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Senate prez Haridopolos: Time to put egos aside

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, feeling a bit more upbeat about Florida’s economic outlook, said his chamber will likely pass its spending plan late next week, setting the stage for negotiations between the two chambers over the $69.2 billion spending plan.

“If we can find allocation agreements between the House and Senate, we’ll get done on time. If we don’t, we’ll be here for a while,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said. “We’re not too far apart. This is about putting egos aside and doing what’s right and not playing games.”

Because session started two months early this year due to redistricting, Haridopolos originally floated the idea of holding off on the budget until state economists had more certainty about the state’s financial health.

But Haridopolos said today he’s feeling a little more confident in part because the state’s unemployment rate has continued to drop and is now at its lowest in three years.

“I think we all have to feel a little bit better about it with the unemployment rate where it is,” Haridopolos said, adding that the Senate budget provides “flexibility” by setting aside $1 billion in reserves along with money from the tobacco settlement and state universities’ reserves.

But Haridopolos remained cautious.

“Anyone who says that they’re confident about the economy I think is living in a dream world. But we’re all encouraged that the stock market’s up. We’re all encouraged that the unemployment rate has dipped a bit. But we still have a heck of a long way to go,” he said.

Partisan scuffle over privatization and tax breaks yields hot air and jerked knees

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich got the last word in a partisan flame war with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner over firing prison workers vs. closing a corporate tax loophole.

Rich launched the skirmish when she fired off a statement accusing Senate President Mike Haridopolos of ignoring her proposal that would net $500 million a year by putting an end to the “water’s edge” tax break multi-state corporations receive but companies based only in Florida do not.

“If the Senate President is serious about reportedly fighting ‘like hell to try to find some savings,’ he needs to redirect the Senate’s aim to where the confirmed savings can be found,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the state could save at least $16.5 million a year with a prison privatization measure that would outsource Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in southern Florida. The embattled proposal is now on hold in the Senate and prompted Haridopolos to eject Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee for his public vilification of the plan.

Gardiner accused Rich of employing a “knee-jerk, Democratic reaction” of raising taxes on already struggling Florida families and businesses. The Orlando Republican said the savings from the outsourcing would be better spent on education or health care in a time when lawmakers are fighting to close a $1.4 billion budget hole.

“It is irresponsible to trivialize a significant, multimillion-dollar savings,” Gardiner shot back in a statement. “It is my hope that we will soon see more solution-oriented language from the senator and less hot air.”

Rich didn’t leave it at that. She blamed her GOP counterpart of more “of the strong-armed tactics the Republican leadership is currently deploying to ram through” the privatization proposal.

“When a member of the Republican leadership deliberately distorts my words advocating for corporations to finally pull their own weight as a “knee jerk reaction” of “raising taxes” on Floridians, his so-called ‘response’ is not only wrong, but patently false. He’s correct, we ‘don’t need bills that raise taxes,’” Rich responded.

Rich’s proposal (SB 1590), which has not yet been heard in committee, levels the playing field for in and out-of-state businesses, she argued.

“Given the events Floridians have watched unfold this week – the inability to muster the votes to layoff thousands of corrections officers from their jobs, the punishment of a Republican Senator rightly critical of the prison privatization scheme, and now the accusation that Democrats want to raise taxes because the GOP so fears my legislation that could spare Floridians from the additional loss of critical services already cut to the bone – Senator Gardiner would do well to admit the real agenda behind their ‘teachers versus corrections officers’ privatization drive,” Rich said.

Senate president Haridopolos strips anti-privatization Fasano of committee chairmanship

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

In a rare use of political muscle, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has stripped Sen. Mike Fasano – a fierce opponent of prison privatization – of his post as chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice budget committee.

Haridopolos kicked Fasano off the committee after putting on hold for the second day a troubled prison privatization measure splitting the GOP caucus despite the support of the senate president and Gov. Rick Scott. Scott today called several Republican senators opposed to the measure (SB 2038) into his office to try to convince them to get behind the measure that would outsource all Department of Corrections operations in the 18-county region in the southern portion of the state.

