Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Get Ready to Vote in the August 2018 Primaries

Primary Elections
August 28, 2018
Less than 100 days from now, vote-by-mail ballots for the August 28 primary elections will be on the way to Collier voters who requested them. Early voting begins on August 18.

Between now and then, I’ll be researching the candidates and issues to help inform Collier voters. And I’ll share what I learn and how I’ll vote in a series of “Get Ready to Vote” posts in the coming weeks and months. This is the first in that series, and I'll start with the basics.

What will be on the ballot?
From the Collier Supervisor of Elections and Florida Department of State websites, I learned that these offices will be on the ballot if contested:
  • Federal Legislative: U.S. Senate and House (Districts 19 and 25)
  • State Executive: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, Commissioner of Agriculture
  • State Legislative: State Senate (District 28), State House (Districts 80, 105, 106)
  • State Attorney 20th Circuit, Public Defender 20th Circuit
  • Circuit Judges 20th Circuit, County Court Judges
  • County: Commissioner (District 2 and 4)
  • School Board: Member (Districts 1, 3 and 5)

What are the types of races and who gets to vote in each?
Partisan vs nonpartisan
Florida is a closed primary state, which means that only people registered with a political party can vote in that party’s primary.

In August, there will be both partisan elections, in which only registered party members can vote, and nonpartisan elections, in which all registered voters, regardless of party, can vote.

However, if all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will not face any opposition in the general election (i.e. no write-in candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates for that office in the primary election. This is referred to as the “write-in loophole,” and it was a major factor in the 2016 primary elections. See Editorial: Act now to get write-in loophole fix on November ballot, Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News, 4/8/18.

At-large vs single-district
In addition, there will be both at-large elections, in which all registered voters can vote regardless of where in the county they live, and single-district elections, in which only those who live in the district can vote. Your district information is printed on your voter registration card, or call or email the Supervisor of Elections office: (239) 252-VOTE (8683) or SupervisorofElections@colliergov.net.

Here is a summary of those distinctions for Collier voters’ August elections:



Things to do right now
  • Request a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot if you won’t be in town to vote in person or if you simply prefer the time savings of voting from home, as I do. Do it online by answering a few questions and then printing out, signing and mailing in a form, or by requesting a paper form to fill out from the Supervisor of Elections office: (239) 252-VOTE (8683). or SupervisorofElections@colliergov.net. The postal service will not forward vote-by-mail ballots, even if you’re arranged for mail forwarding. You MUST give the Supervisor of Elections the address to which your ballot should be mailed.
  • Check the status of your VBM ballot if you’ve already requested one. Confirm it online or by phone (239–252-VOTE) (8683). For me, the website shows:


  • Review your voter registration information and make any needed changes. Do it online or by calling the Supervisor of Elections office: (239) 252-VOTE (8683). Make sure they have your current address and the party affiliation of the primary you want to vote in. If the signature on file might not match your current signature, consider updating it. I update mine every few years.

That’s it for now. I look forward to becoming a more informed voter and sharing what I learn. It’s in all of our best interests to participate in an informed way in the election process and to take full advantage of our right to vote. After all, democracy is not a spectator sport.

Note: As published 4/16/18, we wrote that all judicial elections were nonpartisan. Updated 04/17/18:  State Attorney and Public Defender elections are partisan, Circuit and County Court Judges are nonpartisan.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

