Stories about Florida

DeSantis appoints judge, attorney to Florida Court of Appeals

On July 29, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R ) filled two vacancies on the Florida Second District Court of Appeal. The court is one of five intermediate appellate courts in Florida. Intermediate appellate courts serve as an intermediate step between the trial courts and the courts of last resort in a state. The Florida District Courts of Appeal were established in 1957 to relieve the case docket of the Florida Supreme Court.

John K. Stargel fills the vacancy created by the resignation of former judge Samuel Salario, who resigned from the court on June 4, 2020, to take a job in the investment industry. Prior to joining the appellate court, he was a judge on Florida’s Tenth Judicial Circuit Court.

Suzanne Labrit, who has worked in private law practice for over two decades, fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge John Badalamenti to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Both judges must stand for retention election in 2022 in order to serve full six-year terms on the court.

Judicial positions in Florida are nonpartisan. Of the 16 judges currently sitting on the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, two were appointed by a Democratic governor and 14 were appointed by a Republican governor. Of the 48 judgeships across the other four district appellate courts, only one sitting judge was appointed by a Democratic governor. The rest were appointed by a Republican governor.

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Florida county commissioners seek to reclaim delegated emergency response powers

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners on July 21 unanimously approved a draft order that would dissolve the county’s Emergency Policy Group (EPG) and return its delegated emergency response authority—including the authority to respond to the coronavirus pandemic—to the county commissioners.

The EPG, which consists of three county commissioners, the sheriff, the chair of the Hillsborough County Public Schools Board of Education, and the mayors of Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace, currently exercises emergency response authority delegated by the county commissioners. The EPG was created with the goal of addressing short-term emergencies, such as hurricanes, but the group has also directed the county’s coronavirus response efforts, including mask mandates and curfews.

Board Chairman Les Miller (D) on July 15 proposed amending the EPG’s orders to return the group’s delegated coronavirus response authority to the board of county commissioners. As the county’s elected legislative body, the commissioners agreed that the board was the appropriate government entity to manage the long-term pandemic response. Though some commissioners expressed concern about changing strategies mid-pandemic, all supported the change.

Following Miller’s proposal to repeal the EPG’s coronavirus response authority, county employees recommended that the board eliminate the group altogether (Hillsborough County is the only Florida county with an EPG or similar group). The board on July 21 unanimously approved a draft order to repeal the EPG. A public hearing and a final vote are scheduled for August 5.

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All three Democratic candidates for Florida’s 15th Congressional District complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Three Democrats—Alan Cohn, Adam Hattersley, and Jesse Philippe—are running to challenge Rep. Ross Spano (R), the freshman legislator representing central Florida’s 15th Congressional District. All three have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey.

Ballotpedia asks all federal, state, and local candidates to complete a survey so voters can discover what motivates them on political and personal levels.

Responses to selected questions are included below. Some responses are edited for length; to view the full survey responses, visit Ballotpedia’s article on this primary.

What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

Alan Cohn: “I’m running for Congress to hold the powerful accountable. I’m running because while our current Congressman is mired in a federal investigation into illegal loans to his campaign, 60-percent of our friends and neighbors still don’t earn what they did before the economic collapse. 40-percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.”

Adam Hattersley: “As a former naval officer and Iraq War Veteran, I am passionate about foreign policy. One of the most important jobs of the next democratic President will be repairing America’s reputation on the global stage. I support dramatically increasing our funding in diplomacy-this kind of investment is essential to preventing armed conflict.”

Jesse Philippe: “I am super passionate about people and how we can help them.”

In 2018, 1,957 candidates completed a Candidate Connection survey. This number represents 6.9% of all 28,315 candidates Ballotpedia covered during that cycle. Out of the 1,957 respondents, 477 (24.4%) won their elections.

To read more about Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey or if you are a candidate who would like to submit a survey, click here: Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection.

Maryland and Florida see leadership changes in ALJ corps

Leadership changes occurred this week in Maryland and Florida’s administrative law judge (ALJ) corps. The governor’s power to appoint head ALJs in these and similar states helps the executive direct and oversee state administrative activity.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) on June 9 appointed Chung Ki Pak to serve as the state’s new chief ALJ. Pak will manage the roughly 60 ALJs employed by the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, which provides Maryland state agencies with ALJs to hold hearings and adjudicate disputes.

In Florida, Chief ALJ John MacIver, an appointee of Governor Ron DeSantis (R), resigned on June 9 to transition to a new role as counsel for the state’s chief financial officer. DeSantis must gain approval from his cabinet to appoint MacIver’s replacement. Florida’s chief ALJ also serves as the director of the state Division of Administrative Hearings, which provides ALJs to state agencies, cities, counties, and independent government entities to adjudicate disputes.

Maryland and Florida are examples of states with centralized ALJ panels. Unlike federal ALJs, who are appointed by agency heads to hold administrative hearings at specific agencies, 27 states centralize their ALJ corps and provide ALJs to state agencies on request. The goal of the centralized ALJ structure is to protect procedural rights for citizens in administrative adjudication by ensuring that the presiding judge is independent of the agency that is a party to the case.

