Palm Beach Post: “Replacing Clemens starts with special election primary Tuesday”


It’s the known versus the unknown in a special Florida Senate election Tuesday to replace Jeff Clemens, the Atlantis Democrat who resigned in October after admitting to an affair with a lobbyist.
State Rep. Lori Berman, of Lantana, squares off against Arthur Morrison, a former federal worker who has never run for elected office, for the Senate District 31 seat, which covers part of coastal Palm Beach County, including Lake Worth, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

The winner will face Palm Beach County Republican Vice Chairwoman Tami Donnally of Lake Worth in the April 10 general election. Donnally is running unchallenged.

Democrats have a 46.6 to 24.1 percent registration advantage in the district and the GOP did not field a candidate there against Clemens in 2016.

Early voting is underway, part of a process that Palm Beach County Elections Supervisors Susan Bucher will cost taxpayers about $1 million.

Berman, a member on the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee, said she’s running because she’s been a state representative the past eight years.

“I jumped into the race because I want to continue to work on the things that have been important to me, which include access to health care for all Floridians, first rate educational system, preserving our environment, protecting women’s rights and economic prosperity for all by promoting diversity in the job market,” Berman, 59, said.

She said she has built a lot of relationships and that she understands all the issues to be an effective legislator.

Morrison, 72, did not make himself available for an interview with The Palm Beach Post.

He did, however, tell The Post’s Editorial Board that he became irritated at what President Trump was doing and decided to run after Clemens resigned.

Morrison, a county native who graduated from all-black Roosevelt High School, told the board he is determined to help poor seniors by keeping “Medicaid-to-work” issue from coming to Florida, prevent oil and gas drilling in the state’s coast and to stop charter schools from siphoning away money from traditional public schools.

Berman said the top three issues in Florida are health care, education and the environment.

She said her biggest disappointment with the legislature is that it has failed to expand Medicaid. “I will continue to advocate to do that,” she said. “I want that to be a valid initiative so the citizens in the state can vote on it.”

On education, Berman said she fully supports funding public education to make sure public students are not short changed by getting less than charter schools.

As for medical marijuana, Berman, said the legislature passed a bill last year that was more limited than she would have liked it to be. She proposes that people should be allowed to smoke marijuana. “Right now, the only means for inhaling or ingesting marijuana are through edibles and vaping,” Berman said. “We should expand it to include smoking.”

The seat will remain vacant through the regular 2018 legislative session, which runs through March 9.

District 31 is generally east of Florida’s Turnpike between Lake Worth and Delray Beach.

Read the original article here.

Palm Beach Post: “Post endorsements: Among Democrats, Berman best successor to Clemens”


When state Sen. Jeff Clemens abruptly resigned his seat in October, it left District 31 without one of the most influential and dynamic voices in the Florida Legislature.

Clemens, an Atlantis Democrat who resigned after admitting to an affair with a lobbyist, had risen to become a Democratic leader in a Republican-dominated Senate.

The Post believes that for Democrats, their best chance of getting back that clout when they go to the polls for a Jan. 30 primary election is state Rep. Lori Berman, of Lantana.

Berman, whose current House District 90 sits entirely within Senate District 31, has risen to be the ranking member on the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. After four terms in the House — she is term-limited — the 59-year-old knows her way around the halls of the state Capitol and is already a known quantity on big issues like health care, education, the environment and economic growth.

Her opponent, Lantana retiree Arthur Morrison, is an energetic 72-year-old former federal bureaucrat. Morrison, a county native whose graduation from all-black Roosevelt High School took him to Harvard University, said he became “irritated at what President Trump was doing” and jumped at the chance to run when Clemens resigned.

He told The Post Editorial Board that he is determined to protect poor seniors by keeping the “Medicaid-to-work” issue from coming to Florida, prevent any oil and gas drilling off the state’s coast and stop charter schools from siphoning away money from traditional public schools.

Berman agrees with all of those positions, and adds that she wants economic development in the county and throughout the whole state that will produce “jobs that are careers.”

“I voted to support Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida because, among other things I want my children to be able to have good, well-paying jobs,” she said, “that will keep them in our state.”

A major part of attracting those jobs, she said, is bolstering the state’s higher education system — especially community colleges like Palm Beach State College. “We shouldn’t have to support our universities at the expense of our community colleges,” she said.

We admire Morrison’s ambitions, but Berman clearly would be the more effective legislator, one who would need only a minimal learning curve in moving from House to Senate.

In the Republican primary, Palm Beach County Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Tami Donnally is running unchallenged.

The two primary winners will face off in the April 10 general election.

Read the original article here.

