Scott wants 5 percent raise for state law enforcement, saying they have been “put to the test”

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

Rick Scott said he wants a 5 percent pay raise for state law enforcement officers included in next year’s state budget, reflecting a demanding 2016 when the governor said responders “were put to the test like never before.”

The $11.7 million proposal would cover 4,000 sworn officers across nine state agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol, state fish and wildlife officers, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Scott said June’s mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub severely challenged state law enforcement agencies, which later in the year also responded to a pair of hurricanes and a tropical depression that swept across parts of the state.

The governor also noted that he has been to the funerals of 32 officers who died in the line of duty since he took office in 2011.

“I’ve cried with their families and seen the pain and grief in their eyes as they laid their loved one to rest,” Scott said in announcing the initiative at a FHP headquarters in Orlando.

“Becoming a law enforcement officer is a special calling and one that requires a conscience choice each and every day to put your life on the line to protect our communities. We must always do everything we can to recognize our law enforcement officers and let them know how much we appreciate their service.”

The proposal is the first roll-out of portions of the governor’s 2017-18 budget blueprint, with the full document expected to be unveiled next month in advance of the legislative session, which begins in March.

Prospects of a pay raise for the state’s entire, 113,000-person workforce will likely be part of a House-Senate budget battle next year.

While House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, warns that the state’s budget picture is tighter than economists predict, Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has pledged to provide some kind of raise for state workers.

The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.

Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.

Senate Democrats not completely shut out of power in Negron administration

Senate President Joe Negron
Senate President Joe Negron

With his three fellow Palm Beach County senators all Democrats, new Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only went so far Tuesday in his approach to power-sharing with the minority party.

Sens. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, Kevin Rader and Bobby Powell all picked up vice-chairmanships in the Negron administration. But Negron did name a few Senate Democrats to more muscular roles as chairs of four committees, although Republicans rule the rest.

Within the county’s delegation, Clemens will serve as second-in-command of the Community Affairs Committee; Rader, vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee; and Powell, the number two of the budget panel overseeing transportation, tourism and economic development.

Rader also will alternate with a House counterpart to be named later as chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.

Senate Democrats Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Lauren Book of Plantation, Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville were named chairs of Commerce and Tourism, Environmental Preservation and Conservation, Criminal Justice, and Military and Veterans Affairs, respectively.

Ruling Republicans control the remainder of the committees, including the powerful Appropriations Committee, led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a one-time Negron rival.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who once represented Wellington, is the new Rules chair, directing the course of legislation in the Senate.

Republicans command 25 of the 4o seats in the Florida Senate, with Democrats making a net gain of only one seat in this month’s elections.

With pay raises likely a victim of tightening state budget, union says “enough is enough”

Will state workers get shut out again?
Will state workers get shut out again?

With prospects of a pay raise for Florida’s 113,00 state workers looking iffy at best, the public employees union told legislative leaders Monday that “enough is enough.”

“Every year, we are told that there is enough money to spend on giveaways to big businesses and enough pork to grease the wheels for re-election back home,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said in a statement.

“But when it comes to helping state workers putting food on the table there is suddenly a budget crisis that prevents it,” AFSCME said, days after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes,  laid out a stark picture for next year’s spending plan.

“Enough is enough,” the union said. “In a budget of $80 billion there is more than enough to invest in our state’s future by investing in those that will make it happen.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also acknowledges that state money is tightening. But his budget chief, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has already declared that his “highest personal priority” will be to approve some kind of state worker pay raise.

Latvala also is a supporter of including a pot of money in the state budget as business incentives, designed to lure companies to Florida. Corcoran is dead set against that, and killed the approach last year when Gov. Rick Scott wanted a $250 million incentive package.

The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.

Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.

 

Negron sharpening sales pitch for Lake O land-buy as House looks to tighten spending

Senate President Joe Negron
Senate President Joe Negron

With new House Speaker Richard Corcoran already calling for reducing state spending, his freshly minted counterpart, Senate President Joe Negron, may have to polish his sales pitch to win his signature priority — a massive land buy south of Lake Okeechobee.

