Lawmakers get grim budget news for next year

Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget, lawmakers heard Monday.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scanty $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, for example, after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a total of $256 million in spending. Roughly two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.

After the meeting, Republican lawmakers stressed that the state didn’t have a revenue shortage, it had a spending problem, painting a picture of government profligacy.

But, since the GOP has controlled the Legislature for nearly two decades, it’s a picture they’re prominently featured in.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran said education and health care spending isn’t to immune to cuts next year.

“If you’re asking me, do I think we are misspending or wasting money, or not getting an efficient return from money that spend on 70 percent of our budget, the answer is yes,” he said. “Every single government person comes up here and spends money like a teenager in the mall for the first time with a credit card. We’ve got to start cutting up the credit card.”

But first on the chopping block, Corcoran suggested, was Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development organization. It got $23.5 million for operations, marketing and other initiatives in the 2016-17 state budget.

“Spending money on economic development is a bad idea,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said. Lawmakers this year did reject Scott’s request for a $250 million incentives fund to be administered by Enterprise Florida.

When asked whether the organization needed to be dissolved, he said: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.

“But you have to understand, over the last umpteen (years), EFI has been in the acquisition of power,” he quickly added. “There’s lots that has been put into EFI that doesn’t belong in EFI that probably still has a function that the state would want to keep.”

“Enterprise Florida is committed to ensuring every Floridian has access to a quality job,” spokesman Mike Grissom said in an email. “We will continue to work until we have accomplished that goal.”

Corcoran, who was House Appropriations chair the last two sessions, said “unequivocally, there are tons of things in the budget that need to be cut, should be cut and will be cut.” He didn’t offer specific proposals.

State Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican who chaired the Senate Appropriations committee, cautioned that the numbers were preliminary and could change.

Chief legislative economist Amy Baker, however, earlier told the panel the current forecast “could be the good news” and later outlooks “may not be this good.”

“It’s very clear … that spending levels in this legislature are just not sustainable,” said Lee, who will be succeeded as Senate budget chief by Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

“We are, by every economic metric, growing and growing very well … unemployment is down, there’s wage growth, sales tax is up … we’re just struggling to balance our spending with those revenue streams,” Lee said.

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War of words heats up between Ed Narain and Augie Ribeiro in SD 19 race

Ever since Augie Ribeiro entered the state Senate District 19 race in late June, Ed Narain has seemed to be personally offended by his campaign theme that he’s a Democrat “for all of us.”

“Is he implying that the people that have held the seat before didn’t represent everybody in the district?” Narain asked on Monday night while attending the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s “Hob Nob” at the Hyatt Hotel in Tampa. “He’s the one who’s playing divisive politics, and I’m going to take a stand against that in this race.”

Narain has the backing of much of the party’s establishment in the contest, which also features former state Representative Betty Reed and outgoing House District 70 Representative Darryl Rouson. He had been the most prolific fundraiser in the race but has subsequently watched as Ribeiro has poured hundreds of thousands of his own cash into his campaign — money that Narain derides as not being homegrown.

“Ninety-five percent of the money that Augie Ribeiro has raised in this race is from Connecticut, New York City and the Northeast,” he says. “This is a guy who’s pretending to be on the side of the people, that is basically is trying to buy his way into the Florida Senate. He is not an attorney. He is nothing more than a fraud.”

Ribeiro says he is a practicing attorney, but doesn’t solicit business or practice in Florida.

“I have spent my entire career as a civil justice lawyer standing up and fighting for hardworking middle-class families, minorities and those injured by the careless acts of others,” he says. “I currently work on mostly federal consumer protection cases, including claims against Big Pharma, BP and General Motors. I am committed to bringing my skills to Tallahassee to take on the kinds of entities that have taken advantage of the people in this district.”

Ribeiro, like Narain, was born in New York City, but most of the similarities end there. Narain moved to Florida when he was 16, and chastises Ribeiro for being a Johnny-come-lately on issues that pertain to Senate District 19, which includes some of the poorest parts of St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Ribeiro has spent much of his adult life living in Danbury, Connecticut, where he made millions of dollars by successfully taking corporations like BP PLC (in the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and General Motors (in the ignition switch defect case). He began visiting St. Petersburg a decade ago when he met his wife, Dr. Sarah Lind, who served as deputy mayor in the Rick Baker administration, but he didn’t move to St. Petersburg full-time until three years ago.

