Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

Speaker Will Weatherford loses Senate showdown over Florida pensions

TALLAHASSEE — After months of calling pension reform a top priority in his inaugural year as Florida House speaker, Will Weatherford could do nothing Tuesday as his plan went down to defeat in the Senate.

A third of Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting 22-18 against an amendment that would have banned new state workers, teachers and county workers from joining the state's $132 billion pension system, and steer them instead toward private, 401(k)-style investment plans, shifting the risk from taxpayers to workers.

"One of the reasons they work for government is not for the salary," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "They haven't had raises in six or seven years. It's for the pension and if we want to continue to have the quality of employees that we have, we need to continue to offer that pension."

The setback came at the exact moment Weatherford, 33, faced a filibuster on the House floor among Democrats who wanted to draw attention to the House's refusal to tap federal dollars to give health care coverage to 1 million uninsured Floridians.

"You always know you're never going to get everything you asked for," Weatherford said late Tuesday. "It came up a little bit short, but it was a great debate and I'm grateful to the Senate for giving it an opportunity to be heard."

Weatherford has made much of his concern that the Florida pension system, which is about 86.9 percent funded, poses a dangerous risk to state finances. It's a concern he shares with the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee libertarian think tank. Weatherford's father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, sits on the boards for both.

But Weatherford couldn't convince members of his own party in the Senate that the pension system should be closed down to new employees. Instead, he got a forceful and emotional pushback from Latvala, a frequent sparring partner, who argued the pension serves as a reliable pillar for lowly paid workers.

During a memorable floor debate, Latvala welled up as he told the story of two Lake City firefighters, Brett Fulton and Josh Burch, who perished in 2011 fighting a blaze. They made about $26,000, he said.

"That's barely the federal poverty level," Latvala said. "They worked for their pension. One firefighter's family was able to collect the survivor's benefit, and he was in his 20s, and his family collects $1,200 a month. That's what's left of their dad. That's what's left of their husband.

"I do not understand why we want to experiment around and why we want to take these people who are protecting us every single day and put them in a system just because it works in private business," Latvala said, pointing out that those in the private sector aren't risking their lives for the public good.

Republicans joining Latvala's insurrection were Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, a former sheriff; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; Miguel Diaz de La Portilla, R-Miami; Greg Evers, R-Baker; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and John Legg, R-Trinity.

Latvala openly acknowledged what other Republican leaders in the Senate would not: Weatherford had demanded the vote.

"We all know this is the speaker's priority for the year," Latvala said during debate, addressing his comments to Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "We all know the speaker asked for an up-and-down vote on this, and that's what we're doing. I appreciate very much your commitment, Mr. President, that once we do this up-and-down vote, once it's down, it goes away and we get on with other business that we have."

Minutes after the vote, Latvala explained that Gaetz promised him that once Weatherford got a Senate vote, the issue wouldn't come up again this year. "Sometimes you're the dog, sometimes you're the hydrant," he said. "I've been telling Will for two or three months that he didn't have the votes over here. Now he sees it, black and white."

Gaetz would not confirm that he had made such a promise.

"Well, I guess if Sen. Latvala said it, it must be true," Gaetz told reporters.

After the failed amendment vote, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, decided to withdraw the overall bill, SB 1392. Unlike Weatherford's preference to require new employees to enroll in private investment plans, Simpson's bill only encouraged them to do so while still allowing them to enroll in the pension system. But after the vote against Weatherford's measure, Simpson gave up.

"There's no support for it in the House," Simpson said. "It's dead."

Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

Comments
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state’s election chief said Wednesday as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

The Democrats’ seismic victory Tuesday in the unlikely political battleground of Alabama brought jubilation — and a sudden a rush of confidence — to a party that has been struggling to gain its footing since Donald Trump won the presidency 13 months ...
Published: 12/13/17
Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday rushed toward a deal on a massive tax package that would reduce the top tax rate for wealthy Americans to 37 percent and slash the corporate rate to a level slightly higher than what businesses and co...
Published: 12/12/17
Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping defense policy bill that authorizes a $700 billion budget for the military, including additional spending on missile defense programs to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear w...
Published: 12/12/17
Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, has asked the House Intelligence Committee to open an investigation into leaked information related to his closed interview with the committee last week."To maintain the credibility of the in...
Published: 12/12/17
Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

WASHINGTON -— It’s the lock that launched a two-year investigation and took down a president. And now more than four decades later — and for a starting bid of $50,000 — it can be a really wonky conversation piece.Nate D. Sanders Auctions will auction...
Published: 12/12/17
Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

WASHINGTON — Plowing into the sexual harassment debate in a big way, President Donald Trump laced into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, tweeting that the New York Democrat would come to his office "begging" for campaign contributions and "do anyth...
Published: 12/12/17
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Published: 12/12/17