Lloyd Dunkelberger - SaintPetersBlog

Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger is a Tallahassee-based political reporter and columnist; he most recently served as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Associated Industries of Florida announces bipartisan Senate, House endorsements

The Associated Industries of Florida PAC today announced endorsements in 95 legislative races in 2016, including 23 state Senate seats and 72 House seats.

“Today, we are excited to announce AIFPAC’s endorsements for candidates running for the Florida Senate and House this election cycle,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF. “After thorough review of all of the candidates, we believe these candidates are the best and brightest to help propel Florida’s business community forward.”

Feeney said the candidates, who included both Republicans and Democrats, were evaluated on their commitment to protecting employers and workers, to broadening the state’s economic base and developing “innovative ways to entice new business to the Sunshine State.”

Here are AIFPAC’s endorsements in the Senate races, where technically there are no incumbents since the Senate map was redrawn in a redistricting process:

— (SD 3) Bill Montford (D); (SD 8) Keith Perry (R); (SD 11) Randolph Bracy (D).

— (SD 12) Dennis Baxley (R); (SD 13) Dean Asher (R); (SD 14) Dorothy Hukill (R); (SD 15) Bob Healy Jr (D).

— (SD 16) Jack Latvala (R); (SD 17) Ritch Workman (R); (SD 18) Dana Young (R); (SD 19) Edwin “Ed” Narain (D).

— (SD 22) Kelli Stargel (R); (SD 23) Doug Holder (R); (SD 24) Jeff Brandes (R); (SD 25) Joe Negron (R).

— (SD 27) Lizbeth Benacquisto (R); (SD 29) Kevin Rader (D); (SD 30) Bobby Powell (D); (SD 36) Rene Garcia (R).

— (SD 37) Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R); (SD 38) Daphne Campbell (D); (SD 39) Anitere Flores (R); (SD 40) Frank Artiles (R).

Here are AIFPAC’s endorsements in the House races, where incumbents are noted by an asterisk:

— (HD 1) Clay Ingram (R)*; (HD 2) Frank White (R); (HD 3) Jayer Williamson (R); (HD 5) Brad Drake (R)*; (HD 6) Jay Trumbull (R)*.

— (HD 8) Ramon Alexander (D); (HD 9) Loranne Ausley (D); (HD 10) Elizabeth Porter (R)*; (HD 15) Jay Fant (R)*; (HD 16) Dick Kravitz (R).

— (HD 18) Travis Cummings (R)*; (HD 22) Charlie Stone (R)*; (HD 23) Stan McClain (R); (HD 24) Paul Renner (R)*; (HD 25) Tom Leek (R).

— (HD 27) David Santiago (R)*; (HD 28) Jason Brodeur (R)*; (HD 29) Scott Plakon (R)*; (HD 30) Bob Cortes (R)*; (HD 31) Jennifer Sullivan (R)*.

— (HD 35) Blaise Ingoglia (R)*; (HD 36) Amanda Murphy (D)*; (HD 39) Neil Combee (R)*; (HD 40) Colleen Burton (R)*.

— (HD 41) Sam Killebrew (R); (HD 42) Mike La Rosa (R)*; (HD 43) John Cortes (D)*; (HD 45) Gregory A. Jackson (D); (HD 46) Bruce Antone (D)*.

— (HD 47) Mike Miller (R)*; (HD 50) Rene “Coach P” Plasencia (R); (HD 51) Tom Goodson (R); (HD 53) Randy Fine (R); (HD 56) Ben Albritton (R)*.

— (HD 58) Daniel Raulerson (R)*; (HD 59) Ross Spano (R)*; (HD 63) Shawn Harrison (R)*; (HD 65) Chris Sprowls (R)*; (HD 66) Larry Ahern (R)*.

— (HD 67) Chris Latvala (R)*; (HD 66) Ben Diamond (D); (HD 69) Kathleen Peters (R)*; (HD 72) Alexandra “Alex” Miller (R); (HD 74) Julio Gonzalez (R)*.

