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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

The state of Florida's shrinking and revolving-door work force

How Florida compares to all other states in the number of state employees

Florida Department of Management Services

How Florida compares to all other states in the number of state employees

The state government workforce continued to get smaller Gov. Rick Scott over the past year, and Florida has the fewest full-time state workers in proportion to its population of any state, according to a report released Friday.

The annual workforce report, produced by the state Department of Management Services, includes these findings:

* The total number of full-time state worker positions at the end of the last fiscal year was 97,700, compared to 104,134 in 2012, which was a year after Scott became governor. The actual number of employees was 88,991, which is 5.6 percent below the number in 2012.

* Florida had 101 full and part-time employees per 10,000 residents in 2016, the fewest of any state. The national average is 209.

* The state had 87 full-time employees per 10,000 residents, also the fewest of any state. The national average is 169.

* Employee turnover among career service workers, who make up the largest chunk of full-time state workers, was 11.8 percent last year, the highest percentage since Scott became governor in 2011 and the first time the turnover rate reached double digits. …

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Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron see cities and counties' role differently

Then-Rep. Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, shares a laugh with then-Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, before the start of the 2016 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Then-Rep. Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, shares a laugh with then-Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, before the start of the 2016 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

When it comes to telling local governments what they can and cannot do, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron are taking markedly different positions.

The issue will play out in the upcoming legislative session in the form of broad House legislation (HB 17) that would ban all local government regulation of business without state permission, which could throw out ordinances ranging from mandatory bar closing hours to protection of LGBTQ Floridians. A narrower Senate bill (SB1158) filed Thursday would prevent regulation of "commerce, trade and labor."

Where Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, sees preempting local laws as a priority, Negron, R-Stuart, feels differently.

"For me, the general rule is to allow local governments to operate in their lane without the state interfering," Negron said. "That being said, I believe there are certain policy issues (where the state should step in) and so there's a delicate balance here, and it depends on what the issue is." …

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Rep. Charlie Crist divorcing his wife, Carole

Charlie Crist and Carole Rome Crist speak to reporters outside the First United Methodist Church in downtown St. Petersburg after their wedding on Dec. 12, 2008.

CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press

Charlie Crist and Carole Rome Crist speak to reporters outside the First United Methodist Church in downtown St. Petersburg after their wedding on Dec. 12, 2008.

After nine years of marriage, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has filed for divorce.

"I think the world of Carole. She's an amazing person. It just didn't work out for us," the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. "I wish all the the best for her." 

Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service.

He and Carole, 47, own a Parkshore condo in downtown St. Petersburg, and details about whether he will continue to live there have yet to be worked out.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Meet Carole Rome, the governor's fiancee

Crist met Carole, a glamorous fixture on the New York and Hamptons social circuit, in the fall of 2007. They got engaged in July 2008 when he was a Republican governor widely seen as a top contender to be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

The Crists married in December 2008, and together they worked through a tumultuous period in Crist's political career: An unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate as both a Republican and then independent in 2010 and then an unsuccessful campaign for governor as a Democrat in 2014. In November, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing much of Pinellas County. …

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Charlie Crist invites 8th grader and advocate for Syrian refugees to attend Donald Trump speech

A St. Petersburg eighth grader trying to help Syrian refugees will be the guest of U.S. Rep.Charlie Crist at Tuesday's address to Congress by President Donald Trump, who is barring Syrian refugees from America.

Crist, D-St. Petersburg, said he invited Oliver Hess of Shorecrest Prepatory School after reading a letter from Hess about his efforts to help a Syrian refugee family fleeing persecution resettle in Florida as part of his school’s annual “passion project.”

"Young Mr. Hess is setting an example for all of us, that for our country to continue to be great, we must also continue to be a beacon of hope and light to rest of the world. For refugees seeking asylum from war and terror, America is often their only hope," Crist said in a statement. "I commend Oliver's conscientiousness, and commitment to freedom and justice. I look forward to having him join me in Washington next week to bring greater attention to helping refugees in need."

Hess, also a member of Boy Scout Troop 219, wrote in his letter to Crist that he wanted to work on a project that did not merely benefit himself.  …

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"We have an epidemic. And nobody is doing anything about it."

Gun shoppers browse the Florida Gun Show’s booths at the Florida State Fairgrounds in December. Legal firearm sales are on the rise. Background checks, which are required to buy firearms from licensed gun dealers, jumped 66 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

John Pendygraft | Tampa Bay Times

Gun shoppers browse the Florida Gun Show’s booths at the Florida State Fairgrounds in December. Legal firearm sales are on the rise. Background checks, which are required to buy firearms from licensed gun dealers, jumped 66 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found.

