House Rules Chiefs Points To Silence In Session Meltdown

April 30, 2015

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s decision to send his members home three days before the scheduled end of the 2015 legislative session was borne of frustration over the Senate’s response to his preliminary effort to settle a health-care budget standoff, according to one of the speaker’s top lieutenants.

Crisafulli was further angered by the Senate’s handling of seemingly non-controversial bills in the days leading up to the House calling it quits early Tuesday afternoon, House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

Crisafulli sent a preliminary budget offer to the Senate last Thursday that included $200 million from the general-revenue fund to address the federally-backed Low Income Pool, or LIP, program, set to expire on June 30. The program, a combination of local and federal dollars, steers money to hospitals and health care providers that serve large numbers of uninsured and poor patients.

The House’s offer didn’t address a Senate proposal to use Medicaid expansion money — part of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare — to provide private insurance to low-income Floridians. Crisafulli and other House GOP leaders, including the chamber’s budget chief and next speaker, Richard Corcoran, vigorously oppose a Medicaid-funded expansion.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, responded to Crisafulli’s initial submission by reiterating the Senate’s position that the LIP and Medicaid expansion issues be linked together.

“The nail started to go into the coffin when the House moved what I would consider dramatically toward the Senate position in dollars for a Low Income Pool-type spending and the response from the Senate was a letter that said basically, ‘No. Medicaid expansion or nothing.’ And then radio silence,” Workman, R-Melbourne, said.

At that time, Workman said he and Crisafulli started discussing, “What if? What policies are still out there?” but “at that point made no decision by any stretch of the imagination” to prematurely end the session.

This week, however, the tide turned when the Senate started amending bills and sending them back to the House, Workman said, in contrast to previous years when policy-related issues would be dealt with in “conforming” bills associated with the budget.

“Over the course of the next few days, every single bill became hijacked and became a policy debate in lieu of a conforming bill debate. It got very difficult to deal with the policy of the bill. We would send over a bill to the Senate with one issue and it would come back with five, five non-germane issues. That was growing more and more, and the phone calls from senators saying we’re going to add all of these goodies onto the bills and we better accept them or it’s dead was growing louder and louder,” Workman said.

Crisafulli, who had difficulty reaching Gardiner for several days, and Workman had coffee and discussed “what ifs” Tuesday morning, Workman said.

“We looked at the policy we’ve completed and what’s left ahead of us and realized we were at a point where session would normally be over as far as policy and we’d strictly be dealing with budget,” he said.

Crisafulli again tried to call Gardiner about 11 a.m. Tuesday, but Gardiner told reporters later that day he was at the podium during a floor session and did not have his cell phone with him when Crisafulli called.

“When Steve reached out to the Senate president again and still got radio silence, he made the decision on his own, somewhere within that hour before he did it, to call it and say we’ve met our policy obligations to the state. We’re not getting to the budget issue. That is obvious. Let’s just get these guys home to their families and come back in special session and deal with the budget and get rid of all of these policy turf wars that are typically done in the conforming bills, not in policy discussions,” Workman said.

Senate budget chief Tom Lee, a former Senate president, said he called Crisafulli Monday night and left a voice message after meeting with Gardiner and Sen. Don Gaetz, another former Senate president. The three presidents had discussed their concerns about “substantive legislation that was getting linked to the disagreement we had over the budget,” Lee told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“He was at dinner. He texted me back, said he would call me in the morning. I texted him in the morning and said, ‘I’m waiting for your phone call,’ ” Lee, R-Brandon, said.

Gardiner spoke with Crisafulli by phone Tuesday morning “to tell the speaker (Gardiner) wanted to send us down to talk to whoever (Crisafulli) had available to decouple these work-plan issues from the budget,” Lee said.

“The next phone call he got back was on his cell phone that afternoon, announcing they were adjourning,” Lee said.

On Wednesday, Gardiner sent a letter to Crisafulli saying that the House had violated the state Constitution by leaving the session prematurely, and the Senate threatened to sue over the issue. Gardiner said the Senate would remain in session until 11:59 p.m. Friday. Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, responded by saying that the House was prepared to discuss budget allocations and that he is willing to “work together” during a special session.

