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Legislative Affairs Committee Report June 2023

Executive Summary: After the election of a chair at the May LCREC meeting, the Legislative Affairs Committee (LAC) has had several virtual meetings.  During the first meeting several focus groups were established to address specific concerns of the LCREC.  The focus groups are; Election Integrity (EI), Second Amendment and Veterans Outreach (2A), Government Integrity (GI), and Schools / Public Education (SPE).  EI, 2A and GI have many REC members interested and currently working, SPE currently only has one member that has stepped up to work as part of the LAC.  The follow-up on the first meeting’s discussions included specific tasks for focus groups.  The EI group began an indebt review of SB 7050 and Florida Election laws to identify specific areas of concern.  EI also began identifying the Third Party Voter Registration Organizations (3PVRO) currently operating or registered in Lee County.  The 2A group began the process of identifying other pro 2A organizations in the Lee County area with the intent of outreach and cooperation.  2A also is identifying organizations and businesses in Lee County that are actively working against 2A and Republican candidates or interests.  The GI group established the goal to monitor key local government and special districts for activity and legislation that is contrary to the overall goals and objectives of the LCREC.  Subsequent meetings of the LAC were focus group specific.  Moving forward through July some of these tasks will become action requests for the LCREC board and LCREC Precinct Committeemen and Committeewomen.  In addition, based on specific requests, and contingent upon volunteers, it is anticipated that Veterans Outreach will become a specific focus group separate from 2A.

LCREC Board Action Requests from LA Committee:

EI – No current action requests.

2A – Sponsor an auction item, a table, or advertise at the upcoming Lee County Friends of the NRA annual dinner August 26, 2023.  2A supporters at this annual dinner have many of the same views on the future of the Second Amendment as the stated platform of the Republican Party.  Sponsoring an item or attending the event will build the relationship between our organizations, open opportunities for alliances when action is needed, and possible lead to recruitment of new LCREC members.

GI – Open up a calendar on the LeeGOP website for posting of upcoming meetings of elected boards, councils, and special districts in Lee County.  Knowing when elected boards are meeting fulfills one of our mandates to educate Republicans in Lee County about what is happening with our government.

SPE – We know the LCREC has many members that are focused on the Schools here in our county.  We are asking the board to encourage these members to consolidate their efforts with the LAC.

EI Group

Review SB 7050 and Florida State Statutes related to Elections and Election Law;

The EI group broke the 96 pages down into five 20 page sections.  These sections were reviewed line by line focusing on the deletions and additions to the elections laws of Florida amended by SB 7050.  Over the course of several meetings the EI group eliminated many concerns with SB 7050, however there were some questions about 7050 and existing Florida Law that could not be answered.  The review of SB 7050 evolved into a broader review of Florida election law and these are some of the questions we will be answering moving into July;

FSS 101.62 (3) – (existing law) Requires SOE to record very important data for all vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot requests received, however that data is exempt from the public records laws of the state unless the requester is from a specific category.  The following are authorized to receive this VBM data; a canvassing board, an election official, a political party or official thereof, a candidate who has filed qualification papers and is opposed in an upcoming election, and registered political committees for political purposes only.

Question – Why is this data exempt from public records laws?

FSS 97.0535 – (existing law) Lists exemptions to ID requirement for first time Florida VBM requests.  Exemptions are broad, and on their face appear to open a big hole for possible voter fraud.  You do not have to provide ID for a VBM request if; (a) Persons 65 years of age or older. (b) Persons with a temporary or permanent physical disability. (c) Members of the uniformed service on active duty who, by reason of such active duty, are absent from the county on election day. (d) Members of the Merchant Marine who, by reason of service in the Merchant Marine, are absent from the county on election day. (e) The spouse or dependent of a member referred to in paragraph (c) or paragraph (d) who, by reason of the active duty or service of the member, is absent from the county on election day. (f) Persons currently residing outside the United States who are eligible to vote in Florida.

Question – Why are these categories exempt from law requiring proof of ID when requesting a VBM ballot, and how many of these requests were filled in the 2022 election cycle?