“I just felt I had lost confidence in him to fill that mission” as chairman of the committee in charge of spending on prisons and other criminal justice operations, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters late this afternoon.

Fasano said he met with Haridopolos briefly after the Senate session broke this afternoon and was told he would no longer be chairman. The meeting lasted two minutes at the most, Fasano said.

“Unfortunately, this is about the special interests of Tallahassee. This is a perfect example of when they don’t get their way, and leadership doesn’t get their way, they start firing people, or they start removing legislators from their chairmanships,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Taking over for Fasano will be Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Sen. Jim Norman will assume her role as chairman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.

Senate prez Haridopolos – Romney backer – ‘low-keying it’ on election night

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

After helping secure the state’s national prominence in selecting the GOP presidential candidate by moving up the primary, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said he’ll be watching the election returns at home with his roommate, Senate budget chief JD Alexander, tonight.

“I’m low-keying it. I’ve been high-key enough in getting this early election,” Haridopolos, a Mitt Romney supporter, said during his weekly Q-and-A with reporters this afternoon. “Despite a lot of anger from some folks even in my own party…I think it clearly has come up aces for us.”

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and political groups supporting the candidates have spent about $25 million on campaign ads, Haridopolos said, and the early date has helped fire up Republican voters, more than 600,000 of whom had already cast their ballots before today’s election. Florida Republicans gave up half their delegates in the winner-take-all election by moving the date up and breaking national GOP rules.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the returns tonight, and I expect Mitt Romney to win,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

Senate prez Haridopolos on GOP primary: ‘Feels good to be right’

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

With all eyes on Florida in the GOP presidential race, Senate President Mike Haridopolos might have been justified saying “I told you so” about the Sunshine State’s early Republican primary next week.

The legislature moved Florida’s primary date up from its originally scheduled date to Jan. 31 over the objections of state and national GOP leaders. Haridopolos and others wanted to elevate the state’s role in determining the eventual nominee.

With Newt Gingrich surging in the polls after unexpectedly trouncing Mitt Romney in South Carolina, Florida could be “the lynchpin to one person winning” the race, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

“Every once in a while it feels good to be right,” Haridopolos, a Romney backer, said this morning. “It was a risk, don’t get me wrong. But we thought it was a good risk. Clearly the eyes of the nation if not the eyes of the world are on this…I think it’s a good thing.”

And national coverage of the candidates stumping around sunny, mild-climed Florida may help solve some of the state’s budget problems as well, Haridopolos said.d

“This is like free advertising for our state and it wasn’t Visit Florida that had to pay the tab,” Haridopolos said.

Watching candidates “in their shirt sleeves” in sunny Florida may prompt Northerners to consider relocating their businesses to or visiting Florida, Haridopolos, a former New Yorker, said.

“So I think it’s been a jackpot,” Haridopolos said. “And I think we’re in the place where we deserve to be.”

Florida is the bellweather state in the general election and deserves to be so in the primaries, Haridopolos said, after the lesser-known candidates have been weeded out in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I love these kind of competitions – except when I’m in races. I like the ones where no one runs against me. It’s a lot more successful,” the former U.S. Senate candidate joked. “But to be serious. I think it’s good. I think this will elevate our candidate.”

UPDATE: Senate prez Haridopolos gives prison privatization bill another committee stop

Friday, January 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley issued a correction to the privatization bill committee stops. Haridopolos is giving the bill (SB 2038) reviving last year’s privatization of more than two dozen prisons another hearing in the budget committee – NOT the bill that would allow lawmakers to privatize state functions without public input until after contracts are signed.

Bowing to pressure from prison privatization critics including Sen. Mike Fasano, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has put the brakes – sort of – on a fast-tracked bill that would outsource all prison operations in an 18-county region south of Polk County to the Florida Keys.

But a bill that would give lawmakers the ability to outsource state functions without any public input until after the deals are done is still slated to be heard only in the Rules Committee that gave the measure a preliminary nod earlier this week.

Originally slated to be heard only in the Senate Rules Committee before being sent to the floor for a chamber vote, Haridopolos is now asking the Budget Committee to sign off on the bill (SB 2038) as well.

