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 SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.

New rankings show healthiest and least healthy counties in Florida; St. Johns the healthiest

Which counties were the healthiest and which were the most unhealthy throughout the Sunshine State?

St. Johns County ranked first in both key indexes used by the seventh annual county health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which partners with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to work with communities around the country to take a  snapshot and learn how our environments affect us.

It was St. Johns County’s six consecutive year taking both the “health outcomes” category, which account for length and quality of life, and “health factors,” a complex metric comprised of lifestyle habits, access to medical care, area socioeconomics and the physical and the physical environment around us.

Collier, Sarasota, Seminole and Martin counties round out the top five health outcomes. In health factors, Sarasota, Martin, Seminole and Collier round out the top five in that index.

So those are the healthiest.

Which are the unhealthiest?

Gadsden and Union counties are at or near the bottom again.

The rankings use self-reported information, factoring in natural and unnatural deaths — both intentional and unintentional. Smoking, traffic, car accidents, alcohol consumption and much more are used in the data.

The biggest surprise, said Aliana Havrilla, a community coach with County Health Rankings and Roadmaps? Deaths of younger generations are on the rise.

“Drugs are a big factor in the category,” Havrilla told FloridaPolitics.com on Tuesday. “This is a key trend we’re seeing right now.”

Havrilla said that what their researchers are learning is that where we live definitely has an influence on us.

The 2016 rankings examined the differences between rural and urban influences on how humans live.

“The rankings help to see where the counties are doing well and where improvements are needed,” the community coach said.

All resources used in the rankings are available online at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.

Is the latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine ‘sexist’?

Is the Spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine — available now in digital format, soon in print — sexist?

According to Jessica Bakeman, a transplanted education reporter for POLITICO Florida and the current president of the Florida Capitol Press Corps, the answer is ‘yes.’

In a series of tweets posted Monday, Bakeman wrote that the magazine is a “case study for sexism,” and cited two examples of how the magazine stereotypes against women.

In her first tweet, Bakeman compared the coverage that two of her colleagues, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida and Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union, received in the magazine, which focused this quarter on “The Great Communicators,” such as public affairs professionals, government spokespeople, and journalists.

In a subsequent tweet, Bakeman criticized a headline topping a profile of Katie Betta, the communications director for Senate President Joe Negron. Bakeman specifically took issue with the use of the word “girl” to describe Betta.

I am almost enough of a contemporary progressive and traditional liberal that even if I don’t believe something is racist or sexist, but someone else does, then that something is, at some level, prejudicial.

Furthermore, as the father of a young daughter, whom I like to believe my wife and I are raising to be a strong woman AND as the proud husband of a woman who is a force unto herself and sacrificed her own career to stay at home with our daughter, I am especially sensitive to any charge of “sexist.”

However, as I learned last week when engaging in a debate on Twitter after I described a female lawmaker’s manner of speaking as “condescending,” it’s very possible, if not probable, that I have a blind spot on these issues.

After all, I am a privileged white male. For better and for worse.

That said, please allow me to make the argument for why INFLUENCE Magazine is very much NOT SEXIST, at least as far as it concerns the issues Bakeman raised.

As far as the Dixon-Mitchell comparison goes, there really shouldn’t be a comparison in the first place. The profile of Dixon was conceived as a stand-alone story because what POLITICO Florida is doing is one of the most significant developments in Florida’s political media-verse.

The story is not as much about Dixon, as it is the bureau chief of POLITICO Florida.

The idea to include an inset piece in this edition about a second reporter only came about because we were blessed with enough advertising for this version to expand the size of the magazine. I think what Mitchell is doing as a one-woman band for the Times-Union is interesting and should be shared with a statewide audience, so I assigned a reporter to write about her.

In other words, the editorial decisions today had nothing to do with men being Mars and women being from Venus.

As for the damning decision to use pink for the inset box containing Mitchell’s story, that was based entirely on — wait for it — the color of Mitchell’s blouse. Just like the accent color for the cover of the magazine — an imperial purple — was chosen because it matched one of the colors of the flowers in the background.

Subtle, right?

Bakeman does raise a good question about the different language written by the reporters who wrote the stories about Dixon and Mitchell.

To that I have to say, the buck stops with me. I am the publisher. I am the final say-so about each and every word that is included. That said, the story about Mitchell was written by a female reporter, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, who has never struck me as anything less than an entirely confident, downright brilliant woman. The story was edited by Rosanne Dunkelberger, who is not exactly known to be a shrinking violet.

If the hockey puck of sexism got by those two, I am just not good enough of a goalie to block it. For that, I have to take responsibility.

I also take full responsibility for the headline topping the Betta story. I have an email where I raised an issue about the use of the word “girl,” for exactly the reason Bakeman tweeted about.

But, you know what, “Go-To Girl” works, whereas “Go-To Woman” does not. And you know who agrees with me? Every one of the women who works on the magazine, as well as my wife, whose judgment on such issues I trust implicitly.

And, without asking her, I am a pretty sure Katie Betta does, too.

As for whether I would refer to another male “great communicator” as a boy as I do Betta as a girl, well, this edition of INFLUENCE Magazine does exactly that, referring to Brian Hughes as a ‘bad boy.’

Does this make this edition not sexist? No, it just shows that I am an equal opportunity offender.

What’s unfortunate about Bakeman’s criticisms is that it distracts from our proactive effort to diversify our coverage of an industry overwhelmingly dominated by white males. That’s why I was so proud when PR maven Estella Gray tweeted yesterday about how we had produced such a diverse publication.

What’s also unfortunate about this situation is that, before Bakeman’s criticisms, we had decided that the next edition of INFLUENCE Magazine will be about how “women rule,” and will feature women who are “not just the best female lobbyists, but some of the best lobbyists. Period.

Now, this edition may be seen as a response to Bakeman’s charges.

When I am back in St. Petersburg, and in front of my main computer, I’ll dig up the email from about ten days ago in which I announce this decision.

In the meantime, I welcome feedback from Bakeman’s and others — trust me, my dear friend Sean Pittman is constantly reminding me to take the blinders off and report about other people than just white men.

However, as to these accusations, I believe strongly Bakeman is barking up the wrong tree.

Sunburn for 3.28.17 – Disruption day in the Capitol; Bondi’s D.C. moves; Max Steele exits

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

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

IT’S DISRUPTION DAY IN THE LEGISLATURE

With the House set to tackle legislation aimed at vacation rentals and the Senate taking up a bill focused on ride-booking services, it seems like 2017 might just be the year lawmakers embrace some of the technological advancements many Floridians use on a regular basis.

A recent survey from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed 41 percent of Floridians thought online platforms and technologies — like Airbnb, HomeAway, Uber and Lyft — helped Florida’s economy. Not surprising: 55 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they thought this technology was helpful to Florida’s economy.

While the proposals advancing through the Legislature could be seen as a boon for consumers (and the tech companies), local governments could end up on the losing end when it comes to their home-rule authority.

Take, for instance, a bill (HB 425) aimed at vacation rentals. If approved, the bill would roll back local ordinances and regulations of vacation rentals to ones on the books in 2011. Any ordinances passed after 2011 would be thrown out.

It’s clear there’s support for vacation rentals: The Mason-Dixon survey found 93 percent of Floridians said tourists should be able to rent accommodations other than hotels during their trips to Florida.

Supporters of the measure say the regulations can stifle the tourism industry. During a meeting earlier this month, Lori Killinger, a lobbyist for the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, said the vacation rental industry is a $31 billion a year industry, but that goes to one homeowner at a time.

Local governments are coming out in opposition to the bill, saying home rule authority should give them the right to decide for themselves what to do about vacation rentals.

The bill cleared its first House committee earlier this month, and is expected to be discussed during the 8 a.m. House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting today.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to discuss a bill (SB 340) that would regulate transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft. The proposal creates minimum insurance requirements and requires background checks — and preempts any local ordinances and rules on these companies.

The proposal has the backing of Uber and Lyft, but local governments and the groups representing them are less than pleased.

The Senate bill will be discussed when Judiciary Committee meets at 3 p.m. today, while the House proposal (HB 221) is will get its first hearing on the House floor on Thursday.

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MIKE HUCKABEE REITERATES OPPOSITION TO 2018 RUN via Kelly Humphrey of the NWF Daily News — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made one thing perfectly clear during his speech Saturday at the Okaloosa County Republic Party’s annual Lincoln Dinner. He is not now, nor will he ever be interested in running for governor of Florida. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. “There may be somebody thinking about it, but let me be real clear — it ain’t me,” Huckabee told the packed house of more than 300 people. “There is a greater likelihood that I will have transgender surgery than I will run for the governor of any state, at any time, or anything, anywhere. It ain’t happening.”

IS PAM BONDI WHITE HOUSE BOUND? via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – In a sign she might be bound for the White House, Attorney General Pam Bondi made a special Monday trip to meet with President Donald Trump and two Cabinet secretaries to talk about children’s issues with fellow Floridians and former football greats Tony Dungy and Derrick Brooks in tow. Bondi’s visit, which included meetings with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, gave a small indication that she’s testing the waters for an as-yet-unnamed job in Trump’s White House before her term expires in 2019.

Saying she’s happy with her work in Florida, however, Bondi would not discuss her next move — despite months of speculation about whether or when she would leave.

STEVE BITTEL VISITS TALLAHASSEE TO RALLY DEMOCRATS TO ‘MOVE FORWARD NOW’ via Florida Politics – Florida Democratic Party Chairman Steve Bittel came to Tallahassee Monday to detail his efforts to rebuild following the November disaster. “It’s been a disheartening time,” Bittel said, but he urged members of the Leon County Democratic Party to transform their disappointment into action.  “We should be angry. We lost Florida, and we shouldn’t have lost Florida. I candidly say all over the state, that loss is on us. We could have done more. It was close. We all regret it. We can only move forward now. He sees a chance to pick up three seats in the state Senate next year, for 18 total in the 40-member body. (Rene Garcia will be term-limited out, and Frank Artiles and Dana Young seem gettable, he said.) He believes Bill Nelson will win re-election to the U.S. Senate. Especially if Donald Trump inspires a pro-Democratic wave election. “But there’s a lot to do,” he said.

