A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
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DOWN GOES DORWORTH via The Associated Press
A former Florida lawmaker, a state transportation official and a former board member of an Orlando expressway authority were indicted Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of violating public meeting laws.
A grand jury indicted former Florida House member Chris Dorworth, Florida Department of Transportation public affairs worker Rebekah Hammond and Scott Batterson, a former board member of the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority.
The indictments came hours after another former board member, Marco Pena, pleaded guilty to violating Florida’s open meetings law and testified in front of the grand jury.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton said the grand jurors asked him to convey their concerns about the perceived “culture of corruption” surrounding the Expressway Authority.
“The grand jurors feel that by their decisions, it’s pretty clear that in their opinion that culture has not completely abated, despite the efforts of some very well-meaning, well-intentioned people at the Expressway Authority,” Ashton said.
Dorworth, Hammond and Batterson face a maximum 60 days in jail, six months’ probation and $500 fine for their misdemeanor charges. The state Department of Transportation said Hammond resigned Wednesday. In a written statement, the department said it had cooperated with the investigation.
They are all accused of participating in meetings and communicating through “conduits, intermediaries or third parties,” information related to the official acts to be taken by the expressway board.
Phone and email messages left with Dorworth and Hammond were not immediately returned. A message left with Batterson’s attorney was also not immediately returned.
Pena didn’t appear in court for his plea but his attorney entered it on his behalf to a misdemeanor charge. Under the agreement, Pena avoids jail time and probation, and is paying a $500 fine.
HOW DORWORTH’S INDICTMENT PLAYED: Orlando Sentinel: Grand jury indicts Batterson, Dorworth on violating public-records law; News 13 Orlando: Orlando Expressway official, FDOT liaison, lobbyist indicted; WESH Orlando: Three more people indicted in Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority case; WFTV Orlando: 3 indicted in Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority investigation
MY TAKE: NOT FEELING SORRY THIS TIME FOR CHRIS DORWORTH Full blog post here
There have been few more fierce defenders of Chris Dorworth in the press than myself. Dorworth once told me that his father cried after reading something I wrote standing up for his son. But as I began to investigate “what the hell was going on at the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority,” I grew to realize that my belief in Chris Dorworth was misplaced.
It remains to be seen whether Chris Dorworth will be proven guilty of the minor legal charge against him. But that’s not what any of this is about.
What Chris Dorworth is already guilty of is not taking advantage of the gift from God given to him with the second (or third or fourth) chance provided to him.
TWEET, TWEET: @Ramba: so a lobbyist gets indicted for trying to get majority of board to vote for client? Desperate to pull crap out of thin air
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FLORIDA SUPREME COURT CONSIDERS RETROACTIVE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CAP
On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court questioned lawyers in a continuing dispute over a 2003 medical-malpractice law limiting the amount of money a woman can receive because of complications after leg surgery.
The case centers on if damage caps set by lawmakers can apply to the case of Kimberly Ann Miles, a Miami-Dade County woman who was injured prior to the passage of the 2003 law, but filed a lawsuit in January 2006.
Miles and her husband received a jury award of $1.5 million in non-economic damages, which was subsequently reduced to $500,000 due to the law.
Philip Burlington, Miles’ attorney, argued before the Supreme Court that the damage caps should not be retroactive to injuries suffered prior to passage of the law. Doing so, he continued, would violate the right of due process.
However, Dinah Stein, an attorney for physician Daniel Weingrad, the defendant in the case, said non-economic damages — typically awarded for pain and suffering — are “tremendously discretionary on the part of the jury” and retroactive application of limits did not take away Miles’ rights.
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FLORIDA ARTS GROUPS SEE BIGGEST BUDGET WINDFALL IN A DECADE via Stephanie Hayes of the Tampa Bay Times
As the theater of politics unfolded in the state capital, players in Tampa Bay’s arts community watched for their own happy ending.