Fasano, chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, asked Haridopolos to give committees like his more up-to-speed on privatization the chance to scrutinize the proposal.

“These bills deal with potential changes to policy of such a magnitude that they should not have originated in a procedural committee such as the Rules Committee. However, they were and have now been referred back to that very same committee with no further referrals. Only your office would know why that decision was made.

In my opinion a subject as complex as prison privatization should have been referred to the substantive committees that oversee this subject matter (i.e. Criminal Justice, Governmental Oversight and Accountability and Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations). The Senate has a rich history as a deliberative body that examines and allows for full vetting of proposed policy changes both major and minor. I respectfully request that if these bills are acted upon favorably by the Rules Committee on January 23, 2012 that you pull them back into your office and refer them to at least the three substantive and appropriations committees I have suggested,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote to Haridopolos today.

Shortly after Fasano released his request, Haridopolos issued a memo defending the process in which the prison privatization was vetted last year and announcing additional committee stop for the privatization bill on Wednesday.

“After hearing questions and concerns from my fellow Senators in the Senate Committee on Rules regarding Senate Bill 2036, I have decided to proceed in an abundance of caution,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, wrote.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled lawmakers illegally included the privatization of the 18-country region of correctional operations in southern Florida in the budget instead of in a stand-alone bill. The privatization measure would take care of that problem, Rules Chairman John Thrasher said.

Haridopolos insists that although the prison outsourcing never was included in a bill, it was debated throughout the session at various committees and includes a timeline of the discussions in his memo.

“With that in mind, I believe that this additional committee reference will ensure a thoughtful debate on prison privatization, and I am hopeful that this will alleviate any concerns my fellow Senators may have,” he wrote.

Haridopolos fast-tracks privatization bills

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has fast-tracked two privatization bills, referring them to a single committee before they head to the floor for a full vote.

Haridopolos sent the bills to the Rules Committee that yesterday agreed to allow the measures to get a full vetting.

One of the measures (SB 2038) resurrects a prison privatization plan shot down by a Tallahassee judge last year because of the manner in which lawmakers ordered the outsourcing of the 18-county region of southern Florida’s corrections operations.

The other proposal (SB 2036) deals with Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling in the prison privatization case. Under that bill, lawmakers would be able to privatize any state functions by including the outsourcing in the budget state and without having public input until after the deals are done.

Although the privatization effort was not heard in any committees last year, the budget committee debated the proposal after it appeared one of the spending bills, Thrasher pointed out. He said he’s scheduled his next meeting, when the bills will be heard, to run for nearly four hours.

“It will get a full hearing,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said. “We will take those bills up first and we will take whatever time is necessary.”

Lawmakers have not, however, before taken time to debate the measure giving them the ability to include privatization directly in the budget.

“Because we hadn’t had the court decision. Now we’ve got the court decision,” Thrasher said.

Casino bill still stalled in House

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The gambling bill that would allow three casinos to open in Florida remains stalled in the House after a second workshop on the proposal Wednesday afternoon.

And it remains unclear whether the controversial proposal will even get a vote in the House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee.

House Business and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Doug Holder said he’s still in the information-gathering stage and is not sure whether the bill (HB 487) will even get a vote in his committee or what the next move is.

“That could entail another workshop. It could entail ending the discussion. It could entail a vote. It just depends on how comfortable we feel. Certainly at this point we’ll digest all the information we just received,” committee chairman Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said after about an hour of testimony late Wednesday afternoon.

The committee heard from proponents of the measure, including casino operators eager to set up shop in Florida, and split business industry lobbyists who spoke both for and against it.

A Senate committee gave Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s version (SB 710) its first thumbs-up on Monday. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had fast-tracked the bill and is still insisting that he wants the bill to get a vote by the full chamber.

But the proposition is in limbo. Senate Rules and Calender Committee Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, opposes the bill and said he wants to wait to see what the House does before he takes it up in his committee.

Holder said his chamber isn’t taking its cues from the Senate.