Negron, R-Stuart, includes part of northern Palm Beach County in his district, along with a huge swath of the Treasure Coast fouled last summer by polluted water discharged from the big lake to prevent flooding.

Negron has proposed a $2.4 billion plan to buy 60,000 acres, mostly in western Palm Beach County, for a reservoir that would stem the need for discharges which he said “poisoned” the waterways of surrounding communities.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, because no one says that the status quo is acceptable,” Negron said, hours after being sworn-in at this week’s organization session of the Legislature.

Negron plans to seek $65 million in taxpayer money to bond $1.2 billion over 20 years, using voter-approved Amendment 1 money that produces more than $700 million a year for conservation.

Corcoran said this week that the $82 billion state budget is in much worse shape than economists have said. Health care and pension costs have risen, he said and the specter of a tight budget fits into his overall approach to reduce the scope of hometown projects that always get tucked in the state spending plan by lawmakers.

Negron said this week that he agrees cuts can be made. But he isn’t budging from spending more to ease the state’s water problems while steering big money to higher education, another top shelf item for the Senate president.

On the land buy, Negron said he would urge lawmakers to consider that 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1 in 2014 — which he said was a clear signal that conservation land should be acquired.

“The case I have to make is we are implementing the will of the voters,” Negron said.

 

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee amid flowers, ceremony, and just a touch of “evil”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran
House Speaker Richard Corcoran

The Legislature’s organization session Tuesday was mostly a friendly affair, with families looking on as lawmakers were sworn-in and talk of tackling a state budget and policy matters still seemed somewhere on the horizon.

But new House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, wasted little time in declaring the state’s teachers union “evil.”

“The teachers union is fixated on halting innovation and competition,” said Corcoran, who condemned the union for its lawsuit looking to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“This flies in the face of research. It defies common sense. It is downright evil,” Corcoran told the House in his opening remarks as speaker.

Under the tax credit scholarship program, companies get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit off state income, insurance premium, alcoholic beverage, excise and other taxes for their contributions to private school scholarships.

The voucher program started modestly in 2001 under Bush — financed by tax credits of $50 million in its first year. But the Republican-led Legislature has allowed the amount of available dollars to swell through the years to the current $559.1 million level.

The Florida Education Association and a handful of allies — the Florida PTA and School Boards Association have withdrawn from the lawsuit– argue the tax credits hurt public schools by diverting dollars to private schools.

While lower courts have ruled the FEA doesn’t have legal standing to challenge, the union is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up the case.

Corcoran, a huge fan of charter schools and the tax-credit scholarship program, has added his voice to a chorus of organizations which benefit from these dollars to drop the lawsuit.

House Democratic leaders swung back, defending the politically allied FEA. But Corcoran’s gauntlet throwdown seems to set a tone for when lawmakers return for the first round of committee hearings next month.

“Instead of demonizing our teachers, we should be celebrating the incredible work they do and focusing how can we best provide a quality public education, as the Florida Constitution requires, to every child,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa and others said in a written response to Corcoran.

 

Call for costly re-do of Palm Beach County state Senate race now before judge

Newly elected Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, faces a legal challenge from a primary opponent.
Newly elected Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, faces a legal challenge from a primary opponent.

Prospects for a costly and confusing election re-do in a Palm Beach County state Senate district now rest with a Leon County judge following a Tuesday hearing which coincided with the Legislature’s organization session.

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, was sworn-in as a new senator at 10:32 a.m. Just over a half-hour later across the street from the Capitol, lawyers for Powell and political opponents Ruben Anderson, a Democrat, and Ron Berman, a Republican, were battling over whether the primary and general election contests for Senate District 30 should be replayed.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, looking on in Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s courtroom, said a do-over of the two recently completed elections would likely cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

Anderson was disqualified in July after his bank did not honor his campaign’s $1,781.82 check to cover the candidate qualifying fee.

 Florida law gives a candidate until the end of the qualifying period to correct such a situation. But Anderson had no remedy because his check was returned after qualifying closed.