STATE PAID LAW FIRM FOR MEETING WITH HOUSE SPEAKER via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Newly-released billing records show that in October 2014 the firm of Broad and Cassel charged the state’s economic development agency ahead of a meeting between its affiliate, the state Division of Bond Finance, and Corcoran – putting the meeting in the crosshairs of a new review by the governor of potential conflicts of interest. At the time Corcoran was not speaker but he already was viewed as one of the most powerful members in the Legislature.

Corcoran, who has worked at Broad and Cassel since 2011 in its Tampa offices, told The Associated Press that he was unaware that his firm asked to be paid to prepare for the meeting with him. But he said he attended the 2014 meeting as a legislator and not because he was required to do it for his job. He said he and all legislators are routinely asked by friends and colleagues to meet with people to discuss issues and problems they have with state government. “Just because I work in a firm doesn’t mean I can’t do legislative aspects for people I know,” Corcoran said.

SEMINOLE TRIBE: JUDGE’S SLOTS RULING COULD COST STATE ‘MULTI-BILLIONS OF DOLLARS’ via Florida Politics – If it looks like a slot machine, and plays like a slot machine, it’s a slot machine, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is telling state leaders. An order by a Tallahassee judge, first reported by FloridaPolitics.com, declared that certain slot machine-style entertainment devices aren’t slot machines under state law. The Tribe disagreed. It now says those games violate a deal between the Tribe and the state, known as the Seminole Compact. That could have “massive consequences costing the Tribe and the State to lose multi-billions of dollars,” according to the Tribe’s recent court filing. In a letter sent last Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola said the games were “an expansion of gaming” and a “serious violation” of the compact, which guarantees the Tribe exclusive rights to slots outside of South Florida. If so, that would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue.

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HOUSE HEARS BILL TO ALLOW UTILITIES TO CHARGE FOR EXPLORATORY FRACKING via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The House Subcommittee on Energy and Utilities on Tuesday will hear the proposal sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states. It’s the only bill on the agenda for the committee’s three-hour time slot and it’s sudden appearance on the committee calendar surprised even the committee’s chair, Rep. Kathleen Peters who had been told by House leaders that the bill was not going to get a hearing.

HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO ABOLISH PIP INSURANCE EFFECTIVE JAN. 1 via Florida Politics – A House committee voted overwhelmingly Monday to do away with personal injury protection, or PIP, insurance in Florida. The vote in the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee was 12-2, with Jay Fant and Blaise Ingoglia the holdouts. PCS/HB 1063 passed despite concerns by insurers that they need stronger protections against bad-faith lawsuits by people injured by their policyholders.  Medical providers, meanwhile, argued that requiring accident victims to file lawsuits would make it harder for them to get paid. Michael Grant, a Republican from Port Charlotte, summed up the mood among many committee members. “This isn’t a perfect bill,” he said. “But I can’t continue to vote for or sustain a PIP environment that is just completely broken.”

HOUSE TRAUMA CENTER BILL CLEARS FIRST HURDLE via Florida Politics – A limit on how many trauma centers can open in Florida would be erased under legislation that cleared its first committee Monday. The bill (HB 1077), sponsored by state Rep. Jay Trumbull, was OK’d on a 10-5 vote. Among other things, it also does away with the system of trauma service areas and regions, relieves the Florida Department of Health of setting standards for the centers, and would streamline the process for new ones to open. Trumbull, a Panama City Republican, told the panel a main reason for the bill was to cut down the many lawsuits against the department, which has to OK new centers.

HOUSE JUSTICE BUDGET PLAN CUTS $1.3M FROM ARAMIS AYALA’S OFFICE via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – The budget proposal released by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Justice takes a $1.3 million whack at the office of State Attorney Ayala, putting funding for 21 full-time staff members into a reserve under the state Justice Administrative Commission for “state attorneys with reassigned death penalty cases.” The proposal comes after Ayala has come under biting criticism from House Republicans — as well as praise from members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus — for her recent announcement that she would not seek the death penalty in any case, including the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd.

LAWMAKERS MERGE TWO BILLS TO EXPAND MEDICAL SERVICES FOR ABUSED CHILDREN via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Both bills related to child protection issues. SB 1454, sponsored by Sen. Doug Broxson, and SB 1318, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, were so similar in nature they decided to join them together in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. It gives doctors two years to comply. It adds the statewide medical director for child protection as an official who must be consulted in the screening, employment, and termination of child protection team medical director statewide. It requires the children’s medical services program within the Department of Health to convene a task force to develop a standardized protocol for forensic interviews of children suspected of being abused. It also changes service districts as service circuits, and district medical directors as child protection team medical directors. It would require that each child protection team medical director be a licensed physician and board-certified in specified specialty area.

SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE POSTPONES CONSIDERATION OF TESTING BILL via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times– Several members of the committee back Sen. Bill Montford’s SB 964, while the panel was slated to hear SB 926 by newly named member Sen. Anitere Flores. Just as the meeting ensued, Sen. David Simmons late-filed six amendments to the Flores bill, aimed at making it look more like Montford’s measure. They included: Ending the mandate on using value-added measures associated with test results to determine teacher evaluations; eliminating several high school end-of-course exams; allowing districts to use paper-pencil tests rather than electronic ones; and studying national alternatives to state high school language arts and math tests. Sen. Tom Lee, a co-sponsor of SB 964, called for the Flores bill to be temporarily postponed just as it came up for discussion. The committee voted 5-4 in favor, and moved on to a workshop on charter schools.

— “This is an abomination, senator says of proposed changes” via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald

BILL TO EXEMPT FLORIDA CREDIT UNIONS FROM REGULATIONS ADVANCES IN SENATE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved SB 1620 … filed by West Palm Beach Democrat Bobby Powell that would exempt credit unions from regulation under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. However, there were also discussions about rolling back federal consumer protections by Donald Trump, leading Fort Lauderdale Democrat Gary Farmer to attempt a late-filed amendment. Farmer said common law fraud protects consumers only when someone makes an affirmative misrepresentation, and that recipient lies on that misrepresentation. If no statement is made or no question is asked, something still unfair to a consumer would not be actionable under common law fraud rules, he said. That’s what the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act is all about. After Powell had said he did not have enough time to review the proposal and called it an unfriendly amendment, Farmer withdrew it, adding that he hopes to consult further with Powell about it before it goes to its next committee.

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BATTLE OVER BUILDING CODE CHANGES COULD TAKE CENTER STAGE IN HOUSE, SENATE TODAY via Florida Politics — Lawmakers in both chambers are scheduled to consider legislation Tuesday that could change the way the Florida Building Code is updated; a move that could have a big impact on the construction and insurance industries. The proposals (HB 901 and SB 860) essentially flip the set of building codes the construction industry uses as its standard. The Senate provisions have garnered the support from some in the construction industry, but opponents have worried it could lead to a loss in federal funding or turning back the clock on the state’s building codes. Under current law, Florida uses the International Code, building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country, as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code. The Senate proposal removes the provision requiring the International Code be used as a baseline, and instead requires the “6th edition, and subsequent editions, of the Florida Building Code,” be used as the foundation for the development and updates to the state code. It also calls on the commission to review the Florida Building Code every three years “to consider whether it needs to be revised.”

CONSUMER PROTECTION COALITION LAUNCHES AD ON ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS CLAIMS via Florida Politics — The coalition launched a radio and television ad campaign Monday to warn homeowners of how Assignment of Benefits abuse could cause insurance rates to skyrocket in Florida. … “Today, Florida homeowners are being targeted by dishonest home repair vendors, roofers and water mitigation companies who team up with shady trial lawyers to take advantage of them,” said Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association, a coalition member. “Because of this rampant AOB abuse in Florida, our coalition is warning Florida consumers about the negative impacts this unscrupulous activity can have on them.” … The animated video ad features a couple signing their insurance policy over to fix a leaky roof and says the practice will cause insurance rates to go up across the state. The ad then tells viewers to call their lawmaker and ask them to vote on SB 1038 and not to “be a victim of fraud and abuse.”

SMALL BIZ OWNER, STATE & LOCAL ASSOCIATIONS URGE SUPPORT FOR BEER GLASS BILL — The owner of Cabos Island Grill is calling on House members to support a measure (HB 853) sponsored by Rep. Tom Goodson that would all retailers to accept branded glassware at no cost from the beer industry. “Glassware is a significant cost driver to my small business, especially when taking breakage and theft into account; and, while I would like to be able to purchase the appropriate glassware to serve the different varieties of beer we have on premise to make my patrons visit more exciting and enjoyable, it is simply too costly,” said Mike Ferrara, owner of Tallahassee’s Cabos Island Grill and Bar, in a statement. Ferrara went on to say the bill would allow him to partner with the beer industry to receive “appropriate-style glassware, at no cost, to serve with the beers” he has available for his patrons. The proposal is also backed by the Tallahassee Bar & Hospitality Association, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Retail Federation. The bill will be heard during the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee meeting at 8 a.m.

HAPPENING TODAY – CHILDREN’S ADVOCATES HOST EVENT TO DISCUSS HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF FLORIDA’S CHILDREN — CFO Jeff Atwater will be among the speakers at the 2017 Children’s Week address set to take place at noon on the steps of the Old Capitol. The focus of this year’s event is the health and well-being of Florida’s children. Surgeon General Celeste PhilipAlan Abramowitz, the executive director for the Florida Guardian ad Litem program; Wansley Walters, the chair of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet; Zackary Gibson, the chief child advocate and director of the Office of Adoption and Child Prevention; and the Rev. Wayne Wiatt, the senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church are also expected to speak.

HAPPENING TODAY – FGCU DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Wings up! It’s Florida Gulf Coast University Day at the Florida Capitol. The day-long event is meant to give visitors a chance to meet with students, faculty and alumni to learn more about the Southwest Florida state university, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Displays will be set up on the second floor rotunda from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

HAPPENING TODAY — COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee will discuss a bill aimed at changing local governments ability to regulate vacation rentals when it meets at 8 a.m. in 212 Knott. The House Health Quality Subcommittee will discuss a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment when it meets at noon in 212 Knott. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a proposal that could revise testing requirements when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 102 House Office building. The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that creates a framework for the BP settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when it meets at 9 .m. in 110 Senate Office building. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will discuss a bill dealing with changes to the Florida Building Code when it meets at 11 a.m. in the 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss a bill that would regulate ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft when it meets at 3 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here.***

FAMILY AFFAIR: FORMER EFI CHIEF CHRIS HART, FAMILY OPEN THE HARE & THE HART via Florida Politics — Hart, the former president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and his wife, Amy, recently opened The Hare & The Hart, a home décor and design firm in Tallahassee. The family-owned company specializes in toile with a hometown twist. “As a tribute to the town I’ve called home for a good part of three decades, I have designed a toile that shows some of its iconic sites and scenes,” wrote Amy Hart on the company’s website. “Depicting venues running the gamut from the new amphitheater at Cascades Park to the 1600’s-era Mission San Luis, I’ve brought my sketches together in a design that tells the love story of a town full of history, canopy roads, magnolias, rolling hills, beautiful architecture, gardens, and hip new hangouts.” The Hare & The Hart debuted its toiles during the spring edition of French Country Flea Market. During an interview on ABC 27 earlier this month, Amy Hart said the toile was designed to “celebrate our town.”

