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Politics also in the air when justices hear medical marijuana case

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

In a legal battle whose social and political shadings have drawn an all-star cast of combatants, the Florida Supreme Court this week will consider a measure asking voters to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses.

Much of Florida’s Republican leadership is being joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association and law enforcement organizations in fighting the proposed 2014 ballot measure.

On the opposite side, leading Democratic donor John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer close to former Gov. Charlie Crist, is bankrolling the campaign. Crist, previously a Republican while governor, is now running for the office as a Democrat.

A former Democratic House Speaker, Jon Mills of Gainesville, will make the campaign’s case before justices on Thursday.

While the politics of the fight are viewed as closely entwined in next year’s governor’s race, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his opposition stems only from concerns about how the ballot proposal is constructed.

“It’s misleading to voters, flawed and doesn’t really tell you just how pervasive marijuana would be in this state,” Weatherford told The Palm Beach Post. “If this were approved, it would be a nightmare for the Legislature to implement.”

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/1htBAsY

 

 

Scott sides with biz groups over trial lawyers in expert witness fight

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Wednesday a pair of lawsuit-limiting measures long-sought by business leaders  but opposed by Democratic-allied trial lawyers.

Both bills increase the standard for expert witnesses called to testify in cases. One measure (HB 7015) signed by Scott requires Florida courts to use the same, three-part test used in the federal system to determine whether a witness called to testify can be considered an “expert” in a field.

The other bill (SB 1792) requires a doctor called to testify as an expert must practice in the same specialty as the health care provider against whom the lawsuit was filed.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce hailed the changes.

“This is an important step forward in improving Florida’s legal climate and making our state more competitive,” said Dave Hart, a chamber vice-president. “These improvements…will provide predictability in our state’s courtrooms and create stability for our businesses and entrepreneurs, so they can grow their workforce and take us down the road toward economic prosperity.”

The Florida Justice Association didn’t see it that way. Singling out the new, three-part test requirement, executive director Debra Henley said the change will cost businesses and individuals more in legal fees and other expenses tied to finding experts.

“Trials will be won not on the grounds of who has the strongest case, but rather who has the largest bank account,” Henley said.

She added, “The new law overburdens our already strained justice system. Because of this law, cases will be more
expensive and the process of seeking justice will take longer. There was not a need for this legislation as it did not create jobs and actually harms small business.”

No surprises on Florida Chamber report card: R’s get A’s, Dems mostly fail

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Three Palm Beach County lawmakers earned perfect scores from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Not surprisingly, their Democratic counterparts received mostly failing grades from the powerful business lobby.

GOP Reps. Pat Rooney, R-West Palm Beach; MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta; and Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, all received marks of “100″ from the Chamber. Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, received an “87.”

The Chamber’s grades are based on 8,000 votes cast during the 2013 session that ended early this month. Fifty-nine percent of the 160 House and Senate members earned “A” grades with scores of 90-100 for “voting to make Florida more competitive and in support of the priority jobs issues” included in the Chamber’s legislative agenda, according to a press release.

Rep. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach insurance agent, fared the best of his fellow Palm Beach County Democrats with a “72,” the only PBC Dem that earned a passing Chamber mark. Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, was at the bottom of the delegation with a “36,” just two points more than the Chamber’s lowest scorer, Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood.

Here’s how the rest of the delegation fared:
Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington: 59;
Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana: 57;
Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach: 55;
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach: 55;
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth: 53;
Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth: 49;
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton: 48.

Competing endorsements in Palm Beach County senate races

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County legislative candidates nailed down several endorsements recently, including support from polar opposites in the Senate District 27 primary contest between Democratic state Reps. Jeff Clemens and Mack Bernard.

The all-Palm Beach County senate district race is shaping up to be a business vs. labor union battle, not an unusual platform for many campaigns. Except this race is between two Democrats, who rarely receive glowing endorsements from business-backed lobbies (except in Democratic primaries.)

Two of the state’s biggest labor unions – the AFL-CIO and SEIU – are backing state Rep. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, Clemens’ campaign announced today. The AFL-CIO also endorsed Clemens in his run for the House seat he now holds.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, nailed down an endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce today. Bernard already has the endorsement of one of Florida’s other top business lobbies – Associated Industries of Florida. The newly drawn District 27 seat stretches generally west of the turnpike in Palm Beach County.

The Chamber also endorsed state Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington. Abruzzo will face off against the winner of a GOP primary between Melanie Peterson and Geoff Sommers.

Avoiding what might have been a brutal primary against Abruzzo, Sachs is running for the new Democratic-leaning District 34, a Palm Beach-Broward seat, against Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale.

