03/03/15 State Roundup
The 2015 session of the Legislature began Tuesday with two starkly different visions of Florida, as Republicans and Democrats used the opening day to mark their political territory and set contrasting priorities for the next two months.
In his fifth State of the State address to the Legislature, Republican Gov. Rick Scott described a thriving land of opportunity with low unemployment, low taxes, low state debt and a shrinking state workforce, using the term "Florida exceptionalism" to describe the state's vast potential....
The 2015 session of the Legislature opened Tuesday in Tallahassee with an upbeat State of the State speech from Gov. Rick Scott, who described a Florida where "everything is possible."
Addressing all 160 lawmakers in the House chamber, Scott reiterated his goals of cutting taxes, spending more money for public schools and job training and freezing graduate school tuition in Florida universities....
TALLAHASSEE — Tuesday is the first day of the 2015 session of the Florida Legislature — the 117th regular session since statehood in 1845. Here are five things to watch:
• The House will convene at 9:30 a.m. and the Senate at 10. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, will each outline their top priorities for the session....
Gov. Rick Scott will deliver his fifth State of the State address to the Legislature on Tuesday.
It marks the beginning of the 2015 session, but it could be a lot more than just another speech by a politician.
For Scott, it's a golden opportunity to exceed others' expectations of him, and to prove that he meant what he said on Election Night.
"The campaign is over," Scott said in November. "It's time to put all the division behind us and come together. Forget the partisanship."...
Richard Gonzmart, the "triple threat" Tampa restaurateur (Goody Goody, Ulele and the venerable Columbia) will be a guest of Gov. Rick Scott at Tuesday's State of the State address in the Capitol, the governor's office confirmed Monday, and will be mentioned in the annual State of the State speech for his business success. (Any free samples of that famous Spanish Bean soup?)...
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, covered a wide range of topics in a pre-session Times/Herald interview in his Capitol office. Some highlights:
* Being speaker: As the replacement for the defeated Rep. Chris Dorworth, Crisafulli became speaker by accident, but he says it was the right way. "My path to this position was exactly what most of y'all in the press say is what's wrong with the process, that you're picked before you're proven. I got picked after I was proven. So it should be, in y'all's minds, the conventional way of coming to this position."...
Today is the calm before the storm: the day before the start of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch in Florida's Capitol:
- The date of Florida's 2016 presidential primary will be debated in the House Rules Committee as the panel considers a bill to set the date for March 15 to comply with national political party rules. The nation's biggest swing state could play a bigger role in 2016 with the expected candidacies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
- Stores in poor areas with few grocery stores could reap a "food desert" tax credit under a bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee. That's desert, not dessert. The bill (SB 610), by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, could benefit chains such as CVS and Walgreens if they collect at least 20 percent of their gross receipts from sales of fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat products.
- The Department of Health will try again to set up a regulatory framework for nurseries to enter Florida's pot-for-profit industry under a 2014 law that allows limited medical marijuana use for patients with severe spasms or cancer. The first proposed rule was tossed out by a hearing officer and an attorney for the Legislature says the new rule is too vague.
- The day before the start of the session is the last day lawmakers can solicit and collect campaign contributions from lobbyists and their clients until the session ends. Dozens of them will have receptions, the Republican Party of Florida holds a fundraiser, and Senate Democrats host a "drink, drop and dash" reception at the Governor's Club. The "drop" refers to checks of up to $1,000 each.
- Associated Industries of Florida, a lobby group for business, holds its traditional pre-session reception for lawmakers from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at its headquarters north of the Capitol. Platinum-level sponsors include Duke Energy, Florida Blue, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar, and invitations carry a note that because of Florida's gift ban, legislators have to pay their own way at $25 a ticket.
TALLAHASSEE — The 2015 session of the Florida Legislature begins Tuesday here with new leaders facing fresh challenges and competing demands for a projected $1 billion budget surplus.
Gov. Rick Scott ceremonially starts the session Tuesday when he delivers the annual State of the State speech to lawmakers. The 60-day session is scheduled to end May 1.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 26-14 in the Senate and 80-39 in the House, with one House seat in Tampa vacant....
Coming in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times: The most comprehensive package of news, commentary and opinion on the Florida legislative session that opens Tuesday. You can find it all in the Perspective section.
Front and center is a story about a newly emboldened Legislature that appears ready to challenge Gov. Rick Scott on a number of issues. The strongly-Republican Legislature is literally the "elephant in the room" -- a concept expertly captured by Times illustrator Steve Madden. ...
Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Rick Scott's decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16. "(It) caught a lot of us by surprise," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told Capitol reporters last month.
Really? It wasn't a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for a top aide to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey's letter of "departure" (he refused to use the word resignation)....
With Gov. Rick Scott trying to push state insurance regulator Kevin McCarty out the door, several high-level staff changes are afoot at McCarty's Office of Insurance Regulation. But a knowledgeable source says the personnel moves have been in the works for a long time and are unrelated to the turmoil swirling around McCarty's job status and those of other Cabinet agency heads.
McCarty's chief of staff, Rebecca Matthews, will leave at the end of next week to be the executive director of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, and Richard Koon, deputy commissioner of property and casualty insurance, is also leaving for a private sector post....
02/26/15 State Roundup
On the night he won re-election in November, a beaming Gov. Rick Scott bolted on stage to rowdy chants of "Four more years!" Dismissed by pollsters as a likely loser, Scott clawed his way to victory, using his personal fortune to pay for a pounding barrage of TV ads that doomed rival Charlie Crist. Near midnight, a giddiness filled the ballroom of the Hyatt in Bonita Springs as a relieved Scott declared an end to a long, brutal campaign....
At the height of the outcry over the forced ouster of an FDLE commissioner by Gov. Rick Scott's office, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was poised to go public with a strongly-worded denunciation of the Gerald Bailey fiasco, including a reference to "key actions" made in secret that deny Floridians the constitutional right of access.
The words, under Putnam's byline, are in the form of a draft opinion piece for newspaper editorial pages that was never submitted....
TALLAHASSEE — In touting his plan for record school spending, Gov. Rick Scott is ignoring a fact that concerns some of his fellow Republicans: He wants property taxpayers to pay more.
Scott's $77 billion budget, awaiting review by the Legislature, includes $842 million more for public schools, raising per pupil spending to its highest level.
More than half of the increase would come from higher property taxes paid by homeowners and business owners as a result of growth in property values....
Gov. Rick Scott doesn't talk about how his "record" budget for schools requires the state to collect more taxes from Floridians. But some of his fellow Republicans say it's true.
Scott's $77 billion budget proposal now before the Legislature includes $842 million more for schools, bringing per pupil spending to its highest level. But nearly half of Scott's increase would come from higher property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses due to growth in property values....