FSS 101.5604 – (existing law) This law requires each county Board of County Commissioners in conjunction with the SOE to use machines approved by the State of Florida to tabulate their elections.  The final line of this statute reads; A county must use an electronic or electromechanical precinct-count tabulation voting system.

Questions – What machines are approved in FL?  What is the Lee SOE plan for machines moving into 2024 election cycle, same as modified 2022 12 poll location plan, or back to 99 precincts with paper ballots not machine printed ballots?

The EI group also reviewed the 3PVROs currently registered in Lee County.  Almost all of the 3PVRO registered here are affiliated with the Democrat Party.  Many of these organizations are active now, registering voters here in Lee County for the 2024 election cycle.

 

ORGANIZATION ORGANIZATION ADDRESS CONTACT PERSON PROVIDED PARTY AFFILIATION
NAACP #5110 3903 Dr. M LK Blvd, Ft Meyers. 33916. PO Box 1858 James Muwakkil 2275 Highland Av. Ft Meyers. 33916. 239-464-1394 Democrat
Edison College 8099 College Prky, Ft Meyers. 33919. Dr. Amy Teprovich 239-489-9316.  Democrat
Charles E. Barnes 4160 Silver Sword Ct. Ft. Meyers. 33903 Lee County Black History Society Democrat
Champion the Vote 9627 Eaton Gardens Lane #103 Ft. Meyers. 33919 Mary Suzanne Stuckey- Died in 2018 Republican
Lee Co Youth Council 229 NE 15th Terr. Cape Coral. 33909 Frederick Morgan II. – Just Died Recenlty Unknown
MC Library Education Center Corp. 2801 Michigan Ave, Ft. Meyers 33916. PO Box 1533 Clebert Merat 1879 Ricardo Ave, Ft. Meyers. 33901. 239-271-1413 Democrat
Quality of Life Center of SW FL Inc 3210 Dr. MLK Blvd, Ft. Meyers 33916 Frankie Carter Vickers 3141 Economy St, Ft Meyers. 33916 Democrat
Vance & Brenda Scoggins 2228 Treehaven Cir. N. Ft Meyers. 33907 239-872-9046 Republican
Christine Matthews Bail Bonds 3426 Fowler St, Ft. Meyers. 33901 Christine Matthews. 239-822-4792 Democrat
Lee County Democratic Black Caucus 5581d Berkshire Dr, Ft. Meyers. 33412. Suite 104. PO Box 61164 Carolyn Norris. 239-415-4638 Democrat
George Ugartemendia 869 Eisenhower Blvd, Lehigh Acres. 33974 Democrat
Theta Nu Omega Chapter/Alpha Kappa Soorooriity Inc. 3901 Dr. MLK Blvd. Ft Meyers 33916. PO Box 1591. 239-225-0009 Beverly Heatly. 8110 S. Woods Cir #7 Ft. Meyers. 33919. 239-225-0009 Democrat
Haitian-American Democratic Club of Lee Co. 226 SE 15th St. Cape Coral. 33990 Beatrice Jacquet 239-878-5898 Democrat
Judith C. Brussian 4391 Watercolor Way, Ft. Meyers. 33996. 317-578-8484 Democrat
FGCU Students for Sensible Drug Policy 20601 Huffmaster Rd. N. Ft. Meyers. 33917 Maryssa Pallis 4598 Ossabaw Way Naples 34119 Democrat
Democratic Party of Lee Co. 10051 McGregor Blvd. Suite 101, Ft Meyers, 33919 Gabrielle Spuckes 207 NE 12th Ct, Cape Coral 33909 949-330-0929 Democrat
SWFL Indivisible Inc.  1833 Hendry St. Ft. Meyers, 33901 Brooke Martinez. 239-336-6296. voter reg organization Democrat
Voices for Safe Schools 907 Deep Lagoon Ln. 239-482-1195 Dr. Harriet G. Bohannan Democrat
Citizens for Better Ft. Meyers Gov.– PAC 2726 Lemon St. Ft Meyers, 33916 Anthony Thomas. 239-265-2575 Democratic Candidate
Hope United Methodist Church 2006 Chiquita Blved S., Cape Coral, 33991. 239-574-5570 Rev. Paul Kisner. – 3307 Santa Barbara Blvd No Party affiliation
Lee Votes 4322 West Gulf Dr. Sanibel 33957 Michael Kieth Robison, 239-980-3121. Realtor Democrat

 

EI goals for July; continue to learn and understand the FSS related to election law, use this understanding of the election law to lobby for changes that close loopholes and strengthen Florida elections, begin the process of coordination with other RECs that are working on EI, understand the Lee County SOE process and lobby for local change to strengthen our system.

