Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Tampa Bay area led state in STEM job openings in December

Looking for a STEM job? The Tampa Bay region is might just be the place to be.

The Tampa area led the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations in December. The area had 14,673 openings in December, according to the Governor’s Office.

The region also led the state in job demand during the one-month period, with 45,632 job openings.

“Tampa businesses created 29,100 new jobs in 2016 and the area remains first in the state for online job demand and job openings in high-wage STEM occupations. This is great news for Tampa families,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement. “We want Florida to become the top destination for business growth and new opportunities, and we will continue to do all we can to help Florida compete in the global economy.”

The Tampa area had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in December, slightly below the statewide unemployment rate of 4.9 percent. Scott touted statewide job gains in the past year, boasting boasting Florida businesses created 237,300 private sector jobs in 2016.

“Over the last six years, we’ve worked each day to make it easier for job creators to invest and create new opportunities in our state, and we will continue to do everything we can to help Florida out compete other locations as the best place for jobs,” he said.

Scott typically makes the monthly jobs announcement during a press conference, but the Naples Republican was in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

“Today, as we proudly welcome a new president who will make job creation a top priority across our nation, we stand ready to fight for another great year of economic growth in Florida,” he said.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s job growth has exceeded the nation’s rate since 2012. The agency reported December was the 77th consecutive month with “positive over-the-year growth.”

The leisure and hospitality industry continues to make the most gains, growing by 4.6 percent year-over-year.

“With more than 250,000 job openings across the state and more than 1.25 million new private-sector jobs created in the last six years, it’s clear Florida is a great place to find a good job,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Our low unemployment rate and strong record of job creation prove Florida is a great state to do business.”

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@POTUS gets a fresh start with Donald Trump inauguration

Much has been said about the peaceful transition of power, but what about the peaceful transition of the presidential Twitter account?

Don’t worry, there’s a plan for that.

The POLITICO Morning Tech email reported this morning that a plan is in place to transition all of President Barack Obama’s tweets from the @POTUS account to @POTUS 44, an “archived Obama-era version of the account. The account will retain all of the current followers, while also attaching those same followers to the account that gets handed over to President-elect Donald Trump.

“That is, if you follow the presidential account now you’ll eventually, automagically, end up following both @POTUS44 and @POTUS,” reported POLITICO Morning Tech.

The White House issued a memo in October, outlining how it would transition the president’s social media presence. According to the memo, @POTUS will be made available to Trump and maintain its more than 11 million followers, “but start with no tweets on timeline.” The White House said the social media accounts of @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS, @PressSec and @VP.

On Instagram and Facebook, the memo explained, the incoming White House gains access to the “White House username, URL, and retain the followers, but will start with no content on the timeline.”

“An archive of White House content that was posted to the Obama White House Instagram and Facebook will continue to be accessible to the public at Instagram.com/ObamaWhiteHouse and Facebook.com/ObamaWhiteHouse. Facebook accounts for President Obama and the Vice President and the Instagram accounts belonging to the First Lady and Vice President will be moved to new “44” usernames and preserved by NARA,” according to the report.

“We’ll follow a similar approach with other official accounts on platforms including Medium, Tumblr, and YouTube. These presences will be made available to the 45th White House, including the “White House” username, /WhiteHouse URL, and the followers, but start with no content on the accounts. The Obama White House content will be preserved and accessible in the same manner as all other presidential records and continue to be available on the platform at a new URL. “

But don’t stop looking for tweets from Trump’s personal twitter account. CNET reported this week that Trump said he would rather keep using @realDonaldTrump.

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Department of Health begins Amendment 2 rule-making

More patients might be eligible for medical marijuana under Amendment 2, but a preliminary draft of new rules doesn’t appear to allow for immediate growth in the industry to meet demand.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health released the preliminary text of proposed rule development. The release comes ahead of five public hearings schedule for early next month, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on the agency’s rules and regulations governing the state’s medical marijuana program.

But the update appears to do little to establish new rules, instead creating a system that could bring new patients into the state’s existing medical pot program.

