Two Florida senators express regret after website accuses them of affair

Sens. Oscar Braynon and Anitere Flores say “our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret. We have sought the forgiveness of our families, and also seek the forgiveness of our constituents and God.”

Florida state Sens. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami, issued a joint statement acknowledging that “our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret” after an anonymous website, featuring what appear to be surveillance photos and video, claimed the senators were “actively engaged in inappropriate extramarital activities with each other.”

Braynon and Flores issued a joint statement through longtime Tallahassee public relations firm Sachs Communications just before the Senate convened to open the 2018 legislative session.

“As this 2018 session of the Florida Legislature gets underway, we do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people,” the statement said. “That’s why we are issuing this brief statement to acknowledge that our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret. We have sought the forgiveness of our families, and also seek the forgiveness of our constituents and God. We ask everyone else to respect and provide our families the privacy that they deserve as we move past this to focus on the important work ahead.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who is heading up the Senate’s effort to update its sexual harassment policies, said the relationship between Braynon and Flores is “a private matter.”

Benacquisto added: “We’re all elected officials who stand in the public square and we do that willingly. And we all have an obligation to behave in a way that honors the time away from our family and the service on behalf of our constituents.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, was asked by reporters if he had concerns about lawmakers being under surveillance. Corcoran said legislators need to recognize “the world we live in” and behave appropriately.

“If you walk down the street, if you come in this chamber, if you’re out at dinner, whatever — if you don’t think that someone can flip up a phone and video you and now we’re going to say that those are the bad guys? Not the behavior that they caught on video?…It’s the world we live in. Wake up every day and try to be the best you can to be a good person. We’re all going to fail. We’re all going to come short. But recognize in this era, the thing that you might fall short on could be very likely on video and in most cases is,” Corcoran said.

Gov. Rick Scott was asked about Braynon and Flores on Tuesday afternoon.

“First off, your heart goes out to anybody that their family goes through some of the things that those two senators are going to deal with with their families. You hate for  it to happen to any family, and so my prayers are with them,” Scott said.

 

Rep. David Silvers will not run in special Senate election to replace Clemens

A special election will fill the District 31 Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Clemens.

Freshman state Rep. David Silvers, D-West Palm Beach, said today he has decided not to run in the special election to replace former Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens in a Palm Beach County Senate district.

State Rep. Lori Berman and former state Rep. Irving Slosberg are vying for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 31. Democratic Rep. David Silvers (right) has decided not to run.

Gov. Rick Scott has set a Jan. 30 primary date and April 10 general election to fill the District 31 Senate seat, which runs generally east of Florida’s Turnpike from Lake Worth to Delray Beach.

“My work’s not done here in House District 87,” Silvers said today. “To be here is an absolute honor. I love what I’m doing.”

Two other Democrats — state Rep. Lori Berman and former state Rep. Irving Slosberg — have already launched campaigns for the Democrat-leaning seat. County Republican Vice Chairwoman Tami Donnally has also expressed interest in running.

Clemens, in line to become the Senate’s top Democrat next year, resigned Oct. 27 after admitting to having an affair with a lobbyist.

 

Latvala on leave from committee post; Scott weighs in on allegations

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talks to reporters in August after launching his campaign for governor in Hialeah. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Facing a Florida Senate investigation of allegations he has groped and harassed women, state Sen. and Republican governor candidate Jack Latvala is taking a temporary leave of absence from his powerful perch as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The status of Latvala’s GOP bid for governor was not immediately clear. He has vehemently denied the allegations, which were initially reported by Politico based on accounts from six unnamed women who work in in the Capitol as lobbyists or legislative staff.

Gov. Rick Scott today weighed in on the matter for the first time, calling the allegations “disgusting.” The News Service of Florida quoted Scott as saying: “It’s very important that there’s an investigation and we know what happened. If anybody has done anything wrong, they need to be out of office.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced this morning that he has installed Sen. Rob Bradley as Appropriations chairman while Latvala is investigated. Negron’s announcement was accompanied by a letter from Latvala requesting temporary leave “until this matter is resolved.”

Latvala, in his letter, added: “I look forward to defending myself against these untruthful allegations and believe I will be fully exonerated.”

Politico reported that it spoke to six women who said Latvala “inappropriately touched them without their consent or uttered demeaning remarks about their bodies.” Politico said the women making the accusations did not want to be identified because they feared losing their jobs or other reprisals.

 

 

Updated: Florida Dem chair urges Scott to ‘immediately’ set election to replace Clemens

Former Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens’ abrupt resignation leaves Senate District 31 without representation — possibly through the entire 2018 legislative session.

Hinting that Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott might try to slow-walk a special election in a heavily Democratic Senate district in Palm Beach County, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel today urged the governor to “immediately” set a date for voters to choose a replacement for hastily departed Sen. Jeff Clemens.