2A and Veterans Group

2A – The annual Lee County Friends of the NRA Dinner will be held on Saturday August 26, 2023 at 5:30pm.  Tickets are $60 a person and it will be held at the Ranch Concert Hall, 2158 Colonial BLVD, Fort Myers.  This is an opportunity to meet with other 2A supporters, and potentially recruit new members to the REC.  If you are interested in attending please contact 2A subcommittee member Mark Weaver at 239-209-0010. 

2A – The Hoffman Family of Companies has publicly called for more restrictive gun laws, and have barred their subsidiary companies from doing business with any company that deals with some of the most popular firearms in America.  Below is the link to their press release dated July 11, 2022;

https://hoffmannfamilyofcompanies.com/news/hoffmanns-denouce-gun-violence-in-america/

The Hoffman Family of Companies states in this release that it will not do business with any company that “retails, distributes, or manufactures any semi-automatic or fully automatic weaponry or any of their components or related products to the American public.”  “We will not support any politician with views that support the unbridled sale and usage of automatic and semi-automatic guns…”  Some of the more well known local businesses owned by the Hoffman Family of Companies are;

The Florida Everblades, Hertz Arena, The Florida Weekly, Babcock Ranch Telegraph, Ave Maria Sun, Florida Health Care News, Naples Transportation and Tours, Old Corkscrew Golf Club, Stan’s Coffee and Food Service, and many more.

Precinct Committeeman John Rankin introduced the 2A group to a retired Army veteran Steve Epkins.  Epkins is very involved with local veterans support.  Epkins briefed the group on a push for a Veterans Student Success Center being planned at FGCU, Veteran’s Last Patrol program, and the R Community Salutes.  The R Community Salutes program takes place at the end of high school graduation and celebrates those high school graduates who are enlisting in the military from Lee County.

2A goals moving into July include; identifying and building relationships with pro 2A organizations, organizing range days or firearms training classes in conjunction with the REC, forming relationships with local veterans groups for active support including active participation in the Collier Lee Honor Flight program.

GI Group

The GI group has the goal to actively participate in and monitor all local and state level elected bodies, including special districts or other public entities that have taxing or regulatory authority in Lee County.  There are multiple dozens of these government bodies in Lee County and the GI group will need more interested members to focus on every one.  The priorities will be the larger bodies or those that have significant impact on the residents of Lee County.  Examples would be County Commission, City Councils, Lee Health Special District, Fire Districts, and South Florida Water Management.  By monitoring these bodies the GI group will be able to educate the LAC and the entire REC local government activity.  In addition the GI group will be in a very good position to recommend legislative action to the REC members.

As of this report the GI group is actively monitoring the following bodies, The ResilientLee Task Force, Lee County Charter Review Commission, City of Fort Myers Council, City of Fort Myers Charter Review, Lee County Mosquito Control District, Gateway Community Development District.  Monitoring these bodies takes time, we need more volunteers interested in their local areas to step forward for this focus group.

ResilientLee Task Force – Lead REC member Lindsey Funair

What is ResilientLee

The objectives of ResilientLee, stemming from the FEMA National Disaster Recovery Framework, are to:

 Survey the immediate, short-term, and long-term needs of Lee County.

 Identify and engage key partners to address the needs of the community.

 Develop viable, feasible, desirable, and actionable solutions to meet those needs.

 Maximize funding resources available and recommend policies necessary to implement those solutions.

