News from Tallahassee for 11/22/14

US Supreme Court asked to block document release posted on 11/21/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Attorneys for a Republican political consultant have turned to the U.S. Supreme Court in their effort to block the release of emails and documents from Florida's redistricting process.

Lawyers for Pat Bainter and his Gainesville-based firm Data Targeting filed an emergency petition on Thursday to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asking that the documents remain sealed until at least February.

The documents were cited by a circuit judge as a reason why he ruled this summer the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature violated a state law that says congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor any political party or incumbent. State legislators were forced to hold a special session in August to redraw the districts although the changes won't take effect until the 2016 elections.

But the emails and documents have remained sealed as lawyers paid by the Republican Party of Florida have asserted that disclosing them would violate First Amendment rights and trade secrets.

The state Supreme Court earlier this month ruled that the documents should be released to the public and chastised the consultants for not raising First Amendment questions until six months after the documents were first requested.

Justices on Thursday reaffirmed that decision, although they said they would agree to keep the 538 pages of documents sealed until Dec. 1 in order for an appeal to be filed.

Justice Barbara Pariente said that time had come to release the information.

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Pariente said in a concurring opinion.

However, in their petition to Thomas asking for an emergency stay, Bainter's lawyers contended they would be harmed if that happened.

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Florida Gov. to scale back inaugural events posted on 11/20/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott isn't going to hold an inaugural ball before he's sworn into a second term in office. There won't be a parade either.

Scott and the Republican Party of Florida announced Wednesday that inauguration festivities would be scaled back. Scott's ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 6.

The GOP incumbent plans to hold a "Jobs Jamboree" that will feature informal barbecues hosted by businesses in Miami, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola. These will start in December.

Scott said in a statement he wants to host events across the state to highlight "our economic growth."

Scott will participate in an inaugural prayer breakfast and he will hold a small reception at the governor's mansion. First lady Ann Scott will also honor military families as well.

Florida Legislature chooses new leaders posted on 11/19/14

by GARY FINEOUT and BRENDAN FARRINGTON | AP

FL House Speaker Scristafuli and Senate President GardinerTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature installed new leaders on Tuesday in a jovial, ceremonial atmosphere where both men promised to work cordially with fellow legislators while making few promises about their next two years in office.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was selected as Senate president, while Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was chosen as House speaker.

The two legislators take over with Republicans still in firm control of state government after Gov. Rick Scott and all three Republican members of the Cabinet won new terms. Republicans also hold a super-majority in the 120-member House, meaning they can waive the rules and move legislation regardless of Democratic opposition.

Neither Gardiner nor Crisafulli made any bold declarations about their plans. But they did give hints about their agendas, which may clash with the ones promised on the campaign trail by incumbent Gov. Rick Scott.

Gardiner repeated a warning that Amendment 1, a newly approved measure which dedicates a portion of real estate taxes to environmental programs, could result in spending cuts to other parts of the state’s $73 billion budget. Voters approved the ballot initiative overwhelmingly this month.

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner pointed out that because legislators had set aside money for tax cuts and increased school spending in the past year, the surplus expected in 2015 would be slightly more than $300 million. He said that meant there would be “less money” available when legislators draw up a new budget during their annual session next spring.

While seeking a second term, Scott promised to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and to boost school spending to record levels.

Crisafulli promised in his speech to work with Democrats, but told reporters the House would likely continue to oppose the expansion of Medicaid, a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

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GOP consultants want to delay release of documents posted on 11/19/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A Gainesville-based political consultant is asking the Florida Supreme Court to delay the release of emails and documents that could expose the role that Republican consultants played in drawing new congressional districts.

Lawyers for Pat Bainter and his firm Data Targeting told the high court Tuesday that they are considering whether to appeal their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that 538 pages of documents and emails dealing with redistricting must be publicly released.

The state Supreme Court said that Bainter had engaged in "gamesmanship" to keep the documents secret. The court plans to put the documents online later this month.

Bainter's lawyers said that the documents should remain sealed until at least February when the time for an appeal has passed.

New Senate President a "Servant Leader" posted on 11/19/14

by DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican hailed by his colleagues as a "servant leader," officially took the helm of the Florida Senate after receiving a unanimous nod from the chamber on Tuesday.

The three-hour, largely ceremonial organization session -- Gardiner was long ago tapped to succeed Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville -- was highlighted by tributes not only to Gardiner but to former state Sen. John Thrasher, who resigned from the Legislature earlier this month to take over as president of Florida State University.

Gardiner, a triathlete and father of three, was lauded by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, as a "servant leader" who will be able to unite Republicans and Democrats in the GOP-dominated chamber as lawmakers grapple with health care, education spending and other high-profile issues during the legislative session that begins in March.

Sen. Rene Garcia said he "would take a bullet for this man" before nominating Gardiner as president.

"The Senate is in really good hands, folks. The state of Florida is in incredible hands because Sen. Gardiner will put families first before politics, and that's what we need in the Senate and the state of Florida," Garcia, R-Hialeah, said.

Gardiner, a vice president of external affairs and communications at Orlando Health, takes over the chamber at a time when Florida is flush with cash --- state economists predict at least a $336 million budget surplus for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. But the Senate Republican caucus has most recently struggled because of an intra-GOP battle between Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, about who will take the helm of the chamber after Gardiner's term ends in 2016.

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