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House, Senate Republicans to hold fundraiser at Universal Orlando

How do you celebrate the end of a Legislative Session?

If you’re Florida House and Senate Republicans, you do it with a fundraiser at Universal Orlando.

Republican leaders will hold a fundraiser at Universal Orlando on April 9 and 10. The event, first reported by POLITICO Florida reporter Matt Dixon, will benefit the House and Senate Majority Committees, which oversee legislative campaigns.

Among those listed as headliners is Rep. Chris Sprowls, the Pinellas County Republican who may be the House Speaker beginning in 2021.

Last week, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, conceded the 2021 House Speaker race to Sprowls. The move came after state Reps. Paul Renner and Mike Miller said they would support Sprowls. Several other of his colleagues tweeted their support for Sprowls after Renner and Miller flipped.

Sprowls is one of seven House and Senate Republican leaders headlining the event.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran and future Speaker Jose Oliva will represent the House leadership team, while Senate President Andy Gardiner, Speaker Designate Joe Negron, and Majority Leader Bill Galvano will represent the Senate leadership team.

State police radios funds spared from veto list

Gov. Rick Scott declared his plan to lay waste to nearly 300 projects amounting to some $256 million with a preemptive announcement on Tuesday.

Among the roughly $82 billion in funding items left standing: a controversial appropriation of $7 million to refresh the state’s stock of radio equipment for state law enforcement agents.

The radio money making the cut is a big win for Brevard-based Harris Corporation, who argued the funds are needed to replace outdated models. A representative involved in pursuing the item described the windfall as a matter of time.  He said guidelines indicate law enforcement radios should be swapped out every seven years. The current 20-year procurement deal was awarded in 2000, meaning some units could be 15 years old or more.

Critics of the move – including representatives for Motorola Solutions, who hope to take over the contract after the current arrangement expires in 2021 – say the appropriation could unfairly bolster Harris’ grip on the contract.

The item was a priority for the House, particularly Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Rules Chair Ritch Workman, who requested the funding in the chamber’s budget. Both lawmakers represent Brevard County.

Senate appropriations chief Tom Lee told reporters after a budget conference he would have preferred not include the dollars in the budget, but accepted the deal as part of a compromise with House counterpart Speaker-to-be Richard Corcoran.

A representative from Motorola issued the following statement on the budget announcement:

“Motorola Solutions commends Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their support of a competitive procurement process for a cost-effective, next-generation mission-critical communications system for first responders throughout the state,” said Corporate Vice President Claudia Rodriguez, For the last two years, the governor and state legislators have wisely funded efforts to ensure that a fair and open procurement process takes place this year for a standards-based statewide communications system.”

“Florida is in a position to build a new state of the art, interoperable system that will enable public safety agencies and jurisdictions throughout the state to communicate seamlessly and effectively to coordinate a joint response – whether in a hurricane or other large-scale emergencies, as well as for everyday situations.

Several independent studies have been conducted at the request of the state that confirm that a competitive procurement process will open the door for multiple vendors to provide creative solutions to address the state’s communications needs with the best and most cost-effective solutions. We are pleased that the governor and legislators have also agreed that all vendors will have equal access to the state’s existing assets.”

Harris released a statement on the topic as well, saying, “Harris applauds Governor Scott for putting the safety of first responders and Floridians first. New state-of-the-art radios that work on the current and future SLERS systems will give law enforcement advanced interoperable communication technology now, and will allow officials to retire radio models that are more than a decade old. As hurricane season approaches and as Florida hosts more than 100 million visitors annually, it is critical that first responders have the right tools. We question why anyone would want our state law enforcement to be forced to use outdated equipment or wait another five years.”

Harris also points to the following finding from the state Joint Task Force charged with implementing the state’s police radio regimes.

“Unlike cell phones or computer systems, the law enforcement radio replacement cycle is typically longer; usually eight years for mobile and six years for portables as outlined in the State’s Law Enforcement Communications Plan guidelines. The current mobile radios used in our system have been identified for end of support and will become obsolete by December 2014. This technology must be replaced with newer mainstream equipment that is capable of operating on the federally supported P-25 platform. The cost of replacing all mobiles and portables with radios for our state agencies is estimated at $85M.”

 

Brian Hodgers widens fundraising lead in HD 52 race

Brian Hodgers increased his lead over the other three Republicans running for House District 52 with $6,750 in contributions last month.

“Our conservative message is hitting a nerve in our community, and I’m very grateful for the folks who want to be part of our campaign,” Hodgers said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to work hard to get our message of lower taxes, fewer regulations, and more freedom out to all the voters of District 52.”

