Florida Senate

Glutton for punishment? JD Alexander foe gets some love from Dennis Ross

He seemed relaxed (but intense) while in town recently to plead with some of his onetime colleagues on behalf of state colleges.

But those of us who’ve been around for a minute know how ornery J.D. Alexander, the former Senate budget chief, can be when he gets his dander up.

Alexander is pondering a return to the upper chamber, but could face a formidable opponent in Rep. Ben Albritton.

Albritton, a Wauchula Republican, today shored up his bid for the sprawling rural Senate district that Alexander may run in by securing the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

“Ben Albritton is a committed and consistent conservative,” said Ross, a Lakeland Republican, a former state House member elected to Congress in 2010.

“He has a track record of principled leadership in the Florida House and his integrity and genuine concern for people have served his constituents well,” Ross said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing working with him when he is in the Florida Senate.”

Albritton — and perhaps Alexander — is running for District 26, now represented by Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican running for state agriculture commissioner (who’s got the backing of Alexander). The district includes parts of Polk, Charlotte and Lee counties and all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican, left the Senate in 2012 because of term limits.

Posted by Lloyd Dunkelberger

Sheriffs shed some love on lawmakers

The Florida Sheriffs Association bestowed kudos on lawmakers “for their significant contributions to and support of good public safety policies” during the 2017 session.

“These legislators have demonstrated a commitment to protecting the best interests of Florida citizens through their diligent legislative efforts and support of FSA initiatives,” the association said in a press release Thursday announcing its top-rated lawmakers.

Here’s the list of this year’s “legislative champions,” and the rationale:

Representative Jim Boyd (sponsored HB 477 – heroin/Fentanyl bill)
Representative James Grant (sponsored HB 7059 – prolific juvenile offender bill)
Representative Chris Sprowls (supported public safety throughout session)
Senator Jack Latvala (sponsored SB 7059 – prolific juvenile offender bill)
Senator Greg Steube (sponsored SB 150 – heroin/Fentanyl bill)

Senate Dems: Screw Georgia!

After urging fellow Democrats last week to be clear about why they “suck significantly less” than Republicans, Sen. Jeff Clemens is using last night’s Democratic losses in Georgia and South Carolina to drum up support for a critical special election in Miami.

“Georgia?! Screw that, we can actually WIN in Florida,” the subject line in an email sent by Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who’ll take over as minority leader next year, reads.

Clemens, in charge of raising money for Senate races, pointed out the differences between Senate District 40 — now open after former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican, was forced to resign earlier this year — and the  congressional seat.

The Georgia race, reportedly the most expensive in history, was viewed nationally as a referendum on President Donald Trump.

“I know we’re upset. But if we spend our time worrying about a Congressional seat we normally lose by 20-30 points, we’re missing the real fight. The seats Dems lost last night were aspirational. They were seats no Democrat was supposed to win, we overperformed, etc. blah blah blah ad nauseum ad hominim expecto patronous,” Clemens wrote. “Whatever. Here’s the bottom line. Now is NOT the time to give up. Not when we have winnable races that matter.”

expecto patronum Clemens’s missive should delight Harry Potter fans.

The wizard invoked the “expecto patronous” (“I await a protector”) incantation to protect himself from Dementors.

Clemens goes on to advise that Democrats can win the Miami Senate seat, which Hillary Clinton carried last year.

“The most important thing about last night was it was proof that Dems can challenge almost any seat, if they have the following:

  • A belief by Democrats well outside of the district that this race mattered and was winnable (as evidenced by the massive contributions to the campaign).
  • Intense amounts of volunteerism, both inside and outside of the state.
  • A willingness from both the campaign and the GA Democratic party to put differences and convention aside and have fun while winning.

Here at Flip Florida, we believe these are lessons that have direct application to SD40 here in Florida.”

The keys to winning, Clemens concludes, are money, “sign ups, likes and followers,” and one other thing not usually included in fundraising pitches —- “love (We just need it … Makes campaigning easier).”

Democrats Annette Taddeo and Ana Rivas Logan will face off in the special election primary on July 25. On the Republican side, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and lawyer Lorenzo Palomares are vying for the chance to replace Artiles, who was forced to step down after a vulgar tirade at a private club in Tallahassee. The special general election for the Miami-Dade County District 40 seat is slated for Sept. 26.

Dorothy Hukill: “Very difficult” watching special session “fall apart”

Sen. Dorothy Hukill wasn’t physically inside the Capitol during this year’s two legislative sessions.

But the Port Orange Republican was paying close attention to the hijinks in Tallahassee from afar, thanks to the Florida Channel.

Hukill will share her insights about the 2017 session with the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce Thursday at noon at the Smyrna Yacht Club in New Smyra Beach.

Hukill said given the legislative recap to the group annually since she joined the Legislature more than a decade ago.