Clemens, who had been in line to become Senate Democratic leader next year, abruptly resigned last week after admitting to an affair with a lobbyist.

Scott’s office responded late today that an announcement is coming soon.

“Gov. Scott plans to call for a special election in accordance with Florida law. Our office will work with the Secretary of State and local officials, and we will have an announcement soon,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said.

In addition to Clemens’ Palm Beach County Senate seat, Bittel is urging Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner to quickly schedule a special election for the Miami state House seat that became vacant this week when Democrat Daisy Baez resigned.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher — a former Democratic state House member — has suggested a Jan. 30 primary and April 10 general election to replace Clemens in Senate District 31. Under that scenario, constituents in the heavily Democratic district would likely go through the entire 2018 legislative session without representation in the Senate.

The legislative session runs Jan. 9 to March 9.

Bucher said her suggestion accommodates state laws — such as a required 45-day period to mail ballots to military personnel and overseas voters — and gives her office breathing room to handle Palm Beach County’s March 13 municipal elections.

Bittel’s letter argues that “the administrative convenience of a local supervisor of elections cannot serve as the basis for denying the residents of Senate District 31 and House District 114 of their elected voice in the state legislature. Delay for partisan advantage is not an option. Postponement until after a legislative session is not an option.”

Bittel’s letter does not suggest a specific date for elections.

But, the Democratic chairman says: “Failure to act immediately denies these Florida citizens the vital representation that is fundamental to their rights as citizens. Leaving these seats open is an obvious suppression of voter rights that cannot stand.”

Detzner spokeswoman Sarah Revell said the secretary of state’s office “is working closely with the Governor’s office on the special election for Senate District 31 and more details will be forthcoming.”

 

Hastings, Deutch, Frankel join Wasserman Schultz campaign against Confederate statue

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, D-Weston, has enlisted Florida’s entire Democratic House delegation in calling for speeding up the planned removal of Florida’s statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

Two weeks after U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called for a special session of the Florida Legislature to speed up the replacement of a statue of a Confederate general, her effort has been joined by the three Democrats in Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation: Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel.

Florida’s other U.S. Capitol statue honors air conditioning impresario John Gorrie

Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, asking for the legislature to accelerate the already-in-the-works replacement of the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which is one of two statues representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

(Florida’s other statue in the Capitol is of John Gorrie, considered the father of air conditioning.)

Scott signed a 2016 bill calling for the replacement of the Confederate statue. But legislators haven’t settled on a new Florida figure to honor. A committee has recommended three finalists: Educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune; Everglades preservation icon Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Publix founder George Jenkins.

Wasserman Schultz says legislators can convene a special session and pick a replacement when they gather in Tallahassee for committee hearings in September. When she initially raised the matter, a Scott spokesman said no special session is warranted and the issue can be brought up when the legislature meets in its regular session in January. Corcoran accused Wasserman Schultz of “grandstanding.”

Wasserman Schultz’s letter has been signed by all 11 Democratic members of Florida’s U.S. House delegation.

Mystery mailers from Illinois target Joe Negron as special session begins

Mailer from an Illinois address hits state Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, over an education bill.

As Florida lawmakers begin a special session in Tallahassee today to address a budget agreement between Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, voters in state Senate President Joe Negron‘s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are getting mailers from a newly formed Illinois-based PAC criticizing Negron’s role in an education bill that’s closely identified with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes.

HB 7069 promotes charter schools and has drawn the wrath of teacher unions and others who say it will weaken traditional public schools. After passage by the House and Senate, it’s up to Scott to sign or veto the bill, which was a top priority of Corcoran.

Corcoran softened his hard-line opposition to funding business and tourism incentives and agreed to increase public school funding in the budget deal with Scott. Many Tallahassee watchers believe Corcoran moved toward Scott’s position on the budget in exchange for a pledge from the governor to sign HB 7069. Scott, however, said he’s still reviewing Corcoran’s bill.

Negron, a Republican from Stuart, also supports HB 7069.

The mailer from a group called SunshinePac from Evanston, Illinois, criticizes HB 7069 and focuses on Negron rather than Corcoran.

SunshinePac was formed May 25 as a federal committee, according to Federal Election Committee records. It is headed by John Hennelly, a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union who’s now a consultant with the liberal Chicago-based firm Democracy Partners.

Donors to SunshinePac won’t be revealed until the organization files its first FEC report in July.

“What has politician Joe Negron been up to in Tallahassee this Session? Making backroom deals and our schools are paying the price,” says one side of the mailer, which shows a picture of Negron and Corcoran but doesn’t identify the House speaker.