February’s numbers included just $2,000 in expenditures, leaving the Melbourne business owner with about $340,000 cash on hand, including $40,000 in loans.

His closest competitor, Monique Miller, raised just $695 last month for an on hand total of about $25,300 heading into March, while Robert VanVolkenburg was able to bring in $150, leaving him with a little over $7,000 on hand at month’s end.

Though Hodgers currently has a prohibitive lead in the money race, he is also facing Republican Sen. Thad Altman in the race, who made the rare decision to head back to the House after serving in the Senate since 2010.

Altman originally filed to run for the HD 51 seat held by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in the 2018 cycle, when he officially terms out of the Senate but made the decision to switch to HD 52 this cycle back in December.

He’s had little time to fundraise since making the switch but was able to bring in $10,000 in contributions in the first part of January, before the 2016 Legislative Session put a freeze on fundraising for sitting lawmakers.

HD 52 is currently represented by termed-out Republican Rep. Ritch Workman, who is running for the newly redrawn District 17 seat in the Senate. HD 52 leans heavily toward GOP candidates, with 20,000 more registered Republican than Democrats.

In Florida, most legislative documents are public records

When Florida state House Minority Leader Mark Pafford puts a 6 a.m. workout before his legislative meetings on his daily schedule, it’s a public record.

When concerned parent Kimberly Jones of Plantation emails House Speaker Steve Crisafulli saying she has two children going to Florida State University and wants him to oppose a bill allowing guns on college campuses, that’s a public record too.

Reporters and other members of the public can get copies of those and almost all other legislative documents.

As part of a nationwide look at transparency of state legislatures, The Associated Press recently requested copies of all emails and daily schedules from the top four Florida legislative leaders for Feb. 1-7. All four acknowledged they were obliged to respond to the request and produced responses within a few days.

In some states that would seem outlandish, but Florida has a tradition of unusually comprehensive and strict laws on open government and open records. Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” law mandates public access to meetings and records at all levels of state and local government.

By law, you don’t have to say why you want the records. Requests for the records can even be made anonymously, and any charges for fulfilling the request must be reasonable.

The legislators provided relatively detailed schedules including names of those attending meetings.

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, and Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat, were swamped with hundreds of emails that week because of House consideration of contentious bills allowing open carry of firearms and carrying guns on campus. They said the request for their emails would require extensive staff time and fees; instead, AP narrowed the scope of the request instead.

“I’ve always supported Florida’s open records law and making sure the public has access to records,” Pafford said. “This is the people’s government. If somebody finds out I’m doing a workout or having a doctor’s appointment at a certain time, that’s OK. It’s on my schedule because my staff needs to know what I’m doing when.”

In practice, things aren’t always so open and transparent. Only the response from Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, for example, included substantial numbers of emails both to and from the legislator.

AP made the same request to Gov. Rick Scott, whose response consisted of references to the websites where he publishes his schedules and emails.

Scott has long published a daily schedule on the governor’s office website, and in 2012, he launched Project Sunburst, a website posting the contents of the email accounts of the governor and his top staff. However, after launching Sunburst, Scott stopped using his office email account to transact business.

In 2014, a lawsuit produced evidence that Scott and his aides had used private email accounts for government business, and a request from the AP, filled only after a three-month delay, showed Scott using his personal account for discussing state business with top aides, after having denied doing so.

While Scott publishes his schedule, meanwhile, it has occasionally omitted important meetings, and also omits some travel details for what his office calls security reasons.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Everglades Foundation commends lawmakers for final passage of “Legacy Florida” funding

The Everglades Foundation lauded lawmakers Friday for passing a bill that would fund Everglades restoration efforts with up to $200 million a year.

HB 989, put forward by incoming Senate President Joe Negron and Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell, would pull the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million from the money collected under the 2014 land conservation amendment each year.

That money would then be spread across Everglades projects at the South Florida Water Management District and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“The Everglades Foundation lauds Senator Negron and Representative Harrell for their tireless work to establish dedicated funding for Everglades restoration and carry out projects outlined in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan under the ‘Legacy Florida’ bill,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.

Eikenberg also thanked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and both chambers for passing the bill, which he said, “will protect and preserve this national treasure.”

The Senate passed the bill Friday with a unanimous, and the House followed with a 113-to-1 tally shortly after.

“As this good measure heads to the Governor for his signature, we remain hopeful that he too will support this dedicated use of Amendment 1 funding that will allow the state to expedite planning and construction of critical restoration projects to significantly reduce damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers,” Eikenberg said.

