Peter Schorsch - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Florida GOP lawmakers hosting annual ‘Mardi Gras’ fundraiser weekend before start of Session

Ever wanted to ask Senate President Joe Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads?

Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser the weekend before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

According to an invitation obtained by, on March 4-5, the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert.

Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

Presumably, it would be during the parade when an adventurous donor could trade some beads for a check — if only doing so were not against the gift ban.

Let’s hope Negron, Corcoran and Co. do not partake too much in the Mardi Gras festivities. The legislative session will kick-off just two days later.

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In Sunshine State News’ book, Charlie Crist is damned if does, damned if he doesn’t

It’s no secret that Sunshine State News, the de facto house organ for the Rick Scott campaign in 2010 and 2014, is no fan of Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. So complaining about SSN’s coverage of Crist is probably akin to writing a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe criticizing its sports columnists for hating on the New York Yankees.

Still, I am a fan of SSN. SaintPetersBlog and Sunshine State News are new media brethren. As much as we spar — and reporter Allison Nielsen and I have had more than our fair share of dust-ups lately — I consider Nancy Smith and Co. part of the Rebel Alliance in the struggle against the Empire that is the Times/Herald capital bureau.

But when it comes to its coverage of Crist, SSN is as biased against him as I once was for him (and if you ask the Crist people, they’ll tell you I was never that biased for him.)

In Sunshine State News’ book, Crist is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Case in point is a recent column by Smith in which the veteran journalist dogs Charlie for revving up his re-election campaign. Smith writes about a “constituent” of Crist’s who was upset to have received a fundraising solicitation from Crist.

“This is some serious bull! It hasn’t even been 10 days and you are already asking for money and talking about re-election.”

Yes, Crist is talking about re-election. Why? Because it was Sunshine State News the week before which reported that David Jolly, the Republican incumbent Crist unseated in November, is likely to seek a rematch against Crist.

“If we run in 2018, we will beat him,” Jolly told reporter Allison Nielsen.

Be honest and ask yourself: If you were Crist and you read what Jolly told Nielsen, would you doubt for a moment that a rematch was in the cards? Of course you wouldn’t and that’s why you’d be cranking up the re-election campaign as early as Crist has.

Of course, SSN seems to believe that Crist is as likely to run for Florida governor in 2018 as he is re-election. In a dubiously sourced column from earlier this month, Smith wrote that a ” ‘deep throat’ contact” told her “Charlie is reaching out to ‘monied associates’ and ‘advisors with access ‘s he considers running for Florida governor in 2018.”

While I don’t doubt someone who thinks they are wired into Crist’s inner circle told Smith that, I highly doubt Crist is talking to anyone without Crist in their last name about a statewide bid. Crist is relishing his time back in elected office and the media spotlight; he’s very circumspect about being back in the wilderness again after six years away. NO ONE I’ve spoken to who is familiar with Crist’s thinking can confirm that Crist is “reaching out to ‘monied associates.’ “

Smith’s column is full of other nonsense, including a claim from her source that Crist “has been offering inauguration tickets to these same donors who supported Trump.” In reality, Crist has been offering the free tickets to any and all of his constituents. I have personally connected his office with a grassroots volunteer for the Donald Trump campaign who received tickets. And a friend of mine on Facebook, Young Republican leader Megan Roach, just posted about how she received tickets to the inauguration from Crist’s office.

To most conservatives and Republicans, Charlie Crist will never be allowed out of the political purgatory to which his party-switching led him. And, frankly, he probably deserves that. So, like I said before, I don’t expect a conservative outlet like Sunshine State News to cheer on Crist’s second (or is ithis third or fourth?) act.

But SSN’s coverage of Crist is a blind spot for the organization. It’s given Democratic bomb-thrower Leslie Wimes a platform to sound off again and again about Crist. It foolishly misread what was happening in the race for Congressional District 13 (Nielsen also tweeted that her coverage of the race exceeded our organization’s; by my count wrote approximately 88 stories and columns about the CD 13 campaign whereas SSN served up about 35 if you include Wimes’ screeds.) And it continues to make a bogeyman of Crist when he’s simply a backbench freshman member of Congress.

One would hope Sunshine State News would have better topics to write about as frequently as it does Crist.

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Denise Grimsley eyeing Ag. Commissioner run in 2018

Add state Senator Denise Grimsley to the growing list of Florida politicos thinking about 2018.

The Sebring Republican said Tuesday that she is considering a 2018 run for Agriculture Commissioner. A registered nurse and hospital administrator, Grimsley said in a interview via text message that agriculture has always played a big role in her life.

“It’s a big decision and one I’ve been discussed with both my family and my employer,” she said. “Agriculture has always been a big part of my life and having someone hold the office who brings the unique qualification of hands on farming and ranching is important to me.”

While most 2018 chatter has been about who will occupy the Governor’s Mansion, the race to be the next Agriculture Commissioner has been thrust into the spotlight in recent days. Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced last week he would not run for the office in two years.

With deep roots in the state’s agriculture community, Crisafulli was considered to be a frontrunner to win the Republican nomination to succeed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

His decision to pass on 2018 leaves a wide open Republican field, and could give Grimsley an edge.

A fifth generation Floridian, Grimsley was first elected to the Florida House in 2004, where she served until 2012. Grimsley was elected to the Florida Senate in 2012. She ran unopposed in 2016 and easily won re-election. She served as the Senate’s deputy Majority Leader from 2014-16.

A member of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, Grimsley touts the work she’s done for the agriculture community on her Facebook page.

“Over the past few years, we have partnered together in assisting farmers affected by natural disasters and raising the profile of Florida’s first-class agricultural community; communicating the economic development challenges and needs of small counties and rural areas; (and) finding common sense solutions for quality health care and the desperate need for more qualified health professionals like nurses,” she wrote.

Grimsley isn’t the only name being floated as a possible 2018 contender. Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, is also believed to be eyeing the office. Last week told that he has discussed the possibility with his wife, who has said she is “comfortable with that if that’s the decision” he makes.

Caldwell cannot run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits.

Also in the mix are state Reps. Ben Albritton and Halsey Beshears.

In a statement Wednesday, Grimsley said she expects to make a decision about 2018 soon.

“I’ve been humbled by all the calls I’ve received offering support,” she said. “You can expect to hear more soon.”

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this story.

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Sunburn for 1.18.17 – Florida goes to the Inauguration; Matt Gaetz wins skydiving case; DOH releases pot rules; Jon Costello’s new colleagues

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


If you think it’s slow this week, you aren’t alone.

The Florida House and Senate committee rooms are dark, with lawmakers taking a bye week from committee weeks. Cabinet aides are meeting today, but the agenda for the upcoming Cabinet meeting is, well, light. And there may be far less fanfare surrounding this month’s jobs announcement, scheduled for Friday morning.

Chalk it up to a short week or the calm before the 2017 legislative storm. Well, that and the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States on Friday.

Dozens of Florida Republicans are packing their winter coats and ball gowns, and heading to Washington, D.C. for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. There they’ll enjoy the festivities, schmooze with their colleagues from across the nation, and celebrate the start of the Trump era.

Looking for a Sunshine State bigwig? Odds are you’ll find them tonight at the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

It won’t be all tuxedoes and dance shoes for Scott, though. The Naples Republican (and rumored 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) is expected to meet with congressional leaders and incoming members of the Trump administration earlier in the day.

Other to-dos this week include the First Coast Inaugural Celebration Ball hosted by the Republican Party of Duval County.

But Tallahassee won’t be moving at a turtle’s pace for too long. Starting Monday, we’re back to jam-packed schedule of bill filings, committee meetings and budget hearings. So enjoy the calm before the legislative storm clouds roll in.

