steve crisafulli Archives - Page 4 of 21 - SaintPetersBlog

State police radio replacement dispute becomes budget conference sticking point

An obscure but heated battle over a state contract potentially worth hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money is at stake as budget conferees continue to hammer out differences between House and Senate proposals.

At issues is the radio equipment law enforcement agents use to communicate. Problems with communication gear have led to the deaths of several officers across the country.

Tucked into the House’s government operations budget proposal is $7 million for a line item that reads “Replacement Of Statewide Law Enforcement Radio Equipment.”

The budget request came from Melbourne Rep. Ritch Workman on behalf of a Washington, D.C.-based government relations director for Harris Corp. Harris holds a state contract to provide law enforcement radio support valued at an estimated $18 million annually.

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 $7 million appropriation would unfairly bolster Harris’ grip on the contract. The contract provides that proprietary Harris-made radios fulfill orders for replacements.

The Harris representative named in the request, Glenn Grab, said during the weekend that state officials in agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles tell him they need new radios to replace outdated units, some more than a decade old.

Grab said an equipment “refreshment” before the 2021 contract expiration is only 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 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Harris is headquartered in Brevard County, represented in the House by both Workman and Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Sources familiar with the budget process said the contentious issue is likely to be “bumped up” to appropriations chiefs Rep. Richard Corcoran and Sen. Tom Lee, who are set to take over any unresolved budget issues Monday evening at 6 p.m.

Key senators, including conference committee Vice Chairman Alan Hays and Sen. Jack Latvala, expressed concerns about the line item when it was proposed late in the budget process last year.

Latvala called it “a back-door extension” of the current contract, and said it could jeopardize a planned competitive bidding process set to solicit offers to continue servicing state communications infrastructure needs.

Budget writers approved $800,000 for the Department of Management Service to add staff in preparation of the bid last year.

A state Joint Task Force that administers the state’s radio systems has been careful not to publicly take sides in the battle of vendors, though a DMS study recommended a bid process go forward “as soon as possible.”

A Harris PR rep told reporter Matt Dixon last year that switching vendors after 2021 could lead to nine-figure costs to the state and a possible disruption in service.

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Budget conference to begin this weekend

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

Members,

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

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

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

President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli

Stay tuned for an update Friday morning …

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Stand Your Ground bill still in legislative limbo

There were still no definite answers Wednesday on whether the House will consider a Senate-approved change to the state’s Stand Your Ground law.

The Senate bill, backed by state Sen. Rob Bradley, “shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecution” in pretrial hearings on whether a use of force was justifiable, according to a staff analysis.

Those hearings determine whether a defendant can claim self-defense at trial.

The House version died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in November on a 6-6 vote. But the Senate bill passed that chamber last month on a 24-12 vote and was redirected to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Jacksonville Republican Charles McBurney.

But the bill wasn’t on the agenda for Thursday, the last scheduled meeting of that committee for the 2016 Legislative Session.

After a Wednesday floor session, McBurney exited the chamber through a side door before reporters could get to him.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli wasn’t able to give any more clarity: “I couldn’t tell you. Chair McBurney has the authority to meet through next week. He’ll be the one to make the decision” to hear the bill.

On Tuesday, he denied reports of pressure from the National Rifle Association to move the bill.

“We are certainly not under pressure,” Crisafulli said. “Members are moving legislation as they see fit.”

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Rick Scott calls session ‘successful’ – but still hasn’t got what he wants

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday suggested, with as much subtext as he could muster, that lawmakers need to come around on his two main budget goals for 2016-17: $1 billion in tax cuts and $25o million for business incentives.

After all, legislative leadership passed their priority bills early on, which Scott happily signed.

The message was clear: You got yours, I want mine.

“We’ve had a very good Session. It’s all going to be successful,” Scott told reporters after a bill signing in his office.

“We started with the water bill that the Speaker of the House wanted, we started with the Gardiner Scholarship bill for those with unique abilities (named after Senate President Andy Gardiner), those have already been signed,” he said.

“Everyone knows my priorities,” Scott added. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Florida Enterprise Fund).

“I believe we’re going to have a good end to Session. And there’s plenty of money in the budget.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, in separate comments to reporters, basically said Scott was overspending and asking for too much.

“I’ve said it, the President has said it, even the governor has said it: There has to be compromise on all sides,” he said. “That’s the only way to bring those numbers within a threshold we can obtain.”

As of Wednesday night, House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chair Tom Lee had not announced agreement on allocations, the silos of money for each major part of the state budget.

“We know the governor is very focused on his message,” Crisafulli said. “He’s fighting for as much as he can get, but there’s a reality in all this … Nobody gets everything they want.”

Added Gardiner: “It’s give and take … everybody’s going to have give and take if we want to go home on time.”

