09/22/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — As mountains of garbage piles up from Hurricane Irma, counties across Florida say that companies they hired to remove debris won't show up because they can make a lot more money doing the work in South Florida.
Officials in six counties — Alachua, Hendry, Indian River, Manatee, Orange and Sarasota — all complained to the state Thursday about problems with companies that refuse to haul debris....
09/21/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Long before Hurricane Irma attacked Florida, the state faced a troubled fiscal future that the storm will only make worse.
"A looming problem," in the words of Amy Baker, the Legislature's top economist, whose pre-Irma numbers exposed "a structural imbalance."
Simply put, Florida won't collect enough tax revenue over the next three years to pay its mounting bills, especially for Medicaid, which now consumes nearly one-third of the state's budget. Tossing a splash of reality into the faces of lawmakers, Baker said Irma will make it "much worse."...
Now that Hurricane Irma has staggered through Florida like a drunken tourist, it is telling that the early lessons from the storm's impact around Tampa Bay are less about life-and-death and more about quality of life.
We learned the value of having generators on stand-by. Of knowing the rules of the road at intersections without signals. Of knowing your neighbors. And of pre-brewing some good coffee for the morning after the storm....
TALLAHASSEE — Irma is gone, and Florida is discovering a massive fiscal storm looming on the horizon.
The Legislature's chief economist says the hurricane's impact on the economy will make the state budget "much worse" next year, and possibly 2019 and 2020.
Amy Baker delivered that sobering news Friday to lawmakers as part of a revised long-range outlook used as the foundation for critical spending decisions on schools, social services, public safety and other areas that affect nearly 21 million Floridians in a state where a balanced budget is required by the Constitution....
09/11/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Hurricane Irma's ferocious storm surge and flash floods overwhelmed large sections of Florida with some of the most severe flooding the state has seen in more than 100 years.
After drenching the vulnerable chain of islands in the Keys, followed by parts of Miami, Naples, Orlando, Tampa and Lakeland, Irma finally left town Monday after inundating Jacksonville with flood waters as it spun toward Georgia....
09/11/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — The millions of Floridians who are part of the largest evacuation in U.S. history are already itching to go home as Florida mobilizes a post-Irma mass recovery effort of troops, trucks, boats and volunteers from Key West to Jacksonville.
Some evacuees fled hundreds of miles to escape the storm, and those crowds will soon come flooding back to the state.
They're likely to be met with traffic delays, a fuel shortage, debris cleanup and possibly blocked access to their communities — which is why state and local officials have a singular message: Don't try to go home yet....
09/09/17 State Roundup
While many of his constituents were focused on Hurricane Irma and mandatory evacuations for parts of Pinellas, state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican candidate for governor, was thinking about raising campaign money.
Latvala had scheduled a campaign kickoff fundraiser weeks ago for Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday evening and, while grumbling about Gov. Rick Scott and Pinellas emergency management officials being too alarmist, Latvala said he saw no reason to cancel his event....
TALLAHASSEE — The University of Florida on Thursday called off a scheduled football game on Saturday that would have put thousands of Gator fans on I-75 on the last day Floridians could use the highway as a hurricane evacuation route.
"As the hurricane's track has approached the state of Florida, it's become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do," UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement posted on the university's web site. "The focus of our state and region needs to be on evacuation and relief efforts. There is a tremendous amount of stress currently on the roads of this state, and the availability of gas, water and other supplies are at critical levels. Playing a college football game Saturday would only add to that stress."...
08/29/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — A growing controversy over illegal ticket quotas at the Florida Highway Patrol has cost a second high-ranking trooper his job — this time the agency's No. 2 official.
Lt. Col. Mike Thomas, the FHP's deputy director, took early retirement as of Sept. 1 and accepted responsibility for an internal email that encouraged troopers to write at least two tickets an hour, even though quotas are forbidden by law....
08/28/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he won't announce whether he'll run for governor until seven months from now, after the 2018 legislative session.
But the Pasco County Republican is laying the groundwork for a candidacy in a field where Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has a big head start and where Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has joined the fray....
House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he won't announce whether he'll run for governor until seven months from now, after the 2018 legislative session. But the Pasco County Republican is laying the groundwork for a candidacy in a field where Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has a big head start and where Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has joined the fray....
08/25/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — A Tampa lawyer is launching a campaign to oppose a 2018 statewide ballot measure that would restore the right to vote for more than a million convicted felons in Florida, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes.
Attorney Richard Harrison has formed a nonprofit group, Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy, and created a website to reach voters.
Harrison is taking on the American Civil Liberties Union and others, including the Clearwater-based group Floridians for a Fair Democracy, who are trying to change the state's requirement that convicted felons wait at least five years after leaving prison before they can seek restoration of their civil rights, including the right to vote....
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, sent letters Friday to a dozen local tourism councils that have cut ties with Visit Florida, saying all 12 are under the "false presumption" that doing so would shield them from legislative oversight.
The tourism boards, in Tampa Bay, South Florida and throughout the state, expressed concern with various provisions of a new state law, championed in Tallahassee, that imposes new accountability provisions on how tourism money is spent in Florida....
A Tampa lawyer is launching an effort to oppose a 2018 statewide ballot initiative that would restore the right to vote to more than a million convicted felons in Florida, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes. Attorney Richard Harrison has formed a non-profit group, Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy, and created a website to reach voters....
08/23/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political ladder.
Peters, a three-term Treasure Island Republican, had little use for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in the 2017 session, as they battled over state money for tourism and his attacks on local government home rule. She's also an ally of Corcoran's enemy, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Fed up with Corcoran, Peters won't be back, and will instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2018....