State News in Review - March 2018++

It’s a wrap!
After a three-day extension, the Legislature ended its 2017–18 session on Sunday, March 11, with the passage of a $88.7 billion budget. That’s not just a record for the state. It’s more than Gov. Scott’s $87.4 billion request, the House’s $87.2 billion proposal and the Senate’s $87.3 billion bill.
The budget
Important bills signed by the governor
The “train” bill (HB 7055) — which the Governor signed — includes dozens of changes for the state’s 67 school districts. They include:
  • a new "Hope scholarship" program, which offers vouchers for public-school students who are bullied or otherwise face harassment, to transfer to private schools;
  • a new voucher program that bolsters the existing Gardiner scholarships, which provide aid to disabled students, and could be used to expand the longstanding Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program;
  • a new voucher program that provides reading scholarships, which can be used for private services like tutoring for struggling readers in the third through fifth grades;
  • requiring schools to prominently display the state motto, “In God We Trust;” and 
  • overhauling rules governing charter schools, including raising evidentiary standards used by school boards in terminating charter contracts. 
Related: Florida leads nation in school vouchers, and there are more to come. Miami-Herald, 3/31/18 
Related: Private school voucher plan for bullied children becomes law. Herald-Tribune, 3/11/18 
Related: Private voucher schools face new rules but still free to hire teachers without degrees. Orlando Sentinel 3/12/18 
Related: Florida Senate deals blow to teachers unions. Palm Beach Post, 3/3/18 
Bills that failed
In the courts
An update on the Constitution Revision Commission
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a group of 37 people appointed last year to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. It’s one of five ways Florida can amend its constitution, and it only happens once every 20 years. Proposals it approves will be on Florida ballots in November.

In all, 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals were considered by the Commission. In late March, commissioners agreed to send 25 of them to the  Style & Drafting Committee, which will clarify, codify, arrange and group them, and draft the ballot title summaries to appear on the ballot. The CRC will meet again in April for a final vote.
It was another busy month!

In April: The Legislature may be called back for a special session if an updated gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe is reached. The CRC will likely finalize the amendments it will put on the November ballot. And state and local election campaigns will continue to heat up. On Monday, as long-expected, Rick Scott declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Many say Florida will be the “battleground for control of Congress.”

Stay tuned for next month’s Sparker's Soapbox for updates!
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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Local News in Review - March 2018

Here’s my latest review of local news about our governing bodies and decisions made by our elected officials! Top stories:

The County Commission approved the referendum language and project priorities of a one-cent sales tax increase that will appear on the ballot in November, grappled with failing conditions of some of the County’s busiest roads, and was chided for not dealing with the affordable housing shortage by the Daily News Editorial Board.

Naples City Council needs a new city manager after learning that incumbent Bill Moss will retire at the end of the year, and their Marco Island counterpart needs one, too, after firing embattled Lee Niblock …. Collier Schools officials and Sheriff Kevin Rambosk weighed in on school safety following the Parkland shooting … Superintendent Kamela Patton was recognized by the Florida Commissioner of Education for her use of data to improve students' college and career readiness … and a seventh candidate entered the Collier School Board race.

For more on these and other stories Collier voters should be aware of, read on!

Board of County Commissioners
County sales tax referendum
Managing growth and development
Maintaining and repairing infrastructure
Other BCC news
City of Naples
City of Marco Island
Collier County Public Schools
School Safety
Other CCPS news
Local elections
That’s it for last month’s local news. Stay tuned in the coming days for my next State News Month in Review!

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

2017-18 Legislative Session Summary

Florida Capitol
The 2017–18 Legislative Session ended on Sunday with the passage of a record $88.7 billion budget.

I wanted to share some of the session’s highlights with you before I publish my end-of-month post, so with their permission, below are extended excerpts from the League of Women Voters of Florida’s final Capitol Report of the season. I commend Stephanie Owens, LWVF Legislative Advocate, for a job well done in representing the League and fighting for its priorities this past session, and for the excellent, informative Capitol Reports she prepared each week (archive here).

Below are excerpts from Ms. Owens' Session Summary:

It’s a wrap! The 2018 Florida Legislative Session, extended for three days, ended Sunday March 11, 2018 at 4:16 PM when the Legislature passed an $88.7 billion state budget.

Stephanie Owens
LWVF Legislative Advocate
Together we have witnessed what is sure to be a session long remembered in Florida history for the fastest, most sweeping gun safety legislation developed, passed, and signed by the Governor in the past 20 years — as a response to the February 14, 2018 assault weapon tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

….My greatest thanks go to each of you for the tremendous effort each of you put forward advocating for the League’s positions on all of 2018 legislative priorities. My work resonates when you amplify our positions by responding to action alerts. My best meetings start when a legislator or staff says “League members are lighting up my phone!” Please know that your phone calls make a difference. Your support and engagement are key to our legislative triumphs. The session has ended, but our advocacy continues.