They got it when Gov. Scott approved $53.6 million in grants for Florida arts and culture, part of a budget that endured very few vetoes in an election year. It sent the biggest state infusion of cash into the arts in more than a decade, with more than $5 million spread across Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Last year, the same grants budget from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs totaled $12.7 million. The year before, $9.8 million. The last time it reached anything close to this was in the 2006-07 fiscal year, when the grants budget was $39.5 million.
Florida playhouses, museums and performance groups have spent years grasping for cash, the dry economic climate felt not only at ticket windows but also at the state funding level. Relief came as part of Scott’s $77 billion state budget, the largest in Florida history.
The state’s cultural affairs division takes requests from cultural outfits ranging from the Miami City Ballet to the Steinway Society of Central Florida. Before making a larger plea to the state, peer review panels rank grant requests on a scoring system. The grants are competitive, and for categories like renovations, venues need to specify exactly where the money will go.
BUDGET DELIVERS BIG FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE ADVOCATES Read full blog post here.
Gov. Scott signed on Tuesday a record size state budget for Florida, and in it, included record size wins for the Alzheimer’s community. From research, to hurricane and emergency preparations, to better screening practices, to respite care, the 2014 budget represents the most ambitious and forward thinking agenda Florida has seen on Alzheimer’s to date.
These wins were delivered through the dedication of many advocates and a few stalwart leaders. Among them stands out Rep. Matt Hudson, whose chairmanship of the Health Appropriations Committee drew attention to the suffering and needs of millions of Floridians and their families. Hudson championed HB 709 which establishes a competitive grant program for Alzheimer’s research and included guidelines for memory disorder clinics and special needs shelters.
The creation of the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program will fund and promote in-state breakthroughs through a peer-reviewed grant process. The $3 million signed into the budget for its implementation is a big step toward Florida’s emergence as a top player in a field that has wide vision but few results to date.
Alzheimer’s is the most costly disease to Medicare and Medicaid — and for a state like Florida with high ratios of older residents, this spells an impending crisis for state budgets. In large part, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are so costly because patients need greater companionship or care throughout a day. Respite care services — particularly those that reach people within their own communities — delay the need for institutionalization and allow families to keep their loved ones at home. Florida’s 2014 budget validates these facts with substantial attention to respite care –and this year, with a far greater geographic reach than ever before.
While South Florida programs have received state funding for some time, residents of the Big Bend will have access to greater respite care services through a $150,000 allocation to the Alzheimer’s Project, Inc. The Alzheimer’s Project is based in Tallahassee and serves a 10 county catchment area comprised primarily of rural communities. Prior to this allocation, the Alzheimer’s Project’s respite day care programs were at full capacity. These funds will permit a dramatic expansion of options throughout the region.
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DEMOCRATS SKIRMISH OVER OPEN BROWARD HOUSE SEAT via Buddy Nevins for BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County political campaigns run on food. Bagels and cream cheese, Danish, hummus, spaghetti, barbeque and fruit salad for vegetarians who might show up at a political event – all paid for by candidates.
One recent evening, Florida House candidate Steve Perman brought eight pizzas and eight two-liter bottles of soda along with scores of his campaign flyers to the hungry members of the Margate Regular Democratic Club.
Although House District 96 is relatively compact, stretching from Pompano Beach to Parkland along the northern border of Broward, the campaign for one of the House’s open seats is strenuous and often exhausting. The district’s current occupant, state Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who endorsed fellow Democrat Perman, is retiring because of term limits.
Perman’s opponent in the primary is Democratic County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, 54, who said she is often exhausted, too. Jacobs, a grandmother, has been campaigning door-to-door with her non-political husband, Stuart, in tow.
Both candidates are campaigning only among Democrats because District 96 is safely Democratic, and victory in the primary will be tantamount to election in November.
The campaign will boil down to two phases. The first phase, now underway, involves personally meeting voters. Political consultants and the candidates predict a low turnout. They foresee as few as 8,000 voters will take part in the primary. Thus, knocking on doors and meeting a handful of voters at club meetings could conceivably make a difference.