PERSONNEL NOTE: MAX STEELE DEPARTS FLA. DEMOCRATIC PARTY via Florida PoliticsSteele, who has been Communications Director for the Florida Democratic Party, announced via email he is leaving the organization. This is his last week. “It’s been great working with you all and I’m sure I will be in touch in the not too distant future,” he wrote in a message to reporters. Steele’s departure follows that of executive director Scott Arceneaux as newly-elected chairman Stephen Bittel reorganizes the party’s administrative staff. For now, Johanna Cervone will remain Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary.

APPOINTEDJoseph Brister and Robert Halman to the Immokalee Water and Sewer District of Collier County.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — As the healthcare bill blame game continues, Trimmel Gomes explores what’s next after the GOP’s failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Plus, the battle over local control intensifies as the Florida League of Mayors calls on state lawmakers to “back off.” Gomes interviews League of Mayors President, Carol McCormick of Palm Shores. Also, a special tribute to the life of Dr. Brian Dassler who served as the deputy chancellor of Florida’s Department of Education. Dassler recently passed away of apparent natural causes. Gomes interviews his friend and colleague, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – It’s all-American day at the Governors Club with chicken & rice soup, corn salad, arugula salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, fried chicken, beef pot pie, garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed yellow squash, and cauliflower au gratin.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our friend, Elliot Günther.

‘Property assessed’ financing for solar panels reveal serious consequences for Pinellas Realtors, lenders

As solar energy expands as Florida’s next big growth industry, with it comes a host of unforeseen consequences.

While promises of reduced energy costs for consumers and the lure of “no credit needed,” county-approved loans are indeed attractive, easy financing and lower energy costs could be masking other, potentially devastating, economic problems.

A letter last year from the Pinellas Realtors Organization, standing for over 7,000 real estate professionals countywide, to County Commissioner Charlie Justice cautions against one such situation where the lure of cheap solar hides something much deeper, and darker.

In 2016, The City of St. Petersburg considered using “property assessed clean energy” (PACE) financing for solar energy-related improvements to homes and businesses throughout the region. PACE, which The Wall Street Journal calls one of the “fastest-growing types of financing in the U.S.,” gives property owners special financing agreements with local municipalities, which agree to repay the costs of green energy improvements — such as solar panels — through long-term assessments on property tax bills. Pasco County already has PACE.

The issue was again brought up at a recent Pinellas Board of County Commissioners meeting last week, which was then pushed to a future workshop.

While the intent of the PACE initiatives was to offer no personal liability for the property owner, PACE liens — like property taxes — take precedence over mortgages, said a joint letter from Mindy Rovillo, Pinellas Realtors 2016 chair, and David Bennett, the group’s president and chief executive officer.

“This makes the bonds easier for municipalities to sell,” Rovillo and Bennett write, “but if a home is foreclosed on then liens are paid before the mortgage lender can recoup any money.”

In 2010, Florida lawmakers approved legislation enabling PACE initiatives, which quickly became a boon to finance companies. Since then, the state has developed five active PACE programs, which offer both commercial and residential financing. Homeowners would see special property assessments on tax rolls, revenue which would pay back the bonds.

Realtors are warning — as they have since 2012 — that if the average home sells every five years — and the typical PACE loan is for 20 years — real estate agents will be on the hook to explain this special tax assessment to potential homebuyers.

“Once the prospective buyer learns about this new cost to purchasing the home, this information may cause delays in the completion of the transaction or even a cancellation,” the letter said.

In addition, refinancing a property under a PACE lien could be “problematic.”

“Homeowners who participate in the PACE program with the goal of reducing their monthly expenses through lower energy bills could find themselves unable to take advantage of the significant savings that even a single percentage drop in interest rates can bring with it,” Rovillo and Bennett wrote.

Realtors’ fears about the hidden financial consequences PACE initiatives for solar upgrades are just another of the many red flags raised in the push to expand Florida’s solar industry.

Several news reports exposed the range of questionable sales practices used by solar companies to get consumers to install panels on their homes. For example, SolarCity, one of the industry’s largest players, offers 20-year leases to finance solar panel installations.

However, problems began when the billion-dollar corporation began lowering the requirements by using subpar credit scores to target homeowners looking to save on electric costs by financing solar panels. This practice has led a wave of foreclosures — some estimates put the number in the thousands — of homes under lien for unpaid solar panels. The practice has thrown chaos into mortgage companies trying to sort out who exactly owns the panels.

In addition, Sun Sentinel reporter Ron Hurtibise recently revealed a burgeoning industry in South Florida of fly-by-night companies offering to finance major improvements — such as solar panels — for up to 20 years with no money down and no credit checks. Promises of rebates that would “pay for themselves” came up against a harsh reality when homeowners learn they are ineligible for such reimbursements.

PACE loans face a similar reality, Realtors say.

“Homeowners who participate in the PACE program with the goal of reducing their monthly expenses through lower energy bills could find themselves unable to take advantage of the significant savings that even a single percentage drop in interest rates can bring with it.”

While favoring structural improvements such as hurricane strengthening, Realtors believe PACE loans prove to have an adverse effect on mortgage availability, particularly since the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) does not allow Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Banks to purchase mortgages under PACE liens.

“Approximately 75 percent of residential properties utilize Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Federal Home Loan Banks to finance residential mortgages either directly or indirectly. In a community that has a high number of senior citizens, first-time homebuyers, veterans, and those in search of workforce housing,” Rovillo and Bennett write. “It does not, in our eyes, seem prudent to engage in a program that could deny 75 percent of the financing market to a property.

Concerns over the PACE program have led the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) to lobby the Donald Trump administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and other federal agencies to restrict these residential energy-efficiency loans, comparing them to the subprime mortgages which lack federal consumer protections against predatory lending.

According to the MBA website, the group “believes that energy-efficient home improvements can be beneficial for homeowners; however, MBA has significant concerns with the PACE program construct and the risk it poses to traditional lien priority.”

Feds say ‘stay the course’ with Everglades, rejecting Joe Negron’s land buy

Joe Negron’s controversial plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges is not going over well with federal officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Last week, many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O.

At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.”

“It’s not that I’m for or against it, it’s that there’s no federal money for it,” Rubio said to a conservative blogger Wednesday. “We’re going to end up with nothing. And that’s been my argument from the beginning, and that’s my message to him, and he understood it.”

Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative, told USA TODAY he resists Negron’s plan, which is opposed by Florida Sugarcane Farmers, a group of Everglades Agricultural Area landowners refusing to sell approximately 60,000 acres in the scheme.

“Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful,” said Rooney, who prefers the government fund projects with proven success.

As for a proposed task force to consider the feasibility of Negron’s plan, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney also believes that a non-starter, at least right now.

Rooney, whose 19th Congressional District includes much of the Everglades, declined to sign a letter urging Donald Trump to act quickly on Everglades restoration.

What the Naples Republican most disagreed about the bipartisan letter — signed by Reps. Brian Mast, Charlie Crist and others in Florida’s Legislative Delegation — was a call for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make the plan a priority.

Although Rooney is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Everglades Caucus, which works to educate Congress and staff on issues affecting the Everglades, he believes another governmental task force would distract from the current federal plans for wetlands restoration.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney told FloridaPolitics.com. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do,” Rooney added, “to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized.”

Another call to stick with the current federal plan comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which partners with the state of Florida to protect and preserve water resources in the Everglades, central and southern Florida.

Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district, points to successes in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, which includes the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). SEFR represents the world’s largest ecosystem restoration program.

“I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward,” Kirk said in a conference call last week, a declaration clearly countermanding Negron’s proposal and rejects buying more land for a reservoir.

A federal lawmaker who supports Negon’s proposal is Palm City Republican Brian Mast.

“One of the most important things that we can do to save our coastal waters and our coastal estuaries is making sure we find ways to move the water south,” said Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. “That’s why I support SB 10 and it’s why the first action I took when I got to Congress was securing a spot as Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this role, I am pushing to secure the federal support and funding needed to restore our environment and protect the economy.”

 

TREY PRICE

Personnel note: Trey Price to head Florida Housing

Veteran lobbyist Harold “Trey” Price has been named executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Price announced his hiring on social media Friday.

He will take over from interim Executive Director Ken Reecy, who’s been in charge since the resignation of Steve Auger, the previous executive director.

Price has his work cut out for him. Auger stepped down after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

Auger oversaw expenses for “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors,” the audit revealed.

The agency also put on a board reception, spending “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station.” It also awarded nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.

Furthermore, federal prosecutors last year OK’d a criminal plea deal to an alleged $36 million housing fraud that involved the FHFC.

Prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions that went through the FHFC.

They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess, according to case documents.

The audit also noted the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients.”

Price was in-house lobbyist for Florida Realtors for 14 years, then launched his own firm, Price Point Strategies, in 2015.

He also worked as a campaign manager for several legislative and local campaigns, a general campaign consultant, and a legislative assistant in the Florida House.

Price also has extensive experience working on successful campaigns to amend — or prevent others from amending — Florida’s Constitution.

He began his career in politics as an assistant in the political office of the U.S. Sugar Corporation, and went on to assist the campaign to defeat the Sugar Tax Amendment in 1996, one of the largest and most expensive constitutional amendment campaigns in Florida history.

While at Florida Realtors, Price helped author and shepherd through the Legislature the 2008 Property Tax Amendment 1, which increased Florida’s homestead exemption and gave “portability” to homeowners wanting to move and hold onto their tax break, among other provisions.

