Florida ethics panel rejects COVID-19 announcements plan, upholds ban on free publicity or exposure

click to enlarge Photo via Ron DeSantis/FacebookThe Florida Commission on Ethics rejected a request Friday to alter the states 15-year-old lobbying gift ban, as a cable-television and internet company wanted to run public-service announcements from Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials about the COVID-19 pandemic.Commissioners voted 6-3 to maintain a ban against providing free publicity or exposure, after Charter Communications wanted to run messages from DeSantis on its Spectrum networks, which reach about 2.5 million people across Central Florida and the western Panhandle.By basically providing elected officials an opportunity to appear in professionally produced public-service announcements, its basically an opportunity to provide them with additional advertising opportunities, said Commissioner Daniel Brady, one of DeSantis five appointees to the ethics panel. And there are companies that analyze how much your name in the paper is worth, or your name on the internet is worth or your name on television.State law prevents lobbyists and organizations that hire lobbyists from providing gifts to state officials - what is known in Tallahassee as the gift ban. This is an unprecedented circumstance that, Im not being over dramatic, this is life and death stuff.Leznoff, who formerly served as the top staff member on the House Appropriations Committee, is one of two commissioners appointed by the House speaker. So I think any time there is a state of emergency, public-service announcements related to that state of emergency should be allowed for the duration of that emergency.

orlandoweekly.com

Florida's February jobless rate is already a distant memory

click to enlarge Photo via Ron DeSantis/Facebook (2019)Floridas jobless rate in February was 2.8 percent, but that doesnt reflect a coronavirus-fueled spike in claims that has overwhelmed the state unemployment-compensation system during the past two weeks.The Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday posted the February unemployment rate, which was unchanged from January. But that was based on information from a time before large and small businesses across the state started cutting back or going dark because of the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.Department Executive Director Ken Lawson said bluntly on Friday the unemployment numbers are going up.Its impacting everybody. Everything we are doing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is having an impact on businesses, Lawson said. Its causing an unprecedented level of individuals, Floridians, our friends and neighbors, applying for unemployment benefits.The newly released estimate showed 291,000 Floridians out of work in February from a labor force of 10.46 million, numbers essentially unchanged from January.On Thursday, however, the U.S. Labor Department reported 3.28 million jobless claims had been filed across the country during the week ending Sunday, with 74,313 by Floridians.The state received 5,325 unemployment applications the first week in March and 6,463 the second week. A return to a healthy, vibrant tourism industry also means jobs and revenue returned to the state.

orlandoweekly.com

Florida Supreme Court urged to decide conservation amendment dispute

click to enlarge Photo via Supreme Court of Florida websiteFive years after Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation, environmentalists on Monday urged the state Supreme Court to wade into a battle about how money can be spent.Florida Defenders of the Environment and other plaintiffs filed a brief asking justices to decide a long-running dispute that centers on how state lawmakers carried out the 2014 constitutional amendment. The environmentalists took the case to the Supreme Court after the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with lawmakers in September.The amendment required setting aside a portion of real-estate documentary stamp tax revenues in what is known as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for conservation efforts. Environmentalists contend the money was supposed to go to buying and managing additional property and that the state improperly diverted money to other expenses.But the appeals court, in deciding for the state, said a Leon County circuit judge erred when he ruled money from the amendment could only be used on land purchased after the measure took effect.In the brief Monday, Joseph Little, an attorney for Florida Defenders of the Environment, argued that the appeals courts interpretation defeats the intent of the Florida voters who approved the amendment for inclusion in the Florida Constitution.FDE (Florida Defenders of the Environment) submits that the only authorized purposes are to acquire new conservation and recreation lands and to restore and manage lands so-acquired, Little wrote. In contrast, the state submits that its use of the LATF (Land Acquisition Trust Fund) monies is not so limited and that (the constitutional amendment) authorizes it to expend LATF funds to manage conservation lands whenever acquired, wherever located and by whomever owned, including private persons.At this point in the case, the state has not filed a brief about whether it thinks the Supreme Court should take up the dispute.The state went to the 1st District Court of Appeal after Circuit Judge Charles Dodson last year agreed with environmentalists and found that dozens of legislative budget appropriations were unconstitutional.In a brief filed at the appeals court, attorneys for the Legislature said Dodsons ruling drastically curtails the expressly stated purposes of the constitutional amendment.A broad range of conservation purposes that have properly been funded from the LATF including restoration of springs, beaches, and the Everglades are ineligible to receive those funds under the trial courts reading, the Legislatures attorneys wrote.While the appeals court agreed with the Legislature, Little argued in Mondays brief that the Supreme Court needs to resolve the meaning of the constitutional amendment.In short, the district court's decision places no restrictions on the state's power to expend LATF funds virtually as it pleases and does not require it to acquire and restore any new conservation lands, he wrote. FDE respectfully submits that this decision requires clarification by this (Supreme) Court not only for this case but for all other voter-initiated amendments to the Florida Constitution.

orlandoweekly.com