Jeff Clemens

Berman fires up Senate run — with wood oven

HousePhotoSized6427State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, is kicking off her special election Senate campaign at an upscale pizza joint in Delray Beach in two weeks.

And everyone’s invited — just keep your “encouraged” checks under $1,000.

Berman, who is already in the contest to replace disgraced Democrat Jeff Clemens for the Palm Beach County seat, posted an invitation on Twitter Thursday announcing the Nov. 30 event at Wood & Fire in Delray Beach.

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Clemens resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist, and the seat will remain vacant through the 60-day 2018 legislative session that begins Jan. 9.

Gov. Rick Scott set a special primary for Jan. 30 and the special general election for April 10.

Democrat Arthur Morrison of West Palm Beach and Lake Worth Republican Tami Donnally have also opened campaign accounts. Former Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Democrat narrowly defeated by Clemens in a spendy primary last year, is expected to run.

By Jim Turner.

Sexual harassment allegations create “awkward” mood in Senate

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over as the upper chamber’s powerful budget chief Monday after Senate President Joe Negron told Sen. Jack Latvala to step aside, at least for now.

Bradley’s no stranger to the budget process. The former prosecutor has chaired three budget subcommittees since joining the Senate five years ago.

Negron stripped Latvala of his post as Appropriations Committee chairman following allegations that the Clearwater Republican groped women and made unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala, who is running for governor, is out of the post while an investigation, ordered by Negron, is pending, the Senate president said Monday.

Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations, vowing to clear his name.

The investigation into the alleged misconduct by Latvala comes after a high-ranking Democrat, Jeff Clemens, resigned from his Senate seat after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

Bradley said he’s “going to keep the trains moving on time” to make sure the budget process keeps on track in Latvala’s absence.

When asked about the mood of the Senate following Clemens’s exit and the accusations against Latvala, Bradley said it was “awkward.”

“It’s an awkward situation that we find ourselves in. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story and the Roger Ailes story became national news, I think there’s been an appropriate focus on sexual mistreatment in the workplace. It’s no surprise that Tallahassee isn’t immune from those dynamics and those discussions,” Bradley said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My focus is on making sure that anyone who has been the victim of sexual misconduct while either working for the Senate or visiting the Senate feels completely comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

Bradley said he was sickened by the allegations.

“What I hear, in terms of how other people perceive they’ve been treated, how other people have been treated, and this concern about retribution going forward, all of that makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.

The spotlight on sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, could be a good thing, Bradley said.

“For too long, there was a discomfort in people sharing those experiences, and that’s wrong. I think in some ways, this is going to result in positive changes for how Tallahassee does business, just like I think there’s positive changes for how people to business in the private sector and government throughout our country,” he said.

Some female lobbyists are complaining that the scrutiny is making it harder for them to do their jobs: Some male lawmakers and aides  are refusing to meet after-hours or privately with the women.

Bradley said he treats everyone equally, and called on his colleagues and lashed out at anyone who’s excluding women.

“This concept that women feel like they’re going to be disadvantaged because men are less inclined to deal with females or work with females because they’re afraid of being misconstrued, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash to say that you’re going to change your behavior and not allow women to interact with you under the same set of rules, I think that’s hogwash to make such a statement. Women and men need to be treated equally in this process. And whatever rules one has for dealing with men, they need to have the same rules for dealing with women. It should all be professional.”

UPDATE: Berman apologizes to Senate prez over sexual harassment email

State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat hoping to win an open Senate seat, called  Senate President Joe Negron to clear up an email issued by her campaign regarding Negron’s sexual harassment policy.

The email, issued earlier in the day, called Negron’s policy “shameful.”

The message — which wasn’t a fundraising message, Berman pointed out — to Negron was not intended “to make him an issue but rather to improve the policy,” Berman told us in a text message.