The session ends March 11, but the budget has to be done before then because of a 72-hour “cooling off” period mandated by law, giving lawmakers and the public time to inspect the details.

“He’s going to have vetoes; he’s probably going to have a lot of vetoes,” Gardiner said of Scott after a Wednesday Senate floor session. “If we all sat out and had a big group hug, he’d still have a lot of vetoes … I’m trying to put together what I think is a responsible budget.”

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House passes incentives measure desired by Rick Scott

After a debate that included mentions of monsters, Robert A. Heinlein and the Tampa Bay Rays, the Florida House of Representatives Wednesday passed its 2016 business and economic incentives package, including the framework for Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund.

As bill sponsor Jim Boyd reminded members, it still has no funding: “This is a structure bill, a policy bill,” he said, explaining that how much money goes to incentives still must be decided in the budget process. 

The legislation (HB 1325) will provide “more oversight, more control and will foster growth for all businesses throughout Florida,” he told members.

But his measure fractured the usual party-line vote on high-profile measures: Those in favor included members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who had held a closed-door meeting Tuesday after the House first started considering the bill.

Caucus chairman Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat, did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment after the vote.

Those opposed included dozens of Republicans, including Speaker pro tempore Matt Hudson of Naples, House budget chief Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

In a statement, the governor thanked the House, saying he wants to “protect taxpayer money by ensuring no incentive dollar leaves the state until we have confirmed a company’s economic investment or job creation in Florida.”

The Florida Enterprise Fund “will also diversify our economy at a key time in our state’s history to help guard against another economic downturn, and make Florida first for jobs in the country,” Scott said. “As the legislative process continues, we’ll continue working closely with the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors and Senate and House members on finalizing this legislation.”

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat and Black Caucus member, said he supported the bill because the businesses it could help attract may wind up in his district, bringing jobs to many of the depressed areas he represents.

It might also help keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, he added, even as the team considers a move to a possible new ballpark in Tampa.

But Rouson also offered a caveat: “I believe in the free market but I don’t believe the free market always believes in me.”

His support and that of his colleagues galled state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, however, who chided the back row about “ghost companies” and their lack of jobs.

“Wake up,” she said. “You’re not going to get the money you think you’re going to get.”

Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat and former Broward County mayor, even compared the measure’s supporters to prostitutes, saying they cut a deal for their votes.

She quoted science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein about “just haggling over the price.” (The quote, by the way, has a complicated history.)

State Rep. Amanda Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, apologized to her constituents for the bill, saying the legislative process “makes monsters out of men.”

And Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, called it “a quarter-billion-dollar slush fund” that would only “make a few fat cats that much fatter.”

Even supporters struggled to rise to the same level of histrionics.

“It is not rosy but it is not the status quo, which is what we have had,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican.

He had planned to vote ‘no,’ but said Boyd had won him over with multiple text messages that included pleas of “you got to support my bill.” 

“And I don’t text,” Van Zant added.

The Senate already committed to the fund, with state Sen. Jack Latvala championing both the idea and the dollar amount, but wants to use money coming from the settlement over the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Legislators are still awaiting an announcement of the 2016-17 “allocations,” the big silos of money available for each major section of the 2016-17 state budget to be worked out by House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate budget Chairman Tom Lee. 

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Steve Crisafulli says no budget conference yet

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Thursday said the budget conference process won’t begin just yet.

The Merritt Island Republican announced the news to members of this chamber in an email:

From: Crisafulli, Steve
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2016 9:16 AM
Subject: Conference will not begin this weekend

Members:

There is positive forward progress in the effort to reach an agreement on budget allocations with the Senate. However, there is still a great deal to be worked out. Therefore, we will not begin conference this weekend. It is my hope that we will begin conference early next week.

I hope you enjoy your weekend.

We’ll have more on the budget as it develops. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m.

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Gut check: Legislative Session reaches midpoint

With the half-way mark of the 60-day 2016 Legislative Session on Wednesday, the theme so far is like a line from a Frankie Valli song: “… so close/And yet so far.”

Take the 2016-17 state budget, the only bill lawmakers are required to pass each year. The House came in at $79.9 billion with the Senate proposing $80.9 billion. Sure, that’s only a billion dollars apart, but $1 billion is still a lot of money, even in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers are set to begin talking about the state’s blueprint for spending on the floors of both chambers in the afternoon. After voting out their respective proposals, both sides will go into a conference process to come up with a final product to send to Gov. Rick Scott.

As to policy, both chambers are closing in on some sort of ride-booking legislation, for example, but remain apart on how to regulate those services, which include Uber and Lyft. And both chambers seem willing to do something about gambling, but don’t agree on exactly what.

But they did pass three big measures in the first week: A water protection bill that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted; a bill that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and another that increases their educational opportunities.