“We’re going through the process in our way. We realize it’s a little bit slower than the pace of the Senate but we are going to vet this fully before making any final decisions,” Holder said.

GOP leaders – including all three Cabinet members – have lined up with social conservatives, law enforcement officials, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association in opposition.

Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida United Businesses Association and the construction industry are all pushing the casinos, promising that the high-end “destination resorts” will create thousands of new jobs and pump untold millions into the state’s anemic economy.

And the state’s existing pari-mutuels are flexing their considerable muscle with demands for equity in taxes and games as the proposed casinos, creating the possibility of roulette, craps and blackjack far beyond the South Florida area targeted by the bill’s sponsors.

On Wednesday, casino operators tried to dispel fears that the casinos will transform the Sunshine State’s family-friendly image into a Las Vegas or Atlantic City gambling mecca.

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Senate passes prez Haridopolos priority claims bills

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

In the chamber’s first action on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved two claims bills, priorities of President Mike Haridopolos that failed to pass last session.

One measure (SR 2) would pay $1.35 million to William Dillon, locked up for 27 years before DNA evidence cleared him of a Brevard County murder. Haridopolos, who sponsored the claims bill, said that the compensation would help correct the injustice done to Dillon.

“At least show when you make a mistake, you own up to it and you try to make it right. That’s what being a compassionate person is all about,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said before the 39-1 vote.

The Senate also signed off on a controversial claims bill that would pay the family of Eric Brody $10.75 million. Brody was catastrophically injured in 1998 when a Broward Sheriff’s deputy crashed into his car. Brody, then a high school senior, was left brain damaged and confined to a wheel chair.

A last-minute deal between Brody’s lawyers and insurers was finalized just before the Senate passed the bill (SR 4) with a 37-2 vote.

Lawmakers have tried for four years to get the “Brody bill” passed. Last year, the House’s failed to take it up on the final day of session, causing the session to end in chaos and Haridopolos to keep senators on hold until the wee hours of the morning before finally abandoning hope that the House would pass the measure.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, said carrying the bill for two years was a lesson in determination: the determination of Brody’s parents and advocates and of her Senate colleagues in their support.

“But most importantly, it is the determination of one individual who stood so strongly to make sure we would not leave the building until Eric was taken care of,” Benacquisto said, referring to Haridopolos.

Lawmakers give casinos bill first thumbs-up

Monday, January 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A sweeping gambling bill that would allow up to three casinos in Florida passed its first hurdle late Monday with a 7-3 vote in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

The measure (SB 710) would allow voters in any county to sign off on the “destination resorts” and allow pari-mutuels in to have whatever games the casinos offer, including blackjack and baccarat – if state regulators grant a casino permit in the county. And it would bar any new dog or horse tracks or jai-alai frontons from opening anywhere in the state.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged that the future of her proposal – dealing with everything from a new gambling commission to the casinos to Internet cafes – is anything but certain.

“Yeah, this is a big lift and there’s a lot of stuff in here. Call it what you want. Call it an expansion. Call it a reform. Call it a redirection…My hope is that we would stop the proliferation of gaming through clever lawyering or loopholes,” Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said before the vote.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos appeared to have fast-tracked the bill – it received its first committee vote the day before the legislative session opened – and said he wants an early floor vote on it. But that may not happen, said Sen. John Thrasher, chairman of the Rules and Calendar Committee, the bill’s final stop before it goes to the full chamber. First, it heads to the Senate Budget committee.

But the House has yet to hold a single hearing on its version, Thrasher pointed out.

“They have not had the first peep over there in terms of listening to the arguments about this bill,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said. “I’ve got a feeling that…they’re going to have to show some movement in the House before we take it any further.”

Do away with PE? Senate prez: ‘Who said that? I love PE!’

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A push in the Florida House to do away with physical education in middle schools will be a heavy lift across the hall.

A House committee on Tuesday approved a measure (HB 4057) by a 9-6 vote that would strike the requirements that middle school students take P.E. The American Heart Association is trying to beat back the proposal, saying that more than 30 percent of Florida children are obese and more than 62 percent of all Floridians are fat.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos hadn’t heard about the bill when we asked him this afternoon what he thought about doing away with PE in public schools.