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POLL: DONALD TRUMP WILL TAKE OFFICE AS LEAST POPULAR PRESIDENT IN AT LEAST FOUR DECADES via Dan Balz and Scott Clement of The Washington Post – … but a majority of Americans nevertheless express optimism that he will be able to fulfill campaign pledges to boost the economy and deal with threats of terrorism, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll … On the eve of his inauguration, 44 percent of Americans say they believe Trump is qualified to serve as president, compared with 52 percent who say he is not. The good news for Trump is that the 52 percent figure is the lowest since he became a candidate. Over 8 in 10 Republicans say he is qualified, and about the same percentage of Democrats say he is not. Independents are almost evenly divided on the question. Trump will enter the Oval Office … with his image upside down. Just 40 percent say they have a favorable impression of him, and 54 percent view him unfavorably — with 41 percent saying they have a strongly unfavorable impression of him. That’s starkly different from current views of President Obama, whose favorable rating is at 61 percent.

SURPRISINGLY, TRUMP INAUGURATION SHAPES UP TO BE A RELATIVELY LOW-KEY AFFAIR via John Wagner and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post – In a word, the 45th president’s inaugural activities will be “workmanlike” … a pop-up staff of about 350 people scrambling to put together the proceedings from the second floor of a nondescript government building just south of the Mall. The notion of a relatively low-key inaugural bereft of many ­A-list entertainers may come as a surprise, given the president-elect’s flair for showmanship and his credentials as a reality TV star … Trump settled on a less flashy approach, however, including keeping the ticket prices for the inaugural balls at $50 apiece so that working-class Americans who helped fuel Trump’s victory can take part.

— “No stars? No problem! Meet Trump’s determined inaugural spokesman” via Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast

— “Scalper taking loss on tickets to Trump inauguration as secondary market interest on the mogul’s swear-in wanes” via Adam Edelman of the New York Daily News

— “Even a Bruce Springsteen cover band is canceling its inauguration gig” via Elahe Izadi of The Washington Post

THE ALT-RIGHT COMES TO WASHINGTON via Ben Schreckinger of POLITICO Magazine – A new generation of nationalists see a chance to ride Trump‘s coattails into the capital. But first they need to do some serious re-branding … Milo Yiannopoulos … [has been] asked to host “DeploraBall,” an unofficial celebration planned for the presidential inauguration weekend … His vision for the event: As guests entered the National Press Club, shirtless Mexican laborers would be building a physical wall around them. Instead of doves, Yiannopoulos would release 500 live frogs in honor of Pepe, the cartoon mascot of pro-Trump internet trolls. The room would be lined with oil portraits in gilt frames, each depicting a celebrity who had vowed to leave the country in the event of Trump’s election. At the end of the night, the portraits would be thrown into a bonfire and burned. Yiannopoulos would send a bill for the party to the Mexican Embassy. The party is unlikely to proceed in exactly that way, or really anything like it. But the ball is real — a month ahead of the inauguration, the organizers had already booked the room and sold all 1,000 tickets—and it marks a kind of gala debut of a new clique in Washington.

RICK SCOTT, PARTY HOST, SAYS TRUMP PRESIDENCY ‘A NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR FLORIDA’ via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – Scott is marking Trump’s inauguration by hosting a “Florida Sunshine Ball” in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night and an inaugural parade-watching party at a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue Friday. Florida first lady Ann Scott is hosting a Thursday tea on Capitol Hill. “I’m going to celebrate a new opportunity for Florida,” Scott says.

TRUMP INAUGURATION A SPECIAL MOMENT FOR BRIAN BALLARD — This isn’t Brian Ballard’s first inauguration, but it might end up being one of the 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, Ballard said 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 Republican fundraiser, 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 finance vice chairs on the Presidential Inaugural 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).”

— “Alcee Hastings boycotts Trump’s inauguration” via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald

— “Charlie Crist looking forward to attending Trump inauguration” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— Cubs manager Joe Maddon says people should respect the presidency” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

— “Miami congresswoman to Trump: ‘please do not tweet anymore’” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

TWEET, TWEET: @TreyRadel: Reality: many in Congress don’t attend inauguration of opposite party. But usually they don’t put out press releases calling it a “boycott.”

SUSIE WILES, ARCHITECT OF TRUMP’S FLORIDA WIN, HEADS TO D.C. FOR INAUGURATION via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – Through March 2016, Wiles was the sole high-profile Jacksonville Republican on the Trump train … Wiles tells that she is “headed up to DC again Wednesday for events Wednesday night [through] the ball Friday night. Packed full schedule but all fun. It seems as if it will be nice weather! Many Florida folks will be at various events and I look forward to celebrating with everyone.”

VAL DEMINGS AND STEPHANIE MURPHY TO HOST WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON BREAKFAST via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – Demings and Murphy are two of the featured hosts for a Women’s March on Washington pre-breakfast before the event that could gather up to 200,000 people, the day after Trump is sworn into office. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel round up the four-person hosting committee that will welcome fellow Floridians to the Library of Congress James Madison Building. There are also sister marches and events taking place all over the country.

PARTY LINES: WHY SOME TALLAHASSEEANS CHOSE TRUMP via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat – The precinct at the Fort Braden Community Center went big for Trump. “It’s kind of country people like, you know, working people,” said Gene Pfund, 69, who’s owned a tree service on Highway 20 for about 15 years. “No movie stars. Not a lot of minorities. I think that was Hillary’s problem — all her attention was (on) minorities and with celebrities. And people didn’t care about that.” Woodville is a town of full of auto shops and other small, independent businesses, a seafood restaurant, a huge Baptist church, a lumber yard and one school that serves grades kindergarten through eighth. Almost 60 percent of this mostly white, working class community of fewer than 3,000 voted for Donald Trump, even though 50 percent of the registered voters are registered Democrats. Not so much because he’s the best man for the job, residents said. But because he represents something different, something outside the normal channels of political power … the recurring theme among the Trump supporters willing to talk was they viewed the election not so much as a contest between a Democrat and a Republican, but more as a chance to reject the established political culture.

PALM BEACH FASHION DESIGNER’S DRESS TO DEBUT AT FLORIDA SUNSHINE BALL via Michelle Quesada of WPTV – In a competition hosted by Lilyana LoVela, producer of the Palm Beach International Fashion Week and Palm Beach Swim Week fashion shows, local designer Karen Williams Nottage‘s dress was picked to be worn by the wife of a local congressional district chairman at the Florida Sunshine Ball … The local designer has her own line, Legacy K Inc. Stylistic Divas, and says her inspiration for the gown came from a Disney-themed TV show series. “It’s Italian lace, and it’s black and white and it’s to die for. It has a very nice peek-a-boo front and a very low-cut sheer back,” said Nottage. “That whole silhouette came to light and I just started drawing and I said this is what I wanted to create.”

— “Hair stylist to Marla Maples: No free services in exchange for Inauguration Day ‘exposure’” via Emily Heil of The Washington Post

MARCO RUBIO CHALLENGED TRUMP’S NOMINEE. BUT WILL HE DEFY TRUMP? via Matt Flegenheimerjan of The New York Times – He glared at Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, from behind his committee nameplate, his boyish face just a pinch more weathered than it used to be … With that exchange and two others later in Tillerson’s rocky nine-hour confirmation hearing last week … Rubio has earned the brightest spotlight. When Trump chose Tillerson, Rubio expressed immediate reservations, citing the nominee’s close ties to Russia while at Exxon Mobil. Aides said he read every speech Tillerson had given over the past decade in preparation for the hearing. In a week when some Democrats’ hopes of embarrassing Trump’s prospective cabinet mostly failed to materialize, several conceded it was Rubio who drew the most blood. The damage was not lost on Republicans. Long before the hearing, Tillerson supporters had moved to persuade Rubio, including through a conversation with former Vice President Dick Cheney.

— “Rubio calls Obama’s decision on Chelsea Manning ‘shameful’ ” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

FLORIDA SCIENTISTS PEN LETTER TO WILBUR ROSS — CALLING HIM TO DEFEND FLORIDA’S COASTLINE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – A group of Florida scientists have an urgent message for Ross: Support science and defend Florida’s coastline, as it could save your own home. Ross, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Commerce, has owned a $22 million, 15,500-square-foot Palm Beach mansion on the Intracoastal Waterway since 2008. “In your new role as the Secretary of Commerce, you have a unique ability to influence multiple sectors of our economy,” goes the letter, signed by 13 officials, including 11 professors from Florida universities. “You will direct scientific research both within government, and at universities through NOAA. You can also work with businesses, engineers, and industries to develop solutions to address climate and energy challenges.” The letter is signed by some of the same 25 scientists who penned a similar letter to Trump October, shortly before his upset victory in November, urging him to act on climate change. They did not receive a response. Nor did they hear anything back from the president-elect after following up with a letter signed by approximately 10 university professors, as well as a physical oceanographer from NOAA in late December.