Berman is seeking to replace former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned from the Senate on Friday after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

“I left the conversation feeling he his personally committed to ensuring a zero tolerance sexual sexual harassment policy. I am pleased he has taken the initiative to work with Senator Benacquisto to revisit the Senate Policy,” Berman said in a text message.

Berman didn’t exactly call it an apology, but the Senate president did.

Negron said Berman reached out to him “to apologize for her overzealous campaign” that had sent the letter in response to earlier news reports.

“I have accepted Rep. Berman’s apology. I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and urge anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment to confidentially report it. Allegations of sexual harassment are taken very seriously and there will be appropriate consequences for any individual violating Senate rules in this regard,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Lori Berman uses Senate sexual harassment policy to raise money

310597_10150347979644648_1123776784_nState Rep. Lori Berman is vying to replace former Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned from his legislative seat a week ago after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

The focus on Clemens prompted Senate President Joe Negron to highlight a change to the chamber’s sexual harassment policy — which an aide to Negron had been in the works for a year — released the same day the Lake Worth Democrat resigned.

The new procedure required workers to report complaints to their immediate supervisors, the Senate president’s chief of staff, or the president himself. Under the old policy, victims could also file complaints with the human resources office.

Negron has repeatedly maintained that the new policy was aimed at giving workers more options to complain if they have been harassed or mistreated.

Late Sunday, Negron said in a memo that workers “can and should report sexual and workplace harassment to anyone they feel comfortable speaking with.”

But Berman, D-Lantana, blasted Negron for the new policy and used it to raise money in a fundraising email sent this afternoon with the subject line “Shameful.”

“Yesterday, State Senate President–Republican Joe Negron–defended a terrible sexual harassment policy that discourages victims from coming forward.

Instead of going to a Human Resources department, like most major companies and organizations, the Florida Senate makes their employees report to their direct superior (usually a Chief of Staff or even the Senate President himself) if they wish to report an incident. This policy silences victims by forcing them to confide in the same people who have the power to terminate their employment, and who many times have political allegiances to the members being accused of harassment.
This is absolutely shameful.
I’m running for State Senate because this pattern of sexual harassment MUST come to an end. Victims should NEVER be shamed or marginalized.
More than ever, victims need policies in place that provide them the resources they desperately need without threatening their livelihood, their career, and their reputation.
I hope you will join me in making your voice heard on this critical issue. Together, we can change the culture of harassment in Tallahassee and throughout our state.”

Former state Rep. Irv Slosberg, defeated by Clemens in a primary in 2014, has also said he intends to run for the open seat.

Dems ask Scott for relief centers to aid in expected Puerto Rican migration

As conditions continue to deteriorate in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, Florida Democratic legislators are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to set up relief centers for Puerto Rican evacuees.

Friday’s ask comes as Scott, who traveled to the island yesterday, meets with President Donald Trump in Washington to give him an update of what’s going on in Puerto Rico and the Sunshine State, still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

The situation in Puerto Rico is growing dire, the Democrats wrote in a letter to Scott.

“Now more than a week removed from Maria’s landfall, nearly 3.4 million Puerto Ricans remain without power, the telecommunications grid for the island is in tatters, citizens are running low on cash due to the lack of functioning ATMs necessary to purchase supplies and are faced with an inability to process debit transactions, and large areas outside urban centers remain inaccessible as roads continue to be blocked by fallen debris or are washed away completely,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and a handful of House and Senate members wrote to Scott.

The disaster could result in “hundreds of thousands” of evacuees fleeing to Florida, home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans already, the Democrats wrote.

“To prepare for this influx of hundreds of thousands new Floridians, we believe it is vital that the state respond proactively to ease their transition and reduce the mental and financial strain this process is sure to inflict on many families,” they wrote.

The “relief centers” could provide”one-stop access to local, state, and federal officials who could offer guidance on housing aid and availability and other services, the Democrats suggested.

The request for the relief centers comes a day after Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio called for the “cavalry” — in the form of the U.S. military — to come to the rescue in Puerto Rico.