To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners.

The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours.

From 2010 through 2015, the number of kids killed in gun-related incidents rose nearly 20 percent. Injuries from guns jumped 26 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.

“That’s a very rapid increase,” said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, who runs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis School of Medicine.

Firearms killed 475 kids during that six-year span — slightly less than cancer, but more than cardiovascular, infectious or respiratory diseases. …

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House and Senate prepare for negotiations

Florida House and Senate committees on Thursday gave approval to vastly different approaches to the future of gambling in Florida, with the Senate opening the door to massive expansion of slot machines and Indian gaming, while the House attempts to retract gaming and preserve protected markets for horse and dog racing and tribal gaming for another 20 years.

The House bill, PCB TGC 17-01, "reaffirms our commitment to a limited gaming footprint," said Rep. Michael LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, chair of the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee which passed its bill 10-5.

Gambling

"It also keeps the Legislature in charge" of the future of gaming, he said, an attempt to halt the expansion of gambling that has occurred in recent years as lawmakers failed to close loopholes and clarify the law in the face of court rulings.

By contrast, the Senate bill would give Miami-Dade and Broward counties each an additional slot casino, the Seminole Tribe would have seven full-scale casinos, and horse and dog tracks in at least eight counties would get new slot parlors. …

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Rubio outlines what he did in Europe

Sen. Marco Rubio's office, which for days declined to detail his trip to Europe, outlined his travels.

From his website:

On Monday in Germany, he received a country briefing at the U.S. embassy and met with American foreign service officers and intelligence officials stationed in Berlin. He also met with German officials, including Ursula von der Leyen, Defense Minister; Dr. Christoph Heusgen, National Security Advisor and Head of Foreign Relations, Global Affairs, and External Security; and Markus Erderer, State Secretary.

On Tuesday in France, he received a country briefing at the ambassador’s residence and met with American intelligence officials and foreign service officers stationed in Paris.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss with our European allies and American officials on the ground the future of the U.S./EU relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIL activities, foreign assistance programs and Russian aggression, including meddling in foreign elections. Senator Rubio reiterated his commitment to the transatlantic alliance and efforts to strengthen U.S.-European relations. …

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Plasencia: 'No one actively lobbying against' daily recess mandate

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and state Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, speak at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 about their legislation to require 20 minutes of recess daily in Florida's public elementary schools.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and state Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, speak at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 about their legislation to require 20 minutes of recess daily in Florida's public elementary schools.

State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, told reporters Thursday that "there's no one that's actively lobbying against" efforts to require mandatory daily recess in Florida's public elementary schools.

There has so far been no obvious or outspoken public opposition to the measure, but district administrators quietly have voiced concerns about requiring all schools to have recess -- citing a potential lack of time in the existing school day. (A few lawmakers, like House Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, also don't like the idea of imposing another statewide mandate.)

Although there was resounding support for the statewide daily requirement last session in the House, only one school district -- Orange County -- took action to fall in line with what lawmakers had sought to do. Miami-Dade County did revise its existing policy to encourage more time for recess, but it's still not required daily.

IN-DEPTH: “Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature”

Plasencia said he's spoken with many school districts, and "what they're trying to do is have some input so they can integrate it in a much more productive way into their school days." …

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No firebrand, but Joe Negron says he's just as committed to principles

Senate President Joe Negron

AP

Senate President Joe Negron

Florida Senate President Joe Negron is never going to be mistaken for a fiery ideologue who draws unwavering lines in the sand. But the Republican from Stuart said his temperament and willingness to work out policy differences shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness.

“How you say something is not a reflection of how committed you are to it,” Negron told the Times/Herald during an interview Thursday.

Negron declared that the art of working out policy differences through compromise is a healthy part of the process that past legislative leaders have demonstrated works. The attorney first elected to the Florida House in 2000, said he believes that even the biggest issues can be resolved in a way that people don’t have to compromise their values and principles. At some point the process requires everyone to work together in good faith to resolve their differences, he said.

“I find it to be an act of hubris to suggest that we cannot do that,” Negron said. …

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And they're off: Dem race for governor is underway

Politico speculated the other day that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum could announce for governor Friday at an appearance in Orlando for the Central Florida Urban League's Cornerstone Awards. Seems unlikely that a mayor would announce formally for office outside his own city, but it's a safe bet that both Gillum and Miami Beach Beach Mayor Philip Levine will sound very much like gubernatorial candidates when they address the gathering tomorrow.