RICHARD CORCORAN, HOUSE LEADERS ADD NAMES TO LIST OF BETSY DEVOS SUPPORTERS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Corcoran was joined by state Reps. Jose Oliva and Jose Felix Diaz in expressing support for DeVos and other state-level leaders nationwide in the letter. “As one of the most critical issues impacting the future of our nation, we must have a Secretary of Education committed to the needs of all of our nation’s children,” the letter reads. “Betsy DeVos has made it her life’s mission to find, support and push for education solutions in her home state of Michigan and across the country. She is an advocate and ally for all children, and we write to you today to express our support for her nomination to this important position as her confirmation hearing approaches.” The leaders said DeVos’ commitment to promoting school choice is one of the primary reasons they supported her nomination.

— “Betsy DeVos will deliver on school reform” via Jeb Bush for USA Today

— “Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Betsy DeVos will take U.S. schools down a path of failure ‘Florida knows all too well’” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

OBAMA WILL BE MOVED OUT IN JUST 5 HOURS – When Trump walks into the White House for the first time as president on Jan. 20, his suits will be hanging in his closet, his personal photos will be displayed on perfectly placed tables, and his toothbrush will be near his favorite brand of toothpaste in his bathroom, USA Today reports. And nothing can be touched until the Obamas pull out of the White House driveway for the inauguration ceremony that same day.


THE OBAMA ERA: A LOOK BACK via The New York Times — Throughout two terms, President Obama and his administration brought sweeping changes to the nation. His legacy has affected every American, as well as the lives of those around the world. In a series of six articles, reporters with the New York Times reflect on those accomplishments. From brokering climate change agreements to restructuring the nation’s health care system, from writing marriage equality into law to questioning police response tactics in the face of racial tensions, to managing the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan — eight years later, the America he leaves us is a different place.

DUH – JEB BUSH UNLIKELY TO RUN FOR OFFICE AGAIN via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Bush, who is spending two weeks at a Texas A&M University teaching a course on the role of governors, said he’s focused on building up his business again and working with the foundation he created to push for changes in education policy. “I unraveled everything I was doing to prepare for this – you don’t do that lightly,” said Bush. “I just think this was my chance. The conditions of this election weren’t tailor made for me and I lost. But I’m not in therapy. I’m not in the fetal position. Life goes on.” Bush … is also dismissive of a return to the governor’s mansion. Under Florida’s Constitution Bush could run again for that office. “It’s the best job in the world, but look, I’m not inclined to do it,” Bush said. “I can’t be unemployed forever.”

BOB GRAHAM: DAUGHTER GWEN GRAHAM HASN’T TOLD HIM HER PLANS YET via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Bob Graham said he’s waiting to hear what his daughter … Gwen Graham will decide about running for governor. The younger Graham has been talking about it for months … But she also said she would not make that decision until after she left office as a member of the U.S. Congress. She’s also dealing with the health of her husband Steve Hurm, who is being treated for prostate cancer. Her last day in Congress was last week. “She’s only been out of office for a few days. And she’s thinking about what to do. She’ll let her friends, and I hope parents, know when she makes the decision,” the former senator … “She hasn’t closed the book yet.”

MATT GAETZ WINS APPEAL FOR NORTHWEST FLORIDA SKYDIVING BUSINESS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Gaetz, an attorney who now represents northwest Florida’s 1st Congressional District, won an appeal that should allow a Walton County couple to continue operating a skydiving business on their 290-acre farm near Paxton. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal issued its unanimous decision Tuesday for James and Melanie Nipper. He “had a distinguished career as a U.S. Army Paratrooper and member of the elite Golden Knights parachute team from 1981-1997;” she “was an Army pilot,” the opinion said. They have since retired from the military. … Judges Timothy D. Osterhaus, Brad Thomas and Stephanie W. Ray said the county “did not show a clear legal right” to ban the Nippers from running a skydiving operation.


AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK TOUTS GOP HEALTH PLAN IN MIAMI AREA — The American Action Network, the sister organization of the Congressional Leadership Fund, recently launched a six-figure TV and digital ad campaign in Florida’s 26th Congressional District are part of a nationwide push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The 30-second spot features the findings of a nationwide poll conducted by the organization, which found two-thirds of respondents said they supported “replacing Obamacare with a plan featuring the broad principles of a House Republican plan.” The organization is expected to be at the forefront of the debate on repealing and replacing Obamacare, according to a spokeswoman for the American Action Network. “Americans deserve to know that Speaker (Paul) Ryan and House Republicans are offering a better way forward with a plan to replace Obamacare,” said AAN spokeswoman Ruth Guerra. “It’s clear that Americans support the House Republican plan and a fair transition period to get there. The American people want to see Congress deliver a patient-centered health care system with lower costs.” Click the image below to watch the ad.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. in the 3rd floor Rotunda in the Cannon House Office Building, 27 Independence Ave. SE in Washington, D.C. Scott is scheduled to meet with members of President-elect Trump’s administration and congressional leaders.

SCOTT TO HOST JOBS SUMMIT IN ORLANDO via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Scott is scheduled to host a jobs summit Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 at the Caribe Royale in Orlando … The event … appears to be like an education summit the Naples Republican hosted in 2016 … 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.” 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.

BRIAN BURGESS: ADAM HOLLINGSWORTH APPOINTMENT COULD BE BLIP ON RICK SCOTT’S LEGACY via Peter Schorsch – As his second term in office winds down, Scott should be considering his legacy as Florida governor, particularly if he wants to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018. It’s that same legacy that makes Scott’s recent decision “bizarre,” at least in the eyes of The Capitolist’s Brian Burgess … [referring] to Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s former Chief of Staff, who the governor named this week to the University of North Florida board of trustees … the appointment “predictably created a wave of justifiable outrage,” one which could needlessly jeopardize both the reputation of Florida’s University System and Scott’s legacy. Hollingsworth’s earlier admission of academic fraud – lying about a public relations degree from the University of Alabama in 1990 – makes him, in the view of many (including United Faculty of Florida UNF Chapter President John White), ineligible for a position in academia. Hopefully, this will remain just a minor blip on Scott’s legacy, which Burgess is ardently defending.

PUBLIC SUPPORT MIGHT HAVE TEMPERED PAM BONDI’S OPPOSITION TO MARIJUANA via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News – In 2014, Bondi went all-out trying to keep John Morgan‘s medical marijuana initiative off Florida’s ballot. It didn’t work, Floridians voted on the initiative anyway … By 2016 Bondi had thought it through. She could have done it again — hard-charged after the amendment, working to kill it before the ballots were printed. But this time, with public support of the initiative polling north of 70 percent, “Bondi announced that while she was personally opposed to legalizing medical marijuana, she would not be doing anything to oppose it, either in her official role as attorney general or as a citizen.” And apart from some obligatory statements opposing the initiative, she didn’t. When the amendment passed with 71.3 percent of the vote, we never heard a peep out of AG Bondi … national polling puts support for legalizing marijuana at 60 percent. That’s straight-up marijuana. Support for medical marijuana is off the charts.

DOH BEGINS AMENDMENT 2 RULE-MAKING via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – 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. 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.” It 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. … “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 Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the United for Care campaign. “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.”

