a trial-before-a-trial whenever someone invokes self-defense, making prosecutors prove the suspect doesn’t deserve immunity.

Scott hasn’t revealed his intentions, but he’s a National Rifle Association supporter, and this is an NRA priority.

“If it passes in Florida, then they take that same legislation and they push it on the legislative floors across the country,” said McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was killed by Michael Dunn outside a Jacksonville convenience store in 2012.

Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use even 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.

Florida Republicans made this bill a priority after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the defendant has the burden of proof before trial. If Florida starts a national trend to shift that burden to prosecutors, it’ll be just fine with Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who sponsored the bill.

Only four of the 22 or more state “stand your ground” laws mention this burden of proof — in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — and all place it on defendants.

“It’s about following our right of innocent until proven guilty,” Payne said. “It’s about Fifth Amendment rights, it’s about due process, it’s about having a true immunity, for when folks really believe they’re in imminent threat of great bodily harm or death, to defend themselves properly.”

Senators originally wanted prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” before trial that self-defense didn’t justify a violent crime. The final legislation lowered the threshold to “clear and convincing” evidence.

Either way, it makes prosecuting violent crimes more difficult, experts say.

“I think there will be more false ‘stand your ground’ claims,” said former Broward County prosecutor Gregg Rossman, who has tried 65 murder cases. The pre-trial hearings are “very much going to be like a mini-trial.”

Proving a killer didn’t act in self-defense when there are no living witnesses would be particularly hard, he said: “I worry the most about the one-on-one cases. You and I get into an argument and I shoot you. Who speaks for you?”

But public defenders say it should help people who were simply trying to defend themselves. Prosecutors often use the threat of minimum mandatory sentences to coerce people into accepting a plea deal even if their use of force was justified, said Stacy Scott, a public defender in Gainesville.

“It’s going to force them to deal more fairly with citizens who are charged with crimes, and will help our clients either get better plea offers or exonerate themselves earlier in the process so they don’t have to wait until a jury trial and risk everything they have in order to litigate their case,” Scott said.

McBath, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, believes the guilty will more likely escape convictions. It took two trials to convict her son’s killer of murder.

“We’re just one out of so many,” she said. “Because we won our case, I honestly, honestly believe that’s the reason why they’re putting these additional measures into ‘stand your ground.’”

Justifiable homicide claims have doubled on average in states that have passed “stand your ground” laws, said John Roman of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

Also, whites who kill black people are 10 times more likely to win a “stand your ground” claim than blacks who kill whites, said Roman, who analyzed these cases while at the Urban Institute think tank.

Studies also show that white people are more likely to feel threatened by black people than the other way around, “and if you then add onto implicit bias the ability to use lethal force, it’s reasonable then to expect that lethal force will be disproportionately applied to minorities,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Tampa Bay region marked for $33M in Florida TaxWatch ‘turkeys’

Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan government watchdog organization, served up its annual list of “Budget Turkeys,” naming almost $178 million in line-item projects part of the $82.4 billion budget passed May 8 by the Florida House and Senate.

For the Tampa Bay region, Florida TaxWatch targeted more than $33 million in local projects as individual line items added to the spending plans—usually last minute or in committee — without a thoughtful and thorough budget process.

The largest project in the region was Pasco County’s Interstate 75 and Overpass Road Interchange, priced at $15 million.

Hillsborough County had the lowest number of turkeys with three projects totaling $1,825,000; Pasco is the highest at $16,960,000 spread out over five projects.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1, TaxWatch listed 111 budgetary turkeys, suggesting around $177.8 million in savings. In total, the final budget contains more than 700 member projects, worth more than $600 million.

A “Turkey” label does not pass judgment on the project’s overall worthiness, does comment on the process. The purpose of the label is to make sure all projects using public funds are properly vetted.

“The result was that only a handful of projects made into the budget during conference. While falling short of the goal of no conference additions, this is still a very positive improvement, as projects being added in conference have become an epidemic,” the report says.

Even so, “with a few exceptions, committee hearings on member projects were pro forma, with very little discussion or debate,” the report continues.