In total, the 2018 regular session included:
  • 3,250 Bills/PCBs filed
  • 2,721 Amendments filed
  • 527 Committee meetings
  • 2,853 Bills seen in committee
  • 40 Floor Sessions
  • 200 Bills passed both chambers

We started the Legislative Session tracking over 135 bills that addressed our 2018 Legislative Priorities. Here is the summary of the most significant winners and losers in our legislative priorities.


Education

HB 7055 – We started with over 15 bills, but in week five, they were all combined into a “train” bill in HB 7055, reminiscent of the same process of the last session. This year however, there were a few bright spots:
Winners:
  • Providing Reading Scholarships for students failing the FSA in grades 3–5 to give parents money to cover costs for tutors or other materials.
  • Allowing districts to receive 100% of the 1.5 mills capital outlay and district flexibility to have schools that did not meet State K–12 building code standards.
  • Permitting a broader range of dual enrollment courses.
Losers:
  • Expanding the voucher program to allow students who face bullying or harassment in public school’s transfer to private schools using tax-funded vouchers.
  • The vouchers will be paid for by car buyers, who in registering their cars will be able to select the option of donating a portion of their sales tax to the “hope scholarship” program. It is expected to generate $41.5 million for the vouchers in the next year.
  • Expansion of charter schools with independent governing boards.

Election Law

Winner: HB 0085 Voter Registration List Maintenance
  • Establishes requirements and processes for Florida to become member of a nongovernmental entity, designed to help states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls through data match identification of problematic registrations and to increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.
  • The Supervisors of Elections supported this effort and will most likely join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)
Loser: HJR 7001 Super Majority Vote for State Taxes or Fees
  • House Joint Resolution 7001 places an amendment to Florida’s Constitution on the 2018 ballot requiring that a state tax or fee imposed, authorized, or raised by the Legislature be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature.
  • The voters have defeated this concept twice already. Hopefully, the third time is truly the charm. This amendment will negatively impact the legislatures ability to raise money for various citizen’s needs, such as hurricane response and recovery funding.

Gun Safety

SB 7026 – The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act was created in the weeks after the February 14th mass shooting in Parkland. The bill, albeit controversial, ushered in the most significant gun safety measures in Florida over the last 20 years — so sweeping that the NRA has already filed a lawsuit challenging the measures.
Winners:
  • Raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase any gun.
  • Imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns.
  • Bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons.
  • Establishes the Risk Protection Order Act, which allows police to petition a court to temporarily seize ammunition and guns for up to a year from a person who “poses a significant danger to himself or others.”
  • Creates allocations to assist school districts in establishing or expanding school-based mental health care.
Losers:
  • Fails to ban the purchase of assault weapons, the weapon of choice for most mass shootings.
  • Allows specially trained teachers and other (more than 200K) school personnel to be deputized by sheriffs and bring guns to school. School boards and sheriffs would have to agree to implement the program for it to go into effect. Teachers who work “exclusively” in the classroom would be excluded from the program, but those who have additional duties such as drama coaches would be eligible.

Natural Resources

Winner: Florida Forever Fund
  • The Florida Forever conservation program will receive $100.8 million, which includes $5.8 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, $6 million for recreational park development, $77 million for acquisition of unique lands, and $10 for the Florida Communities Trust program, which also includes land buying.
Loser: HB 7043 – Wetlands Protection
  • Allows the state DEP to assume Federal Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permitting Authority upon approval of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state gains power and authority to adopt rules to assume & implement permitting program pursuant to federal Clean Water Act for dredge & fill activities in certain state waters.
  • There is not a strong track record of success for states that have tried to self-administer this program, resulting in diminished wetland protection. Florida is expected to suffer a similar impact.