RECENT MASS SHOOTINGS SPARK FRESH DEBATE OVER FLORIDA GUN LAWS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – What gun rights supporters want: Both the Fort Lauderdale shooting and the Pulse nightclub massacre … are examples of why restrictions on permitted gun-owners don’t help prevent tragedy — and why Florida’s gun laws should be opened up to afford more freedom for people to defend themselves. What gun safety advocates want: Ban assault rifles … Require background checks for all gun purchases … Tighten a law mandating that loaded guns be kept in locked storage when they are near children 16 and younger. Block people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns … How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: The Republicans’ dominance of state politics … has helped the NRA tighten its grip on a Legislature where the organization’s A-plus rating is coveted by candidates … What gun law changes are on the table this year: Allow for the open carrying of handguns … lift a current ban and allow concealed weapons permit-holders to carry guns in passenger terminals and non-“sterile” areas of airports … lift a current ban and allow concealed weapons permit-holders to carry guns on public college and university campuses. tighten language in an existing law that requires guns to be locked in a gun safe or have a trigger lock when around children age 16 or younger … prohibit concealed-weapons permit holders from carrying in performing arts centers or theaters … ban in Florida many specific assault-style firearms …  shift the burden of proof in a criminal case where a defendant claims immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law by requiring the prosecutor, not the defendant, to prove at a pre-trial hearing why the defendant shouldn’t be granted immunity from prosecution.

MURDER CASE AT MICCOSUKEE CASINO A TEST FOR TRIBAL POLICE, STATE PROSECUTORS via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald – The case of Fernando Duarte, a former U.S. Army Ranger shot to death on Christmas night in the parking lot of the tribe’s West Miami-Dade casino, is the first homicide on the agency’s books. His death, and the arrest of two non-Indian men suspected of his murder, shapes up as a test case for a tribal police force that has historically had strained relations with state prosecutors. The case could revive thorny and unresolved questions over jurisdiction of the sovereign lands of a Native American people — just who should be investigating violent crimes and enforcing the law? Miami-Dade’s state attorney is satisfied, for now. Miccosukee detectives recently met with prosecutors, turning over witness statements and surveillance video collected that night. Those are routine, but essential pieces of evidence that have proven difficult to obtain from tribal police in some past cases … “Historically, we have not had a typical law-enforcement working partnership,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “I hope this is a turn in the right direction.”

***SUNBURN is brought to you in part by Sachs Media Group, Florida’s dominant public affairs communications firm. Sachs Media thrives on high-stakes challenges in the relentless pursuit of excellent outcomes. To help you win in the corridors of power, let us score for you in the court of public opinion. Visit to learn more.***

FIRST DCA REJECTS CHALLENGE TO EVIDENCE STANDARD IN WORKERS’ COMP CASE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – An intermediate state appeals court refused to let a workers’ compensation claimant introduce a second medical opinion, in a case testing an evidence code provision the Legislature adopted in 2013. Baricko v. Barnett Transportation Inc. turned on the applicability of the Daubert evidentiary standard. The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in September about whether it should embrace the standard, but has yet to rule. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected an attack on Daubert filed on behalf of David Baricko, a truck driver seeking to introduce evidence that sitting for long periods caused his embolism. Michael Winer … argued that a judge of compensation claims had impermissibly applied Daubert in advance of its approval by the state high court. The appellate panel did not explain its thinking, but Judge Kent Wetherell II said in a concurring opinion that the appeal was “frivolous.” The first DCA had ruled in 2014 that Daubert applies in workers’ compensation cases, he wrote.

WHO KNOWS BEST, PARENTS OR TEACHERS’ UNION? via Peter Schorsch – Florida Teachers’ Union President Joanne McCall said … “We believe that those closest to the students should be making the decisions about what is best for the students they serve.” It’s a shame that McCall doesn’t always follow the belief she articulates. She and her union have sued to shut down the state’s tax credit scholarship program and evict nearly 100,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that fit them better than their assigned district schools. To McCall’s point, I would ask her this: Who is closer to a student than his or her parent? Why don’t you believe these poor parents should be making the decision about what school is best for their children? Finally, why do you persist in this misguided lawsuit whose aim is to keep kids away from the best educational opportunities available to them?

WHAT CORY TILLEY IS READING – SELLING LIQUOR INSIDE CAVERNOUS SUPER RETAIL STORES?! ARE YOU DRUNK? via Ron Littlepage of the Florida Times-Union –As they have in the past, major retailers like Wal-Mart are pouring money into efforts to take down the wall. That’s a requirement … that liquor stores have one entrance and a wall separating them from other stores … There are good reasons for the wall. Wal-Mart already has problems with shoplifting, fighting and other issues that cost taxpayer dollars by diverting police officers from their regular duties — because Wal-Mart doesn’t spend enough on in-store security. Now mix in shelves of liquor with the groceries, household goods, clothes, kids’ toys, hardware, etc. And, of course, the shelves that hold the guns and ammunition that are available in the average Wal-Mart. What could possibly go wrong?

HOUSE WON’T CONSIDER USING BP MONEY FOR TOURIST INCENTIVES via Jim Turner for – Rep. Jay Trumbull … expects his Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast will instead look at designating the money for infrastructure and education projects that help entire communities. “We are not going to be focused on direct economic incentives. That’s not what we think is the best use of the dollars,” Trumbull said … “But we do believe that there are many opportunities to spend the money in ways that don’t have to be direct incentives.”

— “Bill would subject police, corrections officers to psychological screening” via Florida Politics

SPOTTED: State Rep. Amber Mariano on The Today Show talking about her support of President-elect Donald Trump and her House District 36 election.

HAPPENING TODAY – LEGISLATIVE DELEGATIONS HOLD MEETINGS – The Levy, Union, Bradford, St. Johns, and Pasco legislative delegations will meet ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session. The Levy County legislative delegation will meet at 10 a.m. at the Dogan Cobb Municipal Building, 660 East Hathaway Avenue in Bronson. The Pasco County legislative meets at 1 p.m. at Sunlake High School, 3023 Sunlake Blvd. in Land O’Lakes. The Union County legislative delegation will meet at 2 p.m. in the County Commission Chamber at the Courthouse, 55 W. Main Street in Lake Butler. The Bradford County legislative delegation meets at 4 p.m. in the County Commission Chambers at the Bradford County Courthouse, 945 N. Temple Ave. in Starke; the St. Johns County legislative delegation meets at 4 p.m. at the St. Johns County Commission Chamber Auditorium, 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine.

NORTH FLORIDA WATER MANAGERS OK FIRST-EVER LONG-TERM USAGE, SUPPLY PLAN via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – The first-ever long-range plan for water use in a vast, North Florida region — home to around 1.5 million people in 14 counties stretching over more than 8,000 square miles — was approved … in a joint meeting of the governing boards of two water management districts … Suwannee River Water Management District, whose governing board — along with that of the SJRWMD — approved the water plan for a region of Florida that includes more than 140 springs. The two-hour-long meeting was the second occasion that the two boards had convened together … districts had determined that groundwater alone cannot supply an expected 21 percent increase in water use in the region over a planning period that extends to 2035 “without causing unacceptable impacts to water resources.” The possibility of drought would increase water demand further for the region, which extends, in the north, from the Georgia border with the Florida counties of Hamilton, Columbia, Baker and Nassau south as far as Gilchrist, Alachua, Putnam and Flagler counties and including, as well, Florida’s Atlantic coast north of Daytona Beach.

PASS THE POPCORN: SON OF ‘SFWMD VS. EVERGLADES FOUNDATION 2’ NOW PLAYING via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – Now the stars of the show — the environmental organization looking to reconfigure a part of Everglades restoration and the state authority committed to keeping restoration on track — have given us another snarky sequel. If you’ve been following the south-versus-north reservoirs saga, you know what I’m talking about. This is the latest: [Everglades Foundation] issued what it called “Statement Regarding the SFWMD’s Response to The Everglades Foundation Letter.” Basically, it challenges SFWMD to “sit down and openly discuss the serious challenges facing this state and how we can solve them together.” As you might imagine, EF’s statement didn’t sit well with the District … SFWMD issued a short, if not sweet, retort. Its headline: “Statement on Everglades Foundation Response” … In other words, we’re open, you’re not. Nothing’s stopping you from participating.