The latter two were priorities of Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome. Scott signed all three.

Here’s a recap of some major areas:

2016-17 STATE BUDGET

Scott didn’t have a lot of demands on lawmakers for the yearly spending plan. In fact, he had just two: A $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund for business incentives and $1 billion in tax cuts.

The House gave Scott the tax cuts – sort of. The Finance and Tax Committee came up with a plan that’s a little less than $1 billion in tax cuts over two years. The House also didn’t honor Scott’s request to kill the corporate income tax on retailers and manufacturers.

“Some of Governor Scott’s goals have been included,” Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz, the committee’s chairman, said last week. “I think there’s a lot of synergy, a lot of overlay. There were some ideas … that we were unable to accommodate at this time, but, you know, hope springs eternal.”

In the Senate, state Sen. Jack Latvala came around to the incentive fund, recommending it for his chamber’s budget as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.

“By taking a significant step forward to work with the governor, I hope we are improving the overall climate of his decision making,” the Clearwater Republican said last month, a not-so-subtle reference to the governor’s veto power over line items in the budget.

When asked whether his decision was more “olive branch or philosophical agreement,” Latvala said, “It’s a combination of both.”

RIDE-BOOKING SERVICES

The House last month passed a bill regulating “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft, and mandating insurance and other requirements.

But it includes a provision disfavored in the Senate: It vests regulatory power over ride-booking services solely with the state, cutting out local bodies such as the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

On Tuesday, the Senate moved forward with its own version that only addresses insurance requirements, setting up another logjam with the House similar to last year.

GAMBLING

Also on Tuesday, a House panel OK’d a trio of bills having to do with the Seminole Compact struck between Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates casinos across the state.

The measures would approve the new Compact, a deal that grants the state $3 billion to be paid by the tribe over seven years. In return, the tribe gets continued exclusive rights in the state to offer blackjack. The bills also allow pari-mutuel “decoupling,” meaning racetracks would no longer be required to run actual races in order to have slots and card rooms at their facilities. The measures would also allow voters to approve any future expansion of gambling.

Florida and the tribe signed the previous deal in 2010, but the provision allowing blackjack and other “banked card games” expired last year.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate postponed consideration of similar legislation for a week. A key senator said his colleagues needed “the opportunity to digest the various amendments being filed.” One of them would clarify that fantasy sports play isn’t gambling.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee, also said, “If there is a gaming deal to be had, it would be in either the last week or the week before.”

ALIMONY REFORM

A bill aimed at effectively ending permanent alimony is heading to the House floor after clearing its final committee of reference.

Mainly, the measure limits judges’ discretion in awarding alimony by providing guidelines for how much an ex-spouse should get and for how long.

It’s the third time in recent years the Legislature has attempted to change Florida’s alimony law.

A companion bill was set to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday but the meeting ran out of time and the bill was pushed to next week.

Another family-law bill moving this session would change state law on child-sharing. It would create an assumption that equal time-sharing for both parents after a divorce is in the best interest of a child. It’s set to be heard Wednesday in the Senate Rules Committee.


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

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Republican committees post 6-figure hauls in first days of 2016

Lawmakers could only raise money for the first 11 days of the year, but that didn’t stop some of the top Republicans in Legislature the posting six-figure hauls to start the year.

Campaign and committee finance reports aren’t due until Wednesday, though Sen. Bill Galvano’s political committee, Innovate Florida, leads early filers after posting $216,000 raised in January. That haul came across in just 31 contributions, including three checks for $25,000 from the Florida Medical Association PAC, optometry group OD-EYEPAC, and Costa Farms.

After $19,000 in January expenditures, the Bradenton Republican’s committee was left with about $1.23 million in the bank.

Brandon Sen. Tom Lee came in just behind Galvano with $212,700 in January contributions to his committee, The Conservative. His total included five $25,000 checks, with MCNA Health Care and multibillionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones each contributing at that level alongside FMA. Costa Farms also made the list with a $10,000 check.

Expenditures were minor for the truncated fundraising period, leaving the former Senate President’s committee with nearly $2 million on-hand.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli leads in the other chamber, with $136,000 in committee money last month. His PAC, Growing Florida’s Future, got $25,000 checks from an Associated Industries of Florida committee and from the FMA to bring its total to more than $600,000 on-hand.

Not far behind Crisafulli is the presumptive 2018-20 House Speaker, Rep. Jose Oliva, who raised $135,500 for his Conservative Principles for Florida PAC. Florida Blue topped the donor list at $35,000, followed by Tampa-based real estate company American Investment Holdings, which gave $25,000. Oliva’s committee entered February with about $541,000 on hand.

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Senate budget eliminates direct funding for youth mentoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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