Among the TaxWatch 111 ‘turkeys’ worth $117.8 million: An engineering building for Florida International University worth $10 million. A $500,000 rodeo facility in Arcadia. Local transportation projects valued at $81.5 million.

Individual Tampa Bay-area projects on the list include:

Pasco ($16,960,000)

– Pasco County Fair Association: $860,000

– Interstate 75 & Overpass Road Interchange: $15,000,000

– Parkland Roadway Stabilization: $250,000

– PD&E Study of Clinton Avenue Intersection Realignment at U.S. 98 and U.S. 301: $500,000

– U.S. 301/ReImagine Gall Boulevard, Zephyrhills: $350,000

Pinellas ($4,300,000)

– Great Explorations Children’s Museum: $400,000

– Education and Access to Performing Arts Program: $500,000

– Pinellas Suncoast Transit Auth – Memorial Causeway Busway Project: $1,000,000

– State Road 687 (3rd & 4th Streets) and 8th/MLK Streets downtown St. Petersburg-Preliminary Engineering Study to Convert One Way to Two-Way Street: $200,000

– Forward Pinellas Waterborne Transportation: $1,000,000

– Treasure Island Causeway Multimodal Improvements: $1,200,000

Hillsborough ($1,825,000)

– Big Brothers Big Sisters – Bigs Inspiring Student Success: $500,000

– Self Reliance Inc. – West FL Health & Safety for Seniors Pilot Project: $575,000

– Plant City Collins Street Improvements: $750,000

Polk ($10,000,000)

– Polk SC – Renovate Campus Chiller Plant System Phase I: $2,500,000

– Bartow Northern Connector, Phase II: $7,500,000

The group is calling for Scott to veto the items when he signs the budget, expected within the next week.

Among its recommendations, the report suggests making the new project vetting process permanent. It also suggests extra scrutiny for categories given to abuse, including economic development, housing and community development, workforce, and water projects.

 

Rick Scott gets $178M serving of Florida TaxWatch ‘budget turkeys’

Thanksgiving is six months away, but Friday is “turkey” day for Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida TaxWatch, the nonpartisan government watchdog group, released its annual “Budget Turkey List,” of almost $178 million in line-item projects that are part of the $82.4 billion budget passed May 8 by the Florida House and Senate.

Budget Turkeys are individual line items added to the spending plans—usually last minute or in committee — without a thoughtful and thorough budget process. A “Turkey” label does not pass judgment on the project’s overall worthiness, does comment on the process. The purpose of the label is to make sure all projects using public funds are properly vetted.

“The result was that only a handful of projects made into the budget during conference. While falling short of the goal of no conference additions, this is still a very positive improvement, as projects being added in conference have become an epidemic,” the report says.

Even so, “with a few exceptions, committee hearings on member projects were pro forma, with very little discussion or debate,” the report continues.

The group is calling for Scott to veto the items when he signs the budget, expected within the next week.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1, TaxWatch identified 111 budgetary Turkeys, suggesting around $177.8 million in savings.

“Budget Turkeys are items, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget committee process or that circumvented established processes,” the organization said.

In the past 28 years, Florida governors vetoed more than $2 billion in projects that have appeared on the TaxWatch report. For example, in the first two years of Scott’s administration, the governor vetoed 70 percent of TaxWatch Turkeys for $244 million in savings.

Throughout the current state spending plan, Florida TaxWatch recognized surplus projects in a variety of state agencies, including the Department of Transportation, which had a majority with 79 projects (worth $139.4 million) that were not in the DoT Work Program.

The report says: “Because new appropriations rules resulted in many member projects being heard in committee and very few projects being added during the budget conference committee process, the budget contains approximately 600 additional member projects worth more than $425 million that do not qualify as Budget Turkeys.”

Among the TaxWatch 111 ‘turkeys’ worth $117.8 million: An engineering building for Florida International University worth $10 million. A $500,000 rodeo facility in Arcadia. Local transportation projects valued at $81.5 million.

The report credits budget rules pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran for keeping additional turkeys out of the budget. The rules required House members to file special requests and individual bills for every member project.

The Senate ultimately agreed upon joint rules barring projects not heard in committee for inclusion in the final budget.