State party fundraising modest this spring — but juiced by casino dollars

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican and Democratic parties’ latest reports show modest fund-raising totals for the opening quarter of this presidential election year — with the state’s high-voltage battle over casino gambling proving a big dollar driver on both sides.

Republicans raised $2.9 million, while Democrats pulled in $1.2 million between Jan. 1-March 31, according to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

For Republicans, it was the lowest quarterly fund-raising total in three years. The Democratic total was closer in line with typical party collections, although Democrats had reported a stunningly low $894,445 late last summer.

Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said the party was confident it was on the right track with voters this election year. She pointed out the Florida GOP had out-raised Democrats $22 million to $6 million last year.

“The Republicans fundraising advantage does not translate into electoral success,” Jordan said. ”Despite the financial disparity last year, Democrats won mayoral races across the state, including the GOP stronghold of Jacksonville and in the heart of the state’s I-4 corridor.

“The bottom line: smart, strategic investments trump fundraising and money can’t buy approval for the GOP’s extreme agenda,” she added.

Republicans counterpunched.

“We will have the resources in 2012 to communicate our message of economic growth and job creation,” said state Republican Party spokesman Brian Hughes.  “At the same time, Democrats will offer more debt and deficits, higher taxes, and policies that punish success rather than encourage it.

“These failed ideas led us to overwhelming wins in 2010 and will be the reason for Republican victories this November,” Hughes said.

Both sides, though, seemed to agree that this spring’s push by Genting Resorts World to win legislative approval for a bayside casino in Miami helped generate dollars.

Republicans collected $307,423 from Universal Orlando Resort and Disney World, resorts which fought the Genting resorts plan. Also echoing the Disney line was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, whose political committees gave $85,000 to the GOP.

The Seminole Tribe gave $125,000 to Republicans last quarter, while the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders Association gave $25,000. Both organizations are wary of the business risk casinos posed.

For its part, Genting gave the GOP $100,000, reports show.

Democrats also benefited from the tug-of-war, which fizzled in early February when House sponsor, Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, ended debate on the bill (HB 489) amid steady opposition.

The Florida Democratic Party’s quarterly fund-raising included $150,000 from Hill Brow LLC, a Genting affiliate based in Miami. Another $5,000 came from the Florida AFL-CIO, some of whose affiliated unions supported the casino push.

But the Florida Chamber gave the opposition some heft with Democrats, weighing-in with $12,500 for the party. Disney gave $10,000 and the Isle of Capri Casino and Racetrack in Pompano Beach gave $10,000.

Genting, a Malaysian casino giant, has spent $250 million buying the Miami Herald site and surrounding real estate in Miami, and had hired 23 lobbyists for last session. Genting initially proposed a $3 billion, 10-million-square-foot resort, with 5,200 rooms at the location, but last month announced a sharply scaled-back proposal, but offered few new details.

Fresen’s bill would have allowed as many as three casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, if approved by voters in county referendums. But the casino drive was mostly hampered by the increasingly complex politics of gambling in Florida — which is reflected in the cash flowing to the state parties in their latest reports.

South Florida horse- and dog-tracks fear casinos will kill the already flagging industry, while the Seminole Tribe, which reached a lucrative gambling compact with the state only a few years ago, also opposed the entry of a well-heeled casino rival.

In the end, Genting and its lobbyist corps were unable last spring to crack the political Rubik’s Cube. But most expect the measure will be back. Genting is heavily invested, having poured almost $630,000 into Florida campaigns last year, with $385,000 going to the state Republican Party.

 

Scott OKs business tax cuts and rebrands unemployment comp

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Wednesday that includes a host of tax cuts for businesses and rebrands the state’s financially strapped unemployment compensation system.

Scott said the four bills he signed, flanked by leaders of state business organizations, represents his “job creation and economic growth agenda.” One of the measures, (HB 7087), also doubles to $50,000 the state’s corporate income tax exemption — further shrinking a levy Scott has vowed to eliminate over the next five years.

“With this plan, our unemployment rate will continue to go down,” Scott said. “Job creators will experience tax relief. Job seekers will have a better chance to get back to work. Florida is clearly going to be the state that everyone has to compete with.”

Among the more controversial measures is the unemployment compensation bill (CS/HB 7027).  Scott and the Republican-led Legislature last year reduced the number of weeks jobless workers could receive benefits, and this year, rename the system the “reemployment assistance program.”

The legislation also cuts the tax businesses pay to cover employees in the system, saving companies an estimated $800 million over the next three years. Currently, employers were on track to pay $171-per-worker this year. The bill cuts that to $121 for each employee.