— (HD 76) Ray Rodrigues (R)*; (HD 79) Matt Caldwell (R)*; (HD 80) Byron Donalds (R); (HD 82) Mary Lynn Magar (R)*; (HD 83) Gayle Harrell (R)*.

— (HD 85) Rick Roth (R); (HD 86) Matt Willhite (D); (HD 87) David Silvers (D); (HD 88) Al Jacquet (D); (HD 90) Lori Berman (D)*.

— (HD 91) Kelly Skidmore (D); (HD 92) Whitney Rawls (D); (HD 93) George Moraitis (R)*; (HD 103) Manny Diaz Jr. (R)*.

— (HD 104) Richard “Rick” Stark (D)*; (HD 105) Carlos Trujillo (R)*; (HD 106) Bob Rommel (R); (HD 107) Barbara Watson (D)*.

— (HD 110) Jose Oliva (R)*; (HD 111) Bryan Avila (R)*; (HD 112) Nicholas Duran (D); (HD 113) David Richardson (D)*; (HD 114) John Couriel (R).

— (HD 115) Michael Bileca (R)*; (HD 116) Jose Felix Diaz (R)*; (HD 118) David Rivera (R); (HD 119) Jeanette Nunez (R)*; (HD 120) Holly Raschein (R)*.

Santa Rosa Beach no trespassing sign sparks Walton County free speech battle

FortWaltonSign2A First Amendment fight has broken out on the sugar-white sands of Santa Rosa Beach in Walton County.

A retired couple, who own a 2,296-square-foot beachfront home, has filed a federal lawsuit, asserting that a new Walton County ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution because it prohibits the couple from posting no-trespassing signs on their privately owned property.

The couple, Edward and DeLanie Goodwin, are represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that advocates for private property and individual rights. The PLF does not charge its clients for the legal work.

“The Goodwins have a First Amendment right to speak — and to use signs as a means of speech, a way to convey the message that their beach is not public, and that they value and insist on their property rights,” said J. David Breemer, the lead attorney for the PLF. “The county is robbing them of that fundamental right of free speech. Denying them the use of signs denies them the ability to let the public and the county itself know that their land is private and trespassing will not be allowed.”

“The county’s ban on all signs on our property endangers both our freedom of speech and our private property rights,” said Edward Goodwin. “That’s why it is necessary for us to go to court.”

The Goodwins have two 12-by-18-inch “private property” signs on their property as well as a third, smaller signs that says: “If the County Wants My Private Beach for Public Use, It Must Pay Me For It — U.S. Constitution.”

The Goodwins said they posted the private-property signs because the local sheriff, citing state law, said trespassing complaints would not be investigated unless the public is warned about private property.

The couple said they posted the signs because of incidents involving the public wandering onto their private land, which is adjacent to a public beach.

“Some have set up beach tents on the property, allowed pets to defecate on it, and refused to pick up their refuse. On occasion (typically, at least once a year), strangers have crossed the Goodwins’ dry beach without permission and entered the Goodwins’ home,” the complaint says.

Edward Goodwin said he was threatened by a surfer after he took a picture of the surfers on the private land.

The complaint also says county vehicles, including trash trucks, sometimes drive across the property.

In May 2014, a county code officer cited the couple for installing an illegal beach “obstruction,” the two private-property signs which are mounted on PVC pipe and linked by a plastic chain. The citation carried a $100 fine.

The Goodwins went to court and had the citation dismissed.

But throughout this time there were growing controversies between beachfront property owners in Walton County, like the Goodwins and members of the public, who were claiming access rights to the beaches.

It resulted in the Walton County Commission last month voting to amend its “Beach Activities Code,” resulting in the sign ban.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to place, construct or maintain an obstruction on the beach. Obstructions include, but are not limited to ropes, chains, signs or fences,” the county ordinance says.