Sunburn for 3.27.17 – INFLUENCE Mag debuts; Cary Pigman blows bad; Justice League coming together

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

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

DEBUTING TODAY: THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE

INFLUENCE Magazine is mostly about the governmental affairs professionals who shape The Process. But any story about The Process is incomplete without a recognition of the public affairs pros that are as integral as any lobbying shop.

This issue is dedicated to these “flaks,” as well as to the journalists with whom they interact — and occasionally spar.

Our twin cover stories are about two of the public affairs firms dominating legislative politics — Bascom Communications and Consulting and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

CLICK HERE TO READ A “FIRST DRAFT” OF THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

I met both Sarah Bascom and Alia Faraj-Johnson seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve joined the rest of Tallahassee in watching them build two of the most respected brands in Florida politics. In this issue, you’ll read how these two remarkable women and their colleagues accomplished what they have. They truly are ‘Great Communicators’

I also invited veteran reporter Audrey Post to revisit her seminal look the Florida Capitol Press Corps. Much had changed from when she last took stock in 2013. If any single reporter embodies these changes, it’s POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, who works for an outlet that did not even exist in 2013, but today sets the pace for capital coverage. We also profile Tia Mitchell, the jack-of-all-trades reporter for the Florida Times-Union, who, when she’s not writing her must-read column or interviewing a political player on Facebook live, is breaking yet another story about the tenure of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

If you are talking about the ‘great communicators’ in the legislative process, two other names come to my find, albeit it for very different reasons. One is Katie Betta, the soft-spoken voice of the Florida Senate, who is universally admired for her poise and effectiveness. The other is political consultant Brian Hughes, consigliere to legislative leaders and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and a bare-knuckled practitioner of the dark arts of public relations. It’s never a good thing to end up on the opposite side of Brian.

The truth is there is so much great talent in the public affairs sector that we literally ran out of space attempting to catalog all of it. From veterans like spokesman Craig Waters and reporter Rick Flagg to the tech whizzes at Sachs Media Group and spox-turned-blogger Brian Burgess, there is an entire section of this edition profiling the greatest of the great communicators.

We hope you notice this is our biggest issue yet, with almost thirty more pages in it than the last edition. There are just so many interesting aspects to this edition, including a very frank discussion with the state’s most outspoken lawmaker, Republican Jack Latvala. But there’s also great food writing, great travel writing — even a story about the intersection of influence and sports (written by reporter/bicycling enthusiast Alan Snel right before he was involved in a hit-and-run accident)!

A reminder that our once-every-two-years list of the most influential people in Florida politics — the INFLUENCE 100 — is being decided now and will be unveiled at the end of the year. We invite your nominations about who belongs on the list. Also, our choices for the “Golden Rotundas” — our annual awards for the governmental affairs industry — will be in the next edition.

Email your suggestions away!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE PRINT EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

A HIGHER AUTHORITY

Hours after state Rep. Cary Pigman bonded out of the St. Lucie County jail on a drunk driving charge, his Department of Damage Control weighed in with this half-baked, half-hearted, lame excuse for an apology:

“Last night I was pulled over by the Florida Highway Patrol on the Turnpike in St. Lucie County after a long drive back from Tallahassee. I was charged with driving under the influence. I want to apologize to my family, my constituents, and my colleagues in the Legislature, for the embarrassment this has caused me and them.”

Like everyone who ever cruised the Turnpike with a bottle of wine and a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, Pigman’s first concern is the embarrassment “this” has caused “him,” and feels that the “long drive back from Tallahassee” is some kind of mitigating factor. Pigman didn’t think to thank the motorists who called 911 to report his erratic driving, possibly saving his life and the lives of others in his path.

As an emergency room physician, Pigman certainly has the credentials to be a respected part of the solution to Florida’s problems. As an Army reservist with three recent overseas tours of duty, he may well have seen things that would cause anyone to want a bar in the car.

In public life, Pigman gained notoriety as the Torquemada of Marijuana, and for an ethics charge wrapped in a stupid soap-opera beef wrapped in an extramarital affair.

Now, this.

Alcohol abuse resulting in arrest is God’s way of telling a doctor, “Physician, heal thyself.”

For his sake, and his family’s let’s hope he does.

BACKGROUND via Will Greenlee of TCPalm.com – Pigman was arrested early Friday morning on a DUI charge after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted his Jeep drifting on Florida’s Turnpike late Thursday night, records show. The Republican lawmaker represents western St. Lucie County, as well as Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Breath tests measured Pigman’s blood alcohol content at 0.14 and 0.15 percent, which are above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. His arraignment is scheduled for March 31.

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DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 6; NFL Draft – 31; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 37; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 37; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 159; Election Day 2017 – 224; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 262; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 286.

HEALTH CARE BILL DEFEAT A LOSS FOR RICK SCOTT via Ledyard King of USA TODAY – Florida’s maverick Republican governor has spent years decrying the Affordable Care Act. And ever since his pal Donald Trump was elected president … Scott has paid several visits to Washington hoping to convince Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. But House Speaker Paul Ryan’s words — “the bottom line is Obamacare right now remains the law of the land” – must have stung Scott … the governor’s office declined to say much after the defeat.

ICYMI: FLORIDA JOBLESS RATE FLAT EVEN THOUGH STATE LOST JOBS via The Associated Press – Florida lost 5,000 jobs in February while the state’s overall unemployment rate remains unchanged … the jobless rate remained 5 percent last month. That’s higher than the overall national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. After leading the nation in job growth in January, however, Florida lost jobs. Still, Florida’s overall job growth rate in the past year has been among the highest in the nation. Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.1 percent.

NAACP URGES SCOTT TO RETURN CASE TO PROSECUTOR via The Associated Press – NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze said that the group’s members don’t support Gov. Scott‘s decision to take the Markeith Loyd case away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Television station WKMG reports Nweze spoke at a news conference at the group’s quarterly meeting in Orlando. “The death penalty, killing people, is not the way that we end crime in this state,” said Leon Russell, the chairman of the NAACP national board of directors. “Criminal justice spending is outstripping education spending throughout the nation, so why don’t we focus on those things that are actually building our community?” said Ngozi Ndulue, the NAACP national senior director of criminal justice.

ZIKA ISN’T OVER. MIAMI-DADE HAS ANOTHER LOCALLY ACQUIRED INFECTION, STATE SAYS via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald – Florida health officials reported one more locally acquired Zika infection in a person who felt no symptoms but who was tested for the virus in February. The person likely acquired Zika in Miami-Dade in 2016 after “multiple exposures” to areas where mosquitoes were spreading the virus, the Florida Department of Health reported, adding that the state had just received confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, Florida reported four new travel-related Zika infections, raising the total number of cases for 2017 to 29 people, including one locally acquired case from Miami-Dade. Among the 29 cases reported in Florida this year are 13 pregnant women and two people whose source of infection is undetermined after a health department investigation.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a roundtable with community leaders to discuss Zika preparedness ahead of the rainy season at 9:30 a.m. at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, 1350 NW 14th Street in Miami. At 2 p.m., Scott will honor veterans with a ceremony at 2 p.m. at Louie C. Wadsworth Armory, 1416 11th Street Southwest in Live Oak.

ADAM PUTNAM AND THE POLITICAL COMMITTEE DISCLOSURE THAT FAILS TO DISCLOSE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Putnam has raised more than $9.4 million for a 2018 governor’s race he has yet to announce and, in the last two years, spent $1.8 million of it on a Lakeland-based political consulting firm that has failed to disclose how the expenses were paid … 70 percent of the $2.6 million spent by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, went to Silloh Consulting, operated by Justin Hollis, the 36-year-old political consultant and real estate investor who manages Putnam’s political fund. Nearly $1.3 million in lump sum payments went for the purpose of political consulting, according to the reports. How much of that was used to compensate vendors, pollsters, fundraisers, advertisers, opposition researchers, media interests and others? His report doesn’t say, raising legal issues about whether the report is in compliance with state campaign finance law that requires all major expenditures to be reported, and federal tax law, which requires that political committees disclose the campaigns for which they are operating.

FIVE BUDGET FIGHTS TO WATCH AS SCOTT, LAWMAKERS COLLIDE ON SPENDING $83.5 BILLION via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – 1. HIGHER EDUCATION … Senate President Joe Negron wants this to be the year that the state’s 12 universities get $1 billion in new money to help the flagship state schools move “from good to great.” Not likely. 2. TAX CUTS … This is a difficult year to be pushing tax cuts because the state has little extra money. 3. PUBLIC SCHOOLS … A major clash is looming over how to pay for a boost in spending in public schools. 4. EVERGLADES …  Calling the pollution of Florida waters a catastrophe, Negron wants the Legislature to acquire 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to hold a massive amount of water. 5. STATE WORKERS … Employees have had just one across-the-board raise in the past decade, in 2013. With rampant turnover and dangerous staff shortages, a consensus has emerged to give correctional officers previously unheard-of raises of between 8.5 and 10 percent. Scott favors incentive bonuses for most state workers, not across-the-board raises.

HOUSE BUDGET VOTE TENTATIVELY SCHEDULED — The House announced last week it was tentatively scheduled to vote on its budget April 13. According to a report released Thursday, the Appropriations Committee will make budget documents available to members no later than 8 a.m. Friday. Members will then face a series of deadlines to submit amendments to the budget: Main amendments must be filed no later than 4 p.m. Monday, April 3. All amendments to amendments and substitute amendments must be filed no later than noon on April 4. The committee is expected to file and publish the General Appropriations bill, the implementing bill and conforming legislation, as amended, no late than 4 p.m. April 6. Members will then have until 4 p.m. April 10 to file main amendments on the floor; amendments to the main amendments or substitute amendments for main floor amendments must be requested by noon on April 11. Second reading is tentatively scheduled for April 12, with third reading scheduled for April 13.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND: @UncleLukereal1: I’m finally in agreement with Rick Scott Florida as a tourist destination and this psychopathic majority leader is ruining our state

LEGISLATURE COULD OK ‘GROVELAND FOUR’ APOLOGY, RICHARD CORCORAN SAYS via the Orlando Sentinel – A legislative apology to the “Groveland Four,” a quartet of African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949, could pass the Legislature this year, House Speaker Corcoran says. But he also said the matter might have to wait for similar action for the victims of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a shuttered Jackson County site where dozens of boys were abused decades ago. Corcoran said his priority would be taking action on something dealing with Dozier. “To the extent that we can move forward on both would be great,” he said.