The legislation also delays Florida’s efforts to rebuild its unemployment compensation trust fund by reducing the base wage subject to the tax, and increasing the debt repayment schedule. The delay was pushed by such business groups as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the National Federation of Independent Business, which said prospects of an $817 million unemployment compensation tax increase would be tough to absorb in a still-fragile economy.

Scot acknowledged Wednesday that he was initially reluctant to embrace what amounts to the third consecutive year of delayed payments. But Scott said he eventually saw a benefit in slowing the debt payments.

“It made sense,” Scott said. “We want employers to hire more people. We have to think like they do. They’ve got to keep their costs as low as they can.”

 

 

Business lobbies launch dueling gambling ads

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Split business groups have upped the ante in the fight over a proposed gambling bill that would allow three mega-casinos in Florida.

The competing lobbies launched a pair of dueling television ads lauding and condemning the measure (SB 710), which cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee yesterday.

Associated Industries of Florida, which favors the measure, unleashed an ad featuring pundit Ben Stein touting the casinos as a job creator and economic panacea.

On the other side, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s “Bad Bet for Florida” condemned the proposal, which its leaders say would harm the state’s existing businesses and chase tourists away.

Small business group to stay out of gambling fight

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

One of the state’s more influential business lobbies said Friday it plans to mostly stay out of the Legislature’s fight over casino gambling, saying there are issues more important to business owners.

A poll of National Federation of Independent Business members showed that by a 49-40 percent margin they support allowing for as many as three “destination resort” casinos to be built, most likely in South Florida.

But NFIB executive director Bill Herrle said the organization will not play an active role on either side of the casino fight, which begins in earnest Monday at a Senate committee hearing on the subject.

“We’d need a much strong number than that to become advocates for the issue,” Herrle said.

But he added, “coming through the poll loud and clear is…there are many more economic issues that the Legislature needs to deal with.”

The state’s big business organizations are dividing over gambling. 

Among the largest lobbies, Associated Industries of Florida is promoting the proposed expansion, while the Florida Chamber of Commerce has joined with Walt Disney Co., in fighting the proposal.

Herrle, however, called gambling a “frivolity,” compared with other issues facing businesses. Easing workers’ compensation rates, reducing unemployment compensation taxes, lowering the risk of lawsuits and promoting a ballot measure to create a new, $50,000 tax break on equipment owned by businesses tops NFIB’s agenda heading into the session,  Herrle said.

The NFIB membership poll, which surveyed 400 business owners the last week of December, was conducted by TelOpinion Research, and has a roughly 4 percent margin-of-error. It showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott with a 69 percent approval rating, with only 21 percent of respondents disapproving of the governor’s first year in office.

Scott clearly does far better with business owners than among Floridians, generally. A survey last month by Public Policy Polling gave Scott a 26 percent approval rating, his worst showing yet.  But that came after a Quinnipiac University poll in the fall showed Scott with 37 percent approval — his highest mark as governor.

Bishop leaving AIF, with some questioning the future of the big corporate lobby

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of the Capitol’s most potent business lobbies Wednesday was in search of a new leader.

Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Barney Bishop resigned after seven years as the public face of the organization, effective at the end of the year. Bishop had been under rising pressure from AIF’s board of directors and his resignation precedes a scheduled meeting next week where his future with the organization was expected to be discussed.

“There are other things in life — other passions — that I wanted to pursue,” Bishop said. “Now is that time. I have always been a serial entrepreneur, having previously started two companies. I may start a third company or join another.”

Erika Alba, a Jacksonville lobbyist who chairs AIF’s board of directors, said, “Barney has accomplished great things at AIF by rebuilding our membership and enhancing our effectiveness in the halls of the Florida Capitol.”

Bishop, who earned more than $400,000 in the AIF post, drew some heat from board members in July, months after he caused a stir by declaring that the “number one job of our board (is) to defeat Bill Nelson.” 

AIF’s board is not publicly disclosed by the organization. But a member acknowledged that Bishop’s comment may have got him crossways with some influential corporate backers of Florida’s senior U.S. senator, a Democrat.

But AIF, whose membership is eclipsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce as a business lobby, has always had outsized personalities at its helm. Preceding Bishop was Jon Shebel, a six-foot-six-inch, ex-Marine who led the organization for more than 30 years until his 2006 retirement.

AIF is also renowned for its annual pre-legislative session cocktail party, which draws thousands to the organization’s Georgian-styled headquarters a block from the Governor’s Mansion. But in an age of business consolidation, some lobbyists have questioned how long the Chamber and AIF, which have many overlapping members, issues and candidate endorsements, can endure as separate entities.

No successor to Bishop has been named.

 

 

 

 

 

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