But how Republican leaders and their members can overcome the intensifying acrimony remains to be seen.

Lawmakers appear “unable to rise above some of the power and influence we have as individual members to work together and get things done,” Lee said.

“That is a process defect that somebody needs to fix. I don’t know how to do it. But the culture is toxic now. And I think it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to work collaboratively together, and that troubles me greatly,” he said.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Alimony Bill Dies Amid Acrimony

April 30, 2015

An alimony overhaul that brought together people once bitterly divided on the issue has created an even deeper rift between two powerful Republican lawmakers who blame each other for a failure to get the bill passed this year.

After a year of wheeling-and-dealing by lawyers, lawmakers and others, the alimony proposal died when the Senate refused to take up the House’s version of the bill, which would have established a formula for alimony amounts based on the length of marriages and the amounts of money spouses earn.

The acrimony over the measure involved a provision, pushed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, that would have established a “50-50″ presumption regarding child sharing between divorcing spouses.

The House proposal (HB 943) didn’t go as far as Lee wanted, and the Senate did not consider the measure after the House adjourned and went home Tuesday.

Lee said language about child sharing in the House bill was “poorly drafted” and “designed to create confusion in the courts.”

But House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, who sponsored an alimony overhaul vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago and who worked on a revamp for more than eight months with The Florida Bar and representatives of an organization seeking to change the state’s alimony laws, accused Lee of being a “bully” and “hijacking” the bill for his own reasons.

The Family Law Section of The Bar supported the alimony overhaul but strongly opposed Lee’s child-sharing element, one of the reasons Scott gave for his veto of the 2013 version.

Workman said Scott told him this year “don’t bring back retroactivity and don’t bring back drama” if he wanted the governor’s approval. Workman also said Lee promised in March that he would not allow the child-sharing portion to kill the bill.

But Lee refused to back down from the requirement despite repeated attempts to amend it, Workman complained.

“We’ve been trying to give him language but he won’t budge. The only person refusing to negotiate and come off a rigid position is Tom Lee. And that individual is going to kill a bill out of spite because he didn’t get his way. Literally picking up his toys and stomping out of the sandbox and running back with tears and snot in his nose because he didn’t want to share his toys in the sandbox,” Workman, R-Melbourne, said.

Workman accused Lee of having a personal grudge about the issue because of Lee’s own child custody dispute.

“What he cares about is getting back at the judge that didn’t give him 50-50 time share 15 years ago or whenever he got divorced,” he said.

But Lee, who is divorced and remarried, said his views on the issue had nothing to do with his own situation.

“It’s reprehensible that he would go there. I actually have 50-50 custody of my children. So, nice try. But I do policy here. Am I informed by experiences I have in a wide array of things? Absolutely. But I’m never going to make policy on the basis of my own personal experiences. This has nothing to do with my own personal custodial arrangement,” Lee, R-Brandon, said.

Lee said the bill was doomed because the House left before he could work out his objections to the time-sharing guidelines. The House adjourned three days before Friday’s scheduled end of the legislative session.

“I couldn’t have tried harder to ameliorate his concerns. The truth is he made a fatal flaw early in the process when he committed something he couldn’t commit to and that was there would be no amendments on this bill that weren’t approved by the Family Section of the Florida Bar. He killed his own bill because he made commitments to an organization that didn’t need a bill,” Lee said.

Workman denied that he made that promise and accused the Lee of using his influential position as budget chief as “extortion” to get child sharing into the Senate proposal sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Lee also did not include it in a separate bill dealing with family law that the House refused to pass.

“This is his ‘number one’ issue that he’s never run as a stand-alone bill. Not one time. He would not put it onto his own family law bill. He would only foist it upon Sen. Stargel’s bill and try to force his will through the weight of the power of his office. If it was so awesome for the families of Florida, if it was so amazing, why have you never run it as a stand-alone bill?” Workman said.

Workman, who is term-limited out of the House next year and is running for the Senate in 2018, made a mistake by trying to keep the bill from being amended, Lee said.

“Don’t come back now and cry me a river over a problem that he created for himself early on in the process. Hopefully there’s a lot of learning that comes out of this,” he said.