“Any proposal which seeks to mold the spirit of Amendment 2 into the narrow and flawed law on the books today should be rejected, and a more comprehensive strategy must take priority. The people of Florida overwhelmingly voted for a new direction in medical marijuana, and we must heed the will of the voters,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican. “I will support no bill, nor any rule, that maintains the established state sanctioned cartel system we have today, and I urge my colleagues to join me in proposing a free market solution for Florida.

Under the proposed rule, only patients with one of 10 specific medical conditions, like HIV/AIDs or cancer, are eligible for medical marijuana. The rule does allow for use, as long as the Florida Board of Medicine identifies which debilitating conditions it can be used for.

That’s contrary to the ballot language, which allowed physicians to order medical marijuana for a patient for if they believe “the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

“The proposed rule issued today by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) stands in direct contradiction with Article X, Section 29 of the Florida Constitution, the expressed intent of the authors of that section, and the will of the overwhelming majority of voters who approved the amendment,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign. “If DOH’s rule is implemented as written, it will be in clear violation of Florida law.”

The proposed rule also requires patients, physicians, medical marijuana treatment centers and caregivers to be registered in state’s online Compassionate Use Registry; and requires medical marijuana treatment centers to follow the same record keeping, security, product testing, and other safety standards currently spelled out in state law and rules.

“I believe the Department is being appropriately cautious and awaiting the Legislature’s direction,” said Taylor Patrick Biehl, a lobbyist at Capitol Alliance Group who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “The eligible patient population grows significantly under Amendment 2 — potentially tenfold. I’m confident that both the Department and the Legislature recognize the need to create affordable, safe and accessible medicine to the deserving patients.”

The preliminary rule also states all medical marijuana treatment centers, which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

That rule means the seven nurseries currently authorized to grow, process and sell medical marijuana will have the corner on the market. Those nurseries are already growing the low THC cannabis authorized under a 2014 state law.

There is potential for more dispensing organizations to come online in the future, but not until 250,000 qualified patients register with the compassionate use registry.

The ballot initiative gives the Department of Health six months after the amendment goes into effect to write the rules governing medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3.

“The legislature has demonstrated a willingness and desire to implement this amendment in a reasonable manner that respects the plain language of the constitution, and reflects the mandate of the electorate,” said Pollara. “Why DOH would choose to engage in a policymaking exercise which ignores both the law and the role of the legislature in implementing the law is a mystery. Perhaps the actions of DOH shouldn’t surprise, given their history of incompetence in the administration of Florida’s medical marijuana laws.”

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email to FloridaPolitics.com that the agency “initiated the rulemaking process as directed by Amendment 2.” She went on to say the state agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

The Legislature has indicated it will tackle Amendment 2 during the 2017 Legislative Session. Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, is expected to carry the medical marijuana bill in the House. And last week, the House Health Quality subcommittee held a two-hour meeting where experts, including Christian Bax with the Office of Compassionate Use, participated in a panel discussion on the implementation.

The workshops are open to the public, and anyone can comment. The meetings will be held:

— 2 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd. North in Jacksonville

— 10 a.m. on Feb. 7 at Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th Street in Fort Lauderdale

— 9 a.m. on Feb. 8 at the Florida Department of Health, Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Spectrum Blvd.

— 6 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Drive in Orlando; and

— 4 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148 in Tallahassee.

Those who can’t attend in person, can offer public comment on the Department of Health website.

 

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Donald Trump inauguration a special moment for Brian Ballard

This isn’t Brian Ballard’s first inauguration, but it will likely be one of his most memorable.

Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, is one of several Floridians expected to attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration this week. And while his schedule is flush with lunches and galas, he’s most looking forward to the moment Trump takes the oath of office.

“The swearing-in, for me, is going to be the cool part. It’s almost hard to comprehend and put into words. It’s going to be a hugely impactful moment,” said Ballard. “Seeing him take the oath and the government becoming Trump government, which is hard to fathom even for me. It’s going to be so exciting and emotional.”

For Ballard, that moment will also mark the culmination of months of work behind the scenes to help send Trump to the White House.