“Behind closed doors, Joe Negron and his friends in Tallahassee passed HB 7069 which takes away much needed funding to our public schools,” the other side of the mailer says. It urges recipients to “Call Governor Rick Scott…and tell him to VETO Negron’s Deal (HB 7069) and stand up for our students!”

Negron is Senate president through 2018. He’s been mentioned as a potential candidate for attorney general (a position he briefly sought in 2006), but said Tuesday: “I’m completely focused on being Senate president right now.”

 

Scott signs tax cuts; criticizes budget, education bills – but will he veto?

Gov. Rick Scott visits the offices of 3Cinteractive in Boca Raton. Company CEO John Duffy is at left. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Gov. Rick Scott signed a $180 million package of tax cuts here this morning and offered few clues on whether he’ll veto an $83 billion state budget or an education bill opposed by the Palm Beach County school board and many educators.

Scott visited the motorcycle- and guitar-decorated headquarters of the mobile marketing company 3Cinteractive to sign the tax cut legislation. Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie and the entire city council were among those on hand.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks to reporters in Boca Raton. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The tax cuts, approved by the legislature this month, fall short of the $618 million in cuts Scott proposed.

The tax cuts the governor signed into law include a June 2-4 sales tax holiday on disaster preparedness supplies and an Aug. 4-6 sales tax holiday for school supplies. There’s also a 0.2 percent reduction in the state’s tax on commercial leases worth $61 million.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Scott voiced familiar complaints about the budget but didn’t reveal whether they would lead him to veto the entire document — something that hasn’t been done in 25 years.

“I’m still reviewing the budget. I have a lot of options with the budget. I’m still frustrated that the politicians in Tallahassee have turned their back on two very good organizations in our state that helped grow businesses, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said of the business and tourism promotion programs gutted by lawmakers.

On the education bill, Scott said legislators fell short of the per-pupil spending level he wanted and added: “This session a lot of things happened, done in secret, and people think there was not a lot of input.”

Vetoing the entire bill, however, would wipe out some programs Scott likes, such as a $30 million spending increase for developmentally disabled students.

 

List: Gov. Rick Scott signs Lake O reservoir bill, 10 other measures into law

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed 11 bills into law on Tuesday, including one that sets aside money to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The bill, CS/SB 10, “authorizes a significant increase in southern water storage to further the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” one of Senate President Joe Negron’s top priorities, Negron’s office said in a news release.

(Getty Images)

» Gov. Rick Scott: ‘I have the option of vetoing the entire budget’

» More Florida Legislature coverage

Negron, a Stuart Republican, has been pushing for relief for his Treasure Coast district, which has been hit hard by algae blooms tied to the Lake Okeechobee discharges in recent years.

In addition to SB 10, Scott signed the following bills, all of which take effect July 1 except where noted:

CS/CS/HB 111: Public Records/Identity of Witness to a Murder — Creates a public records exemption for criminal intelligence or criminal investigative information that reveals personal identifying information of a witness to a murder.

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CS/CS/HB 151: “Therapy Dog for Children Bill” — Allows children, victims and individuals with intellectual disabilities to use therapy animals and facility dogs in legal proceedings. “This legislation will help children and individuals with unique abilities in our state as they face some of the most challenging times in their life,” Scott said in a statement released Tuesday evening by his office. “I cannot imagine the emotional toll these terrible circumstances place on our state’s most vulnerable populations. The comfort and support provided by therapy animals can make a profound difference in someone’s life and I’m proud to sign HB 151 today.”

CS/HB 221: “Uber/ Lyft Bill” — Sets consistent operating standards throughout Florida for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, including requirements for insurance coverage and driver background checks. “I’m proud to sign this legislation today to make it easier for ridesharing companies to thrive in Florida and help ensure the safety of our families,” Scott said in a news release after signing the bill. “Florida is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation because of our efforts to reduce burdensome regulations and encourage innovation and job creation across all industries, including transportation. I look forward to seeing the continued growth of ridesharing companies in our state.”

» Former Dem Senate hopeful Pam Keith explores challenge of Rep. Brian Mast

CS/HB 239: Public Records/Protective Injunction Petitions — Creates a public records exemption for petitions for protection against domestic violence, stalking or cyberstalking if it is dismissed.

CS/HB 305: Law Enforcement Body Cameras — Allows a law enforcement officer using a body camera to review the recorded footage before writing a report or providing a statement.

CS/HB 399: Guardianship — Revises procedures relating to incapacity hearings and the circumstances under which the court may approve divorce for persons under the protection of a guardianship.

CS/HB 401: Notaries Public — Allows public notaries to accept a veteran health information card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a valid form of I.D.

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HB 671: Reemployment Assistance Fraud — Authorizes the Department of Economic Opportunity to access digital records maintained by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to prevent reemployment assistance claims fraud.

