Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

19 July 2010 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Policy News Alert

Legislature: Legislative Leaders Express Doubts About the July Special Legislative Session on Offshore Drilling But Plan for Another Special Session Later in the Year

A special session of the Florida Legislature is scheduled to begin on July 20, 2010. Governor Charlie Crist called the special session for the limited purpose of putting a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling in Florida waters on the November general election ballot.

A series of communications from legislative leaders shows a lack of support for the governor’s initiative, at least within legislative leadership. On July 15, Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) recommended a special session in late August or early September to address the economic consequences of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In explaining why he considered the July special session premature, Sen. Atwater said, “Floridians will not be well served by hastily drafted legislation designed more for political consumption than meaningful economic relief.”

Sen. Atwater noted that the Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy was working on recommendations to “remove regulatory impediments to local response efforts, assess the need for waivers for professional assistance, improve the claims compensation process, and strengthen future litigation possibilities.” In a separate memorandum, Select Committee Chair Don Gaetz (R-Destin)   mentioned additional issues, including property tax relief, unemployment compensation tax relief, bridge loans for affected businesses, tolling of permits, and local option oil spill cleanup planning.

In a memorandum to House members on July 15, House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) said, “I agree fully with President Atwater that we are not ready to legislate with respect to the oil spill.” Therefore, he advised his members to “expect your stay to be very short” during the July 20 – 23 special session. In an interview with reporters, the speaker said he planned to vote against the governor’s proposed constitutional amendment if it came up for a vote. “I’m not into symbolic stuff, I’m into meaningful stuff,” he said.

In a response to Sen. Atwater’s letter, Rep. Cretul did not accept the Senate proposal for a joint committee, but he promised cooperation, saying “I am committing the full resources of the House to the full exploration of any and all reasonable legislation likely to aid Florida’s survival of and recovery from the oil spill.” He added that he was ready to join in a call for a special session “as early as September, as soon as we can identify those subjects upon which we can act … .”

Gov. Crist, who left the Republican Party in April to run for the U.S. Senate without party affiliation, attacked the Republican leaders of the Legislature, saying, “They put the special interests of their party ideology ahead of what’s right for the people. They’ve completely lost their way, and the people know it. And if they go down this path, they’ll demonstrate it in regrettable glory.”

Utility Regulation: Gov. Crist Appoints Rep. Ronald Brisé and Jacksonville Council Member Arthur Graham to the Public Service Commission

On July 15, 2010, Gov. Crist appointed two African-Americans to fill vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). The governor had been subject to legislative criticism for his previous appointments, which had left the five-member commission with no minority members.

The new commissioners replace David Klement and Steve Stevens, who were appointed to the PSC in October 2009 but were removed from the commission after the Senate rejected their appointments in April 2010.

One of the new commissioners, Rep. Ronald Brisé, is a Haitian-born Democrat who has represented a North Miami district since 2006. The other new commissioner is Jacksonville’s Arthur Graham, a Republican member of the Jacksonville City Council. He resigned from the city council to run in the Republican primary for the state senate seat that was ultimately won by Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) and was later appointed to fill another vacancy on the city council.

Rep. Brisé has experience as a telecommunications executive. Mr. Graham has worked as an environmental consultant.

Politics: U.S. District Court Rejects Rick Scott’s Challenge to the Florida Campaign Finance Law

In a ruling from the bench on July 14, 2010, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott’s attack on a portion of Florida’s campaign finance law. The Republican candidate, who has already spent at least $21 million on his largely self-funded campaign, challenged a provision that provides a candidate’s opponents with a dollar-for-dollar match of the candidate’s spending in excess of a $24.9 million cap. Mr. Scott did not challenge another portion of the campaign finance law that provides candidates who accept public funding with matching funds of up to $250 for each contribution.

Mr. Scott argued that the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” impairs his First Amendment rights. Judge Hinkle balanced the First Amendment issue against the purpose of the Florida public finance system, which he described as preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. He distinguished the Florida situation from an Arizona campaign finance law that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and a Connecticut law that was overturned at the circuit court level on the basis that those laws were not part of a larger public finance scheme.

Mr. Scott’s attorney said that the candidate planned to press his case quickly with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Scott has a funding advantage over his Republican primary opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum. According to information filed by Mr. McCollum’s campaign, the attorney general has raised a total of $4.7 million and had only $800,000 in the bank as of July 10.

In the race for the U.S. Senate, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami) reported raising $4.5 million during the quarter ending on June 30. Mr. Rubio’s second quarter fundraising represented the greatest amount raised in one quarter by any federal candidate in the current election cycle. The previous record was $4.3 million, raised by Gov. Crist in 2009 in his first quarter of fundraising as a Republican. More recently, Gov. Crist raised $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2010 and $1.8 million in the second quarter. He announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and running without party affiliation on April 29, 2010.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District), one of the Democratic candidates for the open Senate seat, reported raising $1 million in the second quarter of 2010. His primary opponent, businessman Jeff Greene, reported second quarter expenditures of $5.8 million and contributions of $3,036.

Economy: Florida’s Unemployment Rate Falls for Third Consecutive Month

On July 16, 2010, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation reported that the state’s unemployment rate for June 2010 was 11.4 percent. The June 2010 rate, which was the third consecutive monthly drop in the unemployment rate, was 0.3 percentage point lower than the May 2010 rate of 11.7 percent. The June 2010 rate was 0.8 percentage point higher than the June 2009 rate of 10.6 percent.

The gap between the Florida unemployment rate and the national unemployment rate continues to shrink. Florida’s June 2010 unemployment rate was 1.9 percentage points higher than the national rate of 9.5 percent.

The counties with the highest unemployment rates in June 2010 were Hendry County (16.1 percent), Flagler County (15.4 percent), St. Lucie County (14.3 percent), Hernando County (14.2 percent), Indian River County (14.2 percent), and Marion County (13.9 percent). The counties with the lowest unemployment rates were Liberty County (6.8 percent), Monroe County (7.4 percent), Walton County (7.4 percent), Okaloosa County (7.6 percent), Lafayette County (7.9 percent), and Franklin County (8.0 percent).

According to the Agency for Workforce Innovation, several of the counties with the lowest unemployment rates had seasonal tourism-related increases in employment and increases in employment related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Public Policy News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:

G. Donovan Brown
Tallahassee, Florida

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida

Jonathan P. Kilman
Orlando, Florida

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida

Leonard E. Schulte
Tallahassee, Florida

Marnie George of The George Group assists Foley on a variety of government and public policy matters as a consultant.