A top fundraiser for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, Ballard served as finance chairman for Trump’s campaign in Florida. Days after Trump won the presidency, he was selected to serve as one of the finance vice chairs on the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The two men’s relationship goes beyond politics. Ballard served as the The Trump Organization’s lobbyist in the Florida Legislature for several years.

But Ballard wasn’t all in with Trump from Day 1. He initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush, signing on early and raising thousands upon thousands of dollars for the former governor and Right to Rise, the super PAC that backing Bush.

He later shifted his support to Sen. Marco Rubio, saying the Bush campaign’s decision to attack the Miami Republican didn’t sit well with him. Once he joined Team Trump, Ballard emerged as one of the New York Republican’s top advisors.

There have been rumblings Ballard might be nominated for an ambassadorship, but he has dismissed them. With a multi-million construction project underway at the corner of Park Avenue and South Monroe Street and a full roster of clients ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session, Ballard appears to have plenty of things to keep him busy in Florida’s capital city.

But that isn’t stopping him from enjoying the festivities and celebrating with friends.  Ballard and his family planned to travel to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Once there, the schedule is filled to brim with events.

A black tie dinner was scheduled for Tuesday evening to kick off the official festivities. A lunch-hour reception is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by a dinner to honor Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

There’s a leadership luncheon Thursday, and the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” a public event at the Lincoln Memorial. That evening, you might be able to find the Ballard family at a candlelight dinner.

When Trump raises his right hand to take the oath of office Friday, Ballard will be there. And he and his family will be on hand later in the evening, this time decked out in tuxedos and ball gown for the inaugural ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

And that is only a piece of Ballard’s schedule.

“It’s incredibly filled with events,” said Ballard, who last attended an inauguration nearly 30 years ago for President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration. “Every night there’s parties before and after, there’s lunches every day. I’m getting a lot of invitations.”

One other event definitely on his calendar: The Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott. The inaugural ball, according to the Miami Herald, is being sponsored by Let’s Get to Work, Scott’s political committee.

“This is unique because of the president-elect and our relationship,” said Ballard. “You think of people who get sworn in as president as (someone) who is bigger than life, not someone you know very, very well. Knowing someone and seeing him take the oath of office, I’ll never experience (that again).”

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Rick Scott to host jobs summit in Orlando

Gov. Rick Scott will focus on jobs during a summit in Orlando next month.

Scott is scheduled to host a jobs summit on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 at the Caribe Royale in Orlando, according to an online invitation. The event, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, appears to be similar to an education summit the Naples Republican hosted in 2016.

According to the invitation, the event will bring together “Florida’s top business leaders, economic developers, educators and community leaders” to discuss ways to “shape the future of Florida’s economy to create good, high-paying jobs for all Florida families.”

Scott first mentioned his plans for an economic conference back in September.

“I will be hosting an economic summit with economic development leaders and job creators from across the state to discuss how we can bring even more opportunities to Florida. Florida undoubtedly has a lot to offer to out compete other states for jobs wins,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement. “Our business climate, low taxes, education system, workforce, transportation infrastructure and even the weather are all variables that companies look at when considering locations to move or expand. But, we cannot lose sight that economic incentives are an important part of this toolkit.”

The summit comes just one month before the start of the annual 60-day Legislative Session, where economic development and job growth is expected to take center stage. Last year, Scott said he would request $85 million for economic incentives to bring jobs to Florida.

While Scott is a supporter of incentives, he’ll face opposition in the Florida House. The House blocked an effort to create a dedicated funding source for incentives during the 2016 legislative session, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he does not support incentives.

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Legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018, 2020

More lawmakers are gearing up for a re-election bid.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018, and several more are looking ahead to 2020.

Sen. Greg Steube is one of those lawmakers who is starting to think about his next race. The Sarasota Republican filed to run for re-election in Senate District 23 on Jan. 10. Steube replaced Sen. Nancy Detert, winning the seat after a hard-fought Republican primary last year.

When it comes to 2018, House members are staking their claim on their seats for another two years.

Rep. Ramon Alexander filed to run for re-election on Jan. 6. The Tallahassee Democrat currently represents House District 8. And Alexander isn’t the only freshman thinking about the future.