“I believe that the consumers in this district, the people who need it most, need someone who ‘s going to stand up, not take contributions from the insurance companies, the utility companies and the payday loan companies, because those are the companies that the leaders of this district need to regulate the most to protect,” Ribeiro says, adding that “it seems almost unfathomable to me that the leaders would subsidize or be funded by those industries that they have to regulate.”

Ribeiro says he’s outraged that Narain (and Rouson) have relied on so much corporate support for their candidacies, and he says that’s why he’s a better representative for the people of SD 19. His campaign says that Narain has raised more than $21,000 of contributions from utilities, insurance, and payday lenders.

Narain was similarly accused of being too corporate/GOP-friendly two years ago when he ran against Sean Shaw for the House District 59 seat, which he currently occupies. Shaw sent out a flier just a few weeks before 2014 primary that accused Narain of being a “Rick Scott Republican.”

“Yeah, I’m supported by business groups, but I’m also supported by the AFL-CIO, the West Central Florida Labor Council, the Police Benevolent Association — on both the Tampa side and the Pinellas side — we can go down the list: firefighters, FEA, labor and business together,” countered Narain. “I do not believe in divisive politics. It’s the reason why I was successful the last two years in Tallahassee.”

Narain has had some successes while working with the majority GOP House and Senate in his one and only term in office. Working with Brandon Senator Tom Lee, he procured a $1.2 million appropriation to move a Tampa Heights community center that was slated to be razed due to the upcoming construction of the Tampa Bay Express project. He also sponsored legislation to replace and remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

And Narain sponsored legislation that would provide up to $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses for the exhumed bodies at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The school was closed down in 2011 amid accusations by former students of physical and sexual abuse.

On Monday night, the question was posed to Ribeiro — despite his financial largesse, could he break through to the voters in the area by Aug. 30, most of whom didn’t know he existed two months ago?

“After speaking with many local leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas, there seemed to be a real undercurrent for a Democrat with true progressive values, and I believe I’m filling that need,” insists Ribeiro. “I believe I was that candidate beforehand, and then in speaking to people and assessing the other candidates, I think that’s where we’re going. The next generation of this community deserves a progressive Democrat, and I believe that by far I surpass the other candidates in my commitment to progressive values.”

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Instant winners aplenty in Florida Senate races

You might want to call them instant winners.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, a dozen Florida Senate candidates appeared to win their elections when the qualifying period ended without them drawing opposition.

Newcomers Lauren Book and George Gainer were among those candidates who did not draw an opponent.

Gainer, a Bay County Republican, ran unopposed in Senate District 2. That race was expected to be hotly contested and deemed one to watch by political observers. But in March, Rep. Matt Gaetz dropped his state Senate bid to run for Congress instead. Gaetz is one of the several Republicans who qualified to run in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.

Book is a well-known South Florida Democrat, having spent years trying to bring awareness to childhood sexual abuse. She is the daughter of lobbyist Ron Book. She is expected to win her bid to represent South Florida in Senate District 32.

Gainer and Lauren Book are the only newcomers who won their races after running unopposed. The remaining candidates all will return to the Senate after they failed to draw an opponent.

Audrey Gibson won re-election in Senate District 6; Perry Thurston won re-election in Senate District 33, and Oscar Braynon won re-election in Senate District 35. Braynon is set to become the Minority Leader in 2016.

On the Republican side, Aaron Bean won re-election in Senate District 4; Rob Bradley won re-election in Senate District 5; David Simmons won re-election in Senate District 9; Wilton Simpson won re-election in Senate District 10; Tom Lee won re-election in Senate District 20; Bill Galvano won re-election in Senate District 21; and Denise Grimsley won re-election in Senate District 26.

Galvano and Simpson are both believed to be in line for the Senate presidency.

Candidates had until noon Friday to qualify to be on the ballot. State elections officials said they expect all of the candidate qualifying information to be finalized by Friday evening.

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Tom Lee, Bill Galvano to remain powerful GOP voices in Senate

Two key Republicans will be returning to the Florida Senate in new districts and without opposition.

Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Tom Lee of Brandon were the only candidates to meet Friday’s noon filing deadline and thus have been assured of returning to Tallahassee.

Lee’s political future had seemed uncertain after court-ordered redistricting could have placed both him and Galvano in the newly drawn District 21, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

Lee declined to run against Galvano, and after considering a run for the Hillsborough County Commission opted instead to move within the boundaries of the new District 20.

The move keeps two powerful GOP voices in Tallahassee.

Galvano is in line to become Senate President in 2019, provided Republicans keep their majority in that body. Lee served as the chair of the appropriations committee in the last session.