Property Casualty Insurers “disappointed” by failure to pass ride-sharing regulation

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said it was disappointed lawmakers capped off the 2016 Legislative Session without passing insurance regulations for Uber and Lyft drivers.

“Twenty-nine other states have passed legislation addressing insurance coverage requirements for TNCs, and it is past time for Florida to do the same,” the group said in a Friday email. “PCI will continue to work with lawmakers on a solution for 2017 so that this is the last year rideshare drivers and passengers operate without the necessary protections in place.”

PCI’s sentiment echoes that of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, which also issued a statement Friday lamenting the failure of SB 1118 and HB 509 this session.

Both bills cleared their committee stops, and HB 509 even passed through the full House by a 108-to-10 vote, though neither bill was heard on the Senate floor.

The trade group, comprised of nearly 1,000 member companies, said that “drivers and their passengers need to know their personal auto policy will not cover them if they are injured or if the vehicle is damaged in an accident.”

Still, PCI thanked Sen. David Simmons and Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the bills, as well as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner, primarily seen as Uber and Lyft’s biggest opponent in the Legislature

Florida Legislature approves $82.3 billion budget, adjourns Sine Die

The Florida Legislature overwhelmingly approved the state’s $82.3 billion spending plan, with just one lawmaker voting against it.

The Senate passed the fiscal 2016-16 state budget shortly after 5 p.m. Friday with no debate. The House approved the budget 119-1 earlier in the day. State Rep. John Tobia, a Melbourne Beach Republican, was the lone no vote.

“We had a great opportunity to work together and bring forth a great budget,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in remarks following the Sine Die.

The Merritt Island Republican said the Legislature “brought forth great opportunities” this legislative session. And Crisafulli said Floridians “can’t forget the balanced budget that was voted out of this Legislature 159 to 1.”

“That was something to be very proud of,” he said.

The budget vote came one day after House Democrats stood up in support of the budget. Many believe it was designed to send a message to Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed millions from the state budget in 2015.

“I think we need to notice this historic moment,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat, said Thursday. “I have a feeling we’re going to have more unanimity than we have had in the past. I think we all lost a little bit in this budget, but we’ve all gained a little bit in this budget.”

The budget increases public school funding by 1 percent, holds the line on tuition at state colleges and universities, and sets aside $132 million for Everglades restoration projects.

The budget does not include one of Scott’s top priorities — $250 million for an Enterprise Florida fund. It also includes a scaled down version of the governor’s tax cut proposal; cutting $129 million instead of the $1 billion Scott had requested.

Still, the Naples Republican tried brush off the legislative defeats. He declared victory of sorts, announcing plans to go on a 5-city “Million, Billion Jobs Victory Tour” on Monday. He told legislative revelers Friday they had a lot of be proud of, and called the 2016 legislative session a “very good session.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner declared a personal victory Friday. His chamber language to a health insurance bill that requires health insurance contracts to cover speech therapy, occupational therapy physical therapy and applied behavior analysis services for individuals with Down Syndrome. They are already required to be covered for people with autism spectrum disorder.

“Eight years ago, we ended session with an issue that was not resolved,” he said. “It got resolved tonight.”

The budget, and a host of other bills that passed Friday, now heads to Scott for his approval and vetoes.

Harris Corporation pleased with $7M approved for police radio funding

Florida lawmakers went back and forth on funding for new police radios in their $82.3 billion budget, eventually deciding to fork over $7 million for the new equipment to current supplier Harris Corporation.

The communications company couldn’t be more pleased that lawmakers ended up “putting the safety of first responders and Floridians first,” according to an email it blasted out after the legislature passed the budget Friday night.

The House had included funding for the radios in its budget proposal, eventually nixing in order to step in line with the Senate budget, which contended the Brevard County-based company simply wanted to offload radios that law enforcement didn’t need.

The line item ended up coming back to life with the help of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, who represents Brevard County.

Harris said the new radios will not only “give law enforcement advanced interoperable communication technology now” but will allow departments across the state to “retire radio models that are more than a decade old.”

“As hurricane season approaches and as Florida hosts more than 100 million visitors annually, it is critical that first responders have the right tools,” the email said. “We question why anyone would want our state law enforcement to be forced to use outdated equipment or wait another five years.”

Florida poised to approve a nearly $82.3 billion budget

Putting behind a year’s worth of rancor, the Florida Legislature on Friday will approve a more than $82.3 billion budget that includes a slight boost in money for schools but also rejects many of Gov. Rick Scott‘s main priorities.