Rep. Ralph Massulo filed to run for re-election in House District 34. The Lecanto Republican filed to run for re-election on Jan. 9. Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, filed to run for re-election in House District 73 on Jan. 5.

Gruters filing is notable because some Florida campaign watchers have questioned whether he leave office once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office later this month. Gruters was an early supporter of the New York Republican, and there has been some speculation that he will take a job within the Trump administration.

Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican, filed to run for re-election in House District 59 on Jan. 4; while Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican representing House District 111, filed to run again on Jan. 11.

It’s not just incumbents getting an early start on 2018. Democrat David Poulin, who challenged Rep. Ben Albritton in 2016, filed to run in House District 56. Albritton can’t run again in 2018 because of term limits. Andy Warrener, a no party affiliation candidate, filed to run against Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant; while Libertarian Spenser Garber is planning to challenge Rep. Jayer Williamson, a first-term lawmaker, in House District 3.

And Sen. Tom Lee could have primary challenger. John Houman, a Thonotosassa Republican, filed to run in Senate District 20 on Jan. 9.

Houman ran in Senate District 19 in 2016. At the time, the self-described “Mr. Manners” described his ideology and background in a lengthy post on his website— Mr-Manners.com.

On his website, he admitted to having a felony DUI, even saying he petitioned to have his civil rights restored in 2008. He said at the time he would bring several ideas — including streamlining government regulation — with him to Tallahassee, outlining 33 points in his so-called “Manifesto de Leadership.”

Lee, a Brandon Republican, was re-elected in June 2016, after no one else qualified to run in his district. Houman, who faced Darryl Rouson in his 2016 Florida Senate bid, received 69,875 votes (about 33 percent) to Rouson’s 141,305 votes (about 67 percent).

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Treadwell Nursery hires Gunster lobbyists Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams

Treadwell Nursery appears to be sticking with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams registered with the state to lobby the Florida Legislature on behalf of the Central Florida nursery on Dec. 13. The nursery, which was one of several applicants seeking a permit to grow and distribute medical marijuana, enlisted the help of two other Gunster team members earlier in 2016.

State records show Derek Bruce and Cameron Yarbrough registered to lobby the Legislature on the nursery’s behalf in August and July respectively. In October 2016, the nursery also enlisted the help of Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl with Capitol Alliance Group.

In April, Treadwell Nursery filed a petition for formal administrative hearings in response to the Department of Health’s decision to approve San Felasco Nurseries as a northeast Florida dispensing organization.

The nursery challenged how the Department of Health responded to a new state law, saying it had no criteria or timing outlined about how and when it would award additional licenses.

Treadwell Nursery, a more than 40-year-old family owned nursery in Central Florida, was one of eight nurseries in the central region to apply to be a dispensing organization. The nursery lost out to Knox Nursery. A second nursery in the region, San Felasco Nursery, won its administrative challenge and was eventually issued a licenses.

The fight over who can grow and distribute medical marijuana will surely heat up in the coming months, as state lawmakers and health department officials begin to craft rules and implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which went into effect on Jan. 3.

The new law allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use higher strength medical marijuana if recommended by a licensed physician. According to the Associated Press, there are nearly 1,500 patients in the state registry and about 340 physicians have registered.

The industry is also expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. A recent report from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research showed Florida’s market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent. The report notes that the Sunshine State could make up 14 percent of the medical marijuana market by 2020.

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House panel begins discussions about economic incentives

A Florida House subcommittee took its first stab at addressing economic incentives during a panel discussion Wednesday.

While the two-hour House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting gave experts a chance to weigh-in on economic incentives, the crux of the discussion centered around a single question from Rep. Halsey Beshears, the committee’s chairman.

Beshears asked the panel — which included Chris Hart IV, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Development; and Fatima Perez, the regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector — why the House should, or shouldn’t, modify the current economic incentive policies. The response? Well, that was mixed.

“Economic development does not happen without an investment,” said Proctor. “We believe in a strong economic development package, and we have to have (incentives).”

The House blocked an effort in 2016 to create a $250 million business incentive fund under Enterprise Florida. And House Republicans appear to be the poised to do the same in 2017.

