Peter Schorsch - 2/2486 - 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.

Gov. Scott heads to Argentina for trade mission

Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to leave Sunday for Argentina for a trade mission organized by the state’s embattled economic development agency.

Scott delayed the trip by a day to monitor wildfire conditions across the state, but he is also making the visit during a time when parts of his agenda remain unresolved in the waning days of the 2017 session of the Florida Legislature.

One of the items that Scott is battling over is whether to keep intact Enterprise Florida, the agency that put together the trade mission.

House Republicans are pushing to dismantle Enterprise Florida despite objections from both Scott and Senate leaders. Scott has strongly criticized House leaders including House Speaker Richard Corcoran over their proposal, contending it cost the state jobs.

During his trip to Buenos Aires, Scott is expected to meet with Argentina President Mauricio Macri and discuss trade opportunities, a spokesman for Scott said.

“Just like he has fought for jobs all session long, and has made his priority of job creation abundantly clear, Gov. Scott is going to Argentina to bring more jobs to Florida,” said McKinley Lewis in a statement.

Scott is expected to return to Florida on Thursday.

This is Scott’s 13th trip abroad since he became governor in 2011. Former Gov. Jeb Bush took 16 trade missions during his eight years in office.

He traveled previously to the South American countries of Brazil, Colombia, Chile, as well as Japan, Israel, England, France, Spain, Canada and Panama.

Scott is scheduled to be joined on his trip to Argentina by first lady Ann Scott, airport and port officials as well as top officials with several Florida-based corporations, including Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility company.

While Enterprise Florida’s operations are primarily paid by tax dollars, Scott’s travel expenses are usually covered by private donations to Enterprise Florida.

Local investment in public safety communications infrastructure pay off during Florida disasters

Last year, Floridians endured one of the most active hurricane seasons in more than a decade. During Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, those impacted received only a taste of what has earned our state the reputation of being a hot spot for tropical weather.

Thankfully, the loss of life and damage was extremely minimal and the state’s emergency response went off without a hitch.

What you didn’t read following the storms were stories about first responders’ inability to communicate. That’s because local communities, especially in rural areas, have spent the last decade investing heavily in the communications infrastructure necessary to create stability and additional capacity during normal times and times of crises.

One of the companies that have been integral to this success is Aviat Networks, a California-based microwave provider that is working in several Florida counties and local municipalities with the technology they need to communicate when residents depend on them the most.

Aviat provides microwave technology – the network that transmits data and voice communications for first responders and other public safety users – in Miami-Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach counties, as well as for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, and the South Florida Water Management District. All of these entities had a role in keeping South Floridians safe and prepared during Hurricane Matthew, which was at one point a deadly Category 5 storm.

Beyond Florida, Aviat’s microwave is the backbone for 25 statewide public safety networks across the country and is deployed in every one of the 50 states.

Aviat’s microwave has been chosen by Florida cities and counties because of its proven reliability and security. According to the Aviat website, their solutions lead the industry in a key technology attribute known as ’output power‘ – which allows microwave signals to transmit further and more reliably through weather effects such as rain. This means public safety communications stay up during the harshest of conditions including severe hurricanes. Beyond this according to Aviat, the technology enables agencies to reduce the total lifecycle cost of microwave by up to 50 percent through the deployment of smaller antennas and fewer towers.

These are added bonuses for Floridians since the costs, and communications tower needs will undoubtedly increase as Florida’s NIMBY populations continue to grow.

If you’ve ever experienced a Wi-Fi outage at your home or business, it’s a mere inconvenience. But for public safety agencies, it could be a matter of life or death. That is what local governments have been putting a premium on reliable and secure microwave technology during a time when Florida has enjoyed a relatively inactive tropical weather period.

For all of Florida’s success in developing its public safety communications infrastructure in recent years, challenges remain. As we have seen with the recent wildfires in Collier County, responding to emergencies requires significant coordination among government at the local, state and federal levels. In rural areas, the success of traditional fiber optic technology may be limited, and the real solution for tomorrow’s technology lies in building smarter microwave networks that can fully integrate with local agencies’ networks. And most importantly microwave technology has built-in security safeguards.

Companies like Aviat are on the forefront of helping Florida prepare and respond to future emergencies. With hurricane season set to start June 1, the next test may be here before we know it.

Tampa Bay Rowdies fall 3-2 on late Charleston goal

The Tampa Bay Rowdies suffered their first home defeat of the season on Saturday night, losing 3-2 to the visiting Charleston Battery on an 89th minute goal.