Health Care

Winner: SB 1890 – Method Ban
  • The Senate withdrew this bill on March 10th, a companion bill to HB 1429 passed by the House to ban the abortion procedure called Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). D&E is the most common and safest method of abortion in the second trimester. The bill would have prevented women from having access to a safe abortion with a trusted physician. By dictating what medical procedures doctors can perform, this bill would have prohibited doctors from exercising their best medical judgment and providing their patients with the appropriate medical care they need.
Loser: HB 0041 – Pregnancy Support and Wellness Services (Crisis Pregnancy Centers)
  • Permanent contract between Department of Health and the Florida Pregnancy Care Network which runs more than 100 faith-based pregnancy centers. It requires that at least 90 percent of the funding for the centers be used on pregnancy support and wellness.
  • These centers are known for known in part for their pro-life billboards on state highways, providing medically inaccurate information, and religious material. We anticipate that the centers will be emboldened by this legislation and will require greater advocacy diligence to ensure they adhere to the law.
Read Ms. Owen’s full report for bill actions and an update on the Constitution Revision Commission.

If you appreciate their work, you can learn more and support the League of Women Voters of Florida at www.lwvfl.org.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

State News in Review - February 2018 + a week

Since my last post on state news, the Legislature has been in session and 17 people were killed in a shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. That terrible incident and how to respond to it captured the nation’s attention for weeks, and moved the Legislature finally — after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and so many others — to take action against gun violence.

On Monday, after weeks of deliberations, the Senate passed a gun-safety bill (SB 7026; press release) and the House, after similar deliberations, is now considering it for what could be the final vote. Ultimately, whatever the two chambers agree on will head to Governor Scott for final action.

In other news, the Legislature failed to finalize a budget in time to end session this Friday as scheduled; a judge found Florida’s rights restoration process unconstitutional; and 37 proposed constitutional amendments remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission.

Read more on those and other stories of interest from the past five weeks:

Legislative reaction to the Parkland shootings

While not as much as many hoped for, and more than others wanted, it looks like something will happen.
Meanwhile:

  • Governor Scott touts $500 million school safety plan. He proposed $450 million to provide sheriff’s departments the authority to train additional school personnel or reserve law enforcement officers to protect students if requested by the local school board. An additional $50 million would expand mental health service teams and require every sheriff’s office to have a Florida Department of Children and Families officer embedded in their department. NWFdailynews.com

Money, money, money

On March 7, House Speaker Corcoran said there will not be a budget agreement on time, requiring members to stay later or come back for a special session. What’s the hold-up? Corcoran wouldn’t say, but “hundreds of millions of dollars in hospital funding is widely considered to be the problem.

Here’s some of how they got here:
Bills headed to the governor

Bills have been moving fast and furiously in the last days of session. When session ends, I’ll report on ones of particular interest or concern that pass both chambers. But here’s one that’s too good not to report now:
As a result, Florida can join the 22 other states plus DC that are already members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), whose mission is to help states improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls.

In the courts
The Constitution Revision Commission

Thirty-seven proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution remain under consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission, from among the 103 that made it out of the committee process in the fall.

The last of six public hearings will be on March 13 in St. Petersburg; the CRC then has until May 10 to decide which amendments to put on voters’ ballots in November.

Other state news
It’s been a whirlwind month, and with the Legislature still in session, it’s been hard to decide what to include in this post. So that’s it for now. In my next post, there will be much more definitive news to report. Stay tuned!

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Local News in Review - February 2018

The region’s growth, development and infrastructure needs continued to occupy county government in February. In city government, Terry Hutchison, Linda Penniman and Gary Price won seats on the Naples City Council; Naples City Manager Bill Moss announced his retirement; and Marco City Manager Lee Niblock was placed on leave after being accused of battery.

In the Collier County Public Schools, the District collaborated closely with the Sheriff’s Office following the Parkland shootings; a record four-year graduation rate was announced; Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds won’t run for re-election to the School Board; and another candidate filed to challenge Board chairman Roy Terry.

Board of County Commissioners

Managing growth and development
Maintaining and repairing infrastructure
Other BCC news
City of Naples

Council elections
Other City news
City of Marco Island
Collier County Public Schools

Response to the Parkland shootings
Other CCPS news
That does it for February’s local news. Stay tuned for my state news round-up in my next post.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.