The second phase will be the withering blast of negative advertising both candidates expect in the closing days of the campaign. The ads will focus on their personal differences and a handful of past votes. “She’s going to paper me,” Perman predicted.
DID MARIA SACHS MAKE IT EASIER FOR ELLYN BOGDANOFF?
Many of us recall the knock-down drag-out race two years ago between Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff and Democrat Maria Sachs. A race that was neck-and neck down to the wire (in fact, a late October poll had Bogdanoff up three points coming into the home stretch) until the Sachs team scored this amazing knock-out punch.
With that very effective ad — calling Bogdanoff on the carpet for her support of a bill to hurt nursing home residents when they’ve been injured in a lawsuit — Sachs overcame the three point deficit and won the newly-drawn and highly competitive seat.
Now that the rumor mill is in full-swing and the smart money is betting on Bogdanoff to seek a rematch, will Sachs open her parry with that winning message?
But first, pause for a moment and think back to April 3 — a little over a month ago.
It was there on the floor of the Senate that Maria Sachs voted in favor of CS/CS/SB 670. The bill passed easily (36-3) with very little debate. That bill should have a familiar ring to readers of this blog. As covered here, this is the nursing home tort reform bill that was (surprisingly) supported by the trial lawyers association (FJA.) In fact this is essentially the same bill that had been moving around the legislature for quite some time and according to the Miami Herald, the nursing home industry had “been seeking a version of this bill for years.”
Yes, this was the issue that Sachs so effectively used to thwart Bogdanoff in their political melee.
And yes, this was nearly the same bill that Sachs herself voted for on April 3rd.
I guess we won’t be seeing that ad again.
FATHER OF PBR FESTIVUS POLE FILES RESIDENCY COMPLAINT AGAINST SACHS Full blog post here
“World-famous” political activist Chaz Stevens, when not getting ready another Festivus Pole for the Florida Capitol, is busy chasing state Sen. Maria Sachs over her increasingly nagging residency problem.
The blogger and Editor in Chief of MAOS, a Boca Raton-based political website, filed a “formal complaint” with Sen. John Thrasher, who chairs the Senate Committee on Rules.
In supporting his allegations, Stevens points out several provisions in the Florida Constitution, including one saying “the office of a state legislator has been viewed as being filled on Election Day, not at a later time such as when the results are certified or the oath of office is taken.”
To further his claim, Stevens provides “personal knowledge” – complete with photos and videos taken by a licensed private investigator, and available on MyActOfSedition.com — demonstrating that Sachs violated the state’s Joint Legislative Rule 7.1. His primary focus is on the legal determination of residence, which rests on the definition as “where one customarily resides.”
Signing the letter “resident, Voter, and Father of the PBR Festivus Pole,” Stevens concludes by asking Thrasher’s Rules Committee to “fully investigate this matter, and where appropriate, apply the applicable sanctions.”
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FCCI WELCOMES JAMES KOTAS AS NEWEST ADDITION TO TEAM
Sarasota-based FCCI Insurance Group (FCCI) today announced the hiring of James Kotas as its new government affairs specialist. In this role, Kotas will serve as a liaison between FCCI and the legislative system representing FCCI’s legislative priorities.
Prior to joining FCCI, Kotas served as the chief of staff to Florida Senator Aaron Bean. From 2010 to 2012, he served as an legislative aide to Florida House Deputy Majority Leader and Majority Whip Dana Young. From 2009 to 2010, Kotas served as a principal of JGK & Associates, Inc., a governmental consulting and public affairs firm in Tampa, Fla. From 2007-2009, he served as the legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Prior to that, Kotas also served as the director of government affairs for the Victory Group.
FCCI provides automobile, crime, general liability, inland marine, property, commercial and contract surety, umbrella workers’ compensation and agribusiness/farmowners insurance coverage in 18 states.
NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS
Luis Alfaro-Martinez, David Ardayfio, Patrick Boyer: Barclays Capital, Inc.