***The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

HAPPENING TODAY  COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Health Innovation Subcommittee will consider a bill (HB 1077) that would ease limits on the number of trauma centers in the state during its meeting at 12:30 p.m. in Mashburn Hall. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee will discuss a bill (HB 1063) that would repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance law at 12:30 p.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill (HB 83) that would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit types of violent crimes during a meeting at 12:30 p.m. in Morris Hall. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will discuss a bill (SB 650) that would require many retailers and shopping centers to set aside parking spots for expectant mothers and provide breastfeeding areas at 1:30 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will take up a bill that would direct the Department Health’s Children’s Medical Services program to develop one or more sexual-abuse treatment programs at 1:30 p.m. 401 Senate Office Building. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will discuss a bill to exempt credit unions from the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act at 4 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will discuss a bill (SB 596) that would set statewide rules for wireless carriers on the installation of “small wireless facilities” used for new technology at 4 p.m. in 401 Senate Office Building.

FEDS SAY ‘STAY THE COURSE’ WITH EVERGLADES, REJECTING JOE NEGRON’S LAND BUY via Florida Politics – Many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O. At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.” Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative … resists Negron’s plan … “Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful.” Another call to stick with the current federal plan is the Army Corps of Engineers … Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district said: “I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward.”

BATTLE OVER TRAUMA CENTERS CONTINUES WITH NEW LAWSUIT via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Another high-profile court fight over new trauma centers opening in Florida has begun in Tallahassee … As a pre-emptive strike, Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach and St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach last week sued the Florida Department of Health in Leon County Circuit Civil Court. They both operate Level 1 trauma centers—the higher level of trauma care. At issue is an application from JFK Medical Center in Atlantis to open a new Level 2 trauma center. Both trauma levels require round-the-clock availability to surgeons, for instance, but a Level 2 doesn’t have to engage in research or offer a medical residency program. If JFK opens a center, that will “divert patients and revenue away” from the plaintiffs, the complaint said, leaving them “irreparably harmed.” They’re now seeking an injunction against the department, saying it doesn’t have the authority to consider the JFK application.

CANDIDATES HELPING VOTERS VOTE? LEGISLATOR PUSHES TO MAKE IT ILLEGAL via Alexandra Seltzer, Lulu Ramadan and Lawrence Mower of the Palm Beach Post – State Rep. Emily Slosberg has proposed legislation to make it illegal for candidates to go into people’s homes and help them fill out their vote-by-mail ballot … Slosberg cited The Post’s story when she proposed an amendment to make the practice a third-degree felony. But she withdrew the amendment for the time being at the recommendation of a colleague. The freshman legislator said she was alarmed by Post stories that revealed that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet, both Democrats, won their seats after entering people’s homes and helping them fill out vote-by-mail ballots. Although their behavior drew condemnation from experts who believe it’s an improper campaign tactic, Florida’s laws did not make it illegal. After reading the stories, Slosberg said she walked into the office of the Republican chairing the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, of which she is a member, to find a way to ban the practice. Slosberg pointed to the Florida statute that bars someone from soliciting voters inside a polling place. “Why should a person’s home be different?” she said. “In fact, it should be more secure.”

REVENUE CONFERENCE PRICES SALES TAX EXEMPTION FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – HB 1397, by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues … would impose a number of restrictions on marijuana use — no smoking, vaping or edibles, for example, although a terminally ill patient could vape. The bill would take effect upon becoming law, and the state Revenue Estimating Conference concluded the state would have collected around $400,000 in pot taxes by that time. As more people become eligible to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, the cost to state revenues would hike up to $24.3 million by 2021. The Legislature could not use the money in the meantime to fund ongoing programs, although it would be available for one-time use each year, said Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

SCHOOL RECESS BILL STILL ALIVE IN HOUSE … BUT CHANGES COMING via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Next week would have been make-or-break for this year’s efforts by the Florida Legislature to implement mandatory daily recess in public elementary schools. While the Senate bill (SB 78) sailed through committees and awaits a floor vote, the House bill had yet to move — and next week is the last week policy subcommittees are expected to meet. But “recess moms” are in luck … Rep. Chris Latvala has scheduled the recess bill (HB 67) to be heard Tuesday morning in his House Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee. However, Latvala’s committee is proposing some hefty changes, which might not leave all “recess moms” happy. The Innovation Subcommittee has filed a proposed amended bill that would … let schools count recess time toward physical education requirements for students in grades K-3 … and, would require district school boards to “provide free-play recess each week on days when physical education classes are not held” for grades K-3.

AUDREY BROWN: LONG-TERM CARE KEY TO QUALITY OF LIFE FOR FLORIDA MEDICAID SENIORS via Florida Politics – The fundamental strategy to allow Florida’s health plans to coordinate long-term care for our state’s most vulnerable and frail Medicaid beneficiaries was to enhance care in institutional settings, while simultaneously reducing the reliance on nursing homes by increasing the utilization of appropriate community-based alternatives. Since its implementation, the program has been successful, as the LTC program now works both in terms of achieving cost savings and expanding meaningful benefits. First and foremost, this program delivers the right amount and type of care to address individuals’ needs. Often this appropriate type of care is delivered through more cost-efficient, home-based care services, which not only offers a less-restrictive setting for those eligible, but has also resulted in more than $400 million in cost savings. Moreover, health plans have been able to leverage their resources to offer expanded benefits, such as support to transition to the community; emergency financial assistance; dental, hearing and vision services; transportation and many more. These expanded benefits were valued at $9.5 million in 2015 and are financed by the health plans — not taxpayers. Further demonstrating its success, 77.4 percent of Medicaid LTC recipients recently indicated in a survey that their quality of life has improved as a result of the SMMC LTC program.

DARRYL PAULSON: DO UNIVERSITIES DISCRIMINATE? THE ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH via Florida Politics – Most universities recruit students by offering specialized curricula, top quality faculty and promising to expose students to diverse views which will stimulate creative thinking and prepare the student for life after their university experience. Universities may be partially successful on the first two items, but dramatically fail in exposing students to diverse viewpoints. It is hard to think of a more close-minded institution than the American university. Groupthink and ideological orthodoxy are the standard practices on campuses. There are many professors, both liberals and conservatives, who excel at awakening students to new ideas and who maintain neutrality in expressing those views. Too many professors, dominated by the political left, push their political agenda as the correct approach to the exclusion of alternative viewpoints.

LEGAL NOTICES SYSTEM STILL NEEDS TO BE REFORMED via Peter Schorsch for Florida Politics – Frankly, the newspaper business has yet to recover from what Craigslist did to it, although one has to wonder if newspaper executives could have prevented what happened by building a better mousetrap on their own websites … One thing is for certain here in Florida. A sin of omission like what occurred with Craigslist would not be repeated with other newspaper revenue streams. Case in point is the legal/public notices system. Under state law, legal and public notices must run in a newspaper … published at least once a week and is considered the publication of record in the county. Local governments need to run public notices to give the community heads up to all public meetings, including adopting the budget. They’re also used to give notice of judicial sales and zoning changes… But Legal notices should no longer be required to be published in print, especially since many of the outlets printing legal notices exists (and profit handsomely from) solely from publishing legal notices. The GOP-led Florida Legislature recognizes this. This year, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Stark (HB 897) and Sen. Linda Stewart (SB 1444) would have allowed cities and counties to end newspaper print and newspaper website notice of various actions (e.g., budget amendments, construction contracts, etc.) and in place of the newspaper notice post the notices on city or county websites.

MUST-READ – ONE DAY, 10 OVERDOSE DEATHS: DRUG EPIDEMIC STRAINS MORGUES via the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Broward saw 10 deaths in one day over the summer. “At first, we thought five a day was a lot,” said Dr. Craig Mallak, chief medical examiner for Broward. “Then it went to six, seven. Then we had 10.” Ultra-potent synthetic heroin is driving much of the death, according to research by Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University. “These deaths really occur in clusters when a bad batch of drugs hits the street,” Hall said. “We are seeing poison being sold.” Medical examiners say they are struggling to keep up with all of the bodies, and although it appears the rate could be slowing so far this year as overdose reversal drugs become more widely available, health officials are still seeing alarming numbers of death.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians. PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The Association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

PERSONNEL NOTE: TREY PRICE TO HEAD FHFC via Florida Politics – Veteran lobbyist Harold “Trey” Price has been named executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Price announced his hiring on social media Friday. He will take over from interim Executive Director Ken Reecy, who’s been in charge since the resignation of Steve Auger, the previous executive director. Price has his work cut out for him. Auger stepped down after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

JIM BOXOLD HIRED TO LOBBY FOR TRI-RAIL AUTHORITY HE BLASTED AS TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Boxold has been hired as a lobbyist by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the same agency he bashed just before leaving the state. Boxold joined … Capital City Consulting and will provide “strategic counsel” as the authority fights with the Scott administration and some in the Legislature over a more than $500 million contract to operate Tri-Rail, a commuter rail service it operates. “Part of what I’m trying to do is find resolution for them,” he [said]. The board voted 5-2 to transfer $90,000 to beef up its lobbying and communications teams as it continues its fight over the controversial contract. … The decision was opposed by board chairman Tim Ryan and Gerry O’Reilly, the region’s FDOT district secretary.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATION

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Orthodox Union

Brad Burleson, Ballard Partners: City Year

Jennings Lawton DePriest, Strategos Public Affairs: Crisis Prevention Institute

Michael HueyTy JacksonJessica LoveTodd Steibly, GrayRobinson: OneBlood

Ron LaFace, Capital Consulting: Whitaker Contracting Corporation

Sarah Niewold, Meenan PA: MetLife

Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: Florida Justice Association

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: International Code Council

APPOINTEDAlvaro “Al’ Hernandez and Col. Jeffrey Harrington to the Pasco-Hernando State College District board of trustees.

APPOINTEDKatie Cole to the St. Petersburg College District board of trustees.

APPOINTED: Frank Gernert, Donald Cuozzo, Carl Blow and Lynn Williams to the Florida Inland Navigation District.