Tampa Bay led in the first half and then conceded twice in the last five minutes to trail 2-1 at halftime. The Rowdies pulled even in the second half but conceded in the 89th minute to lose.

“I’m disappointed in the goals that we conceded,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We’ve been so good defensively home and away this year and the three goals we gave away tonight, that’s not us.”

Playing their third match in eight days, the Rowdies looked fatigued as the minutes ticked along in each half.

Tampa Bay played on the road at Louisville City FC last weekend and on the road against Wednesday night against FC Cincinnati before returning home to cap a taxing week of travel and games.

“It was a very tough week for us, playing three games with all the travel,” Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov said. “I think we felt a little tired tonight. Some guys played all 270 minutes in the games. That’s a lot to play with the travel. It’s not an excuse, though. We should have done better.”

After a scoreless opening half hour the the Rowdies dominated — apart from scoring — Joe Cole put Tampa Bay ahead in the 34th minute, smashing home a rebound after his initial shot was saved.

In the 39th minute, Rowdies right back Kyle Porter was whistled for a foul just outside the Rowdies’ box. On the ensuing Justin Portillo free kick, the Battery’s Forrest Lasso glanced a header to the back post beyond Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens to level the match.

Charleston took a lead in stoppage time when Maikel Chang fired a left-footed shot from outside the box that curled past Pickens and into the far netting.

Trailing at halftime, the Rowdies went all out to reverse the match, inserting Leo Fernandes and Deshorn Brown early in the second half. Brown replaced Porter, with Tampa Bay switching to a back three.

The all-out attack worked, with Georgi Hristov leveling the match in the 62nd minute with his fourth goal of the season. Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper whiffed on clearing a Leo Fernandes free kick, with Hristov the beneficiary in the 6-yard box.

“I took a gamble,” Campbell said. “I chucked every attacking option I had. We ended up with three strikers on, plus two wide men. We went for it because I would’ve been disappointed if we only got a point at home, so I went for it in the hope of getting three. It didn’t happen.”

As the match wound toward its conclusion, the Rowdies looked likelier to score game-winning goal only for the Battery to swipe all three points with a late goal.

Pickens saved an 89th minute shot and Rowdies left back Luke Boden stretched to clear the rebound, but could only poke it to the penalty spot, where Tah Brian Anunga was waiting. Anunga placed his shot into the side netting to put Charleston ahead 3-2.

Tampa Bay will look to bounce back next weekend when it hosts the Richmond Kickers next Saturday night at Al Lang.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Richard Corcoran’s ‘sea of troubles’

Richard Corcoran says he loves Gov. Rick Scott “to death,” but is getting weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s taken from him over the last couple of months.  

It’s the continuing battle over VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, which the House speaker still believes needs to be reined in and starved of money.

His proposed spending plan reduces the state portion of its budget to $25 million for next year. Scott wants $100 million.

“I’ve been told I hate beaches, I hate visitors, I hate hotels, I hate tourists, because I’m not adequately funding VISIT FLORIDA,” he told reporters this week, smiling.

“I think the Governor ought to go through (its expenses), like we have, and (you should) ask him, ‘Was Pitbull a good expenditure?’ And if it wasn’t, let’s take it off the ledger,” he said.

Speaker Corcoran told reporters this week he loves the governor to death, but has grown weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s thrown at him over Visit Florida spending this year

Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“OK, so there’s a million off the ledger from last year,” Corcoran said. Next, he questioned whether another promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million was worthy.

“And if it wasn’t, let’s take that $12 million off. And then you get to a number that at least everyone can recognize and say was a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

As to the budget negotiations overall with the Senate, “I still hold out that it’s going to go well.” So keep hope alive for a Cinco de Mayo Sine Die.

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.

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

Shame, shame, shame — Sen. Frank Artiles found himself in hot water this week and then resigned after he used a racial slur during a private after-hours conversation with Sens. Perry Thurston and Audrey Gibson Monday night. The Miami-area Republican took to the floor to issue a three-minute formal apology at the direction of Senate President Joe Negron, who stripped him of his committee chairmanship. Several groups called on Artiles to resign, and Thurston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, filed a complaint to remove Artiles from the Senate, now moot. But Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto found the complaint had merit, and appointed Dawn Roberts, the chamber’s top lawyer, to investigate it. What she found we’ll never know; it’s “work product” and not public.