Larry Sellers, Holland & Knight: City of DeLand
PREVIEW OF #7 ON SSN’S LIST OF TOP LOBBYISTS: THE RUBIN GROUP
The Rubin Group may not be the largest lobbying firm in Tallahassee, but what the three-lobbyist team lacks in size, it makes up for in intensity. Bringing in $2.4 million in legislative fees for 2013, the Rubin Group ranks No. 7 on Sunshine State News’ list of Top Lobbyists in Florida.
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CAR SERVICE UBER EYING TALLAHASSEE AS POTENTIAL MARKET via Jessica Palombo of WSFU
Rideshare app service Uber could come to Tallahassee if the company sees enough interest in the area. Uber is advertising in search of drivers in Florida’s capital city.
Earlier this year, people using the words “Uber” and “Tallahassee” in the same sentence were likely talking about controversial state legislation the company was pushing to override local car service restrictions.
That bill failed, but the company that connects smartphone-savvy riders with hourly-paid drivers is now testing whether there’s a demand for its service in town.
City transportation lawyers say Tallahassee does not have car restrictions similar to the ones Uber was fighting in Miami and other cities. If the company does choose Tallahassee as a market, drivers would simply need to register as cars for hire with the police department.
CONTEXT FLORIDA: WATER PROJECTS, THAD COCHRAN, ELLIOT RODGER AND FULL-TIME JOBS
On Context Florida: Water projects may not have fallen prey to Gov. Rick Scott’s line-item veto this year, nor did Florida TaxWatch list them as legislative “turkeys,” but Bruce Ritchie believes that there should be a better process to determine whether there is enough money to complete projects or ensure they are truly needed. Rick Outzen writes that the Tea Party and its array of conservative political action committees spent $3.5 million to defeat U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who has represented Mississippi in the Senate since 1978. Cochran, who is facing a runoff in the GOP primary, earned a place in history and deserves to go out under his own terms. California mass shooter Elliot Rodger — through press stories, Internet videos, and his words and actions — is eerily familiar to Julie Delegal. Most women should work outside the home, says Catherine Durkin Robinson, and not necessarily a 50-hour a week, high-pressure career with little time for anything else.
JENNIFER ORSI NAMED TAMPA BAY TIMES MANAGING EDITOR via the Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times deputy editor for metro and business news Jennifer Orsi was introduced as the first woman to be the sole managing editor in the newspaper’s 130-year history.
Orsi began her journalism career as an intern at the Times 28 years ago and went on to become one of the newspaper’s most accomplished journalists, Times editor Neil Brown said as he announced the promotion to the newsroom. As managing editor, Orsi will oversee the day-to-day operations of the newsroom.
MIAMI HEAT GETS NEW ARENA DEAL via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald
The Miami Heat easily won a new arena deal from Miami-Dade County, with commissioners agreeing to subsidize the team’s home court for an additional five years in exchange for regular donations to the county’s parks department.
Miami-Dade would still pay far more into the county-owned American Airlines Arena than it would receive from the Heat’s new $1 million payment to parks, but commissioners touted the deal as a welcome investment in South Florida’s hottest sports team.
“There is not enough money out there to spend to get the publicity the Heat brings this community,” Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said before casting one of the 10 votes in favor of the agreement. Two commissioners voted no: Lynda Bell and Xavier Suarez. Commissioner Juan C. Zapata did not attend the meeting, and a staffer said he was ill.
The $6.4 million in hotel taxes that Miami-Dade currently pays the Heat annually as an operating subsidy would continue as planned until the end of the current deal in 2030, then rise to $8.5 million a year for the extra five years tacked on under the agreement approved Tuesday. Miami-Dade would also retire a profit-sharing arrangement that was a central part of the 1997 agreement that provided for the Heat to finance construction of the 19,600-seat arena on county waterfront, and then pay itself back with interest out of arena profits.
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to State Reps. Seth McKeel and Ricardo Rangel. Also celebrating today is Kevin Cleary.