Campaign Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 30 @ Wood & Fire

Join Lori for her campaign kickoff on Thursday, November 30th, at Wood & Fire in Delray Beach! The event is free to attend, but contributions are encouraged.

Plan Beach Post: “Berman rolls out big endorsements, Slosberg dismisses ‘political machine’ in special Senate race”


State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, today rolled out several Democratic endorsements as she pursues the party’s nomination for a special state Senate election to replace Jeff Clemens in Palm Beach County.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and former Democratic U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler (for whom Berman once worked) and Patrick Murphy are among those endorsing Berman as she vies against former state state Rep. Irving Slosberg and Arthur Morrison of West Palm Beach in a Jan. 30 primary. The seat is open because Clemens resigned in October after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Tami Donnally is also running for the heavily Democratic seat. The general election is April 10 — after the regular 2018 legislative session ends.

Berman, serving her fourth term in the state House, announced endorsements from 27 state lawmakers, including Palm Beach County Democratic state Sens. Bobby Powell and Kevin Rader and state Rep. Matt Willhite of Wellington.

“Lori is a true progressive leader, a tireless fighter for women’s rights, and will make an excellent State Senator. I am proud to endorse her,” said Deutch.

Slosberg downplayed Berman’s endorsements.

“It’s Irv Slosberg vs. the political machine — again,” Slosberg said.

Slosberg took on the Democratic machine and won in 2000, ousting former Rep. Curt Levine to win a House seat. The machine got its revenge in 2006 when Deutch, making his first run for office, got the backing of many party leaders and defeated Slosberg in a state Senate primary. Slosberg won a House seat again in 2010, but left in 2016 to challenge the party establishment again; he lost a bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Clemens.

Said Slosberg: “I just want the endorsements of the people.”

Florida Politics: “Lori Berman nabs two dozen endorsements in SD 31 bid”


Last week, more than 25 Democratic legislative leaders from Palm Beach County and the state announced endorsing state Rep. Lori Berman in her bid for Senate District 31.

Among those lining up behind Berman, a Lantana Democrat who represents HD 90, are Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, former Congressmen Patrick Murphy and Robert Wexler, both Democratic Palm Beach County Sens. Kevin Rader and Bobby Powell, Sens. Linda Stewart, Annette Taddeo and Victor Torres.

“Lori is a true progressive leader, a tireless fighter for women’s rights, and will make an excellent state senator,” Deutch said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse her.”

State Representatives endorsing Berman include House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, House Democratic Leader Designate Kionne McGhee, House Democratic Policy Chairs Evan Jenne and Cynthia Stafford, Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Bobby DuBose, Reps. Matt Willhite, Robert Asencio, Loranne Ausley, Kamia Brown, John Cortes, Tracie Davis, Ben Diamond, Joseph Geller, Patrick Henry, Shevrin Jones, Amy Mercado, Barrington Russell, Sean Shaw, Carlos Guillermo Smith, Richard Stark, Barbara Watson and Wengay “Newt” Newton.

“Lori Berman is the only choice for true Democrats in the race for state Senate, and that is why so many outstanding elected officials have come out and endorsed her today,” said Rader.

Berman is resigning her House seat effective April 9 of next year for the SD 31 special election, which covers Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Greenacres. The seat vacated after POLITICO Florida reported on an extramarital affair between then-Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens and Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West. Clemens resigned the seat.

“I am honored to have the support of these legislative leaders that have done so much for Palm Beach County and our state,” Berman responded to the endorsement wave. “I will be a bold progressive champion in the Senate and look forward to working with them in standing up for a woman’s right to choose, pushing for commonsense gun violence prevention measures, advocating for traditional public schools, expanding access to high-quality health care, and fighting for seniors.”

News Service of Florida: “Berman fires up Senate run – with wood oven”


State Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, is kicking off her special election Senate campaign at an upscale pizza joint in Delray Beach in two weeks.

And everyone’s invited — just keep your “encouraged” checks under $1,000.

Berman, who is already in the contest to replace disgraced Democrat Jeff Clemens for the Palm Beach County seat, posted an invitation on Twitter Thursday announcing the Nov. 30 event at Wood & Fire in Delray Beach.

Clemens resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist, and the seat will remain vacant through the 60-day 2018 legislative session that begins Jan. 9.

Gov. Rick Scott set a special primary for Jan. 30 and the special general election for April 10.

Democrat Arthur Morrison of West Palm Beach and Lake Worth Republican Tami Donnally have also opened campaign accounts. Former Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Democrat narrowly defeated by Clemens in a spendy primary last year, is expected to run.

Read the original article here.