Lee said he intends to file the bill again next year if Stargel is not involved.

“If she isn’t, it will be Senate Bill 2. I will file it and if they don’t want to move it next year then we’ll move it in 2017 when he’s no longer a member of the Florida Legislature,” Lee said of Workman.

by  Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Phone, Internet Outage In Walnut Hill, Bratt, Molino Areas

April 29, 2015


There is a reported phone and/or high speed internet outage for Frontier customers in the Walnut Hill, Bratt, Davisville, Dogwood Park and Molino areas (327 & 587 exchanges). The outage is apparently due to a fiber cut or problem. There is no word on an estimated restoration time.

New Langley Bell 4-H Center Opens Saturday (With Photo Gallery)

April 29, 2015

Escambia County’s new 4-H Center will be officially dedicated Saturday, and a Master Gardener Spring Festival is also planned.

Festivities begin at 8 a.m.  with a a 9 a.m. dedication of the new Langley Bell 4-H Center at 3730 Stefani Road in Cantonment.

“Escambia County 4-H has a bright future ahead with new facilities, new 4-H staff and funding to carry it to preeminence nationwide.  Our goal and mission is to grow this program throughout the county and create positive 4-H youth development opportunities,” said Pamela Allen, UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County director.  “There is a definite excitement among the youth, volunteers, staff and community supporters.  Our prospects to make a difference in the lives of youth are endless.”

Residents, Escambia County commissioners, 4-H youth, and Escambia County Extension staff will enjoy tours of the new building, highlighting areas for hands-on learning for all Escambia County children, ages 8 to 18.

Back in 1943 Minnie and Langley Bell donated 400 acres on Nine Mile Road for the county’s original 4-H Center. The property was given to Escambia County 4-H in a trust, with the Escambia County Commission serving as trustees. When the property was sold to Navy Federal Credit Union in 2012 for expansion, a new 4-H Center was planned on the Escambia County Extension Service property on Stefani Road.

For more photos, click here.

Funds from the sale were also used to purchase 108 acres in Molino where a new 4-H Animal Science and Outdoor Center is being developed.

“Escambia County 4-H traditions have a strong foundation with the many successes of the past and will no doubt be carried forward with our new Langley Bell 4-H Center and the new 4-H property in Molino.  A new generation of 4-Hers will now be served in a way that is unparalleled in facilities, financial support and community involvement,” said Brian Bell, president of the Escambia County 4-H Foundation and also the grandson of the original donors of the property, Minnie and Langley Bell. “My grandparents, Uncle Bill (Langley Bell, Jr.), and my father would be ecstatic to see how 4-H has used that initial donation of land to further its mission and serve so many more youth in this community.”

A Master Gardener Spring Festival will also take place Saturday at the Extension Service in Cantonment. The event will include a variety of gardening advice, a plant sale, plant clinic, daylily bulb sale, demonstration garden tours, tractor display and refreshments.

Pictured: The new Langley Bell 4-H Center on Stefani Road will open Saturday. Photos for, click to enlarge.

Cooler Temps Prevail

April 29, 2015

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

Partly cloudy, with a high near 76. Northwest wind around 10 mph.

Partly cloudy, with a low around 54. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Sunny, with a high near 79. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph.

Thursday Night
Clear, with a low around 51. Northwest wind around 5 mph.

Sunny, with a high near 77. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Friday Night
Clear, with a low around 48. North wind around 5 mph.

Sunny, with a high near 77. North wind around 5 mph becoming calm.

Saturday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 51. Calm wind.

Sunny, with a high near 83. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 57.

Mostly sunny, with a high near 84.

Monday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around 61.

Mostly sunny, with a high near 84.

Ransom Middle Chess Club Ranks In National Tournament

April 29, 2015

The Ransom Middle School Chess Team placed in the recent 2015 National Junior High (K-9) Chess Championship hosted by the United States Chess Federation (USCF) in Louisville, KY.

In the K-8 under 750 category, the Ransom placed 9th among 25 teams, and in the K-8 under 1000 category, Ransom placed 14th.