“Who said that? Who filed that one? I love P.E.!” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

The bill doesn’t have a Senate sponsor, and, judging by the president’s comments, may not get one.

“That’s not on my to-do list at this point. My wife’s a doctor and I was a high school and college athlete. I believe P.E.’s a good thing,” he said.

Endorsement reversal: Haridopolos backs pal Connie Mack in U.S. Senate race

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

One-time U.S. Senate candidate and Senate President Mike Haridopolos is backing long-time friend U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV in the GOP primary, Haridopolos told editors and reporters this morning.

Haridopolos said he’s supporting Mack because he’s disappointed in the negative campaigning that’s dominated the GOP race thus far.

“I was not exactly pleased in the direction in which the senate primary was moving,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told a gathering of reporters and editors at the Associated Press Florida Legislative Planning Session shortly before noon. “I think he’d make an outstanding senator, not just candidate…I want to see us elevate the political discussion. What has disappointed me…is there’s a lot of finger-pointing. Let’s elevate the debate…as opposed to the negative campaigning that’s been done to this point.”

After initially saying he would not get into the race, Mack has now thrown his hat into a crowded GOP field. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former state representative Adam Hasner of Delray Beach, businessman Craig Miller and Mike McAllister are all vying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. The four declared GOP candidates have been plagued by underwhelming poll numbers and fundraising.

Early this spring, Mack, a Cape Coral Republican who served in the Florida House alongside Haridopolos, endorsed Haridopolos, who dropped out of the race this summer.

Legislators appeal prison privatization ruling

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers have appealed a Tallahassee judge’s ruling that the way they ordered the privatization of prisons in the southern portion of the state was unconstitutional.

Attorney General Pam Bondi filed the appeal late Monday, the last day an appeal could be made. Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration was named in the lawsuit, decided not to appeal Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford’s decision.

But lawmakers, who included the privatization of 29 prisons and correctional operations in the 18-county region south of Polk County in the state budget passed this spring, asked Bondi to appeal on their behalf.

“Not only is the privatization of our state’s prisons good policy, but it ensures that our state can dedicate more money to education, health care or economic development programs that would otherwise be spent on prisons,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who pushed the appeal, said in a statement.

Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union representing correctional and probational workers which filed the lawsuit, said his group is “prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Senate president calls Brody bill priority

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

In the final moments of the legislative session in May, House lawmakers failed to sign off on a $12 million payment to Eric Brody, a Broward man catastrophically injured after a Broward Sheriff’s Office cruiser crashed into him 13 years ago.

Again this year, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has made the payment to Brody and his family a priority. The Brody’s joined Haridopolos and bill sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, at a press conference this morning urging their colleagues to agree to the payment.

Haridopolos said the bill (SB 4) would be among the first items his chamber passes when the session begins in January.

“You can never put a price tag on human tragedy,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

Benacquisto’s proposal would allow Brody to get collect $15 million from the BSO and its insurance company. A House proposal, sponsored by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, would allow Brody to get a payment of $30 million. The state would pay no money for the settlement but state law requires legislative approval before local governments can pay claims to individuals in excess of $200,000. The BSO had agreed to allow the Brody’s to pursue the claim with the insurance company earlier this year.

Grant said he hoped this year the two chambers “will put politics aside” and pass the bill.

The 1998 accident left Eric Brody, then 18 years old, with severe brain damage and requiring 24-hour care. His parents said they want the money to ensure he is taken care of after they die. Chuck Brody said he estimates the cost of care for his son to be in the middle of the two bills.

Despite – or perhaps because of – Haridopolos’ support earlier this year, the Florida House refused to agree to the payment. On the last two days of the session, Brody and his family remained in the Capitol, expecting the measure to be passed. But the prolonged session ended in the early morning hours before the measure was even taken up on the House floor.

With their wheelchair-bound son Eric, the Brody’s waited from noon until 2 a.m. the day before the session ended, Chuck Brody told reporters.

“It wasn’t heard at all. It was like he didn’t exist. It was like the bill didn’t even exist,” Brody said.

