Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Taking Odds On A Special Session

March 31, 2018

Capitol insiders heaved a collective groan Thursday after legislative leaders revealed they’re in the midst of behind-the-scenes talks that could lead to a special session before mid-summer.

Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva, Republicans who will take over as the leaders of their chambers later this year, have resuscitated persistently elusive gambling issues, as they explore a deal with the Seminole Tribe.

In the waning days of the 2018 session, Galvano and Oliva scrambled to reach consensus on byzantine gambling legislation that addressed a panoply of issues, including blackjack, roulette, craps and slot machines.

http://www.northescambia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/floridaweeklly.jpgBut a school-safety measure prompted by the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland eclipsed the gambling proposal, along with much other business, as the regular session drew to a close in early March.

The main reason for the revived interest in gambling issues, according to the GOP leaders, is a $400 million ante; that’s about how much the Seminoles currently pay the state for the “exclusive” right to run banked table games, such as blackjack, at most of the tribe’s casinos and to operate slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

After a protracted legal battle, a federal judge sided with the tribe in a clash over whether lucrative “designated player games,” operated by many of the state’s pari-mutuel facilities, breached the exclusivity guarantee granted to the Seminoles.

The state and the tribe reached a temporary settlement, in which the Seminoles agreed to keep making the payments until Saturday. The weekend deadline sparked the push for the latest round of negotiations, Galvano and House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday.

The designated player games are just part of the gambling puzzle. The tribe and the gambling industry in general are awaiting the outcome of litigation over controversial electronic games found in bars, strip malls and restaurants. Critics and a Tallahassee judge contend the “pre-reveal” games are unregulated slot machines.

The tribe also is paying close attention to so-called “internet cafes,” which the Seminoles’ lawyer, Barry Richard, claims are hosting illegal slot machines.

The Seminoles won’t reduce or stop payments to the state unless the disputed games have caused a “material economic impact” or “they feel they’re paying more money for the exclusivity than they’re getting value for,” Richard said.

“They (the Seminoles) have an increasing number of businesses that are coming in and that are blatantly violating their exclusivity,” he said in an interview. “They’re easy things to fix. … The Legislature hasn’t fixed those things. I don’t think it’s the tribe’s purpose to punish the state of Florida, but I think they want to get a fair value for their money.”

Lawmakers like Galvano, who’s been a chief legislative gambling negotiator for years, are eager for the cash-related certainty a new compact with the Seminoles would provide.

“The goal would be to have stability, and to know what to expect in terms of revenue share from the tribe and not be left in this ambiguous state where the tribe can stop paying, legally or not, and point to unresolved issues as the basis for their cessation,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, told The News Service of Florida.

But not all legislators are convinced of the urgency a special session implies.

According to Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat who will take over as the Senate minority leader after the November elections, Galvano and other lawmakers had plenty of notice that the Seminoles’ payments could come to a halt.

“One full year after talks began on an agreement with the Seminoles, the subject was barely discussed until the last days of session when the budget conference was convened, too late for any real chance to pass a bill,” Gibson said in a statement Friday.

Gibson’s message also included a few words that could create even more dread for those whose anticipated time away from the Capitol could turn gloomy, should a special session come to fruition.

If they’re coming back to deal with gambling, Gibson urged lawmakers to add “a more thorough vetting of the measly” increase on school spending to the special session. While public schools will get more money next year, critics say the amount that can go to covering basic school operations would amount to 47 cents a student.

Whether an extra month or two will help gambling negotiators resolve what’s been a perpetually perplexing matter involving not only the tribe but the state’s numerous pari-mutuel operators and anti-gambling interests, such as Disney, remains a mystery.

“The tribe is always willing to talk to the Legislature,” Richard said, noting that legislative leaders hadn’t presented a proposal to the Seminoles as of Thursday evening. “The tribe is always open to discussion.”


For the second time, a federal judge this week smacked down Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, who make up the state Board of Executive Clemency, for their willy-nilly process of restoring voting rights.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Tuesday permanently blocked the state from moving forward with what he called a “fatally flawed” process of restoring the right to vote to convicted felons. Walker gave the state until April 26 to come up with a new system after striking down the current process as unconstitutional.

The Tuesday order came after Walker issued a ruling Feb. 1 that sided with the voting-rights group Fair Elections Legal Network. In that ruling, Walker found the state’s voting-restoration process is arbitrary and violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Also in the Feb. 1 ruling, Walker asked both sides to propose a new method to restore voting rights to ex-felons, who now must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have their rights restored in a process Walker said gives “unfettered discretion” to the board.

In a brief filed last month, attorneys for the state argued that Florida could permanently do away with the restoration of civil rights, sparking a rebuke from Walker in Tuesday’s order.

“This court is not the Vote-Restoration Czar. It does not pick and choose who may receive the right to vote and who may not,” Walker began Tuesday’s 22-page order.

Relying on a footnoted quote from legendary screen character Rocky Balboa, Walker mocked the defendants, writing that they claimed “the current scheme is all sunshine and rainbows.”