MORE LEGISLATIVE HOPEFULS FILE TO RUN IN 2018 via Florida Politics — State election records show dozens of members of the House, Senate, and other legislative hopefuls have filed to run in 2018. Rep. Shevrin Jones filed to run for re-election in House District 101 in 2018. The 33-year-old West Park Democrat filed to run for re-election March 6. …  Rep. Roy Hardemon also filed to run for re-election in 2018.  The Miami Democrat was first elected to his District 108 seat in 2016, and filed to run for re-election on March 7. Ray Guillory is looking for a rematch in House District 2. Guillory filed to run against Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican. Republican George Agovino is eyeing the seat currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. …State records show Democrat Christopher Smutko, a teacher from the Tampa Bay area, filed to run against Rep. Jamie Grant. … A Democrat has jumped in the House District 71 race to replace Rep. Jim Boyd. Bradenton Democrat Randy Cooper filed to run for the seat on March 10. … Rubin Anderson is looking to give it another try, challenging Sen. Bobby Powell in Senate District 30 in 2018.

POLITICOS CELEBRATE AT TAMPA PRIDE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “When Carrie (West) said we want to bring the Pride Parade to Tampa, I said let’s roll!” yelled an exuberant Bob Buckhorn in kicking off the festivities. West and longtime partner Mark Bias are founding members of Tampa Pride and helped create the GaYBOR District Coalition in the aughts. He was inspired to bring the event back to Tampa after the Hillsborough County Commission repealed their infamous ban on gay pride events back in June 2013. While Senator Bill Nelson was not there, Digna Alvarez, his Tampa aide, read a statement from her boss … Luis Viera, the newest member of the Tampa City Council, said he looks at the issue of LGBT rights as a father. Councilman Guido Maniscalco was also there; he had recently introduced an ordinance banning conversion therapy in Tampa. That’s the controversial practice used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

DISNEY CEO: ‘LAST JEDI’ NOT CHANGED DUE TO CARRIE FISHER’S DEATH via The Associated Press – Bob Iger says the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel has not been changed due to the death of Carrie Fisher. Fisher completed filming her role as Princess Leia in “The Last Jedi” before her death following a heart attack in December. Iger said in an interview at a University of Southern California tech conference Thursday that Fisher “appears throughout” the film and her performance “remains as it was.” Iger says Disney is discussing “what could be another decade and a half of Star Wars stories.”

JUSTICE LEAGUE TRAILER UNITES ZACK SNYDER’S SUPERGROUP via The Verge – In the first full trailer for Justice League, the world faces a new threat, and it’s up to Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince to bring together the various heroes to save the day.  In the trailer, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne tells Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman that there’s a threat coming, and that they have to be ready. They bring together Aquaman (Jason Momoa) The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) for what looks a movie loaded with plenty of action. There’s also some glimpses of Amy Adam’s Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

Debuting today: The Spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine

INFLUENCE Magazine is mostly about the governmental affairs professionals who shape The Process. But any story about The Process is incomplete without a recognition of the public affairs pros that are as integral as any lobbying shop.

This issue is dedicated to these “flaks,” as well as to the journalists with whom they interact — and occasionally spar.

Our twin cover stories are about two of the public affairs firms dominating legislative politics — Bascom Communications and Consulting and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

CLICK HERE TO READ A “FIRST DRAFT” OF THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

I met both Sarah Bascom and Alia Faraj-Johnson seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve joined the rest of Tallahassee in watching them build two of the most respected brands in Florida politics. In this issue, you’ll read how these two remarkable women and their colleagues accomplished what they have. They truly are ‘Great Communicators’

I also invited veteran reporter Audrey Post to revisit her seminal look the Florida Capitol Press Corps. Much has changed from when she last took stock in 2013. If any single reporter embodies these changes, it’s POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, who works for an outlet that did not even exist in 2013, but today sets the pace for capital coverage. We also profile Tia Mitchell, the jack-of-all-trades reporter for the Florida Times-Union, who, when she’s not writing her must-read column or interviewing a political player on Facebook live, is breaking yet another story about the tenure of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

If you are talking about the ‘great communicators’ in the legislative process, two other names come to my find, albeit it for very different reasons. One is Katie Betta, the soft-spoken voice of the Florida Senate, who is universally admired for her poise and effectiveness. The other is  political consultant Brian Hughes, consigliere to legislative leaders and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and a bare-knuckled practicioner of the dark arts of public relations. It’s never a good thing to end up on the opposite side of Brian.

The truth is there is so much great talent in the public affairs sector that we literally ran out of space attempting to catalog all of it. From veterans like spokesman Craig Waters and reporter Rick Flagg to the tech whizzes at Sachs Media Group and spox-turned-blogger Brian Burgess, there is an entire section of this edition profiling the greatest of the great communicators.

We hope you notice this is our biggest issue yet, with almost thirty more pages in it than the last edition. There are just so many interesting aspects to this edition, including a very frank discussion with the state’s most outspoken lawmaker, Republican Jack Latvala. But there’s also great food writing, great travel writing — even a story about the intersection of influence and sports (written by reporter/bicycling enthusiast Alan Snel right before he was involved in a hit-and-run accident)!

A reminder that our once-every-two years list of the most influential people in Florida politics — the INFLUENCE 100 — is being decided now and will be unveiled at the end of the year. We invite your nominations about who belongs on the list. Also, our choices for the “Golden Rotundas” — our annual awards for the governmental affairs industry — will be in the next edition.

Email your suggestions away!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE PRINT EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Stuck in committee with you

During debate on the Senate’s ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill this week, Rene Garcia bemoaned it was “inconsequential” and boggled at all the other legislation that hasn’t even seen the florescent light of a committee room.

“It’s amazing to me that here in the Senate we have a bill that’s been fast-tracked, and in the House it’s been fast-tracked,” the Hialeah Republican said. “And yet we have bills … that have had three and four references and are still stuck in committee.”

Some of the missing-in-action legislation is arguably more important than others.

An overhaul of state alimony law wasn’t heard in committee weeks, and hasn’t been discussed as of the close of the third week of session.

The proposal, filed in both chambers, would toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. Unsurprisingly, it’s also created strife every year it’s filed.

During debate on the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill this week, Sen. Garcia said he worried about the message the Legislature was sending by passing this bill, while others are stuck.

Also hanging fire in both chambers is a bill “to approve replacement of the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in the (U.S. Capitol’s) National Statuary Hall with a statue of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

Douglas was “Florida’s most eminent environmentalist” and author of “The Everglades: River of Grass.”

But Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, was the top public choice to replace the Smith statue. Students, faculty, and alumni plan to lobby for Bethune during next Wednesday’s “Wildcat (BCU’s mascot) Day at the Capitol.”

Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, filed competing legislation to approve Bethune as the subject of the new statue. That bill also hasn’t been heard yet.

Garcia mentioned still others: “Juvenile justice reform by Sen. (Anitere) Flores, education accountability by Sen. (Bill) Montford, hospice care by Sen. (Denise) Grimsley.”

Those bills “have a direct impact on people’s lives,” Garcia told the chamber. “That’s what we got elected to do up here: Try to make people’s lives at least a little bit better.

“…What’s the message we’re sending to voters when we have all these bills still stuck in committee in Week 3?” he asked. Hmmm, maybe the lobbyists can answer that one. (And by the way, Garcia was a ‘yes’ vote on the booze bill.)

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:

Tear down that wall — The Senate voted 21-17 to approve a bill that would allow big box retailers and grocery stores to sell liquor in the same space as other products. The so-called “whiskey and Wheaties” bill passed after significant debate, which included references of Al Capone and suggestions that the proposal would lead to increased alcohol abuse among young adults. If signed into law, the earliest stores like Wal-Mart and Target could add liquor would be 2018. The Florida House is expected to take up the bill next week.

Pot shop talk — Senators began discussions this week about medical marijuana bills, holding a workshop to begin discussions bills to implement Amendment 2. The workshop marked the upper chamber’s first steps toward implementing the 2016 medical marijuana medical amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote. With five bills filed in the Senate and one bill in the House, there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus on a framework for what implementation could look like. Sen. Dana Young, the Tampa Republican who chairs the Senate Health Policy Committee, said her committee is at least two weeks away from voting on a medical marijuana bill.

Roll the dice — The House gambling bill is on the move, with the House Ways & Means Committee voting 11-7 to approve the measure. The House proposal authorizes Gov. Rick Scott to renew the existing compact with the tribe, and increases the minimum guarantee from $250 million a year to at least $325 million. The Senate proposal is primed for a vote, but there’s a wide gulf between the two. But don’t expect a reckoning anytime soon: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee and has been the point man on gambling, said gambling is one of the bills that will be left until the end. “Even in a best case scenario, if there’s some reasonable middle ground, if it exists, and the Seminoles would sign off on it, it’s not going to pass next week,” said Diaz. “It’s too important to too many people, and it has too many repercussions for the budget. There’s a lot of money at stake.”

Misdirected complaints — The third week of the legislative session is in the books, and the fight between Gov. Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran continues to drag on. During a press conference this week, the Land O’Lakes Republican said Scott was spending too much energy on trying to save Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Instead, Corcoran said Scott should “start talking about workers’ comp and assignment of benefits which have far more effect than Enterprise and Visit Florida on jobs.” The comments came as Scott once spent the week traveling the state hosting roundtables with business, economic development and tourism leaders to talk about the need for Enterprise and Visit Florida.

Gov. Scott was in Jacksonville for a round table discussion about Enterprise Florida at Harbinger Sign earlier this week.

Death penalty fall-out — Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus slammed Gov. Scott this week for his decision to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case because she wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Lawmakers called the decision a “dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters” who put her in the office. The comments came as Scott said he was still weighing his options, and hadn’t ruled out suspending her from office. House Speaker Corcoran said this week Scott should suspend Ayala, saying her position is in violation of the Constitution.

The Senate Health Policy Committee might not be using Skype anytime soon if Sen. Young has anything to say about it.

During a two-and-a-half-hour workshop this week, the committee was scheduled to hear testimony from Dr. Robert Winchell with the American College of Surgeons during a workshop on the trauma system. Winchell was phoning in using Skype, but technical difficulties appeared to delay his call. Once he was able to tap into the meeting, the connection was garbled, making his speech unintelligible.

Viewers on the Florida Channel could see someone trying to get Winchell’s attention, but Winchell didn’t appear to notice. And after nearly nine minutes, Winchell was cut off mid-sentence.

“We were trying to talk to Dr. Winchell, but he couldn’t hear us,” the Tampa Republican and committee chairwoman told the crowd.