In late June, the Goodwins were cited for violating the revised ordinance and now face a $500 fine per incident.

As a result of that, the PLF filed its constitutional challenge earlier this week in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola. The county has yet to file a legal response to the challenge.


Citizens Insurance to spend $1.8M for investigating water damage claims

The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. board of governors Tuesday approved a $1.8 million contract with a company that will examine escalating water damage claims from policyholders and determine whether the charges are excessive.

“The goal is to identify inflated or excessive charges on invoices from contractors that have performed water damage restorations for Citizens’ policyholders and to contest or adjust invoices so it comports with industry standards,” said Jay Adams, Citizens’ chief of claims.

Without debate, the board unanimously approved the five-year contract, which includes two one-year extensions, with Lynx Services, LLC.

Rising water claims have been a growing concern for Citizens officials. The property insurer, which is backed by the state, is advancing a 6.8 percent statewide rate hike for its nearly 500,000 policyholders, citing rising water-damage claims as a key reason for the premium increase.

The water-damage claim issue is particularly acute in Southeast Florida, where Citizens’ policyholders could see a rate hike approaching 10 percent. The rate hike is headed to a public hearing next month with a final decision by Citizens’ board of governors set for September.

Citizens officials have blamed the rising number and cost of water claims on Florida’s “assignment of benefits (AOB)” law, where contractors, restoration companies and others can take over the policyholder’s damage claim.

Supporters of AOB argue that it allows repair work to be handled more quickly and gives contractors a direct way to be paid for their work. Critics say the AOB system has been abused, with Citizens compiling data that shows AOB claims often end up in costly litigation and even the AOB claims that don’t go to court cost more than non-AOB claims that are resolved outside of court.

Citizens and other groups pushed for limits on the AOB law in the 2016 session, but the bills failed. The issue will likely return to the 2017 legislative agenda.

By eliminating business license tax, Tallahassee lays out welcome mat for Airbnb

Tallahassee’s decision to become the first Florida city to eliminate the business license tax will open up the state capital to more economic opportunities and help develop innovative companies, like Airbnb, Mayor Andrew Gillum said.

Gillum and the city commission voted unanimously last week to eliminate the business license tax, which is paid by some 12,000 businesses and generates some $2 million a year, starting in October 2017.

“Repealing our business tax makes Tallahassee one of the most business friendly cities in the state, and will encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of our citizens and neighborhoods to become economic drivers of their own,” Gillum said.

“I believe this is a game-changing step toward a more dynamic future for our city, as it removes barriers for innovative companies like Airbnb that are using disruptive technologies to create new economic opportunities. We are proud to send the message that Tallahassee is now more than ever, open for business.”

Representatives of Airbnb, which is a San Francisco-based company, said elimination of the tax will allow more Tallahassee homeowners to participate in the home-sharing service, which included 170 Airbnb hosts in the city in 2015 handling 4,100 guests, which was a 260 percent increase over the prior year.

The hosts typically earn about $1,900 a year with 16 shared nights, Airbnb said.

“With this vote, Tallahassee joins a growing list of global cities embracing innovation and working to ensure that everyday people can benefit from the economic opportunities created by home sharing,” said Michael O’Neil, Airbnb’s regional director of public policy.

O’Neil said the Tallahassee decision will set an example for other Florida communities, as Airbnb continues to work with city officials, community organizations and Florida State University.

Airbnb is joining with the Seminole Football Boosters to provide more lodging opportunities for fans, alumni and others on game weekends.

“It’s our hope that by providing additional and affordable lodging options we can get more fans and donors to come to Tallahassee for the games and stay for the weekend,” said Caroline Conway, a spokeswoman for the boosters group.

“Whether it’s their first time in town or they’re returning to their old college stomping grounds, the boosters are hopeful Airbnb will help fans feel more at home at home games this season,” Conway said.