“I’m very excited because I love to talk,” Hukill said.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Hukill offered some of her thoughts about the brutal legislative tug-of-war between (depending on what day it was) Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Hukill, a veteran lawmaker who served in the House for eight years before being elected to the Senate in 2012, was unable to travel to Tallahassee this year because she was recovering from cancer.

Hukill, who said she’s received hundreds of cards from well-wishers, said it was hard to watch the sessions from afar, “even though it was probably more work for me this session because I was trying to watch very committee,” she said.

“But watching the special session fall apart and change at the very end — that was very difficult,” she said.

Hukill said she’s “going to try to be positive” about GOP legislative leaders’ ability to just get along in the future.

“People will be able to put those feelings aside,” she predicted. “The bigger picture is we have a job to do. … It was very disappointing.”

A major disappointment for Hukill, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, came when the House refused to sign off on a proposal that would require future high-school students to earn a half-credit in financial literacy before graduation.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure, pursued by Hukill for years, and honored her by naming the bill the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act.” The House never took up the bill for a final vote.

But she’s not giving up.

“I’m filing it next year. It’s already in drafting. It’s something I feel very strongly about. I have supported this idea of financial literacy for students for years,” Hukill said.

Pasco winds up in the Rick Scott dustbin


Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, acknowledged that the Senate took the brunt of Gov. Rick Scott’s $410 million in project vetoes in the $82 billion budget.

But Latvala said the vetoes have to be put into the perspective, because House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, limited efforts by his members to advance local spending initiatives.

“He didn’t let his members put in many projects. When you look at it percentage-wise of how many projects they started with and how many they ended up with, their percentage of loss was higher than ours,” Latvala said.

Latvala, who like Corcoran represents a portion of Pasco County, agreed the county was a popular target for Scott’s vetoes.

“Anything that had the word Pasco in it, hit the dust, whether they were in Corcoran’s district or not,” he said.

One of Scott’s vetoes eliminated $1.13 million for a conservation center at the Brevard County zoo. The sponsor of the project, oddly, was Latvala, who represents a Senate district on the opposite coast.

Asked about it, a grinning Latvala — who is mulling a run for governor — said: “I have a statewide perspective on making our state a better place all the way around.”

Posted by Lloyd Dunkelberger

CFO candidate Jeremy Ring hits the campaign trail

Ring_Photos_HeadshotFormer Sen. Jeremy Ring will pitch his candidacy for Florida chief financial officer in Tampa and Orlando this week.

Ring, a Democrat from Broward County who served in the state Senate from 2010-2016, is banking on his creds as one of the founders of internet giant Yahoo to boost him into the Cabinet post.

The state’s current CFO, Jeff Atwater, is stepping down to take a spot at Florida Atlantic University.

Ring will speak to “supporters and community leaders” at Tampa’s University Club at 5:30 p.m. tonight.

Wednesday morning, he”ll address the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans in Orlando. Ring, viewed as a moderate during his time in the Legislature, was heavily involved in pension-related issues in the Republican-dominated Senate.

Ring’s the only candidate to file paperwork for the CFO position thus far. The race is clouded by uncertainty because of Atwater’s early departure.

Gov. Rick Scott will appoint a replacement to finish Atwater’s term — and it remains unclear whether that replacement would seek a full term in 2018, potentially putting Ring (or any other CFO wannabe) in a race against an incumbent.

Slouching toward special session on pot

IMG_0600Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday that House and Senate leaders are working toward a deal on the roll-out of a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions.

Legislators will almost certainly deal with medical marijuana during a special session at some point this summer, even if Gov. Rick Scott’s handling of the budget doesn’t force the Legislature back to the Capitol anyway.

Negron told The News Service of Florida Thursday that “there are ongoing discussions” between the House and Senate focused on “trying to reach a middle ground on the licenses and dispensaries issues.”

The number of marijuana operators — now at seven — and how many retail outlets they can each run were the major sticking points between the two chambers during the regular session that ended last month.

The Senate favored more vendors but wanted to limit the number of storefronts they could operate. The House supported a plan with fewer marijuana operators who could each open up to 100 retail stores.

A potential deal went up in smoke on the final day of the session, prompting both critics and supporters of Amendment 2 to demand a special session to address the issue. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has said he supports a special session on pot, as do Senate leaders, including Sen. Bill Galvano, who will take over as president late next year, and Negron.

The House and Senate are discussing “other ancillary issues” apart from the numbers of licenses and dispensaries, the Senate president said Thursday.

“But if we can reach a consensus on the regulatory framework for implementation of Amendment 2, I think the other issues will fall into place,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

It’s unclear whether Scott’s line-item vetoes will require lawmakers to return to deal with the budget.

But Negron said lawmakers have “an obligation to implement medical marijuana” regardless of how the budget fares.

“Obviously, if a special session became necessary on the budget and medical marijuana, it would make sense to hold them simultaneously, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.