— “Chuck O’Neal to try again at black bear protection bill with Linda Stewart” via Larry Griffin of Florida Politics

STEPHEN JAMES JOINS FLORIDA DEP AS WATER POLICY HEAD — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced that James has been named the director of the Office of Water Policy. James, according to the DEP, will be responsible for overseeing and implementing the statewide water policy with water management districts and other agencies. “Stephen will be an excellent addition to the department as the director of Water Policy,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson in a statement. “His background in environmental and water policy, combined with his experience working with local governments, the legislature and the public and private sectors, will be of great benefit as we continue to partner with the water management districts, municipalities and other stakeholders on the state’s important water matters.” Prior to joining the DEP, James served as the senior associate director of public policy and legislative staff attorney for the Florida Association of Counties, where he focused on environmental and agricultural issues. James previously practiced environmental and land-use laws for several law firms in Miami and Seattle. James received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

KEN REECY NAMED INTERIM HEAD OF FLORIDA HOUSING via Florida Politics – Reecy has been named Interim Executive Director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) …  currently serves as the agency’s Multifamily Program Director. “Ken has extensive experience and is committed to helping Florida families secure safe, affordable housing in communities all across our state,” Cissy Proctor said in a statement. “He has a strong understanding of the unique programs used to meet different needs for affordable housing in Florida and is a respected leader at the agency” … “A national search for a permanent Executive Director is underway.”

— “Nursing home care in Florida has come a long way in the last 30 years” via Steve Bahmer for Florida Politics

LARRY ROBINSON A GOOD CHOICE FOR FAMU, TALLAHASSEE via Bob Sparks of Florida Politics – Florida A&M is again in need of another president … Based upon recent history, the university does not need a national search. Someone who can do the job is already in it. On three occasions FAMU has turned to Robinson to bridge the gap between a departed president and that person’s successor. He has the support of the presidents of the capital city’s other educational institutions. At a recent Martin Luther King Jr. tribute, Florida State University President John Thrasher threw his support behind Robinson. Robinson was a humble, soft-spoken, advocate for his university. It did not take long to ascertain this was not only a brilliant man, but one who possessed the ability to connect with people. Robinson is on a one-year contract as interim president. However, like sports coaches, contracts are torn up and extended when one does a good job. Why not do the same for someone who has done so much for the university? Why not bring it up at the next board of trustees meeting?

CONNECT FLORIDA DAY AT THE CAPITOL REGISTRATION IS OPEN via  In less than a month, over 150 of Florida’s top emerging leaders will gather in Tallahassee for the Fifth Annual Connect Day at the Capitol. This event will sell out, so register now. Connect Day at the Capitol, which will take place Thursday, Feb. 9 – Friday, Feb. 10, is a unique opportunity for Florida’s under-40 professionals to learn more about Connect Florida and interact with high-profile speakers on issues affecting Florida across different industries, sectors and communities. Participants do not need to be an official Connect Florida member to attend. To view the agenda and register, visit

RUTLEDGE ECENIA ADDS MIXON & ASSOCIATES LOBBYISTS – Mixon & Associates lobbyists Corinne Mixon and Jessica Janasiewicz are joining the Rutledge Ecenia law firm’s lobbying team. Also coming to the firm on a contract basis is Mixon & Associates’ Juhan and Pat Mixon, and Jim Hamilton, the firms said in a joint announcement. Full story here.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to two of Sunburn’s favorites, Erin Daly Ballas and Caitlin Murray. More belated wishes to Brian Goldmeier and AARP’s Jeff Johnson. Celebrating today are Brody Enwright and No Casinos’ Sara Johnson.

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Personnel note: Rutledge Ecenia adds Mixon & Associates lobbyists

Mixon & Associates lobbyists Corinne Mixon and Jessica Janasiewicz are joining the Rutledge Ecenia law firm’s lobbying team.

Also coming to the firm on a contract basis is Mixon & Associates’ Juhan and Pat Mixon, and Jim Hamilton, the firms said in a joint announcement.

They “will bring a wealth of experience in governmental affairs and a strong client base with concentrations in healthcare and education,” the release said.

“I couldn’t be happier about the fusion of Mixon & Associates’ lobbyists and clients into our firm,” said Gary Rutledge, the firm’s founding principal. “In addition to them being well respected and knowledgeable professionals, the clients they bring to the firm complement our practice areas and give us a significant presence in the education space.

“I am confident that their addition to the firm will further our ability to advance in all practices,” he said.

Added Corinne Mixon: “We are extremely excited to join the team at Rutledge Ecenia and look forward to working with such a respected and talented group of people. With our combined expertise, I am confident that we will be able to optimize our reach and continue to grow our practice.”

She has more than 10 years of experience representing clients’ interests, with a particular emphasis on health care practitioners.

Mixon began her career as a Public Relations Account Coordinator at the Zimmerman Agency, the largest hospitality-centered communications firm in the nation. She managed the public relations efforts for major hotels stretching from the Cayman Islands to New York City.  

While earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama’s School of Communications and Information Sciences, Corinne interned in the D.C. office of Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, starting her interest in professional lobbying and politics.

She has managed a large statewide political campaign and been brought on by multiple entities to provide crisis communication services. Mixon also has significant experience working in association management, having acted as Executive Director of the Independent Funeral Directors and executive vice president at two large statewide associations.

Janasiewicz has more than 10 years of experience working in and with public schools across the country. She began her career as a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta, earned a master’s degree in literacy and another master’s degree in politics and education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

While pursuing her degree in New York, Janasiewicz served as a domestic policy intern at the William J. Clinton Foundation. She joined Mixon and Associates in 2011 and began lobbying for school districts, becoming the lead lobbyist for many of the firm’s education clients.

Mixon and Janasiewicz join Rutledge, Jon Costello and Diana Ferguson as members of Rutledge Ecenia’s government affairs team effective today (Wednesday).

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The question confronting Richard Corcoran: Will he stick by his principles or will he p*ssy out?

To the eleven or twelve people (thanks Ed Moore!) who watched this past week’s edition of The Usual Suspects, the public affairs program which airs in north Florida, I apologize for repeating myself, but…

We will know which direction the 2017 Legislative Session is headed by the first day. That’s because that’s the deadline House Speaker Richard Corcoran has set for the filing of individual member projects. In a dramatic shift from years past, the House has moved to a system that requires members to file an individual bill for each budget request. Under this scenario, members must also file all of their requests by the bill filing deadline at the beginning of session.

In Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House, there will be no putting spending projects in the budget during the appropriations process.

So what happens if and when the Senate does not abide by the House’s rules?

Because we’ll all be able to go on LobbyTools or the state’s website and see whether the bills have been filed.

If they’re not filed — and there’s really no indication that the Senate is in a hurry to give in to Corcoran’s way of doing business — the question to Corcoran will be: Are you sticking by your principles? Or are you going to p*ssy out?

Meaning, the Senate will have either filed its member projects before the deadline (at which point the Senate should just bend over and ask for another smack from Corcoran’s paddle).

Or Senators will not have filed their bills and Corcoran is prepared to shut down the government rather than let them in at a later point.

Or Corcoran blinks and allows bill not filed by the deadline to make their way into the budget.

But let’s assume the Senate does not play by Corcoran’s rules. That is, after all, where things appear to be headed.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala sent a message last week to the House leadership: Don’t expect to force the Senate to abide by your strict new budget rules.

“We have our own rules in the Senate. We are going to abide by our own rules,” Latvala told reporters following a committee meeting.

So, let’s assume the Senate does abide by its own rules; what happens after that?

Typically, its during its closing days that we know that the Jenga puzzle that is Session is about to collapse. Think Dean Cannon vs. Mike Haridopolos or Steve Crisafulli gaveling the House to an early close. And, sure, there are train wrecks which, in retrospect, seemed inevitable, i.e. Johnnie Byrd.

But the House and Senate are headed for a collision on opening day.

Can you imagine 59 more days of The Process headed downhill?

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Personnel note: St. Pete’s Mindy Grossman named National Retail Federation chair

Home Shopping Network Inc. CEO Mindy Grossman will become the new chair of National Retail Federation board of directors.

Grossman, a St. Petersburg resident, was elected this week to serve a two-year term. She replaces Kip Tindell, the co-founder and chair of the Container Store. Neiman Marcus Group CEO Karen Katz was also named chair of the NRF Foundation.