1.7 million Florida voters have already requested mail ballots for upcoming primary

Florida elections supervisors have already received requests for more than 1.7 million vote-by-mail ballots for the Aug.  30 primary as of this morning, the state Division of Elections reported.

Included in that total are ballots being mailed to Floridians living outside the country, including military members. Those overseas primary ballots had to be mailed out by a Saturday deadline – 45 days before the primary election.

Republicans claimed 741,643 of the ballot requests. Democrats had 657,380 requests, followed by no-party-affiliation voters with 268,994 ballots and other party members with 40,569.

County elections supervisors will begin mailing the non-overseas mail ballots to voters between July 26 and Aug. 2.

Pinellas County has the most vote-by-mail ballot requests at 248,346, followed by Miami-Dade at 218,472, Hillsborough at 154,539 and Broward at 146,599.

In contrast, Duval, one of Florida’s largest counties, had only 4,510 requests in as of this morning.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, whose office will be mailing out more than 50,000 ballots, said the mail ballots are growing in popularity and help more evenly distribute voters among the mail ballots, early voting and Election Day voting.

“Voting by mail continues to increase in popularity because voters like the convenience of voting at their leisure in the privacy of their home,” Corley said.  “In an effort to avoid long lines at the polls, we are actively encouraging vote-by-mail as a way of distributing the voting population among the three available options.”

Historically, Florida Republicans have had an advantage with vote-by-mail ballots, while the Democrats were stronger with early voting. Both sides have worked to narrow those gaps.

Collier, one of Florida’s most reliable GOP counties, reported Republicans have a better than 3-to-1 advantage in the mail ballots, with 29,908 requests to the Democrats’ 9,832.

Democrats had an advantage in Broward, their most important county in statewide elections, with 76,948 ballot requests to the GOP’s 43,843.

The increasingly popularity of mail ballots as well as early voting means that a majority of votes may be cast before Election Day. That phenomenon has forced candidates and their campaigns to adjust their strategies, including advertising, to accommodate the evolving voting pattern.

Due to a change in state law, these ballots, previously known as absentee ballots, are being called vote-by-mail ballots this year for the first time.

Gwen Graham praises release of 28 pages of 9/11 intelligence

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Tallahassee Democrat, praised the Obama administration’s decision Friday to make public 28 pages of a joint congressional panel that investigated intelligence community activities before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Gwen’s father and co-chairman of the congressional panel, had fought more than a decade for the release of the documents, which highlight Saudi Arabia’s role in the incidents. Gwen Graham, when elected to the U.S. House in 2014, carried on her father’s fight, co-sponsoring House Resolution 14 urging the president to declassify the documents.

“I’m proud to have fought with my father and a bipartisan group of lawmakers for the release of the 28 pages,” Graham said. “Today’s news is a victory for the families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 and for all Americans.

“I believe the declassified information will help us better understand the challenges we face and the enemies we must defeat to make our country safer. In this age of terror, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to anyone or any government that supports or sympathizes with terrorists.”

Irv Slosberg self-funds another $50K in SD 31 race, now at $170K in loans

Rep. Irv Slosberg has dropped another $50,000 of his personal wealth into his Senate District 31 campaign, bringing his self-funding to a significant total of $170,000 in loans, new campaign reports show.

The Boca Raton Democrat has raised another $76,000 in traditional contributions for a total war chest of some $246,000 through July 8. He has reported spending $213,000, including $42,000 in the last two weeks, leaving him with cash on hand in the range of $27,000.

Slosberg, who had been expected to run for re-election to his House seat, was a surprise Democratic challenger to Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth lawmaker who is a rising Democratic leader in the Senate. Slosberg, who has a net worth of over $9 million, joined the Senate race on the last day of the qualifying period last month.

Clemens has not filed his new report yet, but through June 24 had raised $143,000 and spent $65,000. He also has a separate political committee that could aid his re-election.

Clemens, who has criticized Slosberg for not living in the Senate district, sent out a fundraising appeal Thursday again questioning Slosberg’s motives.