CS/CS/HB 805: Relating to Insurance Policy Transfers — Allows an insurer to transfer a residential or commercial residential property insurance policy to an authorized insurer of the same group or owned by the same holding company.

CS/HB 6533: Relief/Jennifer Wohlgemuth/Pasco County Sheriff’s Office — Directs Pasco County and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to compensate the family of Jennifer Wohlgemuth for injuries sustained in an incident involving the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Effective immediately.

Note: List provided by Gov. Scott’s office.

Gov. Rick Scott: ‘I have the option of vetoing the entire budget’

The Florida Legislature’s $83 billion budget has Gov. Rick Scott feeling blue and mentioning the possibility of a veto.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose priorities were largely ignored by the Florida Legislature in passing an $83 billion budget Monday night, accused lawmakers today of acting “largely behind closed doors” and held out the possibility he’ll veto the entire thing.

Florida governors regularly exercise line-item veto authority, but a governor hasn’t vetoed an entire budget since Lawton Chiles did in 1992.

The late Lawton Chiles was the last Florida governor to veto an entire budget back in 1992.

Chiles was a Democrat and Democrats controlled the House and Senate in 1992. Scott is a Republican and the GOP controls both chambers now.

Lawmakers stung Scott by not approving business and tourism incentive money he wanted and not granting his request for $200 million for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

“Once again, the Florida Legislature has turned their back on Florida’s ability to fund economic incentive deals that help our state outcompete our top competitors for important jobs,” Scott said in a statement released this afternoon. “This is very concerning to me and is an action that each member will have to defend as their local communities lose out on new manufacturing facilities, headquarter relocations and thousands of high wage jobs for families.”

The failure to fund tourism marketing at the level Scott wanted could lead to a “drastic reduction in visitor spending” in the Sunshine State, said Scott. The governor also said he was “shocked” by the legislature’s decision not to fund dike repairs.

Scott said the budget was “done without important input from the public and many members of the legislature who were elected by Floridians to serve them. That’s unfortunate. I ran for Governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game.”

He added: “I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers.”

Below is the text of Scott’s full statement:

“Just like I have done throughout my entire time as Governor, I fought for priorities this session that I believe will help the families and job creators in our state prosper. I committed to Florida families that I would fight for jobs everyday and that is why I have continued to fight for policies that will grow our economy. I am pleased the Legislature cut taxes by more than $700 million, but cutting taxes alone is not enough to diversify our economy for our future generations. Today, I celebrated the beginning of GKN Aerospace’s plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Panama City which will be the company’s first location in our state. If it was not for the work of Enterprise Florida, this company would not be in our state. GKN Aerospace was the last company to receive Quick Action Closing Funds and Florida has not had another win like this since these funds were eliminated by the Florida Legislature last year. Once again, the Florida Legislature has turned their back on Florida’s ability to fund economic incentive deals that help our state outcompete our top competitors for important jobs. This is very concerning to me and is an action that each member will have to defend as their local communities lose out on new manufacturing facilities, headquarter relocations and thousands of high wage jobs for families.

“Furthermore, the legislature’s decision to cut tourism marketing could lead to a drastic reduction in visitor spending to our local businesses and revenue to our state. I am also shocked that despite their commitment to protecting the environment, the Florida Legislature failed to jump start the process of fixing the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. For years, I urged President Obama to fix the dike, and now when President Trump has committed funding for this project, the Legislature irresponsibly ignored it.

“Last night, the Florida Legislature passed a budget that was done largely behind closed doors. It was done without important input from the public and many members of the legislature who were elected by Floridians to serve them. That’s unfortunate. I ran for Governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game. I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers. Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

Aronberg on sober home bill: ‘This is a life-or-death issue’

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and State Attorney Dave Aronberg outside the Senate chambers on Wednesday.

TALLAHASSEE — Legislation aimed at cracking down on patient brokering, kickbacks and other unethical practices in the drug treatment industry is scheduled for a vote in the Florida Senate today after some tense moments this week for the bill’s supporters.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and one of his top deputies, Al Johnson, were among those lobbying Tuesday and Wednesday for the legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, and state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton. The legislature commissioned Aronberg to head a task force to craft the legislation, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi endorsed it, and the House passed it unanimously.

But the Senate version appeared to be stalled this week and its House sponsor was concerned Wednesday afternoon.

“I would say at this juncture it doesn’t look good, which is very disappointing,” Hager said.

Before the bill was added late Wednesday to today’s Senate calendar, Aronberg — a former state senator — said he hoped the gravity of the issue would persuade the Senate to take action.

“It’s one of these sausage-being-made, end-of-session issues that we are hopeful the Legislature will do the right thing,” Aronberg said. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this is a life-or-death issue.”

Click here to read a complete account at MyPalmBeachPost.com.