Ransom’s Tristan Taylor was 5th in the national tournament in the K-8 under 750 category, while Mile Gibson was 16th in the K-8 under 750 category.

The Ransom Middle School students who participated are among the nation’s highest ranked middle school chess players. Participating were:

  • Ryan Carty
  • Dillon Conti
  • Kaleb Hoskins
  • Tristan Taylor
  • Miles Gibson
  • Justin King
  • Tralon Gillis
  • Alex Moorhead
  • Devin Rising
  • Lacie Scholz
  • Connor Thompson

Two former students – Andrew Hoskins and Travis King – also took part.

Film Incentives, Uber Bill, Water Policy Among Session Casualties

April 29, 2015

New water policies, a revival of a tax-incentive program to attract film and television production to Florida and rules for app-based transportation services like Uber and Lyft were among the bills that likely died Tuesday when the House called an early end to the regular legislative session.

Also buried Tuesday was a proposed $690 million House tax-cut package that included reducing taxes on cable-television and cell-phone bills and providing the annual back-to-school sales-tax holiday. While tax cuts could be considered during a special session on the budget, the issue — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott — remains murky.

“I realize we just killed a tax bill that gave $690 million back to Florida’s families and businesses,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island said as he addressed the media Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, we did what we felt was right from the standpoint of just walking away and looking to go balance a budget with our Senate partners later on in the next couple months.”

Some lawmakers said they were unsure what the House’s move Tuesday means for their bills.

“We’re in unchartered waters,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican whose measure (HB 1205) on a controversial drilling process known as “fracking” would require Senate approval without any changes.

The Senate postponed a discussion on the bill Tuesday. While the House went home Tuesday, the Senate will meet again Wednesday.

The Senate intends to vote Wednesday on a water-policy bill (SB 918), which includes work that lawmakers have pursued for two years to improve the state’s natural springs. However, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, acknowledged the measure isn’t going anywhere.

“Tomorrow we’re going to send that bill to the House. Sadly that water bill is not going to make it,” Gardiner said.

Sen. Alan Hays, one of the architects of the water policy effort, said he was disappointed in the action by the House.

“It left us high and dry, unfortunately,” Hays said.

But not everyone is sad that the business-backed water changes have died.

“It is no great loss if the current versions are not passed,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, said in an email after the House adjourned Tuesday. “Everything good the bills do can be done under current law.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 187 of the 1,751 bills filed for the 2015 session in the House and Senate had been sent to governor.

Even before the decision by the House to adjourn three days early, many bills were long shots for passage. As an example, a controversial proposal that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on college campuses had stalled in a Senate committee.

And not everyone is bemoaning the death of hundreds of other bills.

The conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which has portrayed the film and TV incentives as a giveaway of “taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Hollywood executives,” applauded Crisafulli’s session-ending decision.

“The House rejected Medicaid expansion, put an end to crony handouts to the film and sports industries, increased pension reform flexibility and expanded access to school choice,” the advocacy group said in a news release.

Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican who carried the House bill (HB 1046) to revamp the state’s approach to attracting film and television production, said “it’s dead.” But Miller then added he will continue to push for the measure.

“If I have a shot in the budget talks I’ll go right to it,” Miller said. “It’s an important industry in Florida, and I’ll do what I can within reason during budget talks; when and if they ever get started.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said his efforts to pass a bill dealing with regulation of app-based rideshare companies could also be included in the topics for a special session.

“I don’t know that we’ve determined what will be included or not included in that call of a special session,” Gaetz said.

But the House decision to adjourn early drew cheers from the Florida Limousine Association, which has opposed Gaetz’s bill and wants businesses such as Uber and Lyft to follow the same rules as limousine companies.

“Florida legislators properly have placed consumer protection above any other priority in rejecting a bad bill that could have become a dangerous law,” said Rick Versace, president of the Florida Limousine Association.

Meanwhile, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, expressed disappointment that the House failed to address insurance measures for the rideshare companies.

“Senate Bill 1298 would have helped to clarify the questions about insurance coverage and provide protections for rideshare drivers, passengers and the public from the time the rideshare app is turned on until the app is turned off,” said PCI spokesman Logan McFaddin in a release.