Florida Politics: “Lori Berman to run in SD 31 special election”


Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman announced Tuesday she will run for the special election in Senate District 31, which opened up Friday following the unexpected and immediate resignation of Jeff Clemens.

“We’re in the midst of a watershed moment in the struggle for women’s rights across this country and one of the key motivators in my decision to do this is our state’s need for a champion on issues ranging from pay equity to health care and reproductive rights to freedom from sexual harassment and workplace discrimination,” Berman said in a press release.“My message is simple: now more than ever, women need a strong voice in the Florida Senate.”

Berman also took a jab at the Republican-controlled Legislature, which she said has caused suffering among Florida children and seniors. Although her message calling for more strong women in the Senate will likely resonate more within the safe Democratic district, especially given the nature of Clemens’ exit from the Legislature and the focus laid upon sexual harassment in both Tallahassee and the nation over the past month.

Clemens, a Fort Worth Democrat who was slated to become Senate Minority Leader, stepped down Friday after reports surfaced of an affair he had with lobbyist Devon West. The tryst took place during the 2017 Legislative Session and boiled over when West got ahold of Clemens’ laptop and informed his wife of the affair.

“I have made mistakes I’m ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement to the media last week. “All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”Berman follows former Democratic Rep. Irv Slosberg in announcing her candidacy, though more Democrats are expected to throw their hats in the ring in the coming days.

Among those speculated to join her are Democratic Rep. David Silvers and Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein.

SD 31 covers part of coastal Palm Beach County, including Lake Worth, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet set dates for the special election, though Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher proposed Monday that a primary election be held Jan. 30, followed by an April 10 general election.

If Scott picks those dates, SD 31 will go the entirety of the 2018 Legislative Session without representation. The annual session is scheduled to run Jan. 9 through March 9.

Palm Beach Post: “Florida lawmakers call for genetically modified mosquitoes”

TALLAHASSEE — With Congress showing no signs of breaking its long deadlock over funding to fight the Zika virus, Florida lawmakers Wednesday threw in behind a new weapon — Franken-skeeters.
A majority of Florida House members asked federal health officials to approve releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the state to reduce the risk of more cases of the Zika virus. Florida has already reported more than 700 cases, including 56 that could be linked to local mosquitoes.

Led by Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who becomes her party’s House leader after the November elections, 61 House members sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell requesting emergency action to fast-track the modified insects with the colorful nickname.

“We must find and utilize new strategies to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks,” the Florida leaders wrote.

Palm Beach County Reps. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, and Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, were among those signing.

+Richard Corcoran photo

The British company Oxitec has developed technology to mutate millions of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a lab setting, deploying a synthetic protein that kills their offspring before they can emerge from larvae as adults and transmit the Zika virus.

Last month, Oxitec received a federal go-ahead for a pilot project in the Florida Keys.

If wild female mosquitoes mate with sterile males, the population dies off rapidly. The approach has been used in Brazil and Caribbean islands with some success, but questions remain about whether it would make much difference in Florida.

Mosquito populations would have to be narrowly targeted, and a large metropolitan area like Miami could prove a challenge, officials have said.

“If the federal government follows its normal bureaucratic processes, it might take years for Florida to access this technology. Such a delay presents an unnecessary health risk to the people of our state. Red tape is never an acceptable justification for the loss of human life,” the Florida lawmakers wrote.

The letter was sent as the U.S. Senate — just back from a two-month recess — defaulted to what has been its familiar position of deadlocking over Zika funding.

A $1.1 billion proposal failed Tuesday in a 52-46 vote after Republican leaders included a provision dropping Planned Parenthood from the list of providers getting new funding to combat the spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.

Democrats wouldn’t go along with the move against Planned Parenthood. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted for the measure, while the state’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, voted against it.

Rubio, who is running for re-election, has said that he would support the entire $1.9 billion Zika funding package proposed in February by President Obama — but not taken up by the GOP-controlled Congress.

Rubio’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, has ridiculed him for failing to get those in his own party to drop their stand against Planned Parenthood.

While many Florida members of Congress have clamored for action, Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, underscored the push Wednesday by bringing a jar with about 100 mosquitoes to the House floor, warning that the University of South Florida needs funding to continue research into the virus.

News Service of Florida: “Voters Give Green Light To Solar Tax Break”

By Jim Turner – News Service of Florida

Primary-election voters Tuesday approved the expansion of a renewable-energy tax break that backers say will help businesses and spark the expanded use of solar energy in Florida.

But while the measure had support from an array of groups, they are divided on an unrelated solar amendment on the November general-election ballot that could lead to a major political fight.

The proposed constitutional amendment approved Tuesday was known as Amendment 4 and was placed on the ballot by the Legislature. It is designed to extend a residential renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties.