That's because for all purposes they already are running for governor. So is former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. They're traveling the state, interviewing and hiring campaign consultants, meeting with key donors, activists and others.

Levine has even launched his own political committee, "All About Florida," and  hired former Charlie Crist campaign manager Matthew Van Name to coordinate his political activities.  …

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Rubio, suddenly back from Europe, is confronted in Miami

Sen. Marco Rubio surfaced in Miami today and was confronted by an activist who wants to know why he isn't holding a town hall, like many other lawmakers across the country this week.

The scene adds to a strange series of events surrounding Rubio's whereabouts.

"Senator, I thought you were in Europe," a man asks in a video posted on Facebook. "I saw all these missing child posters all over town. ... Are you going to host a town hall? Senator, I thought you were in Europe. Rubio's office said Monday he was in Europe but refused to provide more than basic details to the Tampa Bay Times. We assumed he was still overseas.

But Rubio returned home on Wednesday, spokesman Alex Burgos said via email. Burgos said Rubio was at Jackson Memorial Hospital to discuss the opioid crisis and provided a link to a news release. Reporters were never told in advance that Rubio was home or that he was attending an event.

Rubio is facing intense pressure across the state to meet with constituents. In Tampa yesterday, a town hall was held in his absence.  …

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Florida Senate could vote on higher ed reforms during first week of 2017 session

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

A top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is ready for the full Senate to vote on once the 2017 session begins March 7.

The higher education package -- formerly two bills now blended into one (SB 2) -- includes a variety of reforms intended to elevate Florida's State University System and its state colleges to a more competitive level, nationally and internationally.

"We should be at the very top of our game in our state university and college system," said Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the higher ed budget chairman who spearheaded the legislation. "We should raise expectations, and that’s what we’re doing."

SB 2 -- dubbed the "Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017" -- advanced unanimously out of the Senate's full budget committee Thursday morning with some additional revisions. Negron told the Herald/Times the bill will be among the first considered by the chamber during the first week of session next month.

House companion bills (HB 3 and HB 5), filed last month by Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila, have not yet been considered by that chamber's committees.

The proposed reforms include: …

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Philip Levine calls Richard Corcoran and House Republicans' idea 'Soviet'

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine

José A. Iglesias | Miami Herald

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine

What do you call a Republican-controlled House that's pushing to ban local governments from regulating business?

"Soviet." At least according to Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine who excoriated the House's attempt to override city and county rules and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Corcoran has "never run anything," Levine told the Times/Herald, which he said explains why his chamber is moving ahead with HB 17, legislation that would ban local government regulations on business unless the state gives explicit permission and repeal existing rules in 2020. It's entirely "political," Levine said.

"Soviet-style central planning doesn't usually work very well, as evidenced by the fact that the Soveit Union collapsed," he said. "What worked in Moscow didn't necessarily work in aanother Soviet city."

Levine has a reason beyond protecting his city's home rule to lash out against Corcoran: Both men are likely gubernatorial candidates in 2018. 

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'Marco, hear our voices'

The Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer talks to an empty chair that was reserved for Marco Rubio during a town hall in Tampa held in his absence on Wednesday night.

[JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

The Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer talks to an empty chair that was reserved for Marco Rubio during a town hall in Tampa held in his absence on Wednesday night.

Protesters hold mock town hall meeting in Tampa with cardboard Marco Rubio

So instead, an empty, metal folding chair bore the brunt of grievances shared by more than 500 of his constituents gathered at the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 599 building on Cypress Street.

Event organizers ensured Rubio's Tampa office would hear their concerns. The two-hour event was live-streamed online and on Facebook, attendees were given postcards that would be sent to Rubio staffers and pocket-sized cards listed Twitter handles, hashtags and QR codes to attach to their messages.

Those who preferred not to have an audience listen to their messages for Rubio were encouraged to stand outside the venue on a white "Soap Box" and record their message against a backdrop declaring "Where's Marco?" and "Marco, Hear our voices!"

Attendees said they never expected to see the senator at the town hall meeting. Rubio rarely makes his way to Tampa, and visits or phone calls sent to his local office are only met with replies from staffers, organizers said. …

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Corcoran concedes 'we'll get there' on a joint rule with Senate over budget

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Wednesday that he is open to compromise with the state Senate on his hardline new rules aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the budget process. 

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