Representing vendors from the U.S. and more than 45 countries, the National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association. Membership includes discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, small-businesspeople, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and internet sellers.

On her HSN website bio, Grossman is described as a 38-year veteran of the retail and apparel industries. She joined IAC, HSNi’s former parent company, in 2006 as CEO of IAC Retail. Grossman took the company public in 2008, becoming CEO of HSNi.

Grossman was also instrumental in developing innovative programs such as Shop by Remote, HSN Arcade and HSN Live, working with international brands like Disney, Ford and Universal. She also led the company’s digital transformation of its catalogue business.

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Senate will hear tobacco appellate bond cap repealer; a sop to trial lawyers?

The Senate is primed to hear a bill that would repeal the cap on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, and Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, have filed measures for their respective chambers for the 2017 Legislative Session.

Giving this bill a committee hearing is the latest indication that this Legislature has a soft spot for trial lawyers.

The Senate bill (SB 100) is teed up first in the Regulated Industries committee, records show. SB 100 effectively removes all of Section 569.23 from Florida Statutes.

What exactly does that section of state law do? Well, among other things it drastically capped the bond amount tobacco companies have to pay to appeal court ruling. When the law was OK’d in 2009, industry officials said it was for the good of the state. If companies were bankrupted by endless Florida lawsuits, officials argued at the time, they couldn’t make the payments to the state as part of a 1999 tobacco settlement.

The Florida Justice Association threw a fit when it was OK’d, and repealing the law, even if it is eight years later, would most definitely be considered a win.

Tobacco companies say a repeal would be unfair because, without a cap, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule.

With some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they say.

The Regulated Industries meets Jan. 26 at 10 a.m. in 412 Knott.

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Florida Blue Foundation symposium to focus on health care, poverty and community

Purpose Built Community President Carol Naughton

The Florida Blue Foundation will hold its 2017 Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. The two-day event will feature speakers from leading health professionals, and focus on a variety of issues facing the industry.

The event kicks off at 9:45 a.m. April 19 with a keynote address from Carol Naughton, the president of Purpose Built Community. Naughton is expected to discuss how to create healthy neighborhoods to help break the cycle of poverty.

Several panels are scheduled for April 19, including presentations about building a culture of a healthy community, meeting future needs in the industry, strategic planning and health care reform. Mark Brewer, the president and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation, is also scheduled to facilitate a session titled “How to Engage a Community After an Attack.”

The event continues April 20 with a keynote address from Dr. Daniel Dawes, a health care strategist and attorney. Dawes is scheduled to give a presentation titled “Health Equity for All: Looking Back & Moving Forward with Health Reform in America.”

Dawes is also scheduled to moderate a panel titled “Affordable Care Act: Where Do We Go from Here – The Politics of Health Care.” Panelists will include Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Dr. Antonia Novello, the former U.S. Surgeon General; Jason Altmire, the senior vice president of public policy and community engagement at Florida Blue; and Susan McManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida.

The Sapphire Luncheon and Awards ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. April 20. Patrick Geraghty, the CEO of Guidewell Holding Company, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker during the luncheon.

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Takeaways from Tallahassee for 1.15.17 – Trade secrets

Former state Rep. and Financial Regulation Commissioner Tom Grady has touched off a lawsuit between the state’s insurance and financial regulators and a San Francisco-based software concern.  

Zenefits, which describes itself as “a technology company … that integrates the administration of human resources and employee benefits,” filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court Jan. 6, court records show.

It’s seeking protection from disclosing records Grady requested last month from the Department of Financial Services, saying they’re trade secrets because they contain “customer lists, proprietary contacts, business plans and internal audits.”

Trade secrets are exempt under Florida’s public records law.

Grady’s public records request, on his Naples law firm’s letterhead, came after the department last year told Zenefits it was under investigation “to determine whether (it) had violated one or more provision of the Florida Insurance Code.” Zenefits handed over the documents as part of the inquiry.

The company had been plagued by licensing compliance troubles under its former leadership in several states, including Tennessee, Washington, Virginia and California.

“Among other things, Zenefits employs licensed insurance producers who sell and administer insurance plans for customers who elect to use Zenefits as their insurance broker,” its suit says.

Zenefits, which “makes money by collecting brokerage fees after selling health insurance, has admitted that in many cases its insurance salespeople lacked the local licenses that are required by state laws,” BuzzFeed News’ William Alden has reported.

Grady asked for “all documents and communications related to the investigation,” according to a copy of his request filed with the court. (His letter also says the company has since entered into a consent order with the state, which wasn’t immediately available.)

Many of the documents, however, additionally contain “the Social Security numbers of Florida residents whose employers are customers of Zenefits, as well as the SSN’s of Zenefit employees,” the suit says.

They also contain other “sensitive” information, such as “bank account numbers,” “home addresses,” “identities of dependents,” and “email addresses.”

The department told Zenefits it was going to comply with Grady’s request unless it got a court order “barring public disclosure.” But Zenefits had already told the state the info it gave up was confidential and asked that it not be released.

Grady, who could not be reached Friday, has said he’s “entitled” to the records and “insisted” on their release, according to the suit.

His request did not say which client he’s seeking the information for; his website says he specializes in “financial industry disputes or transactions in excess of $5 million.”

Grady, who was mentioned as the next state Insurance Commissioner after Kevin McCarty announced his resignation last year, is a friend of Gov. Rick Scott. The governor appointed him to the State Board of Education.

Grady was a GOP member of the Florida House of Representatives in 2008-10 before a stint as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, the state’s top banking regulator. He also was interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s insurer of last resort.

Zenefits is being represented by attorneys in the Foley & Lardner law firm’s Tallahassee office.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

Now, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Lawson in, Seccombe out —The Visit Florida board of directors this week announced it had selected Ken Lawson, the former secretary of the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, as its next president and CEO. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe who resigned as CEO amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull. “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 Gov. Rick Scott in a statement this week. Seccombe will receive $73,000 as severance.

Taking a gamble — Sen. Bill Galvano filed the first big gambling bill of the 2017 Legislative Session, and it included a little something for everyone. “My goal has been to address all aspects of gaming in a comprehensive manner that balances the interests of an industry that has contributed to Florida’s economy for nearly a hundred years, our ongoing revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the authority of local voters, while maximizing revenues to the state,” said Galvano in a statement. The 112-page bill included provisions to allow lottery ticket sales at gas pumps, fantasy sports, more slot machines, and a provision to OK the long-delayed Seminole Compact. The legislation also included provisions to expand blackjack from the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including at Pompano Park.

Pot talk — The Florida House Quality Subcommittee began discussions about implementing Amendment 2, using the meeting this week to hold a panel discussion about the industry. Facing a time crunch, Christian Bax, the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, told lawmakers the Department of Health is expected to begin rule-making in the coming days. The department will host meetings in each of the state’s five regions to get feedback. Lawmakers will do their part to implement the constitutional amendment, with House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues expected to carry the legislation in the House. While Rodrigues said he is in the early stages of crafting legislation, the Estero Republican said the bill “will not contain a tax on medical marijuana.”

Budget blues — It might be time to tighten your belts. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told committee members this week they would start the process to attack looming budget deficits. He called on members to begin scrutinizing state spending and looking for programs to cut or trim. “We have a commitment to not raise taxes,” he said. “But, at the same time, as chairman of the committee, I think every member should have the right to express their concerns. Those concerns will be vetted with the committee, and the committee ultimately will make a determination.” State government revenues are projected to remain essentially flat during the 2017-18 fiscal year, beginning July 1. But state economists project deficits of $1.3 billion the year after that, and of $1.9 billion during the subsequent year.

Count him out — Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced this week he won’t run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018. The Republican from Merritt Island was widely expected to mount a statewide bid for the cabinet post, but bowed out this week, choosing to spend more time with his family. “I plan to remain politically active, but after years of travel to fulfill my obligations to the House Republican Conference and as Speaker of the Florida House, there is nothing I want more than to spend time with my Kristen and our daughters as they finish out their final years of being at home before going off to college,” he said in a statement.

Keep the money in Northwest Florida.