Walker accused the state of choosing to “essentially repackage the current scheme” that would allow Scott and the clemency board “to do, as the governor described, ‘whatever we want’ in denying voting rights to hundreds of thousands of their constituents.”

“This will not do,” the federal judge scolded.

Under the current system, felons must wait five years before applying to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored. Felons who have been convicted of certain violent crimes or sexual offenses must wait at least seven years before seeking a hearing to have their rights restored.

Once an application is made, the process can take years — and big bucks — to complete, and involves extensive documentation, such as certified copies of charges, judgments and other court documents.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents.

Scott hasn’t said whether he intends to appeal Walker’s decision, but a spokesman said Florida elected officials, not judges, have the power to make decisions about clemency.

“This is outlined in Florida’s Constitution and has been in place for more than a century and under multiple gubernatorial administrations,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement. “The governor continues to stand with victims of crime. He believes that people who have been convicted of felony offenses including crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: A federal judge permanently blocked Florida’s “fatally flawed” process of restoring voting rights to convicted felons, giving the state until April 26 to come up with a new method.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. … Florida’s current scheme inverts that important democratic mechanism. It cannot do so anymore.” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, in an order permanently blocking the state’s vote-restoration process.

by  Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Escambia Man Gets 20 Years For Shooting His Landlord

March 31, 2018

An Escambia County man is headed to prison for shooting his landlord.

John Scott Borchert, age 63 of Pensacola, pleaded guilty to attempted first degree premeditated murder with a firearm, aggravated assault by threat with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm when subject to a domestic violence  injunction.

Circuit Judge Jan Shackelford immediately sentenced Borchert to 20 years in state prison.

Prosecutors said Borchert got into an argument with his landlord. The victim asked Borchert to vacate the premises due to code violations. Borchert pulled out a firearm and shot the victim in the abdomen before threatening a witness with the gun.

After a brief struggle, Borchert was  detained by the witness until law enforcement arrived. The firearm was recovered with Borchert’s DNA.

Feds Sue Operator Of Local Arby’s For Teen Sexual Harassment

March 31, 2018

Beavers’ Inc. violated federal law when it subjected several teenage female employees at an Atmore  Arby’s restaurant to sexual harassment at its location, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Friday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in May 2016, Arby’s hired a team leader trainee with a known history of sexual harassment who repeatedly pressured young female employees to have sex with him, and regularly used sexually graphic language to describe sexual acts he sought to perform on female employees and customers. The EEOC also alleges that the harasser deliberately touched one female employee in an unwelcome and sexual manner, and attempted to follow female employees home.

The EEOC further contends that these employees and others complained about the harassment up the chain of command to supervisors and managers, but Arby’s took no action for several months until the harasser physically injured one of the victims.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama it completed an investigation and first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the victims, including compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

“Federal anti-discrimination laws exist to protect workers from this kind of abuse,” said EEOC Birmingham District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas. “The EEOC will continue to aggressively pursue remedies for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly young, vulnerable workers. This kind of misconduct adversely affects not only the harassment victims themselves, but also the entire workforce, when timely and effective corrective action is not taken.”

Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said, “Employers have an obligation to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment, and that obligation is not met solely by having a written policy. Employers must take complaints of sexual harassment seriously and act promptly to stop harassment of their workers.”

Beavers’ is a Florida corporation which owns and operates 51 Arby’s locations in the Florida panhandle, south Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to the EEOC. The EEOC’s Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.

Sunny Easter Weekend

March 31, 2018

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

Saturday Night: Clear, with a low around 46. Calm wind.

Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 79. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 54. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 81. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Monday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 63. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm after midnight.

Tuesday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 80. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Tuesday Night: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 64. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Wednesday: Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 72. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Wednesday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 48.

Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 73.

Thursday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 52.

Friday: A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 76.

NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Camp Fire Kids Attend Easter Egg Hunt At Century Health And Rehab

March 31, 2018

The children at the Camp Fire Century Youth Learning Center recently attended an annual Easter Egg Hunt with the staff and residents at the Century Health and Rehabilitation Center.

For more photos, click here.

Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Escambia County Jail Inmate Dies

March 31, 2018

An Escambia County jail inmate died at a local hospital Friday.

King Solomon Fountain, 35 was going through the booking process at the jail but had not yet been placed in a cell when he suffered an undisclosed medical emergency. 911 was called, and Fountain was transported by ambulance to an area hospital.

According to Escambia County Jail records, Fountain age 35, was booked into the jail at 1:51 a.m. on a third degree felony cocaine possession charge. Further details have not yet been released.

Escambia County Wants Governor’s Office To Enforce Budget Agreement Settlement With Sheriff

March 30, 2018

Escambia County is asking the governor’s office to enforce a signed mediation agreement with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, according to a document filed Thursday.

The county and the Sheriff’s Office have been battling it out over funding for most of the last year, with the parties signing a mediation agreement on March 9. After the mediation agreement was announced, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan announced a few days later that the agreement appear unsuccessful, citing issue over workers compensation, unemployment compensation, retirement and health care issues.

The county disagrees, based upon mediation wording that stipulates increased funding was “inclusive of all benefits and all raises for the implementation of a pay plan”.