Galvano picked up high-profile help recently when Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam campaigned for him in Wimauma in southern Hillsborough. Galvano has worked closely with Putnam to attack citrus greening, which threatens the livelihood of the state’s citrus farmers.

He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002, and then to the Senate in 2012. He served as Republican majority leader in 2014.

Lee initially was elected to the Senate in 1996 and was re-elected without opposition in 2000. Redistricting forced him to run again two years later, but he was again elected without opposition. In 2004, he served as the Senate president.

After losing a statewide election in 2006 to Alex Sink for chief financial officer, Lee left politics before returning in 2012.

“I just humbly look forward the privilege of serving West Central Florida in the Senate,” Lee said in a statement Friday. “When a public servant does a job between elections, the re-elections tend to take care of themselves.

“I represent everyone in our district, not just those in our party. Without a Facebook or Twitter account, I tend to rely on the old-fashioned way of doing things.”

Lee hopes to close on a piece of property within the boundaries of his new district by early next month.

In campaign filings with the state, Galvano listed his net worth at $2.064 million. Lee listed his net worth at $2.9 million.

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Joe Henderson: Tom Lee’s tough, surprising choice

I’m a little surprised by Tom Lee’s decision to run for re-election to the state Senate.

Along with just about everyone else in the media and Florida politics, I’ve had lengthy chats with Lee about his future since a judge drew new district lines that essentially forced him to make a tough decision.

Because his current Brandon home now lies in a different district than the one Lee represents, he had three choices:

  • Challenge Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano if he wanted to keep his current seat. Lee ruled that out early.
  • Move within the newly drawn boundaries of District 20, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties so that he could run for the Senate again.
  • Run for an at-large seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, where he would have been a heavy favorite.

It came down to options 2 or 3, and as William March of the Tampa Bay Times first reported, Lee chose No. 2.

Why that surprises me, a little, is because Lee talked to me at length about the lure of bringing his Tallahassee experience to his home county. He has young kids and being able to spend more time with them, especially on weekends, was appealing.

Plus, Lee is never shy about saying Tallahassee is where good governance goes to meet a painful end at the hands of lobbyists, special interests and agendas that have little to do with the overall good of Florida.

That’s one of the reasons Lee is not the most popular guy in the statewide GOP.

In the county, Lee’s impact would have been immense. As a resident of eastern Hillsborough, Lee would have given a much-need pragmatic voice to a part of the county that has been treated as a fresh hunting ground for runaway development. The result has been suffocating growth and traffic.

His entry into the race likely would have meant the end of Jim Norman’s attempt to return to public life as a county commissioner. It’s a definite boost to the political ambitions of Republican commission candidate Tim Schock.

But, statewide politics has real appeal too. The power to shape the future of the nation’s third-largest state can be irresistible. That’s the path he chose.

Interestingly, even if Lee wins he will have to run again in 2018.

A lot of things can change between now and then, starting with the races for governor (paging Adam Putnam, please report to the candidate’s booth) and cabinet posts. Lest we forget, Lee unsuccessfully challenged Alex Sink in 2006 to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Lee has been coy throughout the process that led to this decision and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue. For now, though, he has shown one of his cards. He will show the next one when he gets around to it.

___

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

 

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Mitch Perry Report for 6.15.16 – What will Marco do?

Is Marco Rubio ready to do the (almost) unthinkable, and soon announce that he will be running again for the U.S. Senate seat that he renounced a year ago?

We’ll find out soon enough, as the deadline to make such a decision is just nine days away.

The man who runs this website, Peter Schorschwrote last night that a deal is in the works where Rubio’s Miami-Dade County ally, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, would drop out and announce he’s running for CFO in 2018. Dealing with CLC is important, since Rubio has made such an issue of their friendship. Well, Lopez-Cantera has sounded pretty contemptuous of all things Washington during his campaign for Senate, so it wouldn’t be a radical thing for him to say that it works better for him to keep his current day job until 2018.

David Jolly would also drop out, while outsider candidates Todd Wilcox and Carlos Beruff would no doubt stay in the race. Wilcox told us yesterday that Rubio’s entry back into the race would only magnify the difference between a career politician like Rubio and himself. It’s uncertain what Ron DeSantis might do.

Whether this is a great move by Rubio will be for others to decide. Personally, I think it’s a good move if it’s to be believed that Rubio aspires to run again for president in 2020. It seems to me much better to still be in the game (in Washington) than coming from the private sector (a la Jeb Bush, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney).

Whether he can actually win in November is in dispute, but not that he would be the nominee.

That’d be a comeback, of sorts, if you consider how badly he was humiliated in the state’s March presidential primary, when he won all of one of Florida’s 67 counties.

In other news …

Tom Lee has finally made a decision regarding his political future in Hillsborough County.

Rick Baker has endorsed Rebecca Smith in the HD 60 contest.

Kevin Beckner raises more than $11K in his battle to dethrone Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Pat Frank.

Former Plant City Mayor John Dicks had the most robust month of fundraising in the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 contest last month, but he still trails two other Democrats in overall fundraising.

Boca Raton Democratic Representative Ted Deutsch says lifting the loophole that allows those on a terror watch list to still buy guns should be a priority in Congress in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

And the Tampa Bay business elite is calling on the Hillsborough County MPO to approve the TBX in its TIP next week.

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Tom Lee to run for re-election to the Florida Senate

After months of deliberation, Hillsborough County Republican Tom Lee has apparently decided to run for re-election to the newly created Senate District 20 seat later this fall.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the news.

Lee is currently serving in Senate District 24, a seat he won back in 2012. It was a return to the Legislature after a six-year interregnum following his defeat to Alex Sink in the contest for Chief Financial Officer in 2006. Before that, he served a full decade in the state Senate, including two years (2005-2006) when he served as Senate President.

But his current district was redrawn last year, and it put him in the same district as Manatee County Sen. Bill Galvano (who met up with the Tampa Bay Young Republicans at a mixer in Ybor City on Monday). Lee had declared earlier that he wouldn’t challenge Galvano, but left it open about his future options.

He hinted strongly that he was considering a run for Hillsborough County Commission, which would allow him to stay closer to his home in Brandon.

His decision Tuesday will no doubt provide a bit of relief to the two Republicans running for the District 6 countywide seat that Lee presumably would have entered, Jim Norman and Tim Schock. 

It also ends any blunts the ambitions of two local House Republicans who were considering a run for the SD 20 seat if Lee had opted not to run for re-election. Those officials include Ross Spano and Shawn Harrison.

The newly drawn Senate District 20 includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties. No Democrat has entered the race.

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Kelli Stargel draws Polk County Democrat challenger in SD 22 race

A Polk County Democrat announced this week that she will run against Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel in the newly redrawn Senate District 22.

Former Polk County School Board member Debra Wright made the announcement Monday during the Open House of the Democratic Headquarters in Haines City and during the same meeting earned the support of Polk County Democratic State Committeewoman Ruth Ann Eaddy.

“Ms. Stargel’s record has shown a disregard for what is best for her constituents by writing laws and taking positions that are best for her corporate sponsors and are especially bad for women,” Write said Monday. “The law she wrote that would make it impossible for a judge to award custody of children in divorce cases to the more responsible parent was so poorly crafted even our Republican governor was persuaded to veto it.”

After the announcement, Eaddy said Polk County Democrats were “delighted” Wright is “taking on one of our most misguided state legislators in this new district.”

Eaddy also noted that Wright’s candidacy marks the entry of a Democrat into the three districts in the Florida Senate and five districts in the Florida House that include Polk County, though Florida Division of Elections records show no Democrat has filed against Republican Sen. Tom Lee in the new SD 20, nor Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley in the new SD 26.

Wright served one term as the District 6 member of the Polk County School Board before losing out to current school board member Lynn Wilson 53-47 in the 2014 election cycle. Once her paperwork is accepted by the Florida Division of Elections, she will be the only candidate in the SD 22 race other than Stargel.

Stargel currently represents SD 15, which includes a southwestern piece of Orange County, a small slice of Osceola County and the northern third of Polk County. That district delivered her a 17-point victory over Democratic challenger Christopher Pennington four years ago, but the newly redrawn SD22 could be a little tougher for the veteran lawmaker.

SD22 includes the northern third of Polk County as well as Southern Lake County and is the least GOP-friendly of Polk County’s three new Senate districts.

According to the district plan, Democrats make up 41 percent of the SD 22 electorate compared to a 37 percent share for Republicans. Back in 2012, the district went for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by about a 2 points, though Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson snagged a 12-point margin over former Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV in the same cycle.

Stargel has a substantial head start in fundraising, however. Through the end of April, the Lakeland Republican has $195,604.46 in her campaign account, though she has only raised $1,000 since the start of the 2016 Legislative Session.

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Gwen Graham contributes $1,000 to Lisa Montelione in her bid for State House 63

Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione is the first of three major candidates vying for the House District 63 seat to report fundraising totals from April, bringing in $19,490, her highest fundraising month to date.

Among those contribution $1,000 to her campaign last month was Cigar City Brewing founder Joey Redner, as well as his wife Jennifer.

And a look further back into the Tampa Democrat’s contributions to date include a $1,000 check received in late February from none other than Gwen Graham, the Tallahassee Congresswoman who recently announced that she would not be running for reelection this fall, after her district was significantly changed due to redistricting.

Two weeks ago, Graham made statewide headlines when she announced that she was “seriously considering” a bid for governor in 2018, and the contribution came as the Graham camp begins to create a statewide farm team of surrogates for her likely 2018 bid for the Governor’s Mansion. Sources familiar with Graham’s thinking say both her fundraising strategy and personal contributions will be inflected by a desire to create allies and stoke good will with down-ballot Democrats.

Other notable $1,000 contributors who have donated to Monteleone’s campaign in recent months include Lisa DeBartolo and Jose Toledo, the husband of Republican House District 60 candidate Jackie Toledo.

Montelione is battling Mike Reedy for the Democratic nomination this August. The winner will take on Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison, though there have been rumors floating about that he may consider a run for state senate if Tom Lee opts out of not running for reelection in his SD 20 seat.

Harrison and Reedy have yet to disclose their fundraising for April. Those reports are not due until next week.

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Rick Scott vetoes contentious alimony bill

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed a controversial alimony reform bill, saying in his veto letter the legislation had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.”

The bill was the last one sent to the governor, and is the final bill of the 2016 legislative session he needed to take action on. The Naples Republican signed two other bills — a bill dealing with mental health and substance abuse and another streamlining the process for veterans to receive benefits — into law Friday.

In his veto letter, Scott commended the bill’s sponsors — Sens. Tom Lee and Kelli Stargel, and Reps. Colleen Burton and Ritch Workman — for their efforts to reform the state’s divorce and alimony laws. However, Scott expressed concerns that the legislation would have an adverse effect on children.

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule,” said Scott in his letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time sharing.”

Scott said the state’s judges “must consider each family’s unique situation and abilities and put the best interests of the child above all else.”

The bill passed the Senate 24-14, before clearing the House on a 74-38 vote. Among other things, the legislation would have created a legal premise for child custody plans that said children should spend equal time with each parent. Under the proposed legislation, judges would have still had the latitude to decide custody questions after a divorce.

“In the end, Rick Scott is a family values conservative, and this was the right choice to protect children and their primary caretaker,” said Brian Burgess, a media relations consultant who urged Scott to veto the bill, in a statement Friday.

That provision is what led the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar to lobby for a veto. The group had initially backed this year’s proposal.

“We are very pleased that, with his veto of SB 668, Governor Scott has done the right thing by putting Florida’s children first,” said John Giotis, chairman of the Florida Council for Safe Communities, in a statement.” Divorce is always a very difficult situation, and this bill would have put its most vulnerable victims, children, at risk. We sincerely hope that, going forward, any reforms to Florida family law will put the best interests of Florida children above all other concerns.”

The Governor’s Office received more than 11,000 emails and phone calls about the proposal. About 80 percent of those messages were from supporters.

Scott acknowledged the contentious nature of the measure in his veto letter, saying the revisions “evoked passionate reactions from thousands of Floridians because divorce affects families in many different ways.”

In a statement Friday, Workman said he was disappointed the governor decided to veto the bill, but understood his reasons

“The governor’s message is clear; we must tackle each issue in family law separately rather than lumping them all together,” said Workman. “I am committed to reforming these issues. Next session I intend to facilitate individual bills regarding alimony payments, child custody and other family law issues. The system has long been in need of significant overall and Florida families deserve consistency and fairness in their divorce proceedings.”

The bill also would have changed the way Florida judges could award alimony. The measure would have allowed the courts to reduce alimony payments if there was a “substantial change in circumstance.” That could mean the person paying the alimony becomes unemployed or reaches the age to receive full Social Security benefits.

Scott vetoed an attempt to modify the alimony law in 2013. At the time, he said it tampered with the “settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

Scott did not address that portion of the bill in his veto letter, focusing only on the child custody portion.

“As a husband, father, and grandfather, I understand the importance of family and the sensitivity and passion that comes with the subject of family law,” said Scott in his veto letter. “Family law issues are very personal, and nearly every family comes to the court with different circumstances and needs. As such, we must be judicious and carefully consider the long term and real life repercussions on Florida families.”

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