Resilient Lee is organized into two administrative categories that it calls “who we are”:

 Task Force Members (Elected Officials’ Input) https://www.resilientlee.com/recovery-task-force-members

o Kevin Ruane, Lee County Commissioner, Chairman of the Recovery Task Force

o Chris Corrie, Councilman, Bonita Springs

o John Gunter, Mayor, Cape Coral

o Jon McLain, Mayor, Estero

o Kevin Anderson, Mayor, Fort Myers

o Bill Veach, Council Member, Fort Myers Beach

o Holly Smith, Councilwoman, Sanibel

o John Holloway, Undersheriff, Law Enforcement

o Robert Dilallo, Fire Chief, Fire

o Armor Persons, Chairman, Lee County School Board

o David Collins, Board Member, Lee Health

o Jenna Persons-Mulicka, Representative, Legislative Delegation

o Matt Caldwell, Property Appraiser, Constitutional Office

 Branches (Stakeholders’ Input) – public, private, and non-profit sector subject matter experts https://www.resilientlee.com/task-force-branches

o Planning & Capacity

o Economic Recovery

o Education & Workforce

o Health & Social Services

o Infrastructure

o Housing

o Natural Resources

o Cultural Resources

Additionally, under “what we do,” are the outreach activities:

 Town Halls (Residents’ Input) https://www.resilientlee.com/town-hall-meetings

 Workshops (Task Force and Branch Members) https://www.resilientlee.com/workshops

o Critical Infrastructure Workshop – June 5

o Supporting Business and Workforce Workshop – June 7

o Community Resilience Workshop – June 8

o Attainable and Resilient Housing Workshop – June 9

Helpful Links

Your Town Hall meeting recording is available here: https://www.resilientlee.com/town-hall-meetings

The Task Force, Workshop, and Branch meeting recordings are available here: https://www.resilientlee.com/meeting-archive

The May 26th Task Force meeting recording is available here: https://www.resilientlee.com/events-1/recovery-task-force-meeting-may-2023-2

Most questions can be answered by reading the slide deck from the May 26th Task Force meeting, available here: https://www.resilientlee.com/_files/ugd/913f31_0552e466bddb4413b62e3da697bda2bc.pdf

The full calendar of meetings is available here: https://www.resilientlee.com/resilient-lee-event-calendar

Potential Communities

If your community is not located in an incorporated city, with a representative thereof sitting on the ResilientLee Task Force, you may be interested in attending the June 12th meeting to discuss the following “potential communities”:

 Dunbar

 Iona-McGregor

 Matlacha

 Midtown

 Palm Beach Blvd

 Pine Island

 Pine Manor

 San Carlos Park

Key Takeaways

 The $1.1B awarded by the federal government is heavily restricted in its ability to be spent on projects that will not tend toward gentrification.

 The target amount for federal funding is $10-13B. This is the range which would be considered consistent with previous storms, before adjusting for inflation.

 $144.5M is available for mitigation without requiring a tie-back to Hurricane Ian.

 The applications for un-met needs funding, which will be used to request additional funds rather than to allocate existing funds, as currently identified needs exceed funding, were required to be completed the same day of the meeting in which their criteria were discussed publicly.

 Amendments (sometimes 30-40) are expected throughout the spending plan process.

 A “moderate income” household is capped at $64,000 for a family of four.

 When discussing the requirements to allocate the up to 70% of funds which are required to go toward low/moderate households, the context of the conversation consisted almost exclusively of multiunit rental developers, not home owners. Similarly, most of the conversation regarding “deregulating” codes to reduce costs were presented in the context of the cost to developers, not homeowner repairs.

 Once granted, funds have a total of six years in which they may be executed.

 A 30% increase in population is projected by 2030.

 Lee County is more heavily dependent on public-private/non-profit partnerships than other areas, making funding for water utilities especially challenging.

 Insurance premiums are reportedly increasing from $10k to $50k.

 The City of Sanibel asked that “deregulation” be removed from the list of objectives developed through the Branch meetings. Commissioner Ruane reminded their representative that as an incorporated city, they have their own regulations.

 There was much debate between various city representatives on what should be done with a property near Estero/Bonita and how it fit with their goals for water protection, density reduction, and relocation of “mountains” of debris and whether it could be purchased through the allocated funds up for discussion at this meeting. It was said that the cities would need to discuss this.

 Lee County Charter Review Commission

The Lee County Charter Commission has had 15 members appointed to review and possibly introduce changes to the Charter for County Government.  Each elected Lee County Commissioner appoints three members to this review commission.  The current chair of the Charter Review Commission is REC member Nathan Shaw.  The current co-chair is REC member Andrew Sund.  The commission has had four meetings at the time of this report, and will continue meeting for the next 15 months.

