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Takeaways from Tallahassee – the “What’s Steve Crisafulli thinking?” edition

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What does Steve Crisafulli really think after the first two weeks of the 2016 Legislative Session? The word used again and again by some of those closest to him describe his frame of mind as “steady.” His leadership is “steady.” His outlook is “steady.”

Those familiar with Crisafulli’s thinking say he was especially happy for Andy Gardiner to see the Senate President’s priority legislation signed into law.

Crisafulli’s eager to get to the process of building a budget. He doesn’t think there’s much hope for the Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida because the issue doesn’t have a “champion.”

What most worries Crisafulli? That the Dr. Jekyll Senate reverts to its Mr. Hyde form.

Crisafulli recognizes that whether Gov. Rick Scott gets his tax cuts is really up to the Senate. Of course, the most recent Revenue Estimating Conference’s projections that budget writers have $400 million less to work with “shocked” many bean counters and politicians alike.

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Gov. Scott told reporters Thursday he was “proud” of the new water bill that took years to get out of the Legislature. Scott spoke after signing that bill and two others related to people with disabilities. “I think you have to be proud of what the Legislature has done,” he said. “When I ran back in 2010, I heard time and time again, projects were not getting finished in the water management districts. That’s not true today.”

Speaker Crisafulli, for whom the bill was a priority, also defended the measure against complaints it didn’t go far enough to protect water quality, including the state’s springs. “We’ve seen this as a foundation, a good place to start with water policy,” the Speaker said. “There have been groups out there that have talked about the bill in a bad way, but … this is a very positive place for us to start.”

• • •

 A discussion over drones led to a brief spat between two state senators Tuesday.

Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican, was the lone no vote on the proposal (SB 642), which updates the state’s Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act to include liability language. Richter used his time in debate to lay out why he was voting against the bill. He said was voting against it because he wanted a better understanding of the what declaring drones a dangerous instrumentality means before supporting the measure

“So often we find ourselves when we don’t understand the ramifications of a bill, lots of time debate says I’m going to vote for it and hope something will be done differently at the next stop. In this case, I’m going to take that type of an approach but I’m going to vote against it. I’m not comfortable enough to vote for it,” Richter told the committee.

“I have said on other issues  … that I don’t believe the Legislature should ever put itself in front of stopping regulation … stopping technology. Drones are here, they’re going to be here. We can’t stop technology, we need to regulate technology, and I think that regulation needs to be safety in mind, not necessarily court awards and large fees.”

Moments later, Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, spoke up.

“I guess I just wanted to ask Sen. Richter if we should apply the same test, for instance, to say, fracking,” quipped Latvala.

Richter responded: “Out of protocol, absolutely. That’s exactly what the bill I’m doing does, is to try to regulate it. Thank you because that’s exactly what my goal is, to have regulation in place rather than stop that technology.”

Richter is carrying legislation this year that attempts to regulate hydraulic fracturing. In 2015, Latvala raised concerns about similar fracking legislation sponsored by Richter.

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Speaking of Latvala, it’s two weeks into Session and the Warden of North Pinellas has been on his best behavior so far. Don’t expect that to change, but you can expect Latvala to get more vocal on several issues beginning this week.

One of the high-profile bills Latvala is sponsoring is the “Florida Competitive Workforce Act,” which is slated to get its first hearing this Tuesday. The legislation measure would prohibit employment, retail and other discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The fact that the bill is even being heard in a committee is a victory.

Now we hear that Latvala might push for both the Competitive Workforce bill and the Pastor Protection bill to be heard near the same time as a sort of compromise to some conservatives who have questions about the FCWA.

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An effort to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith is making its way through the Legislature, with two legislative committees signing off on it this week.

Smith, a Confederate general, is one of two Floridians whose statue is in featured in the National Statuary Hall. The bronze statue was given to the collection in 1922. He was born in St. Augustine, but Sen. John Legg, who is carrying the bill ​(SB 310) ​in the Senate, said Smith lived in Florida for just 10 years.

“In the last 94 years, I think there have been some pretty great Floridians,” said Legg. Both bills have one more committee stop before they head to the floor for a vote.

Legg barely referenced Smith’s Confederate past when he made the pitch during the Senate fiscal policy committee Wednesday; and Mitch Perry of Florida Politics reported Rep. Jose Diaz, a Miami Republican, avoided discussion of his involvement in the Civil War. But some opponents have suggested the connection to the Confederacy is what is behind the push.

During the Senate meeting, a Yulee man opposed the bill, calling the move is part of “a planned attack on Southern history and heritage.” ​He scolded lawmakers, and questioned whether they would change the name of counties named after Confederate officials or slave owners.

The push to replace the statue began last summer, after a 21-year-old killed nine people in a black church in South Carolina. The shooter had posed with the Confederate flag, and shortly after the shooting the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove it from the statehouse.

In the months since, the Legislature has begun to look at whether Smith’s statue should be removed. The Florida Senate also removed the Confederate flag from its official seal.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, said the bill doesn’t stop a committee from selecting another Confederate solider or official to represent Florida in Statuary Hall. She said she supported looking at replacing the statue with someone who has had more of an impact on Florida.

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A new criminal justice reform organization held a kickoff event Thursday night in Tallahassee with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist as the featured guest. The Coalition to Advance Justice held the invitation-only reception to introduce the organization to key lawmakers. Some of the Republicans in attendance were Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Criminal Justice committee chairman, as well as Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Colleen Burton, Jay FantJamie Grant, and Scott Plakon. Democrats spotted included Reps. David Richardson and Vic Torres.

Christian Minor organized the event for the new organization, headed by Jim DeBeaugrine, a lobbyist and former longtime state official.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster and Jim Rosica contributed to this report. 

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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