Shortly after the polls closed, the measure was more than 10 percentage points above the required 60 percent threshold needed for approval of constitutional amendments.

The preliminary results indicated that the measure, which backers say will spur growth in solar and renewable energy, was supported in almost every county.

“The strong showing of support for Amendment 4 sends a clear message to elected officials at all levels of government that Florida voters want more diversity in our energy market,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the proposal during the 2016 legislative session.

Though approved by voters, the measure still needs the Legislature to enact the changes.

The measure — sponsored in the House by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana — will exempt for 20 years the assessed value of solar and renewable-energy devices installed on businesses and industrial properties.

“Eliminating high tax barriers will unleash the potential of the ‘Sunshine State’ to become a leader in solar energy production,” Rodrigues said in a prepared statement.

Berman said the election results allow Florida to “enter a new era where renewable energy can be accessible for all, and clean energy jobs can be at the forefront of Florida’s economy.”

Voters approved a similar exemption for residential property owners in 2008, with the measure taking effect in 2014.

The new proposal also has an element to help residential property owners, as it would exempt all renewable-energy equipment from state tangible personal property taxes.

Support for the measure came from a wide range of organizations such as the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the Florida AFL-CIO, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club of Florida and Surfrider Foundation.

A poll released last week by the Florida Chamber of Commerce showed 70 percent of Floridians supported the proposal, with 14 percent opposed.

Yet on Friday Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released findings that indicated the measure was having serious trouble with Republicans and independent voters.

Some late opposition to the measure came from groups such as the Orlando-based political action committees Stop Playing Favorites and the Advocacy, Action & Accountability Alliance, which claimed the amendment would provide “millions in tax breaks to big corporations” at the expense of money that would otherwise flow into minority communities.

Backers of the measure also had to overcome some confusion that the proposal was linked to a separate utility-backed solar proposal on the November ballot.

With Tuesday’s victory, supporters of Amendment 4 are now expected to divide up on what is known as Amendment 1 in November.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said his group is ready to immediately “pivot” from having supported Amendment 4 to vocally opposing Amendment 1.

“What Amendment 1 does not have is the support of a broad, very diverse, grassroots coalition,” Smith said. “It is exactly what it is, a utility-backed, utility-funded, self-promoting approach to try to keep a monopoly control on their terms.”

The November “Consumers for Smart Solar” initiative would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.

More than $15 million has already been spent promoting the November amendment.

Florida Politics: “Jeff Brandes, Lori Berman, Ray Rodrigues launching campaign for solar power tax breaks”

The three legislators responsible for a statewide initiative concerning home and industrial solar power system tax breaks announced on Tuesday they’ll be launching a campaign to get the measure passed on the August ballot.

“Because we’ve moved to the August primary, we have a really short window in order to really spin up a campaign,” said St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “We think we’ll be very active right up front, and we’re going to be doing a lot of work in the next few weeks.”

The amendment would essentially be a tax break: It would exempt solar power equipment on homes from being counted toward a house’s value for property tax purposes. It also would exempt from taxation solar energy devices on commercial and industrial properties.

“This constitutional amendment represents bipartisan support from the Legislature for a radical shift in the way we prioritize clean, renewable energy in Florida,” said Boynton Beach Democratic Rep. Lori Berman. “Cutting taxes to promote the expansion of solar and renewable energy production is the right policy for our future, and this amendment will provide high-paying jobs for our of hardworking families.”

Berman and Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues sponsored the measure in the House, where it passed unanimously.

Brandes initially proposed the solar amendment in 2015.

“At the end of the day a couple of things came into play,” he said of its passage. “There were already a couple of solar constitutional amendments being discussed and so I think that the opportunity to have a more robust discussion about a third, the Legislature was ready to have that discussion.”

One of those constitutional amendments backed by the public utilities and a group called Consumers for Smart Solar is slated to appear on the ballot this November. The second one, backed by the group Floridians for Solar Choice, was a more grassroots effort that failed to get the necessary signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review. That proposal does share bipartisan support, as Brandes noted about his constitutional amendment.

“It’s one of those issues where we can get the conservatives and the more progressive to agree that, both, we want more solar and we like to cut taxes, and so here were the Baptists and the Bootleggers to come together and agree on a policy.”

An existing ad valorem abatement for solar and renewable energy devices on residential property already exists in the state constitution. The lawmakers’ proposal opens the door for significant expansion of solar and renewable energy production on a larger scale in Florida. Once implemented by the legislature following approval in August by the voters, the ad valorem tax incentives of the amendment will begin in year 2018 and continue for 20 years.