A big issue that remains alive is a bill aimed at reforming the state’s utility regulating body, the Public Service Commission.

The bill in part would limit future Public Service Commission members to three consecutive four-year terms and require commissioners to undergo annual ethics training. The bill also would require utilities to notify customers of the best available rates and prevent electric utilities from charging higher rates through extensions of billing cycles.

On Tuesday, the House refused to accept changes the Senate made last week to the bill (HB 7109), which included requiring the commission to hold meetings every two years in the service territories of electric utilities.

Senate sponsor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the House vote — the final House floor action before Crisafulli ended the session — puts him in a tough position.

Latvala can advise the Senate to remain firm against the House or he can seek to remove the changes the Senate made to the bill. Passing the bill could lead to $600 million in savings for Duke Energy Florida customers.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Florida Prison Reform Scuttled As Lawmakers Head Home

April 29, 2015

A push to reform the state’s embattled prisons agency was one of the casualties of the House’s early termination of the legislative session Tuesday, but Senate leaders aren’t dropping the issue.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said his chamber won’t take up a House prisons measure because it lacks an oversight commission included in a Senate plan (SB 7020). But Gardiner said he will dispatch his own committee to investigate problems in the corrections system that prompted lawmakers to propose the overhaul.

“We will put our corrections committee on the road within a couple of weeks and they will go and do their own investigations. I can subpoena people. We’re not done with that,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters late Tuesday afternoon. “It’s unfortunate that the House did what they did. Usually these last three days is when you’re negotiating. They just walked away.”

Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, had been in talks with House leaders about the prison reforms as late as Tuesday morning. The House measure, passed last week, lacked the Senate’s proposed independent, governor-appointed commission that would have taken over investigations of prison wrongdoing now handled by the Department of Corrections’ inspector general.

The House had floated a compromise that would have created a joint select committee to oversee the prisons. But House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s decision to shut down his chamber three days before the scheduled end of the session put an end to prison-reform talks.

“We’re not taking up the House bill. There’s no oversight to it. The agreement that we had for oversight did not come through. So at this point that bill is dead,” said Evers, whose district includes three prisons and who made several surprise visits to institutions throughout the state.

Lawmakers began exploring the prison overhaul in response to widespread reports about problems and abuse in the corrections system. Those reports have included allegations about cover-ups involving inmate deaths, complaints from inspectors who say they faced retaliation for exposing cover-ups and complaints from guards and others about a culture of intimidation against whistleblowers.

Earlier this month, an FBI investigation resulted in the arrest of two prison guards and one former prison worker who were allegedly members of the Ku Klux Klan. They were accused of plotting to kill an ex-inmate after he was released from a rural North Florida institution.

Evers said he believed lawmakers could have reached consensus on the measure if the House had remained in session longer.

“It’s a disappointment to me for the people of the state of Florida. I felt reasonably sure we would have ironed out the differences. Absolutely,” Evers said.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Cobb Awarded Tommy Weaver Memorial Scholarship

April 29, 2015

Northview High School Senior Kendal Cobb has been awarded the Tommy Weaver Memorial Scholarship.

Applicants were required to fill out a brief application and write an essay explaining why the scholarship was important to them and how it would make it possible for them to continue their education.

Cobb was awarded the scholarship Tuesday night during the annual Northview DCT banquet. She plants to attend Pensacola State College and become a nurse.

The scholarship fund was established in memory of  Tommy Weaver, DCT/Ag instructor and assistant coach who passed away in March 2012.

Pictured: Tommy Weaver Memorial Scholarship winner Kendal Cobb with Northview DCT instructor Brandy White. Submitted photo for, click to enlarge.

Owe Fines To The Library? Now You Can Pay Online

April 29, 2015

West Florida Library Public Library System cardholders can now pay fines and fees online with a Mastercard or Visa. Both credit cards and debit cards are accepted.

In order to make a payment, patrons should visit the West Florida Library website at and log into their account. The service is available 24 hours per day.  Step by step instructions on making a secure payment are available on the library’s website and available at all library locations.

« Previous PageNext Page »