Über victory — It took four years, but a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft is heading to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration. The Senate voted 36-1 (only Jack Latvala opposed it) this week to approve the measure, two weeks after the House voted unanimously to support the bill. The proposal — which was backed by Uber and Lyft — creates minimum insurance standards, requires third-party background checks, and preempts local governments from regulating transportation network companies. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs.

Team Uber celebrates after the vote.

Water love — A plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb discharges gained a big-name backer this week. While Gov. Scott said he supported Senate President Negron’s proposal to build a reservoir on up to 31,000 acres of state land, he stopped short of saying whether he supported the current version of the bill. Scott also he wanted lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget to help the federal government finish strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022. On Wednesday, Scott met with President Donald Trump and said the president committed his administration would help provide the resources to fix the dike. “President Trump is clearly focused on protecting Florida’s environment and investing in our infrastructure,” said Scott in a statement. “I want to thank him for partnering with us to solve the water issues around Lake Okeechobee by fixing the dike.”

Not giving up — Speaking of the governor, the Naples Republican isn’t giving up hope that the Florida Legislature will pour money into Visit Florida. The governor held a press conference this week to call on state lawmakers to bump up spending funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency to $100 million for 2017-18. The governor’s call for more cash for came for a week after the federal government said it would send the state $1.5 billion for hospitals. But Scott’s request may fall on deaf ears, since the House and Senate have already passed their respective budgets that spend significantly less on Visit Florida. The Senate proposal sets aside $76 million, while the House wants to spend just $25 million on tourism marketing.

Show me the money — This late in session, it’s time to ask House and Senate budget subcommittee chairs: Do you know where your allocation is? That’s the pot of money each subcommittee gets to spend in conference committee. And they hadn’t been settled on going into the weekend. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded time was growing short: “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” he said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.” House budget chief Carlos Trujillo agreed. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” he told reporters. The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die (on) May 5.”

The Florida National Guard has been called in to assist with evacuations, emergency management and firefighting in Collier County.

Gov. Scott announced this week he had deployed the Florida National Guard after a briefing with local fire officials, law enforcement, the Florida Forestry Service, and local emergency management officials. The governor also directed the Florida National Guard to deploy five Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the fires.

Collier officials evacuated more than 2,000 homes, as brush fires consumed more than 3,100 acres of land as of Friday afternoon.

“These wildfires are dangerous and if you’re within the evacuation area, do not stay in your home. Be sure to follow the evacuation orders from local officials,” said Scott in a statement. “If you know of any individuals within the evacuation zone, please reach out to them and make sure they are safe. It is important for everyone in Collier County to remain alert to local news and law enforcement announcements.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, there were 104 total Florida Forest Service active wildfires as of Friday morning. That number included the two new fires in Collier County, and the Cowbell fire, a nearly 22,000-acre fire in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“The State of Florida will devote all necessary and available resources to fight these fires and keep communities in Collier County safe,” said Scott. “We are praying for the safety of all the brave men and women fighting these dangerous fires and will provide further updates as the situation progresses.”

Floor debate on a bill to establish a memory disorder clinic grew deeply personal for House members, including co-sponsor Scott Plakon.

His wife, Susie Plakon, well known inside the Capitol, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014.

“I can tell you, members, I had no idea of the impact that this disease has. It was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped into the middle of our family — affecting not only our immediate family, but extended family and friends,” Plakon told the House.

Treatment involves a bewildering array of specialists. Centers like the one planned offer “one-stop shopping” with a single “quarterback coordinating care,” he said.

The state had better prepare, Plakon warned — 520,000 Floridians suffer from Alzheimer’s, and the number will increase by more than 200,000 by 2025.

“There was a recent news article that referred to this as a tsunami coming to our country. The question is, here in Florida, as policymakers, are we going to be prepared when it hits our shore.”

Debate over a bill reducing registration fees for boats equipped with position-locating devices grew personal, too. A similar device save the lives of Rep. Colleen Burton’s son, Tim, and a friend on a duck-hunting expedition.

She’s mounted the device on a plaque in her office, Burton told House members.

“It’s rare that we see a bill come across our desk that has personal impact,” she said.

“This is something we truly can do that does save lives. Take it from me — it saved the life of someone I hold very dear.”

Burton had some advice:

“I recommend that each and every one of you who owns a boat, who has boaters in your family, who knows a boater, who hikes, who does anything where you might be somewhere where somebody needs to come find you, put an EPIRB” — or emergency position-indicating radio beacon — “on your big boats or buy a personal locator beacon.”