March 14, 23 and April 11, 23 were the first and second meetings held on the respective dates.  These two meetings were mostly focused on organization of the commission, election of chair and vice-chair, and how they would operate over the course of their appointed time frame.

May 9, 23 the third meeting focus was a presentation by Property Appraiser and State Committeeman Matt Caldwell.  Caldwell presented his opinion on the need for change in how Lee County is governed, and as listed in the meeting minutes, advocated for blended County Commission representing both single member district Commissioners and county-wide district Commissioners.  Caldwell also listed other needs for change within Lee County government based on growth and restrictions placed on current elected Commisioners.

June 13, 23 the fourth meeting focus was a presentation by County Commisioner Cecil Pendergrass.  Pendergrass gave a presentation on the need for a County level review of voluntary annexation occurring from large property owners into cities.  Pendergrass stressed the pressure being placed on county infrastructure by many of these annexations, and the inability for the county to have a say in the process.  Multiple members of the public spoke in support of this topic.

Future meeting schedules, the minutes, and recorded videos of the meetings can be found at https://www.leegov.com/charterreview/meetings

Fort Myers City Council – Lead REC member Dorian Scudder

City Council Regular Meeting Charter Advisory Review Board June

  • Vice Chair Sawyer Smith brought up allowing Supervisor of Election office to assume all responsibilities for municipal elections
  • SOE Office offered to undertake elections for the city, but City Manager felt cost was too high.
  • Discussion on the scope of a qualifying officer (Clerk of Courts). This is relevant because December 2021 the city council voted to qualify a candidate for city council despite disagreement on the candidate’s residency eligibility
  • Darla Bonk brought up options of minority-majority wards, and/or at large council seats
  • General discussion of adding or removing wards

Lee County Mosquito Control District – Lead REC member Bill Megan

No report for June

Gateway Community Development District – Lead REC member Matt Chitwood

The Gateway CDD has a 5 member board of supervisors covering most of Precincts 202, 208, and 209.  The board members are elected in “non partisan” races and serve 4 year terms.  Currently there are 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats on the board.  The board chair, Flavia Walsh, is a registered Democrat and both her and the other registered Democrat are up for reelection in 2024.  The CDD has taxing authority and over the last several years has significantly raised taxes and approved special bonds while at the same time reducing services to the area that falls within this district.

The GI group goals for July are to focus on a standard reporting format for the different government bodies.  In addition the GI group would like to recruit additional members to add to the list of bodies covered by the REC.

SPE Group

Committeeman Dick DeLorenzo has stepped up to the plate to focus on the Lee County School District.  He is looking for help from other members of the REC that attend School Board Meetings and monitor their activity.

Lee County School Board Meeting June 27, 2023

Superintendant Christopher Berner gave a rundown on schools damaged by Hurrican Ian and progress in their repair.  He also asked for several new administrative positions like Chief of Operations officer (salary $235,000) COO for facilities and construction (2 positions at $175,000) Chief and Human Resources, Chief of Staff and Communications officer.

Personal observation: Seems like these beauracrats like school board, government officials love to create more and more administrative positions. Under the new school choice act, let’s see if the public schools can raise test scores and compete with the private and parochial schools and with home schooling before spending thousands more on administrators.

Other items discussed:

Books for children was a hot topic in the public hearing as was teacher’s salaries which some felt should go to $60,000. Violence is District 5 was discussed as was Veterans Day as a holiday. 

Tara Jenner brought up that teacher applicants have to be fingerprinted BEFORE making job application which she felt was unfair. 

The Board discussed many Contractual matters and went with a food delivery service which they said was faster and more reliable even though not the lowest bid.

Item J-4 Administrative salary raises was voted down 6 to 1.

Charter schools and adult education was also discussed.

The SPE goal for July is to join with and recruit more members to monitor one of the largest government bodies in Lee County, and be able to take proactive action when items of relevance are uncovered.

Respectfully Submitted;

Matt Chitwood LCREC Legislative Committee Chair



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