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Candidate filing period ends for state executive and legislative offices in three states

The filing deadline has passed to run for state executive and legislative offices in Connecticut, Florida, and New Hampshire. The deadline passed for Connecticut on June 11. For Florida and New Hampshire, it passed on June 12.

Candidates filed for the following state executive and legislative offices:
  • Connecticut: State Senate (36 seats) and State House (151 seats)
  • Florida: State Senate (20 seats) and State House (120 seats)
  • New Hampshire: Governor, Executive Council (5 seats), State Senate (24 seats), and State House (400 seats)

The general election in each state is scheduled for November 3, 2020. The primary in Connecticut is scheduled for August 11, in Florida for August 18, and in New Hampshire for September 8.

Connecticut and New Hampshire’s statewide filing deadlines were the 46th and 47th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. Florida’s filing deadline for congressional and certain judicial offices passed on April 24, which was the 36th statewide filing deadline of 2020. The next statewide filing deadline is on June 24 in Rhode Island.

Connecticut and Florida have Democratic and Republican state government trifectas, respectively. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. New Hampshire has a divided government in which no party holds a trifecta.

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Florida Supreme Court extends suspension of jury trials through July 17

On June 8, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an order extending the suspension of civil and criminal jury trials through July 17. Jury trials were first suspended on March 13. The court subsequently extended that order, first through April 17, then through May 29, and again through July 2.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide, and 16 states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.

Florida Supreme Court rules that the ballot summary for the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative is misleading

In 4-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot summary of the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative was misleading. Ban Assault Weapons NOW is sponsoring the measure targeting the 2022 ballot.

The measure would ban possession of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, with certain exceptions involving registration requirements. The measure would define Semiautomatic as “any weapon which fires a single projectile or a number of ball shots through a rifled or smooth bore for each single function of the trigger without further manual action required.” Assault weapon would be defined by the measure as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition feeding device.” If a person lawfully owned an assault weapon before the measure’s effective date, their ownership of such weapon would still be legal (a) for one year after the measure’s effective date or (b) after the owner registers the weapon by make, model, and serial number with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records of such registration would be available for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

On July 26, 2019, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed a motion with the state supreme court arguing the measure’s ballot language was misleading and unclear and that the initiative should be blocked from the ballot. Moody argued, “The ballot title and summary do not inform Florida’s electorate that virtually every lawful owner of a semi-automatic long-gun will be forced to register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or that this registry would be available to all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Nor do the ballot title and summary state the time within which preexisting long-gun owners must register their firearms that meet the proposed amendment’s definition of ‘assault weapon’ and avail themselves of the amendment’s grandfathering provision.”

In its decision released on June 4, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Moody. The court wrote, “While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.” Judge Jorge Labarga dissented arguing that the 75-word limit was not enough to provide every detail of the initiative but that the ballot summary was still clear.”

Gail Schwartz, the chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW, released a statement in response to the court’s ruling that said, “The Supreme Court, now controlled by the NRA in the same way as our Governor and our Legislature, has fundamentally failed the people of Florida. Not only has the Legislature recently made it harder to pass ballot initiatives, now the people must also face a Court of rightwing ideologues who will only approve initiatives they agree with politically.”

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s website, Ban Assault Weapons NOW had submitted 174,564 valid signatures. In order to obtain a spot on the 2022 ballot, proponents of the initiative would need to begin the process again with an amended ballot summary.

The total number of signatures required for an initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. Florida also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

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Filing deadline for state executive and legislative candidates to pass in CT, FL, and NH

The filing deadlines to run for elected state offices in Connecticut, Florida, and New Hampshire will pass in the next week. Connecticut’s filing deadline is on June 11, and Florida and New Hampshire’s filing deadlines are on June 12.

In Connecticut, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:
  • State Senate (36 seats)
  • State House (151 seats)
In Florida, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:
  • State Senate (20 seats)
  • State House (120 seats)
In New Hampshire, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:
  • Governor
  • Executive Council (5 seats)
  • State Senate (24 seats)
  • State House (400 seats)

Connecticut’s primary is scheduled for August 11, Florida’s primary is scheduled for August 18, and New Hampshire’s primary is scheduled for September 8. The general election for all three states is November 3, 2020.

Connecticut’s, Florida’s, and New Hampshire’s filing deadlines are the 45th, 46th, and 47th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on June 24 in Rhode Island.

Connecticut has a Democratic state government trifecta, and Florida has a Republican state government trifecta. New Hampshire has a divided government, meaning no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

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Florida to open bars, bowling alleys, and movie theaters

Today, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that starting June 5, bars will be able to reopen at 50% capacity inside and full capacity outside, with service only for seated patrons. Movie theaters and bowling alleys will also be permitted reopen at 50% capacity the same day. These new rules will apply to all counties in the state except Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.

Florida began its phased reopening in late April, with the above three South Florida counties excluded due to heightened positive coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations. Each of those counties has since been granted permission by the governor to reopen at a slower rate than the rest of the state.