Just a few months ago the Republican-controlled Legislature was rushing to pass a budget to avoid a state government shutdown. This time the House and Senate put together a spending plan for this year that increases the state budget by roughly 5 percent without the arguing and finger-pointing that had consumed most of 2015. The vote guarantees that legislators end their session on time.

But along the way legislators forged a budget that ignored much of what the GOP governor wanted. They shot down his bid for a $250 million fund to lure new companies to the state. Scott’s tax cut package, a centerpiece of his 2014 re-election bid, was scaled back significantly. Instead of using a budget surplus to give tax cuts largely to businesses, legislative leaders instead steered money to a small trim in local property taxes.

Both Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli insisted that their approach was a reaction to recent news that showed that Florida’s economic recovery may be faltering and that tax collections aren’t growing as robustly as once forecast.

“There’s a reality to how much money you have available and the resources you have and we had to recognize that,” Crisafulli said this week.

There are other places that legislators also bucked Scott. They agreed to borrow money in order to set aside more than $700 million in school construction projects. Florida in the past would routinely borrow money for building projects, but they had stopped due to continued opposition from Scott.

Crisafulli defended the practice, saying that it makes sense to use bond proceeds for construction with interest rates so low. Still the move could risk a veto from Scott, who last year slashed nearly $500 million from the budget before signing it into law.

Democrats have usually been sharply critical of the annual budget. But this year they said they would vote for the budget to “send a message” to Scott. This means that the Republican-controlled Legislature should have enough votes to override Scott in case he vetoes the budget or spending items within it. It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto.

“We have a governor who refuses to govern and that has enabled us to cross party lines,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat.

Some legislators, however, said there were shortcomings in the budget. They complained it doesn’t include an across-the-board pay raise for state workers or boost spending enough in Florida’s troubled prisons system. A push by Florida’s prison chief to hire enough correctional officers to switch from a 12-hour shift to an 8-hour shift was not approved by budget negotiators.

Rep. Charles Van Zant, a North Florida Republican who is leaving this office due to term limits, harshly criticized GOP leaders for refusing to set aside more money for state workers and prison employees.

“We have the money, but we are cheating our employees,” said Van Zant.

Despite saying they didn’t have money for pay raises, legislator still spread throughout the budget tens of millions for hometown projects. Some of the same projects were vetoed by Scott last year, leading to rampant speculation that legislative leaders may have already agreed to override Scott. Crisafulli and Gardiner have continued to insist they don’t have any agreement on overrides.

“There’s going to be things in there the governor doesn’t like, there’s going to be things in there the governor likes,” said Crisafulli.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says goodbye to ‘an incredible institution’

Courtesy of the Florida House
Courtesy of the Florida House

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli bid farewell to his colleagues Thursday, thanking his staff and fellow for making the House “an incredible institution.”

“It has been a true honor to serve with all of you,” said Crisafulli. “The past two years have been challenging; they have brought on extraordinary times. But I am so proud of this House on how we confronted adversity.”

Crisafulli was first elected to the Florida House in 2008 and served as the House Speaker from 2014 to 2016. The Merritt Island Republican can’t run again because of term limits.

During his brief remarks, Crisafulli thanked his family and staff for their support over the years. He spoke to lawmakers about the work they’ve done, and said he hoped he lived up to the promises Crisafulli made when he was first named Speaker.

“When I ran for office, you know that I never sought to hold this position. But it has been a role that I embraced, because it meant getting to know each and every one of you, whether Republican or Democrat,” he said. “When I took on this role, I felt that my role would be more of a manager in the process and not the dictator of it. I’m hopeful, in these last two years, that you’ve seen that as my role played out.”

Crisafulli made his remarks after his official portrait was unveiled. In the portrait, which was promptly hung on the walls of the House chamber, Crisafulli is shown standing with his hand on an orange sitting on a desk.

House members also presented him with a custom long range rifle as a gift.

“Over the years of our service together, what has impressed me … is how strong your convictions are and how firmly you hold them,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican. “There have been very few things that I have seen that you would be unmovable on, but on those principles, you stood strong and did not waiver.”

Crisafulli told members he was looking forward to seeing what came next for them, and encouraged them to remember their roots as they continue their public service.

“For those that will continue on in this institution, whether in this House or across the hall in the Senate, I ask you all to remember that you are not, or never will be, bigger than this process,” he said. “Check your egos at the door when you come into this chamber and the one across the hall. Remember how you got here and where you came from. Make the most of this special opportunity.”

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