“I will stop at nothing to keep this meeting on time,” she then said to chuckles from members and the audience.

Take that, Texas.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Florida added more private sector jobs than any other state in January. The Sunshine State, according to the Governor’s Office, created 50,700 new private sector jobs during the one-month period, resulting in a year-over-year growth rate of 3.6 percent.

“As more and more companies choose to invest in our state, we also continue to see improvements in other parts of the economy, such as the housing market,” said Scott in a statement. “Even though our economy continues to grow, we have to keep making sure more businesses move to and expand in Florida.

January also marked the 21st consecutive month that Florida created more jobs private sector jobs than over-the-year than Texas. That’s a big win for Scott, who has made it clear the Lone Star State is Florida’s main rival when it comes to job creation.

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Patti Ketcham to the Florida Real Estate Commission. Ketcham, a Tallahassee resident, is the owner of Ketcham Realty Group. She succeeds Darla Furst, and serves a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Scott reappointed Antonett Munchalfen and Michelino Nibaldi to the Barbers’ Board.

Munchalfen, a 62-year-old Tampa resident, is a barber instructor for the Hillsborough County School District. Nibaldi is a 37-year-old master barber at Acqua Di Parma in Miami. Both were reappointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

The governor named Ronald Lieberman to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The 70-year-old Ocala resident is the president of Steel Structures of Florida, and succeeds Leonard Tylka for a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

He also announced this week Tracy Knight, Richard Dorfman, and Dominic DiMaio will join the District Board of Trustees for the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

Knight, a 51-year-old Venice resident, is the managing director of Knight Marketing. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, and will serve a term ending May 31, 2019.

Dorfman, a 65-year-old from Sarasota, is a former international sports executive with a bachelor’s degree from American University. DiMaio, a 51-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident, Is a divisional CEO of Synovus Bank who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Widener University. Both men serve a term ending May 31, 2020.

All of the appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

The Jackson County Hospital Distirct has four new members.

Scott appointed John Miton, a 57-year-old Mariana business owner and real estate investor; Shareta Wright, the 43-year director of the Wright Foundation; Kelly Connolly; the 47-year-old vice president of finance for Tri State Automotive Warehouse; and Dr. Robert Hoff, an 82-year-old retired family praticioner to the board.

The governor also reappointed Vijay “Vic” Narang to the Board of Commissioners for the South Broward Hospital District. The 51-year-old Davie resident is the chief executive officer of GDK Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from VRCE in Nagpur, India, and master’s degree from the University of Detroit. He was reappointed to a term ending June 30, 2020.

You don’t look a day over 25, Greenberg Traurig.

More than 600 South Florida business, government and nonprofit leaders joined GT to celebrate the firm’s 50th anniversary at an event at the Perez Art Museum Miami earlier this month.

“In so many ways the clients and community leaders who celebrated with us represent our legacy because it was their support that nurtured us and helped us to grow,” said Matt Gorson, senior chairman of Greenberg Traurig, in a statement. “We are beyond grateful for the trust they have placed in us, as their business partners and friends. This is a reflection of the commitment to community and client service that our founding partners instilled in the firm – one that still defines Greenberg Traurig to this day.”

Founded in Miami in 1967 by three attorney — Mel Greenberg, Robert Traurig and Larry Hoffman — the firm now has more than 2,000 attorneys in 38 offices in the United States, and around the world.

See you, screwworm.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it lifted the animal quarantine for Monroe County and the Animal Health Check Point was closed on March 18. The announcement came after months of aggressive response efforts to combat the spread of the New World screwworm.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of New World screwworm in Key deer in September 2016. It was the first local infestation in the United States in 30 years. Commissioner Adam Putnam declared an agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County in response to the infestation, and established an animal health check point zone from mile marker 91 south.

Since the check point was established, inspectors checked more than 16,000 animals with no detections of screwworm. According to the agency, there have been no new screwworm infestations found since Jan. 10.

Residents who have warm-blooded animals should continue to watch their animals carefully and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA.

Anyone got a couple million dollars to spare?

State economists estimate the fund that pays for school construction will be $36 million shy of the $373 million requested by state education officials this year.

The fund — the Public Education Capital Outlay Program, or PECO — pays for construction and maintenance projects in state schools, colleges and universities. Economists estimated last week that the program would generate $337 million without issuing bonds, placing the available funds well below what education officials requested. It’s possible, however, the gap could be made up using funds from another revenue source.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he is against issuing bonds to fill the funding gap, though Senate President Joe Negron has said he is open to a “reasonable” amount of bonding.

Thank you for your service.

Gov. Scott extended a big “thank you” to the Florida National Guard, issuing a proclamation to honor the 450-year-old organization this week during a ceremony at the Capitol.

Gov. Scott salutes service members during “Florida National Guard Day” at the Capitol

“I am proud to dedicate today to the brave members of Florida’s National Guard. These men and women stand ready to serve our country and respond to the needs of our communities during natural disasters and emergencies,” he said in a statement. “The State of Florida is forever grateful to these heroes and their families who make countless sacrifices in defense of our freedom.”

Currently about 12,000 men and women serve as soldiers and airmen in the Florida National Guard.

Scott also awarded more than 50 veterans with the Governors Veterans Service Medal during National Guard Day at the Capitol.

The break in negotiations over Gulf Power Co.’s bid for a $106.8 million base rate increase came via a congratulatory telephone call.

The talks had broken down, so the Public Service Commission was set to launch five days of highly technical hearings on the request, which a broad range of consumer, environmental, and business interests opposed.

“It was dead,” said Charles Rehwinkle, of the Office of Public Counsel.

Then, at about 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon, Gulf Power attorney Jeffrey Stone called to congratulate Rehwinkle on a legal victory before the Florida Supreme Court.

“Jeff and I talked about the Supreme Court case. That led to, ‘Can we try one more time’ to resolve the rate case?” said Rehwinkle. “And we did.”

They reached an agreement in principle at around 2:30 p.m. last Friday and, by the wee hours of Saturday morning, had written terms. They talked all the next day and evening, and around midnight had a formal agreement to cut the increase roughly in half.

Cutting thing close, perhaps. “It’s better than filing after the meeting,” he said.

Get ready, Session 2018 is just around the corner.

No, really.

The Florida Senate released the dates of the 2018 Legislative Session this week. The annual 60-day session is scheduled to kick-off on Jan. 9 and will end (hopefully) on March 9.

Why the earlier than normal start? In 2016, Gov. Scott signed into law a measure that followed the same timeline as the 2016 Legislative Session. While the Florida Constitution requires the Legislature to begin on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March in even number years, it allows the Legislature to set the date odd number years.

In case you were wondering: This year it was 56 degrees in Tallahassee on Jan. 9. The low? A blustery 23 degrees.

Rep. Sean Shaw just wants to help.

The Tampa Democrat is pushing legislation (HB 421) that would extend self-insurance funds to for-profit and not-for-profit corporations with interest in public housing investments.

The bill would allow companies that are partially or fully owned by a public housing authority to join the same self-insurance fund as the authority that owns or governs them.

Self-insurance funds exist for the purpose of pooling and spreading liabilities for those who provide public housing. The bill would also allow such entities to purchase reinsurance.

“Promoting investment in our public housing system is a win for businesses who want to invest in our communities and for Floridians in need of affordable housing,” Shaw said. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that Florida’s less fortunate and our most vulnerable citizens have access to housing at a reasonable cost.”

Just think of it as a bit light reading: The Office of Demographic Research released its annual Florida Tax Handbook this week, estimating about $30 billion in general revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The bulk of that money, about $23 billion, came from sales tax, $15.6 billion of which was spent on education.

The report also details the state-federal split in trust fund dollars, which in the current fiscal year add up to $24 billion from the state and $28 billion from the federal government.

The state is working with a total budget of $82.29 billion this year.

The time to act is now, according to supporters of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

The proposal — sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens in the Senate and Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene Plasencia in the House — has the backing of 50 members of the House and Senate. The bills prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“There are 50 members in support of FCWA in the legislature and over 70% of Floridians support this legislation,” said John Tonnison, the president of Florida Competes. “It is overdue for our legislative process to catch up with this kind of respectful and inclusive thinking, and hear the bill.  Silence on this issue speaks volumes.”

Tonnison, the president and CIO of Tech Data Corporation, met with lawmakers recently to talk about the need to pass the proposal, saying “Florida needs to embrace the best practice of the largest employers in the country, for the state’s own economic and strategic planning.”

Neither measure has been scheduled for its first committee hearing.

Mandatory minimums are a waste of money unless officials take steps to improve public safety.

Those were the finding of a new report from the James Madison Institute. Released this week, the report highlights the low amount of hydrocodone or oxycodone pills police need to find before a person can be charged with drug trafficking. Currently, 14 hydrocodone pills or 7 oxycodones can land someone in jail for 3 years.

According to the report, 2,310 Florida inmates – roughly 42 percent of those incarcerated for drug offenses – are serving time for selling oxycodone or hydrocodone, and 83 percent of those individuals have no history of violent crime.

“By inflicting inflexible, harsh minimum sentences on non-violent, often first-time offenders, Florida not only wastes millions of taxpayer dollars, but also disintegrates families, destroys lives and does nothing to address the addiction that led to the initial offense,” said Robert McClure, the conservative think tank’s president and CEO, in a statement. ““Justice must be swift and sure, but it must also be just.”

JMI recommends Florida adopt “safety valve” laws, which would keep the mandatory minimums in place, but allow judges to break from them in cases where the defendant is not a threat to the public.

“By implementing a ‘safety valve,’ like many other states have and like what exists for other offenses in Florida, we would allow a judge to do their job and take into account all of the mitigating factors that may be unique to each offense,” said McClure.

Floridians want lawmakers to say “frack no” to fracking.

Hundreds of Floridians — including members of ReThink Energy Florida, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters — gathered at the Florida Capitol this week to encourage elected officials to pass a fracking ban.

“Banning fracking in Florida is one of the best things we can do to protect our treasured waterways, public health, and economy,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “I stand with the 90 cities and counties in Florida that have passed ordinances or resolutions calling on us, the State Legislature, to pass this important legislation.”

Sen. Young and Rep. Mike Miller have filed bills calling for a ban on fracking. Young’s bill cleared the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on a 5-0 vote earlier this month.