Haridopolos on prison privatization, gambling and jobs

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos defended lawmakers’ use of the budget to privatize an 18-county region from Polk County to the Florida Keys, said there would be a floor vote on an expansion of gambling and bragged about the state’s job growth in a Q-and-A with reporters this afternoon.

The Merritt Island Republican provided a detailed document to reporters as proof that talks about the nation’s largest prison privatization effort – now on hold after a Tallahassee circuit judge’s ruling that the way the legislature went about it was unconstitutional – had taken place in committees since January and not snuck into the budget at the last minute, as he said unnamed critics have implied. Although privatization was discussed at the meetings, lawmakers did not vote on or release details of any prison privatization plan until it was included in the state budget.

“I wanted to be very clear for those people who had concerns that this was something we stuck in late. This was addressed early and often and people all saw it coming both in the House and the Senate,” Haridopolos said.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents correctional workers, sued Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over the privatization, put by lawmakers into the budget in proviso language and signed into law by Scott this summer. Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford agreed with the union that the use of the proviso language to establish state policy was unconstitutional.

Scott has not yet decided whether to appeal but has said the privatization will happen eventually. And Haridopolos on Thursday said that the privatization will go forward, even if lawmakers have to pass a stand-alone bill when they reconvene in January. The proposal requires that the privatization of 29 prisons in the region cost at least 7 percent less than what the state currently spends – an estimated $22 million annual savings.

“I think the policy’s a good policy. We’re going to face another massive budget shortfall this year. And we’re going to spend more money on prisons and if we do we’ll spend less on education and health care,” Haridopolos said. “I guess other people have other priorities. My priority is to spend less on prisons.”

(more…)

Haridopolos agrees to CFO Atwater’s request for public meeting on SBA investment

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has agreed to call in State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to answer questions about a $125 million investment after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Haridopolos’ predecessor, asked for the public meeting.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker, asked Haridopolos on Thursday to bring Williams in to satisfy Sen. Mike Fasano’s demands for information about an investment earlier this year in hedge fund Starboard Value and Opportunity. Williams gave Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a bill for more than $10,000 in response to a public records request for documents regarding the investment, which was in the works for more than two years before the investment was made in April.

“It is my deep belief that you and the other members of the legislature, elected to represent the interests of Floridians, should have full and open access to information wherever it might reside throughout government, including the SBA,” Atwater wrote in a letter to the senate president.

Atwater also said Fasano should not be charged to review the documents and that he trusts Fasano to keep any confidential information in the records private. On Monday, Fasano asked Haridopolos to subpoena Williams and the documents or to order him to appear before a Senate committee to explain the investment and the public records charges.

“Being that the CFO is a champion of transparency and given his expertise in this realm, I plan to take his recommendation and hold a meeting that will be open to the public and ask the Director of the SBA, Ash Williams, and his staff to be available to answer any questions that the public or my fellow legislators may have about the investment, as well as the public records request,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement late Thursday. “Like CFO Atwater, it is my hope that this meeting will alleviate any questions that lawmakers or the public may have regarding this investment and the SBA, and the IAC may continue to conduct business.”

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Committee examines missing children laws in response to Casey Anthony case

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A select committee headed by Sen. Joe Negron began looking into whether Florida’s laws need to be changed in reaction to the Casey Anthony case, in which a jury cleared the Orange County woman of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Marie.

Caylee Anthony was last seen on June 15, 2008. Her mother waited a month before telling her parents or police that the child was missing. Caylee Anthony’s body was found in December 2008, but her body was so decomposed medical examiners could not determine the cause of death.

Following Casey Anthony’s acquittal, state lawmakers filed more than a half-dozen bills that would impose fines or jail sentences for failing to report a missing child, currently not a crime in Florida or any other state.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos created the Select Committee on Protecting Florida’s Children to make recommendations on possible changes to the law.

At the committee’s first meeting Monday afternoon, Negron said the select committee’s first order of business will be to decide whether new laws are needed and cautioned against allowing emotions to prevail in crafting legislation.