 

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.

Quick pot bites from the floor

Lawmakers are set to pass a roll-out of Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal overwhelmingly approved by voters last year that legalized medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients.

Yesterday’s debate over the pot legislation — which would add 10 MMJ licenses to the state’s current 7 operators and set a cap of 25 dispensaries per operator (sort of) — included some exchanges that elicited groans, giggles and gasps from the 5th floor press galleries and others observing the fireworks.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who sponsored an amendment that would have allowed patients to smoke marijuana products said the smoking ban is unconstitutional.

“There’s going to e a lawsuit and we’re going to lose,” he said.

Clemens also rejected arguments that patients shouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot because smoking isn’t healthy, pointing out that some patients are terminally ill or suffer from diseases like ALS.

“Are we really going to tell those folks that we’re worried about your lung health 30 years down the road when you’ve got six months to live? That’s absurd,” he said.

Questions about who would benefit from a component of the bill that would give preference to current or one-time citrus processors who want to gain entree into the pot industry were largely left unanswered.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, offered an amendment on the floor that would have stricken the provision from the bill, using an olfactory analogy to prove his point.

“You and I know this doesn’t smell right,” Brandes, who has pushed a broad expansion of the marijuana market.”There are industries that go in and out of business all the time.
You should allow a process that allows everyone to compete.”

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who once served as president of the chamber, backed him up.

“Enough’s enough,” Lee said, adding that the provision should have allowed health officials to also give preference to other facilities “situated for reuse” in blighted or economically depressed areas. “But my guess is this is for one company. We’re just about soon to find out who it is. For me enough’s enough. Enough’s enough.”

That drew an explanation from Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

“First of all, the way this language is written is for no one that is guaranteed a license. It is very specific that says you have a better opportunity,” Simpson said in what was, for him, an unusually long response.

Simpson said health officials might give the citrus processors “two additional points” when scoring the applications, and that the provision could help a failing industry.

In certain parts of the state, “you will see these large factories that used to be orange (producers) with hundreds of jobs and sometimes thousands of jobs,” Simpson said.

“Dade City, Florida, had two of these facilities. Both are gone. And today we have more than 20 of these facilities where farmers and groups of farmers have tens of millions of dollars of capital tied up in these facilities and now they are shuttered. This amendment simply says that in the process of adding to license holders they can have a consideration of favorability, all other things being equal,” he said. “These are food-grade facilities. These aren’t just farmers with stands on the side of the road.”

In the lower chamber, a discussion of the ban on smoking included in the legislation prompted an intra-party dispute.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in the passage of the state’s 2014 low-THC marijuana law, read from the language of the amendment, which said that smoking can be forbidden in public places.

She noted that lawmakers are being hammered by proponents of the measure who insist that the amendment allows patients to smoke pot products, a campaign that’s generated the hashtag #nosmokeisajoke.

“It’s very easy to get sidetracked and come up with hashtags and campaigns,” Edwards, a lawyer, said. “I do not want us to be sued. Nobody here wants to be sued because you know what? A lawsuit benefits one attorney, one firm. It does not help us get this to the patients quicker.”

Rob Bradley predicted the medical marijuana legislation would evolve into an annual examination, much like fights over alcohol laws.

“We are going to open this law and revisit it and tweak it every year. There’s an alcohol bill every year. …and there’s going to be a marijuana bill every year,” Bradley, who’s been in charge of the pot legislation for the past three years.

Bradley also defended an element of the bill that allows local governments to ban dispensaries but, cities and counties can’t limit the number of retail outlets if they permit them at all.

“I’ll be very frank. This language makes some of the incumbents mad. This language makes some of the counties and cities not particularly happy,” he said.

The provision was intended to “strike a balance” between local control and guaranteeing access to medical marijuana to patients, Bradley said.

“This is not a joke. This isn’t Cheech and Chong. This is serious medicine, and it should be treated as such,” he said.