“The time has finally come to end this dangerous practice,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, a co-sponsor of the Senate ban bill. “This bill represents the now bipartisan recognition that Florida’s unique geological makeup leaves our water supply particularly vulnerable and must be protected.”

Kudos, Joseph Joyner!

Joyner, the former superintendent of schools in St. Johns County, was named the 2016 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year during the State Board of Education meeting this week.

“I am pleased to recognize Dr. Joyner with this prestigious award for his hard work and dedication to Florida students,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in a statement. “He cultivated a student-focused environment that used data to guide instruction and ultimately helped the district’s students achieve outstanding academic results.”

During the 14 years Joyner has been at the helm of the school district, St. Johns County has been one of the top-performing districts in the state. Joyner emphasized the use of data to help ensure all students had the information they needed to embark on a path to help them become well-rounded graduated.

David Altmaier, sans beard, roaming the halls of the Capitol this week

Spotted in the Capitol: A beardless David Altmaier.

Florida’s insurance commissioner was clean shaven while making the rounds this week.

“I shaved it on a whim, and my 3-year-old came home that afternoon and asked to put my beard back on,” he said. “My wife has been very nice about it, but I can tell she prefers the bearded look.”

He’d worn the beard for about one year.

“It was beard No. 2 — version 2.0,” he said.

CFO Jeff Atwater has fraud on the brain.

No, he isn’t pondering which stapler he’ll swipe when he leaves his post later this year. Instead, the chief financial officer is urging Floridians to be on the lookout for insurance fraud.

In his weekly newsletter to Floridians, Atwater said crooks “seem to seem to find a way to cheat the system” and highlighted a recent case insurance and arson investigators from his office recently ran across.

The case involves Michael Abrams, 43, who has been charged with arson, insurance fraud, filing a false insurance claim, false reports in the commission of a crime and grand theft. He is accused devising a plan to have his 2016 Toyota Camry stolen and destroyed so that he could collect an insurance payout totaling $10,000.

“Why would anyone do that? Maybe he was tired of making car payments or perhaps he wanted a different car to drive,” wrote Atwater in his weekly newsletter. “Whatever the reason, the fact remains: By stealing from his insurance company, he’s causing all of our insurance rates to rise.”

Atwater encouraged Floridians to “say something” if they see something that look suspicious.

“Our investigators are doing a great job, but they can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said

Go, Panthers!

Sen. Anitere Flores welcomed the Florida International University community to the Florida Capitol this week to celebrate FIU Day at the state Capitol. The annual day gives students and school officials a chance to meet with lawmakers and advocate on behalf of issues important to them.

Sen. Flores shows Panther Pride on FIU Day at the Capitol.

Flores, a 1997 FIU graduate and the university’s former director of state relations, said she was honored to welcome members of the Board of Trustees and President Mark Rosenberg to the capital to discuss “funding and key legislation aimed at providing FIU with the necessary tools to continue their steady growth and success through campus expansion, entrepreneurial workforce initiatives and high skilled/high adaptable programs.”

Florida International University is a pillar of higher education serving the people of Miami-Dade County, and students from all walks of life and throughout the globe,” she said in a statement. “As an FIU Alumna, I couldn’t be prouder to be in a position where I can serve my former university, as they have served countless students and faculty throughout the years.”

Senators unanimously backed a bill (SB 60) this week that would help foster kids get a set of wheels by chipping in on insurance and other driving costs.

The proposal makes permanent a 2014 pilot program to help foster kids get licenses and Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill’s sponsor, said the money to pay for the plan is already in the state budget.

Bill backers say foster kids don’t get the same family support when it’s time to get a license, so they need help from the state.

“Foster care kids are our kids,” said Sen. Kevin Rader. “They are our kids.”

The Senate is expected to vote on a bill (SB 80) next week that would disallow winners of public records lawsuits from collecting attorney fees.

Local governments say they are being bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an in for requesters taking them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

The Senate has mulled over a few different solutions to the problem, including giving judges the choice in whether to award fees, but the bill ready for the Senate floor would keep the requirement that agencies pay fees if they improperly held back public records.

The bill would change the time frame agencies have to respond by forcing plaintiffs to give at least a five-day notice before they file suit.

Florida mayors have a message to legislators: Stay in your own lane.

The League of Mayors held a press conference this week to oppose legislation that takes aim at local governments’ home rule authority, saying they were concerned about bills that do everything from set local business standards to regulating vacation rentals and telecommunications equipment.

“How can somebody in Tallahassee tell us that we don’t know what’s best for our own community,” said Mayor Carol McCormack, the president of the Florida League of Mayors. “Each individual city – 412 of us – all have unique and individual problems, and we need to be able to address those without coming up the Legislature once a year and asking for relief.”

McCormack, who serves as the mayor of Palm Shores, was joined by mayors from across the state to oppose the measures. Several big-city mayors — including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer — have also spoken out against proposals to remove home-rule.

CFO Atwater went to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Capitol Days to give a speech.

Turns out, he was duped.

Chamber leaders lured Atwater to the annual event under false pretenses. As David Hart, the executive vice president of government affairs and political relations, pointed out, it was last time Atwater would attend the event before leaving his post for a new gig at Florida Atlantic University.

You’ll be back for the Florida State Fair, right?

So instead of a speech from Atwater, attendees heard fond — and funny — testimonials from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and former House Speaker Larry Cretul, who was Speaker when Atwater was Senate President.

Cretul recalled the time Atwater persuaded him to climb up through the rafters in the Old Capitol cupola to watch the sun come up and raise the state flag.

“The sun comes up, and I say, ‘This is great,’” said Cretul. “(And) he said, ‘It’s a new day in the state of Florida!”

Speaking of Atwater: The CFO didn’t stay quiet while his colleagues were heaping praise on him.

In fact, he even uttered something that sounded a little like an endorsement about one his Cabinet-mates.

“I don’t know that I have ever been around anyone who has the capacity to grasp the potential of the people of this state, and to be able to articulate it in a way that it is the positive message of the possibilities that we can face together,” he said about Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. “I feel that we are all enriched that your family has made the sacrifice for you to be participating. And I hope in many ways to come.”

Putnam is widely expected to run for governor in 2018.

The Florida Department of Education is mourning the loss of one of their own.

Brian Dassler, the 38-year-old deputy chancellor of education, died early this week of natural causes, according to the Tallahassee Police Department. Dassler came to the state education department from New Orleans, where he was the founding principal of a charter school and the chief academic officer for Louisiana’s Arts Conservancy.

“I am heartbroken over the loss of our dear friend and colleague,” said Education Commissioner Stewart. “He joined the Florida Department of Education in 2013 and brought with him an unrivaled passion for students, educators and the field of education as a whole.”

Dassler had been scheduled to be recognized during the State Board of Education meeting for volunteering 50 hours as a mentor between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. Stewart said Dassler spent his free time mentoring a student at Godby High School.

“Brian was one of a kind. He was always the first to highlight the positive in any situation, and through his inherent goodness and relentless drive, he inspired others to go the extra mile and believe they too could make a difference,” she said. “I believe he was able to achieve so much in his short 38 years because he never lost his desire to learn. Brian earned bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida where he has twice been named an outstanding young alumnus. We are truly heartbroken. His loss will be deeply felt throughout the nation, and he will never be forgotten.”

Get them while you can.

The spiny lobster recreational and commercial lobster season closes to harvest in state and federal waters starting April 1. The season will be closed until Aug. 6, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Recreational fishermen (and women) won’t have to wait until then to get some of the tasty treats, though. A two-day recreational sport season is scheduled for July 26 and July 27.

The Florida Department of State wants to help you tap into your inner Indiana Jones this month.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced this week the Department of State will celebrate Archaeology Month this weekend with behind-the-scenes events at two popular Tallahassee locations. The events are meant to promote the state’s cultural heritage and showcase the state’s archaeological collections.

“I am proud to recognize the important work done by our state archaeologists every day on the ground and underwater, to ensure that we protect, interpret and preserve our state’s precious archaeological heritage,” said Detzner in a statement.

Events include a behind-the-scenes tour of the archaeological conservation lab at the R.A. Gray Building, 500 South Bronough Street. The 20-minute tours will take place every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and participants will get to see the techniques and process used to preserve state artifacts. Due to the presence of artifacts and chemicals on open tables, children under 10 are not permitted.

On Wednesday, folks can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the archeological collection at Mission San Luis. That tour is scheduled for 11 a.m.

For more information, visit here.

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

 

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Carlos Beruff already playing calendar games with Constitution Revision Commission

(This post has been updated, below.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Carlos Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that will undertake rewrites of the state’s governing document, says the first hearings for public input will be next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County.

Did you catch it? 

Let me give you a hint: Five of the commission’s members, including the House Speaker Pro Tempore, are current members of the Legislature. Many others are intricately involved in The Process. 

And, well, we’re in the middle of the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t end until May 5th. 

So, does Beruff – the Manatee homebuilder who lost a U.S. Senate bid to Marco Rubio last year – expect the lawmaker members not to attend those early CRC hearings? 

Or conversely, does he expect them to miss important meetings at the Capitol during session?

Here’s the more realistic answer: He hasn’t even considered any of that before he rushed to start setting up hearings. 

Indeed, why the rush? Why not take the time to give ample notice to members of the public in those areas who might want to attend the hearings?

As one person told me, “Beruff is trying to run a railroad when he’s never even been a passenger on a public policy train.”

Bottom line for now: This kind of ignorance doesn’t bode well for a process that will affect the live of Floridians for years to come.

*          *          *

Updated Thursday — House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he had not spoken to Beruff about the public hearing schedule.

His next comment suggested that the three commission members who belong to the House GOP caucus won’t be asking for excused absences during session.

“When you have a once-every-20-years, august body, dealing with something of the highest impact as our constitution, and you only have a limited number of members – 37 – and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one-sixth (of them), I don’t think that’s a good start,” Corcoran said.

The others are Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican; all five were appointed by the speaker.

Jim Rosica, Tallahassee correspondent

*          *          *

Updated Friday — CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice issued a response to Corcoran:

“As a commission which meets just once every 20 years, commissioners have a responsibility to be accountable to the people of Florida and accomplish as much as we can in the short time we have. The work before this commission is incredibly important. We will be working with all commissioners on additional public hearings to ensure the best possible outcome for families in our state. It is very important commissioners participate and hear from the public. That is why we only released a few dates, more will be scheduled soon. Videos of the meetings will also be posted online.”

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