That’s the message Sens. George Gainer, Doug Broxson, and Bill Montford are hoping to send with Sen Bill 364. The bill aims to ensure funds received in the settlement of the state’s economic damage claims caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill remain in Northwest Florida’s eight disproportionately affected counties.

“Nearly seven years after the spill began, on a daily basis, we are still hearing from constituents whose families and businesses were drastically impacted,” said Montford. “This legislation affirms our longstanding commitment to keep these critical funds in Northwest Florida to provide for the ongoing economic recovery of our region.”

Under current law, the eight counties — Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, and Wakulla — are set to receive 75 percent of all settlement funds received by Florida. The bill clarifies the money should be directly appropriated to Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. no later than 30 days after received by the state.

Way to go, Greenberg Traurig Tallahassee!

The Tallahassee office celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Governor’s Club this week. Gov. Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater, founding Chairman Larry J. Hoffman, senior Chairmen Cesar L. Alvarez and Matthew B. Gorson, and Co-President Ernest L. Greer, and several lawmakers and state agency heads all came out to celebrate the occasion.

“When the Greenberg Traurig Tallahassee office opened 25 years ago, we gained not only an established state government relations team that had been instrumental in practically every major legislative issue over the preceding 20 years, but a strong multidisciplinary legal team experienced in all major areas of the law as well,” said Gorson.

The Tallahassee office now includes a diverse team of lawyers, governmental relations professionals, and business staff.

“Since joining Greenberg Traurig 25 years ago, we have built a full-service platform to serve all of our clients’ needs, both here in Florida and across the nation, through the firm’s legal and lobbying efforts,” said Fred W. Baggett, managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig’s Tallahassee office. “You simply cannot deny the success this partnership has achieved.”

Gov. Scott might want Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act but Florida CHAIN says that’s just misguided.

“Governor Scott is basically suggesting a wholesale repeal of anything connected to Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare.  This would be a travesty.  Upon repeal, approximately 20 million people would immediately be without health insurance and the cash flow mechanism between hospitals, physicians, pharmacies and all the other players would become a short-term disaster,” the organization’s board of directors said in a statement this week.

“The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, but with some targeted modifications to fix those parts that are problematic, we could come up with something very workable,” the group continued. “This solution, however, needs to be developed through an evolving process, not an across the board repeal with piecemeal segments, as the country waits for the various replacement plans to evolve and be revealed in the new Trump Administration and 115th Congress.”

In a letter to Congress this week, Scott, a potential 2018 U.S. Senate candidate, said the legislation should be completely overhauled giving more flexibility to the states.

Senate President Joe Negron hopes the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans convert Medicaid to a block grant program that allows Florida more flexibility in providing health care to the poor, disabled, and elderly.

Opinion on the Appropriations Committee was more divided during a meeting this week.

“Block grants don’t work,” Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson said. She believes Florida’s position should be that “Medicaid block grant is a nonstarter. We need to be just as aggressive with this new administration as we were with the outgoing one.”

Republican Sen. David Simmons argued a block grant would give Florida room to devise a program allowing low-income beneficiaries to earn more without being cut off.

“The whole system is a total failure,” he said. “They’re forced into a lifestyle that penalizes success, incentivizes failure.”

Karen Woodhall of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy testified that federal rules allow just the sort of program Simmons envisioned.

In fact, she continued, Florida used to have a “bootstrap” program — “so that you didn’t lose your benefits the minute you did better. You started to ratchet down” in benefits but didn’t lose them entirely. Other states do that now, she said.

“That’s an example of something I’m sure we could work on together, and I look forward to helping you with it,” Woodhall said.

Welcome aboard, Joel Brown.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District announced this week that Brown had joined the district as a government affairs program manager. Originally from Tampa, Brown will serve as liason between the SWFWMD and the constituents of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Before joining SWFWMD, he worked as the West Central Florida regional manager for CFO Jeff Atwater and the Department of Financial Services. He later served as Atwater’s press secretary.

Brown also served as district administrative assistant to the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

The Florida Family Policy Council will hold its Pro-Life, Pro-Family Lobby Days on March 13 and March 14 at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.

The two-day event includes team lobbying, presentations and the annual legislative prayer breakfast. Speakers over the two-days include Gov. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Greg Steube, Rep. Kim Daniels, and Rep. Jamie Grant.

Florida TaxWatch is focused on justice reform.

The watchdog group released a new report this week looking at Florida crime and corrections data over the years. The 40-page report tackles a number of issues, including sentence lag time, plea bargains and inmates’ education levels.

The report found that majority of offenders sentenced in fiscal 2015 took plea bargains and received sanctions for nonviolent offenses. The report also found stringent sentencing polices lead to lengthier prison stays; the state’s incarceration rate is declining as the inmate population rate begins to level off; and prison admission and release rates are in a decline.

The report also found nonviolent offender make up more than half of annual prison admissions.

Term limits could be coming.

The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee began discussing judicial term limits during a committee hearing this week. While proposals have failed in the Legislature in the past, they are a top priority for House Speaker Corcoran.

In Florida, appellate judges — including justices of the Supreme Court — are appointed by the governor subject to merit retention elections. They may serve until age 70 if the voters retain them. No appellate judge has ever been bounced via a merit retention vote.

Drink those mimosas while you can.

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture citrus crop forecast showed a slight decrease in Florida orange production to 71 million boxes in the 2016-17 season. The state’s citrus industry has been hurt by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. And Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

“The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, depends on a long-term solution in the fight against greening,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement this week. “Our brightest minds are working to find a solution, but until then, we must support our growers and provide them every tool available to combat this devastating disease.”

Putnam has asked the federal government to consider approving antimicrobial treatments to fight greening, which is caused by a jumping plant louse and the bacteria it hosts.

Congratulations, Lukas Hefty!

Hefty, the math and science magnet coordinator at Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary School in Pinella County, was honored by the Milken Family Foundation, the state Department of Education announced this week. Hefty was recognized for his work in developing the school’s nationally recognized STEM curriculum.

“By engaging students as early as kindergarten in the school’s STEM activities and inviting families to join in the fun, Mr. Hefty is helping young learners establish a solid foundation that will benefit them as they continue their education and eventually enter the workforce,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “I am pleased to recognize him for his dedication to education, and I look forward to learning about the great things his students are bound to accomplish as a result of his efforts.”

Hefty has been as an educator for 11 years, and was instrumental in writing and developing unique math and engineering curriculum. He is national board certified, and holds a master of arts degree in elementary education with a focus on math and science.

Hefty is just one of 35 educators nationwide to receive this year’s award.

Will 2017 bring victory for ride-hailing companies? Some Floridians sure hope the answer is a resounding yes.

Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Sprowls filed legislation this week to address transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft. The proposals parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

“Ridesharing companies offer a competitive alternative to the jobs and services of the past,” said Andrew Vila, a spokesman for Generation Opportunity, in a statement. “We look forward to engaging with the legislature and activating our grassroots army to push for statewide standards.”

Among other things, the bill prohibits local governments from regulating the companies, includes background checks that don’t require fingerprints, and searching driving history records.

“Our elected officials need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, in a statement. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Call him, Professor.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush kicked off a teaching residency this week at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, where he is currently an executive professor. The class is meant to teach students about the role of “gubernatorial leadership and its impact on government at all levels,” according to the university.

More than 60 students are enrolled in the 10-day course. Students, according to the university, are expected to hear from Bush, and other governors and state legislators, about the roles and responsibilities of state leaders.

While Bush, who served as the state’s governor from 1999 to 2007, ran for president in 2016, Floridians probably won’t see him on the campaign trail anytime soon. The Associated Press reported this week that Bush said it was unlikely he’d run for office again.

“I unraveled everything I was doing to prepare for this – you don’t do that lightly,” he told the Associated Press. “I just think this was my chance. The conditions of this election weren’t tailor-made for me and I lost. But I’m not in therapy. I’m not in the fetal position. Life goes on.”

Here’s a list Florida might not be too thrilled to top.

CoreLogic reported this week that Florida led the United States in foreclosures, with 48,494 completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in November. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that while that number is significantly higher than any other state, it is still down 42 percent over the year.

