04/24/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — A bitter stalemate over spending forced the Legislature to suspend work on a budget Monday, stirring more bad blood among Republicans and putting an on-time adjournment in doubt.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, bargained privately by phone through last Friday and were making progress on issues such as public school spending and raises for state workers....
TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Legislature, still getting over the shock of former Miami Sen. Frank Artiles' resignation after a racist tirade, faced a new problem Monday as backroom talks on a new state budget suddenly collapsed.
That led to a flurry of insults and brought negative comparisons of the Legislature to the perpetually gridlocked Congress, along with talk of extending the 60-day session by at least one week....
Negotiations between the Florida House and Senate on a state budget are at a stalemate after the House on Sunday proposed a "continuation budget" for the fiscal year that begins July 1, meaning that current spending levels would remain flat with no cuts, no new initiatives and no hometown projects for legislators.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, made his offer in response to what he said was a liberal, free-spending Senate obsessed with higher spending and a lack of respect for the House. Corcoran viewed that as a serious offer, in part because it would keep in place the current spending levels for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida for another 12 months....
04/22/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Last Monday afternoon, at the start of the state Legislature's seventh week of session, Sen. Audrey Gibson raced up three floors to present one of her bills to the Florida Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, stood behind the lectern and tried to catch her breath as she told colleagues about a 6-year-old from back home who had been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility for three days for a "temper tantrum." She filed legislation to require such facilities to speed up their evaluation of the about 30,000 admitted each year under the state's Baker Act....
04/20/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Controversy raged in the Florida Capitol for a second day over Sen. Frank Artiles' racist and sexist tirade, distracting and slowing down the Legislature on Thursday, just two weeks before the end of the annual lawmaking session and building pressure on the Miami Republican to resign — or risk the potential career-ending condemnation of the Senate.
The Senate abruptly canceled formal meetings Thursday afternoon as leaders scrambled to find a quick resolution to Artiles' political future. As a Senate lawyer began taking sworn statements about Artiles' Monday-night verbal assault on two black colleagues at a bar near the Capitol, the senator hired a defense attorney who argued Artiles' use of the n-word and other insults are constitutionally protected free speech....
04/20/17 State Roundup
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — Voting rights advocates and civil rights attorneys cheered the Florida Supreme Court's unanimous ruling Thursday approving language of a proposed amendment that would restore voting rights for convicted felons, saying the decision is a major step toward erasing a lingering vestige of Jim Crow.
"It's a game changer," said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who said the ruling could alter the state's political landscape by opening elections up for hundreds of thousands of new voters. If supporters collect the needed signatures to get on the measure on the 2018 ballot, it could energize Democratic-leaning voters in a year when Florida will elect a new governor and a U.S. senator....
The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of convicted felons can appear on the 2018 ballot.
The court's decision, written by Justice Fred Lewis, is an important legal victory for voting rights advocates, who are collecting signatures from around the state to place the question before voters next year....
04/19/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Forced by Florida Senate leaders to show contrition, Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles stood on the chamber floor Wednesday morning and told his colleagues he was sorry for insulting them in private using curse words and a racial slur.
"I extend a heartfelt apology to my colleagues and to all those I have offended," Artiles began, reading from prepared remarks.
It was not enough....
Every session of the Florida Legislature is partly defined by what doesn't get done, and the 2017 session is no different.
Another year will pass without lawmakers closing the notorious "write-in loophole" that candidates, consultants and political parties use to manipulate election outcomes by preventing independent voters from having a voice in primary elections in all 67 counties. A 1998 amendment to the state Constitution says all voters can vote in a primary if the primary winner will have "no opposition in the general election," but state courts have ruled that write-ins are legitimate candidates. Neither the Republican Party of Florida nor the Florida Democratic Party has shown much enthusiasm for closing a loophole that protects Florida's closed primary system....
House Speaker Richard Corcoran is demanding that state auditors review a $1 billion expansion project at Tampa International Airport as part of a budget deal to end the legislative session.
Corcoran told the Times/Herald he has concerns about the project's cost and possible construction delays that can only be answered by an independent review by the state auditor general, who is appointed by the Legislature....
TALLAHASSEE — The biggest public works project in Tampa history, a $2.3 billion expansion of Tampa International Airport, is at the center of a nasty power struggle among local legislators that could derail their work on a state budget.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants state auditors to review the first phase of the airport project, citing possible cost overruns and construction setbacks based on TV reports....
Open warfare among Republican Tampa Bay legislators claimed its latest casualty Monday, dooming hopes for legislative unity as a gridlocked region looks for solutions to its chronic transportation problems.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, offered a bill (SB 1672) in a Senate committee to create a revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, the latest in a decade-long and so far ineffective effort to craft a regional approach to transit, including a light rail system linking Tampa and St. Petersburg....
A rare tie vote in a Senate committee Monday stopped effort by a Tampa Bay lawmaker to abolish a program to allow pro sports businesses to qualify for state subsidies -- technically keeping alive the possibility that public money could be available to help build a future home for the Tampa Bay Rays.
In an political issue rife with Tampa Bay tensions, the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee killed a bill (SB 236) by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, that would have wiped out a 2014 program to give subsidies to qualified sports entities....
Florida's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has been on the political stage since 1972 -- the year 18-year-olds first got the right to vote, the year of the Watergate break-in and the year of Richard Nixon's re-election as president.
From that first election to the state House from Brevard County, Nelson has been a member of Congress, the elected statewide treasurer and, since 2000, a member of the Senate. Not since Spessard Holland, who retired in 1970, has Florida had a four-term senator and for Nelson to get there, it's looking like he'll have to cross paths with Gov. Rick Scott. ...
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been on the political stage longer than anyone in Florida, since 1972 — the year of Watergate and President Richard Nixon's re-election.
That's staying power. It's no wonder that at 74, he's not ready to retire.
Nelson, the only Democrat holding statewide office, has led a charmed political life, winning three Senate races against weak Republicans.
But that may be coming to an end. He wants a fourth term, and his likely opponent is Republican Gov. Rick Scott....