“The committee is not here to second guess the jury,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

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LeMieux fares better than Haridopolos on conservative talk show

Monday, June 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Despite differences of opinion, U.S. Senate candidate George LeMieux managed to stay on the air with conservative talk-show host Ray Junior this evening, unlike one of LeMieux’ GOP primary opponents, Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Junior tossed Haridopolos off his show last week for refusing to answer whether he’s vote for or against U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan‘s spending plan.

After a long back-and-forth about commuter rail and SunRail, Junior asked LeMieux the same question.

“Should I give you a five minute answer?” quipped LeMieux, who served 16 months as U.S. senator after being appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to fill a vacancy created by Mel Martinez. “I would have voted for it.”

LeMieux gave a somewhat more rambling response to query about whether or not he supports the Fair Tax proposal that would replace federal income taxes with a national sales tax.

“I think there’s a lot of good things about it,” LeMieux began.

Junior credited LeMieux with knowing enough about Fair Tax to talk about it, and gave him a high grade at the end of the show, but not before putting him on the spot about Charlie Crist, who called LeMieux “the maestro.” The pair’s careers were closely linked until Crist left the Republican party for a losing independent bid for the U.S. Senate last year.

“When did you discover Charlie Crist was a dirtbag?” Junior, who has dubbed himself “America’s loose cannon,” asked.

LeMieux didn’t bite.

“I would not say Charlie Crist is a dirt bag. I would not say anything negative about him,” LeMieux insisted, despite repeated goading by Junior. “Charlie Crist is my friend. I have taken a pledge not to say anything negative about him. I don’t think it’s productive.”

Despite refusing to engage in Crist-bashing, Junior, who also bragged about throwing now-U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster off his show during the 2010 campaign season, gave LeMieux an overall thumbs-up.

“I thought I was going to have to kick him off. He did good. ‘Cause he answered the damn questions,” he said.

Senate prez booted off conservative talk show

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos is the big cheese in his chamber but apparently not so much on conservative talk show host Ray Junior‘s turf.

Junior cut short a telephone interview with Haridopolos, who is running for U.S. Senate in what could be a brutal GOP primary, because the Merritt Island Republican refused to answer whether he would vote for U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget if elected.

As he did with The Palm Beach Post’s reporter George Bennett earlier this week, Haridopolos sidestepped questions about how he would vote on Ryan’s controversial spending plan.

Among the non-answers Haridopolos gave: “I’m not in the U.S. Senate but I am in the Florida Senate.”

After repeatedly asking Haridopolos to answer the question, an exasperated Junior wound up the interview.

“Get him off my phone. I don’t want anything to do with this guy. Get rid of him,” he told an aide.

Dereg debacle nets lobbyist lineup

Saturday, May 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Just two days before the legislative session was supposed to end, the two professions at the center of a deregulation bill started girding up for what ultimately proved to be a sine die train wreck.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association, already represented by Nick Iarossi – a rising star on the Tallahassee lobbying scene – and his associate Chris Schoonover, added seven more prominent lobbyists to its team: Sarah Bascom (already doing PR for the group), Louis Betz, Michael Corcoran, Chris Floyd, Yolanda Jackson, Ron LaFace Jr. and Gerald Wester.

On the opposite side: interior designers, the profession the Florida House wanted to deregulate to the chagrin of thousands of interior designers and universities with specialty graduate programs. Tallahassee powerhouse Ron Book and his entourage began representing the Interior Designs Association Foundation back in February. But on May 5, the foundation also enlisted the aid of some of the Capitol’s most influential lobbyists: former RPOF lobbyist Rich Heffley, Brecht Heuchan, Guy Spearman, Sean Pittman and Missy Timmins.

In the end, those latest to the game won out.

In a stunning rebuke to GOP leadership, the Senate killed the dereg bill – keeping regulation of interior designers – late Friday afternoon on what was supposed to be the session’s last day, setting off the vendetta-laden denouement to what might have otherwise been a collegial hanky drop but devolved into public remonstrations from House Speaker Dean Cannon and a bleary-eyed Senate President Mike Haridopolos in the wee hours of the morning Saturday.

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