“Fact: my opponent isn’t a progressive, and he’s really not much of a Democrat, either,” Clemens wrote.

Doug Broxson raises $282K; Mike Hill nets $111K in SD 1 race

Rep. Doug Broxson raised $20,500 in the last reporting period, giving him a total of $282,000 for his Senate District 1 race, according to the state Division of Elections.

Broxson raised the money between June 24 and last Friday. The Gulf Breeze Republican has spent $195,000 of the total.

Rep. Mike Hill, a Pensacola Beach Republican, reported raising $7,850 and securing a $50,000 loan in the latest reporting.  He has raised a total of  $111,000 in contributions and spent $73,000, according to the report.

Both Hill and Broxson have taken to the TV airwaves in their Aug. 30 primary, which is a contest to replace outgoing Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Republican, who is running for Congress.

Marco Rubio, Matt Gaetz praise return of Blue Angels to Pensacola Beach after accident

The return of the Blue Angels over the skies of Pensacola Beach this weekend after the death of one of their members drew praise from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and state Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform Saturday in the Pensacola Air Show, following the death last month of Capt. Jeff Kuss in a practice event in Tennessee.

“Let’s take a moment to reflect on the life of Capt. Jeff Kuss and the Blue Angels – because they are everything that is right about our country,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Thursday.

“And the rumble of those engines over the skies of Pensacola this weekend will not just be a resumption of their duties as aviators and military professionals, it will be a tribute – a tribute to Capt. Kuss and the life he spent doing what he loved,” the Republican senator from Miami said. “To the people of Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation and the place the Blue Angels call home, the Blues are their team.”

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Republican running for Congressional District 1, said he agreed with Rubio.

“The Blue Angels are a representation of the precision, training, dedication, and discipline of all of our military,” he said.

Gaetz said the Blue Angels have taken “some hard hits” over the last few years, including budget cutbacks during the sequestration process and the recent loss of Capt. Kuss.

“Despite these setbacks, they remain professional and committed to the duty before them,” Gaetz said. “They represent what is good and right with our country and it is my firm commitment to the Pensacola area and to the Blue Angels squadron that I will fight to ensure Pensacola remains their home and they remain in the skies over our nation where they belong.

“I will do all within my power to guarantee that the dysfunctions of Washington do not ground them ever again.”

Florida Realtors announce support for amendment that would extend tax break for solar devices

Florida Realtors has announced its support for Amendment 4, a measure on the Aug. 30 primary ballot that would extend a tax break for solar devices on homes to businesses and industrial facilities.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen Jeff Brandes and Rep. Ray Rodrigues in the 2016 session, would exempt solar units from both property taxes and tangible personal property taxes on commercial properties.

“It will encourage Florida’s business community to invest in solar, which will expand the use of clean energy and help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Matey Veissi, the Realtors president and  co-owner of Veissi & Associates in Miami.

“In turn, increased solar energy will help preserve our natural environment for future generations. As the Sunshine State, Florida should be in the forefront of solar choice for businesses and consumers,” Veissi said.

Dean Asher, a former Realtors president and candidate for Senate District 13, said passage of the amendment could expand employment opportunities in a solar industry that already employs 6,000 workers.

“If Amendment 4 passes, it could increase the number of jobs across the state as more business owners install solar panels at their properties,” he said. “Removing tax penalties and making solar and other renewable energy options more affordable in Florida will spark more interest in using solar energy – and that benefits both residents and business owners across Florida.”

If passed by 60 percent of the votes and then implemented by the Legislature, the tax incentives of the amendment will begin in 2018 and extend for 20 years.

A recent Florida Chamber of Commerce poll showed 64 percent of voters in favor of the measure, with 19 percent opposed and 17 percent undecided.

The Realtors, who have 155,000 members in Florida, join a large contingent of Amendment 4 supporters, including the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Solar Energy Industry Association, The Nature Conservancy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

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