Anderson, though, gained new legal life when the section of state law that thwarted him was declared unconstitutional in September by the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida CHAIN loses grant, lays-off staff, including former House Democratic leader Mark Pafford

Mark Pafford
Mark Pafford

Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization, said Monday that it has lost a major grant tied to Medicaid expansion and is laying-off its five staff members, including former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

Pafford last year took the $85,000-a-year post as CEO of Florida CHAIN. Term-limited this fall, Pafford turned over leadership of House Democrats on Monday to Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. Jody Young, a spokesman for Florida CHAIN, said the17-year-old organization plans to continue its work, using volunteer staff.

CHAIN is active in advocating for children’s health, Medicare and Medicaid coverage and health care for immigrants.

Young said a $375,000 grant from Community Catalyst, a Boston-based non-profit, has been rescinded and will likely be steered to health initiatives in other states, or to states more inclined than Florida to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have opposed Medicaid expansion, which a majority of states have done under the Affordable Care Act. But with President-elect Donald Trump calling for repeal of the ACA, an approach Scott also has endorsed, the future of such initiatives are clouded.

“That’s been our mission, to try to get the state to expand,” Young said. “But I’m sure there are other states where this might look more possible than Florida.”

$6 million facelift for Florida Senate chambers gets debut

The renovated Florida Senate
The renovated Florida Senate

The Florida Senate debuted a $6 million facelift Monday — its first major overhaul in 40 years — on the eve of the Legislature’s organization session.

New desks, chairs, carpeting, a jumbotron for viewing bills and amendments, and a stained-glass window atop the chamber’s dome are all part of the renovation, which began the day after lawmakers ended the 2016 session in March. The state’s motto, “In God We Trust,” is also prominently displayed.

The work was initially proposed in the early 2000s, around the same time the House renovated its chambers, but was delayed to pay for upgrades to committee rooms and other Senate workplaces. Taxpayer dollars that covered the work were accumulated over several years in the Senate’s administrative account.

“It was time, it needed to be done,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who hands the Senate leadership to incoming president Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes part of northern Palm Beach County.

Wooden Ionic columns were added at the front of the chamber, reminiscent of those which had been in the Senate chambers in the late 1940s, which was torn down when the state’s Capitol opened in 1978. The stained-glass ceiling also is a replica of a similar display in the state’s Historic Capitol.

Old Senate chambers, before renovation began
Old Senate chambers, before renovation began

 

 

“Change” election means little difference for Democrats in Tallahassee

With lawmakers set to reconvene Tuesday for a one-day organization session, Democrats remain mired in deep minority status in the state House and Senate.

Budget cuts are on the table for the coming year, along with possibly major changes in education and health care policy.

But Democrats, who dominate the Palm Beach County delegation in Tallahassee, can’t do much to affect policies advanced by ruling Republicans, including Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes a piece of north county.

“Our voice is all we really have,” said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.

Full story:  http://bit.ly/2gtqElN

Destination D.C.? Resumes flooding inboxes of Trump’s Florida gatekeepers

Some of these gatekeepers may even be headed to Washington themselves.

“The sky’s the limit for Pam Bondi,” Trump campaign chairman Joe Gruters said of Florida’s attorney general, who is now also a member of the President-elect’s transition team.

Trump’s pick Friday of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general may have lowered the altitude somewhat for Bondi. But Florida’s two-term attorney general, set to leave office in 2018, is widely seen as destined for a prominent post in the new administration.

Joining the part-time Palm Beacher headed for the White House could be another resident of the island, billionaire Wilbur Ross, viewed as a possible Commerce Department secretary. Ross, 78, is an investor who has restructured companies in the steel, coal and textiles industry.

Ross, like Trump, also lives in New York, where he raised money for the candidate last summer in The Hamptons. He also served as an economic adviser to the president-elect’s campaign.

With Trump needing to fill about 4,100 jobs relatively quickly — from Cabinet posts to White House schedulers – a number of Floridians are seen as likely contenders, given the state’s political importance and the president-elect’s ties to Palm Beach, where he bought the landmark Mar-A-Lago estate 31 years ago.

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/2fvxaUA