Led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House appears poised to oppose economic incentive proposals. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare” and has vowed to lead the effort  to end taxpayer funding to the organization.

“All of the members here, we’ve heard the Speaker passionately argue against corporate welfare and we want to get a better handle on it,” said Beshears, a Monticello Republican, who went on to say the House is having discussions to figure out how to move forward.

Perez said her company supports ending “corporate welfare.” And that should come as no surprise to capital watchers. Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which led the effort against economic incentives last year, is backed by the Koch brothers.

“While Florida lawmakers are continuing to look at this, we believe there is plenty of room for improvement,” she said.

But supporters said incentives are just one tool in the toolbox, and are only one part of the discussion state and local officials have with companies looking to move to Florida.

“They are not an entitlement, (but) they tip the scale in our favor” said Kelly Smallridge, the president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “Incentives are only one policy discussion.”

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Ray Rodrigues: House bill won’t include tax on medical marijuana

The Florida House will push to make medical marijuana tax exempt, according the sponsor of the yet-to-be filed bill implementing Amendment 2.

While lawmakers are in the early stages of drafting an implementing bill, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues said the House does not plan to include a tax on medical marijuana in its proposal. The Estero Republican will be sponsoring the House bill during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Obviously our goal is to honor the intent of the constitutional amendment that more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved,” said Rodrigues. “The only thing I can firmly commit to is, I reviewed the Senate testimony that was offered in the Senate Health committee, and Ben Pollara, who led the organization that put the amendment on the ballot, said … it was his hope that Amendment 2 would be treated with the same seriousness as we treat medicine and all other health care decisions.”

“We respect that and, to that end, the one thing I can say about the House bill is we’re going to treat medical marijuana like medicine and we will not contain a tax on medical marijuana,” he continued.

Rodrigues said he is in the early stages of crafting the legislation, but does not currently have legislation in bill drafting. He said he hopes to meet with all of the stakeholders before drafting the legislation. But when it comes to the legislation, Rodrigues said he thinks everything will be on the table.

“I think the key is to come out with a product that honors the constitutional amendment, but also provides the regulations that are necessary to safeguard Florida citizens,” he said.

Rodrigues’ comments came after a two-hour House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, where lawmakers heard from Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, and other medical marijuana experts.

The constitutional amendment, which received support from 71 percent of Florida voters, allows Floridians with debilitating medical condition, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health are now tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

Bax said the Department of Health will begin the rule-making process in the coming days. The agency, he said, plans to hold workshops in five regions throughout the state to create an open dialogue about the needs.

“The Department of Health remains committed to executing the will of Florida voters,” he told the committee.

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Rick Scott selects Matilde Miller to serve as interim DBPR secretary

Matilde Miller will take the helm of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — at least temporarily.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday Miller was named the interim secretary of DBPR, replacing former Secretary Ken Lawson.

“Matilde has spent many years at DBPR serving in numerous leadership positions and understands how important it is to help businesses open and create jobs in our state,” said Scott in a statement. “Like Secretary Lawson, she will focus on reducing burdensome regulations and fees that make it harder for job creators to succeed in Florida. She has extensive legislative experience and relationships and I am confident she will be a great leader at DBPR.”

On Tuesday, Lawson was hired to serve as the president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe, the outgoing president and CEO, who resigned amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull.

Visit Florida refused to say how much it paid Pitbull or disclose any of the details of a contract with the Miami superstar, calling it a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued in December to release the contract, but withdrew the lawsuit after Pitbull used Twitter to release it.

Scott, who has praised Visit Florida in the past, responded to criticism by calling on Seccombe to resign. During a meeting in Orlando on Tuesday, the Visit Florida board of directors agreed to pay Seccombe $73,000 as severance. A spokeswoman for the governor said that sum is paid for using private funds.

Lawson will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and work without a contract. He has led the Department of Business and Professional Development since 2011.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

A 16-year veteran of DBPR, Miller has served as chief of staff since 2014. Prior to becoming chief of staff, she served as the agency’s legislative coordinator, deputy legislative affairs director, and director of legislative director. She previously worked in the Florida House and as a high school English and Spanish teacher.

Her first day is Wednesday.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

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