“This rather cursory public review was expected, there is simply not enough time during Session to thoroughly debate each project when there are so many requested. This highlights the need for the establishment of more competitive review and selection processes that take place before the Legislature decides what to fund.”

Among its recommendations, the report suggests making the new project vetting process permanent. It also suggests extra scrutiny for categories given to abuse, including economic development, housing and community development, workforce, and water projects.

Democrats have opportunity-in-crisis with Rick Scott education bill veto possibility

Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Democrats are starting to formulate a strategy for Bill Nelson’s upcoming Senate re-election effort — more likely than not facing Gov. Rick Scott.

Not one to waste a good opportunity, Nelson’s nascent campaign could receive a significant boost by way of a veto of the sweeping education bill assembled by lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session’s final hours.

The proposal (HB 7069) – a leading priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran – has been panned by educators, parents and labor unions, all calling for Scott to wield his veto pen.

Opponents decry both the bill and state budget, primarily for adding ‘just’ $24 in average per-student spending while moving $140 million to charter schools, described optimistically as “Schools of Hope.”

However, tucked away in the PreK-12 Conforming Bill is a political “poison pill” in the case of a veto; rewards for teacher performance, as much as $233 million in bonuses.

Teachers considered “Best and Brightest” could receive $6,000, those “highly effective” will get $1,200, and those considered “effective” could see a bonus of up to $800, based on available funds.

Scott, still stinging from the rebuke by lawmakers who severely cut his favored VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida, could use his veto power to retaliate against projects near and dear to Speaker Corcoran.

Corcoran rallied throughout Session against the state’s business and tourism incentive programs, calling them “corporate welfare.”

Vetoing the reduced spending for VISIT and Enterprise Florida would be of little help since both programs would remain underfunded. Corcoran would not be unhappy if either one disappeared.

But a veto of HB 7069 would certainly do the trick, though not without a hefty political price.

Scott’s veto of teacher bonuses could hand Democrats an effective talking point for 2018. Just imagine the headlines: “Rick Scott denies bonuses for public school teachers.”

Such a move would certainly play well for Nelson and Democrats in attack mailers, TV ads and the like – each designed to inflict maximum political damage for Scott’s statewide campaign, should he choose to run.

Of course, this presents Scott with a classic Catch-22 scenario: damned if he vetoes, damned if he doesn’t.

So, as the deadline approaches, what remains is political calculus – finding the best way to mitigate any damage ahead of an all-but-certain Senate run.

And at least one option has a solid upside; it gives money to teachers, which is far from a bad thing.

Rick Scott signs bill to fight terrorism

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday that creates new criminal offenses to combat terrorism and funds more agents to investigate terrorist acts.

The Governor was in Orlando to attend the Orlando Counter Terrorism Conference, where 210 agents from the law enforcement agencies from across the southeast are sharing ideas to stop terrorism.

“This bill helps our local, state and federal law enforcement community work together to keep people safe,” Scott said. “We’ve all got to open our eyes and help. If you see something, say something.”

House Bill 457, which passed unanimously in both the Senate and House, creates five new criminal offenses for people who work with terrorist groups or commit acts of terrorism. It also provides the resources to hire 47 Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers to investigate acts of terrorism.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that local agencies are better prepared to fight terrorism because of their experience after the Pulse massacre. He added that he wants to encourage people to visit Central Florida, especially on this busy Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re glad to have two new attractions open at the parks and are prepared for the bigger crowds this holiday weekend,” Demings said. “We don’t want our citizens to live in fear. We have rapid response teams trained and ready to handle any type of emergency.”

The bill makes acts of terrorism a new first-degree felony offense under state law. Another new offense would make it a first-degree felony to use “military-type training” provided by a foreign terrorist organization to harm someone or disrupt critical infrastructures. It would also be a first-degree felony to provide resources to terrorist groups.

It would be a second-degree felony to join a foreign terrorist group.

The three-day Counter Terrorism Conference is hosted by the Florida Sheriffs Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association and Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Attendees share information on what drives acts of violence, the signs of an attack and how to prevent them. Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are also at the conference.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons