Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!
Everything’s fine, Senate President Joe Negron said Wednesday. Nothing to see here, folks.
His signature tax cut this year, a reduction in the communications service tax to be paid for by removing a subsidy to the insurance industry, was abruptly pulled off the agenda earlier in the day of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.
That decision was Kelli Stargel’s, the Lakeland Republican who chairs the panel. Only three of the five members showed up for the meeting. She had said it was too “weighty (a) subject” to be considered by a reduced contingent.
Negron, a Stuart Republican, later said he agreed with that decision.
“Given that it’s a very significant tax issue, I think the chair felt that all five members should be present,” he said.
The bill (SB 378) repeals a $435 million tax credit for insurers to finance a nearly $231 million tax break on communications services.
“I think it’s important to constantly look at incentives we’ve created in the past,” Negron told reporters after the day’s floor session.
“Those funds would much be much better spent providing tax relief to Floridians, to businesses, rather than subsidizing the labor cost of one particular industry.”
For years, Negron has tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies. The industry once again is fighting to keep its subsidy, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state.
But the plan is a linchpin of the Senate’s 2017 tax cut package. He was asked: Why not let the subcommittee hear the bill anyway, especially if it will be heard by the full Approps Committee later?
“That’s a decision that was made by the chair,” he said. “I wasn’t involved in that decision but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and I support (it).
“Every issue is important,” Negron added. “Some issues are more important than others.” No doubt, Mr. President.
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DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 17; NFL Draft – 42; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 49; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 49; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 170; Election Day 2017 – 235; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 273.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a roundtable with business and economic development leaders to discuss the importance of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida at 9:30 a.m. at PropLogix, 1651 Whitfield Ave in Sarasota. From there, he’ll travel to Merritt Island where he will attend the groundbreaking for OneWeb Satellites’ new manufacturing facility at 2 p.m. at Space Florida’s Exploration Park, 505 Odyssey Way.
RICHARD CORCORAN GETS NOD FOR DEDICATION TO TERM LIMITS FROM U.S. TERM LIMITS via Florida Politics – U.S. Term Limits announced this week that it has presented Corcoran with the Champion of Term Limits Award … for his commitment to term limits and citizen government. “By supporting term limits, Speaker Corcoran has given a voice to Floridians who feel let down by corruption and careerism in government,” said Philip Blumel, the president of U.S. Term Limits. “People are tired of business as usual and term limits is the only way to change the status quo. We applaud Corcoran for his important work to get this done.” Corcoran has pushed to impose term limits on Florida’s Supreme Court and appellate judges, which the organization supports. The organization also applauded Corcoran for his support of legislative term limits, which have been in place since 1992.
BTW, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. SPEAKER! What do you get the legislative leader that wants to cut everything?
HOUSE LAWMAKERS COMPILE $2.7 BILLION WISHLIST FOR HOMETOWN PROJECTS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Even in a year when the state has a tiny surplus and demands are as great as ever, the project wish lists remain massive, more than 1,200 in all, equal to 10 for every member of the House of Representatives. They would cost $2.7 billion, more than the entire annual budget of the Florida prison system, the third-largest in the United States. Lawmakers say it shows a growing need for services that the state and local governments can’t or won’t provide, for drug and alcohol abuse treatment, respite care for the elderly, the arts, roads, bridges, parks, drainage, sewer and wastewater improvements. The three biggest projects in Tampa Bay are $15 million for deferred maintenance on aging buildings at Hillsborough Community College; $15 million for a new highway interchange at I-75 and Overpass Road in Pasco County; and $10 million to remove sediment and restore Lake Seminole in Pinellas.
CARLOS TRUJILLO: HOUSE WANTS TO CUT $1.4 BILLION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – He highlighted the figure after a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, which got budget reduction presentations for each chair of the chamber’s budget subcommittees. At the beginning of session, Trujillo tasked them with to come up with and A and B budget cut scenario, with one cutting deeper than the other. “I think it is a road map,” said the Miami Republican. “Whether we decide to go down road A or Road B … it’s a road map for how we write our budget.”
***The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***
SENATE PASSES FIX TO “STAND YOUR GROUND” LAW via Florida Politics – The Florida Senate passed a change to the state’s “stand your ground” law that would make it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense. It was approved on a 23-15 vote during Wednesday’s floor session. Specifically, the bill would require prosecutors to prove “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.” The bill (SB 128), sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, is in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the law, passed in 2005. The stand your ground law allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.
HOUSE GIVES OK TO BILL TO ALLOW UTILITIES TO IGNORE CITY DEVELOPMENT RULES via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The bill, HB 1055, by Rep. Clay Ingram … overturns a 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling last year on behalf of the City of Miami, which ruled that the governor and the Cabinet — acting as the state siting board, which oversees power plants — failed to consider the city of Miami’s development rules when it approved FPL’s plan to string 88 miles of line atop towers standing 80 to 150 feet high. The bill also clarifies that the Public Service Commission has exclusive authority to require that power lines be put underground. Just as occurred in the Senate committee … the vote for HB 1055 happened with no debate and little discussion. David Childs, lobbyist for the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, was the only person to testify. He said the bill provides “important clarifications to ensure that the Power Plant Siting Act will continue to apply as it has historically occurred in this state.”
HOUSE PANEL OKS BILL TO ALLOW OPTOMETRISTS TO PERFORM SURGERY via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – Florida’s optometrists won their first skirmish with the state’s doctors and ophthalmologists after a House panel voted in favor of a bill to allow optometrists to perform certain types of eye surgery. But the vote was close and reflects that it could be an uphill struggle to win final passage. The House Health Quality Subcommittee spent nearly two hours hearing testimony over whether the legislation sponsored by state Rep. Manny Diaz (HB 1037) to allow optometrists to perform surgery would be dangerous for patients if it became law … supporters contend the legislation would help provide increased access to eye surgery to patients living in rural areas as well as poor patients because many ophthalmologists will not see Medicaid patients. But several ophthalmologists and several physicians questioned having optometrists perform any kind of surgery because optometrists do not go to medical school or go through the process of becoming a physician.
REDISTRICTING BILL ADVANCES via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics – SB 352 … intended to streamline the handling of redistricting cases in state courts, moved from the special order calendar to third reading. Hutson noted that the bill “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates. The bill is intended to encourage judges to conduct redistricting actions in the sunshine, including public hearings involving potential district maps, keeping minutes of closed-door meetings on the plan, facilitating public comment on maps and plans, and complete records retention of all emails and documents.
VACATION RENTALS DE-REG BILL PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A bill that would roll back all local ordinances and regulations of vacation rental houses to 2011 codes got a split-vote approval from the House Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee. The issue was fashioned as one pitting property rights — those of people or companies that buy houses and convert them into short-term vacation rental properties, versus those of neighbors who don’t like having small hotels pop up in their neighborhoods. Senate Bill 425, presented by state Rep. Mike La Rosa would essentially ban cities and towns from treating vacation rental houses differently from any other houses in the neighborhoods. That was Florida law after a similar bill was signed in 2011, but much of that deregulation was rolled back in 2014 after cities and counties complained. The ensuing regulation has gotten out of hand, La Rosa argued.
— “Committee hearing delayed on Anitere Flores’ tax swap legislation” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics
— “Kamia Brown files bill to protect parents from abusive children” via Orlando Rising
— “Senate advances high school financial literacy bill” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics
— “Senate committee passes bill allowing free state park access to foster families” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics Florida Politics
***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***
ANDY MARLETTE CARTOONS FALSE ABOUT SUGAR, ALGAE FACTS via Judy Clayton Sanchez in the Pensacola News-Journal – We recently met with Pensacola News Journal editorial cartoonist Marlette and editor Lisa Nellessen-Lara. We provided state water quality and engineering data and pointed out flaws in the science behind Senate Bill 10: It ignores the system’s inability to send water south to the Everglades during wet periods; Only a relatively small volume of water could be stored in a reservoir south of the lake compared with the hundreds of billions of gallons discharged to the coastal estuaries; A reservoir deals with water quantity, not water quality — therefore, a small reservoir on sugarcane/vegetable land south of Lake Okeechobee would do nothing to prevent algae blooms in the coastal estuaries. Despite these discussions and that the state agency in charge of water management in South Florida has well documented these facts, Marlette continued his misleading drawings. U.S. Sugar and Florida Sugarcane Farmers proudly support all science-based efforts to stop the discharges. We do not support wasting tax dollars to buy land for projects that WILL NOT WORK.
WILLIAM LARGE: FLORIDA MUST END ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS ABUSE, SELF-SERVING WINDFALLS via Florida Politics – A state law that was originally intended to give individual policyholders special rights in disputes with their insurance companies is instead being used by some repair vendors and their lawyers to generate a self-serving windfall. The problem is serious and growing, and it’s driving insurance costs higher and higher. The so-called “one-way attorney fee” allows a policyholder to collect their legal fees from their insurer if they win a claims dispute. But, if the policyholder loses in court, they don’t have to pay the insurer’s legal fees. Some repair vendors, though, are tricking policyholders into signing an assignment of benefits or AOB. This allows the vendor to seize control of the policyholder’s special rights, file a claim and sue the insurer, often without the policyholder’s knowledge or consent. Now, this litigation-for-profit scheme has become an incentive for lawyers and their vendor clients — often water damage remediation firms, roofers, or auto glass shops with aggressive marketing schemes — to clog the courts with lawsuits and generate big paydays for themselves.
WHAT EDIE OUSLEY IS READING – FLORIDA’S TRIAL BAR HURRICANE via the Wall Street Journal – Sunshine State lawyers, in cahoots with local contractors, are crisscrossing the state encouraging homeowners to sign away their insurance rights, a practice known as “assignment of benefits,” or AOB. In exchange, the lawyers promise to handle property repairs and fight with the insurance company for settlement paydays. What the lawyers aren’t telling homeowners is what happens next. A 1950s-era Florida statute dictates that insurers are liable for all attorney’s fees if they lose in court or settle for an amount more than the insurer’s initial offer. So, the trial bar is filing inflated claims to coerce pre-emptive settlements from insurers that want to avoid even more expensive, protracted legal battles. This man-made fiscal hurricane is swirling even as Citizens has offloaded more than a million policies to private insurers and shrunk its market share over the past few years … legislative fixes have been thwarted in recent years by the state’s powerful plaintiffs-lawyer lobby, and competing bills would bless the trial bar’s practices. Florida homeowners already face risks from hurricanes, hail storms and other natural phenomena. Do they need to face the unnatural disaster known as plaintiffs’ attorneys too?
FLORIDA ADDED NEARLY 17K PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS IN FEBRUARY via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Florida added 16,800 private sector jobs during the month of February, according to the ADP Regional Employment Report. An estimated 14,800 jobs were added in the service-producing sector while the rest were in the goods-producing sector. In February 2016, ADP estimated the state added 3,400 more jobs.
CITIZENS INSURANCE BUYING BACK $300 MILLION IN CATASTROPHIC COVERAGE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The company’s board of governors voted unanimously to approve the move … Citizens, Florida’s property insurer of last resort, bought the coverage from Everglades Re II Ltd. in 2015. The company will repurchase catastrophic coverage at prices keyed to the new estimates of the threat, spokesman Michael Peltiersaid. “It allows us to go into the market with more flexibility,” he said. “It no longer makes sense for us to insure against that exposure level.”
PERSONNEL NOTE: STERLING IVEY JOINS FDLE via Florida Politics – Ivey, a veteran of state government communications teams, now has joined the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a communications coordinator. FDLE communications director Gretl Plessinger announced the move Tuesday. He’ll “serve as an FDLE spokesperson and will be responsible for coordinating news releases, interviews, press conferences and internal communications,” she said. Ivey, most recently vice president of corporate communications for SunTrust Banks, has nearly two decades of experience with state agencies. He was public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, then spent four years as communications director for the Department of Corrections. Ivey later was communications director for the Department of State before becoming Gov. Charlie Crist’s press secretary in 2008-11. After that, he was Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s press secretary, serving until 2011.
NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS
Brian Ballard, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: Florida Society of Ophthalmology
William Barrett, Sewell Point Group: Beach Towing Services, Inc.; Tremont Towing
Gregory Black, James Daughton, Patricia Greene, Warren Husband, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Diaz Lyon, Metz Husband & Daughton: AT&T
Bradley Burleson, Ballard Partners: Breakthrough Miami
Dean Cannon, Richard Reeves, GrayRobinson: Hindu Properties
Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: City of South Bay
Jorge Chamizo, Cory Guzzo, Teye Reeves, Floridian Partners: State Policy Network
Angela Drzewiecki, Peeples & Smith: Keys Energy Services
Ramon Maury, Maury Management Group: Chamber South; South Florida Free Beaches, Inc.
Frank Mayernick, Tracy Mayernick, The Mayernick Group: Floridians for Access to Health Care Inc
Paul Mitchell, Southern Strategy Group: Solstice Benefits, Inc
Pat Mixon, Mixon & Associates: Florida Association of Kennel Clubs
Sue Mullins, Evan Power, David Ramba, Ramba Consulting Group: Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District
Winn Peeples, The Peeples Group: Motorcycle Industry Council
William Rubin, The Rubin Group: Caregiver Services, Inc.; Patients for Fair Compensation, Inc.
Burt Saunders, GrayRobinson: Village of Estero
GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Thursday’s Governors Club lunch menu takes a Latin flavor with chicken tortilla soup, jicama salad, tomato & avocado salad with cilantro dressing, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, pernil – roast pork butt, chicken & rice with black-eyed peas, pinto beans, sweet plantains, and blue mash potatoes.
***Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur are fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala and Rep. Brodeur that you support them and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at ProtectFLBusiness.com.***
DISNEY REFUSES TO CUT ‘GAY MOMENT’ FROM BEAUTY AND THE BEAST via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Walt Disney World Company has refused to remove a scene involving a “gay moment” from its “Beauty and the Beast” release in Malaysia, a country that has laws against homosexuality. Instead, Disney has decided to withdraw the film from the Malaysian market, rather than censor the scene. Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board approved “Beauty and the Beast” for a “P13” rating after requesting cuts of about four and one-half minutes from the subplot with a “gay moment,” according to Film Board Chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid … Golden Screen Cinemas, Malaysia’s largest theater chain, posted on its website that patrons who purchased advance tickets will receive refunds. “The film has not been and will not be cut for Malaysia,” according to an email statement from Disney.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Audrey Gibson.