The motion to enforce settlement filed by the county Thursday states the “Sheriff has had a change of heart as to the settlement reached. Sheriff may argue that his representatives at the mediation conference were under the impression or believed that the terms of the settlement could be renegotiated as part of the execution of an interlocal agreement. However, mistaken assumptions or misconceptions about what terms mean are unilateral mistakes which will not relieve the Sheriff of his obligations under the agreed upon settlement. It is black letter law that mutual assent or a meeting of the minds is determined. by the external signs of mutual assent and not the motives of a party in reaching an agreement.”

But the Sheriff’s office disagrees with the county, calling he motion “disingenuous” at best in a released statement:

We are aware of the BOCC’s most recent attempt to stop our appeal from going to the Governor, through a motion to enforce settlement to the Administration Commission. It is disingenuous at best. First, the County’s own General Counsel, Allison Rogers, sent over the first draft of an Interlocal Agreement that was supposed to outline the details of the mediation settlement showing that she knew there needed to be more work done as she modified portions of the original Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA). Second, the county defeats their own argument by their actions of another one of their attorneys, Charles Peppler, who attempted to have the BOCC enter into a one year settlement with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) for one million dollars through the Governor’s Office just last week. This also shows they knew the MSA was not binding in its current form. The strongest evidence that this motion is futile is the mediation settlement itself. Paragraph 5 of the Settlement Agreement provides: ‘The parties shall cooperate in the dismissal of the appeal with the Administrative Commission after all parties approve the settlement and execute a mutually agreeable Interlocal Agreement.’ …It’s quite obvious that there has never been a mutually agreeable Interlocal Agreement and as such, the Sheriff’s appeal will move forward. The ECSO has been in contact with the appropriate offices in Tallahassee and will respond if they request.”

From a previous (March 15) NorthEscambia.com story regarding the original mediation settlement:

Under the four-year agreement, Morgan will receive an extra $1 million for the current fiscal year that ends September 30. The commission will increase Morgan’s budget by an additional $2.6 million in the next two fiscal years, and $2.9 million in the final year. The funds will be for benefits and raises for the implementation of a pay plan.

Beginning April 1, 2018, the BOCC will reduce budgets for discretionary outside agencies by 50 percent, except for Pathways for Change and Community Health Northwest Florida (formerly Escambia Community Clinics). In fiscal years 2019-2021, funding for outside agencies in the general fund will not exceed $734,374. These funds will be used for the implementation of the sheriff’s pay plan.

Discretionary funds for each commissioner, previously at $50,000 each, will be cut by half to $125,000 total ($25,000 each) for the next three years, with $125,000 going to the sheriff’s budget each year.

Under the agreement, Morgan agreed that 50 percent of Law Enforcement Trust fund monies will go toward funding school resource officers. If that is not possible, the remainder can be used to offset other ECSO general fund expenditures as allowed by law.

Commissioners Steven Barry and Lumon May voted against the agreement.

Morgan asked for over $2 million when he appealed his budget to Scott last October to help with pay compression issues.

Pictured: Gov. Rick Scott and Escambia County David Morgan during a meeting October 5, 2017, at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center concerning then Tropical Storm Nate. Pictured inset: The signature page from a mediation agreement between Escambia County and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Molino Caution Light Cable Snaps, Falls Into Highway 29 Causing Traffic Delays

March 30, 2018

The most dangerous thing Thursday night at an intersection caution light in Molino was the caution light itself.

What appeared to be a steel support cable snapped on the caution light at Highway 29 and Molino Road just before 8 p.m. The cable was dangling into Highway 29, and was reported hit by at least one vehicle. The cable caused traffic delays at the intersection for about two hours.

There’s no word on what caused the cable to snap.

The Molino Station of Escambia Fire Rescue responded.

Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Lightning Does Strike Twice: Home Suffers Minor Damage, Again

March 30, 2018

Lightning really does strike twice — a home in Davisville was struck by lightning Thursday evening, the second time in the past three years.

The home on Meadows Lane just off Highway 97 sustained very minor damage in Thursday’s strike about 6:30 p.m..  Light smoke was reported in the home but any fire was out when firefighters arrived.

In May 2015, the same home was hit by lightning, reportedly damaging a fan motor in the home’s heating and cooling system.

There were no injuries in either incident.

The Walnut Hill, Molino, McDavid and Century Stations of Escambia Fire Rescue, the Nokomis (AL) Volunteer Fire Department and the Atmore Fire Department were dispatched to the call. Many of the units were canceled prior to arrival.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

North Wind Brings Cooler Temps, 40’s Tonight

March 30, 2018

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:
Friday: Gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 73. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Friday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 46. North wind around 5 mph.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 75. Northeast wind around 5 mph becoming southeast in the afternoon.

Saturday Night: Clear, with a low around 49. Calm wind.

Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 78. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 54. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 78. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the morning.

Monday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 60. South wind around 5 mph.

Tuesday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 80.

Tuesday Night: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 61.

Wednesday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 76.

Wednesday Night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 55.

Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 74.

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