The state reported a foreclosure rate of 1.4 percent, the seventh-highest in the nation. Florida accounted for about 12 percent of all completed foreclosures nationwide.

Settle into the couch, Florida.

CFO Atwater thinks it’s time we have a talk. No, not that talk (obviously, birds and bees fall under Agriculture Commissioner Putnam’s jurisdiction). He just wants to chat about money.

In his weekly newsletter, Atwater highlighted the Department of Financial Services “My Money” program, which aims to help teach people with development disabilities gain the confidence and skills they “need to live more independently.”

The program uses interactive games, activities and educational videos to help participants learn and practice skills at their own pace. Parents can also use the program to learn how they can help children “solidify and apply these new skills.”

These sure are healthy schools.

Thirty more Florida schools earned HealthierUS School Challenge designations in December, bringing the total number of Florida HUSSC schools to 249, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week.

“It’s great that these schools are providing their students the nutrition and physical activity needed for academic success,” he said in a statement. “Our goal is to continue working with schools to increase the amount healthy choices offered to Florida’s students.”

The challenge, joint effort with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a voluntary certification initiative to recognized efforts to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education and promote physical activity. Schools must meet specific criteria, such as providing smarter snacks and opportunities for physical activity.

It time to ramp up the fight against screwworm.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called on the federal government to step up its response to an infestation of New World screwworm in Florida this week, requesting more cash to help fight the infestation.

“If we don’t move aggressively to halt the spread of this dangerous pest, the result could be catastrophic for Florida’s wildlife and livestock industry,” wrote Nelson in a letter sent today to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “More than 130 endangered Key deer have already fallen victim to the screwworm. We cannot allow the white-tailed deer population, or the endangered Florida panther, or Florida’s nearly $1 billion beef industry to collapse too.”

Federal officials this week confirmed the flesh-eating parasite was found in a stray dog near Homestead.

Speaking of screwworm: The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Agriculture released sterile flies in the Homestead area as a precautionary effort.

“While the dog has been treated and is doing well, there are still a lot of unknowns about the dog’s history and recent locations. Given that Florida’s livestock industry is at stake, this sterile fly release is a precautionary move to ensure we’re doing everything we can to aggressively eradicate the screwworm from Florida,” said Commissioner Putnam in a statement.

The sterile insect technique has been used since the 1950s as an effective way to eradicate screwworm. The technique is considered safe for people, animals and the environment.

The technique releases sterile male flies into infected areas. Those male flies then mate with local females, producing no offspring. With fewer fertile mates available in each succeeding generation, the fly, in essence, breeds itself out of existence.

Danny Burgess Jr. missed his daughter Adeline’s third birthday this week — he was busy in Tallahassee, presiding over his first meeting as chairman of the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee.

“She’s back home. She’s a three-nager. Daddy couldn’t be there,” said the Zephyrhills Republican.

He remarked on the “bittersweet” occasion following the committee, in which trial attorneys, the president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a representative of home restoration contractors, and state officials conducted a generally civil discussion of assignment of benefits reform.

“It’s been tough. What I think I’ve realized is that we all do this to make a difference and try to impact others’ lives in a positive way,” he said. “Along those roads we sometimes miss those precious moments in life, and today is definitely one of them. So I wanted to wish my baby girl happy birthday. Daddy loves you. I’ll be home soon. Hopefully, when she’s older, she will understand that we did all this for her and for all of our children.”

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee began work this week to extend the lobbying ban for former members of the Legislature and statewide officeholders to six years, and to strengthen oversight of local and special district officials.

The panel discussed three proposed reform bills. The first, PCB PIEC 17-01, would extend the ban against lobbying their former agencies from the existing two years and apply it to statewide elected officials. The proposed constitutional amendment would require approval by three-fifths of the House and Senate and by more than 60 percent of the voters.

PCB PIEC 17-01 would change Florida Statutes to reflect the change, and also ban former legislators from lobbying executive agencies for six years.

PCB PIEC 17-03 would tighten ethics disclosures for local officials and bar them from creating shell companies to do businesses with boards on which they serve. Abstaining from matters in which they hold interests would not be enough — they also would have to abstain from lobbying or discussing such matters with colleagues.

Committee chairman Larry Metz said he’s open to creating a statewide lobbyist registration system to spare local governments the burden of creating individual their own.

Kraig Conn, legislative counsel to the Florida League of Cities, said local officials are open to reform but wary of creating “unnecessary barriers to public service.”

Attorneys for the Office of Insurance Regulation and a quasi-official ratings agency filed arguments on the merits of an appeal involving the 14.5 percent workers’ compensation premium hikes that began to kick in last month.

Miami workers’ comp attorney James Fee has challenged the increase, and persuaded Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers that OIR and the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, violated the Sunshine Law in calculating the new rate.

Both defendants argued the law doesn’t apply — it says rating agencies’ internal committees have to be open to the public, but NCCI dismantled its internal committee in 1991 over antritrust concerns. A single employee was responsible, although he consulted colleagues on the details. The rest of the process was open, they argued

“If allowed to stand, the trial court’s order will mark a dramatic expansion of the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine and Public Records Laws,” NCCI argued in its brief.

Fee has until Jan. 23 to file his reply brief.

The chairwoman of the House Energy & Utilities subcommittee might need to invest in a hard hat. Her members might want to do that, too.

During the panel’s first meeting this week, Kathleen Peters said she planned to conduct as many visits as possible to facilities operated by the utilities regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission, which the committee oversees.

“I strongly encourage you to contact your local utilities — whether its energy, whether its water, whether its telecommunications — and start setting up some site visits,” she said.

She said she’d be happy to accompany them on such outings and offered: “I hope you will join me on a lot of the tours I plan on taking this year and next.”

BlueLine Associates is moving south.

Gov. Scott announced this week that BlueLine Associates, a professional services firm, is planning to move its global headquarters to Tampa. The firm is moving from Cary, North Carolina, and the relocation will create 150 new jobs and invest more than $2 million in the local community.

“It is great news that BlueLine Associates chose to move their international headquarters to Florida from North Carolina, which will create more than 150 new jobs for Tampa families,” said Scott in a statement. “We were competing with North Carolina and Louisiana, but ultimately BlueLine Associates chose Florida for their new headquarters. I look forward to BlueLine Associates continued success in our state.”

BlueLine Associates provices consulting, managed services, and staffing solutions to a variety of industries. According to the Governor’s Office, new jobs are expected to pay an average annual wage of $71,909.

“This move gives us access to Florida’s strong talent pool and allows us to continue the strategic expansion of our business,” said Rocky Silvestri, president of BlueLine, in a statement. Our company culture is at the core of our business success, our client’s satisfaction, and the happiness of our people.  We are excited to bring those guiding principles to Tampa.”

Oysters for everyone!

Several Harris Corporation employees designed and built a machine to help restore oyster beds in the Indian River Lagoon. The machine — which was donated to the Brevard Zoo’s Oyster Restoration Program — helps funnel shells into oyster bags, which serve as the foundation for new reefs.

According to Harris Corporation, six employees donated 240 hours to design and build the mechanism.

The Brevard Zoo has been working on oyster restoration in the Indian River Lagoon for more than a decade.

The state’s wildlife management area system is looking good at 75.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the state’s wildlife management area (WMA) system, one of the state’s greatest natural treasures. To celebrate, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hosting free events throughout the year.

“Florida has one of the largest systems of public lands in the country at nearly 6 million acres, and these lands are the best of the best of what wild Florida has to offer,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “These natural communities span a variety of habitats from longleaf pine uplands and pine flatwoods to the hardwood hammocks and sawgrass savannas of the Everglades. Not only are these areas beautiful, they are managed to provide habitat for many species of wildlife and access for people to enjoy hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and more.”

The state’s wildlife management areas provide recreational opportunities, like paddling and horseback riding, and hunting opportunities to Floridians. The first WMA was established in 1941 in Charlotte and Lee counties. Today, the FWC is the lead manager or landowner of over 1.4 million acres, and works in partnership with other governmental or private landowners on another 4.5 million acres.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:







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