This was the week Speaker Corcoran was determined to end debate during the question-and-answer period — and it involved peanut butter.

With three days on the floor scheduled this week, Corcoran decided to give members a lesson in what was — and wasn’t — a question. But rather than pulling out the dictionary, the Land O’Lakes Republican decided to have some fun from the rostrum, giving a twisty-turny example of what he said should not be considered a question.

“A question is not: There’s two types of peanut better. There’s Jiff and there’s Peter Pan. Peter Pan, as we all know, has molasses in it, so it tastes better,” he began, after informing members Tuesday that they had more than 70 bills on the Special Order calendar.

Speaker Cocoran tried to put an end to debate disguised as questions this week, telling members if a question takes more than 5 seconds to ask then “you’re probably in debate.”

“It doesn’t mean Jiff’s bad, but for me, growing up, I ate a lot of Peter Pan and it helped me, really, with a lot of things in my life,” he continued, chuckling. “I’m not saying Jiff is bad, but I’m concerned that we have Jiff and Peter Pan in the budget. Why is Peter Pan — which has the molasses, which we all know is good for you and which we all know is a value to many societies and has done a lot for kid. My question, I guess, is why is there more money for Peter Pan, not for Jiff?”

Corcoran encouraged members to stick to this rule of thumb: If a question is “more than five seconds, you’re probably in debate.”

After explaining the difference, Corcoran handed the gavel over to Rep. Jeanette Nunez to conduct the day’s business. Nunez quickly dispensed of the first bill, which did elicit one question.

“Jiff or Peter Pan,” asked Rep. Jared Moskowitz.

The question didn’t get a response — and members didn’t get get through the Special Order calendar Tuesday, having to take up many items on Wednesday before voting on them later in the week.

A proposal to change the way nursing homes are paid could be bad news, according to some nursing home officials.

Nursing home officials said this week that 39 of the 69 nursing homes in Pinellas County could lose money under a prospective payment system outlined in the proposed Senate budget. Officials estimate Pinellas homes could lose more than $13 million under the plan.

“I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System, in a statement.

Corriveau said his facility would lose $1.7 million under the current Senate proposal. Menorah Manor officials said it would lose nearly $1 million; while Mease Manor officials said the facility could lose $250,000 a year.

The state currently operates on a cost-based system to pay nursing homes. Under the proposed prospective payment system, a formula-based daily-rate is established, which is then used by all providers.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, said while it doesn’t oppose the prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out details of a plan that works for everyone.

Welcome to the board, Steven Wellins!

Gov. Scott announced this week that he had appointed Wellins to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Wellins, a 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, is the senior vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors. He received his bachelors’ of business administration from the University of Miami and a masters’ degree in economics from Florida State University. He fills a vacant seat and serves a term ending June 29, 2017.

Call it a big win for the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill setting aside $20 million a year for projects dedicated to the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, authorizes the money be used for land management and acquisition, and increasing recreational opportunities associated with and improving access to the river and the region.

A lifelong Clay County resident, Sen. Bradley said he was proud the Senate recognized the value of the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes.

“The St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes define the character of the northeast region of our state,” said Bradley, a lifelong resident of Clay County. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, these natural resources attract visitors from across the state and nation. I am proud that the Florida Senate recognizes the value of these resources to those of us who reside in northeast Florida and the state.”

The bill now heads to the House.

The black bear has a friend in Sen. Linda Stewart.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted 4-1 this week to approve a bill (SB 1304) that forbids people from hunting lactating mother bears.

“This is a great success for everybody who has been championing the preservation of Florida’s only native bear species,” said Stewart, the bill’s sponsor. “I am committed to continuing the progress we’ve made on this issue.”

The proposal also outlaws the harvest of saw-palmetto berries on public lands identified by wildlife officials as a Florida black bear habitat. It also prevents controlled burns from happening on lands identified as habitats during February, when denning occurs.

“At a time when Florida’s native black bears are facing increased pressure on their habitat (and) food sources, it is our obligation to ensure the preservation of this iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods,” she said.

A similar bill (HB 491) in the House, sponsored by Rep. Amy Mercado, has not yet received a hearing.

It was a good week to be a Florida black bear.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week they won’t hold another bear hunt until at least 2019. The commission voted 7-0 to direct staff to revamp the bear management plan and report back in two years. A motion to hold a bear hunt this year was voted down 4-3.

“We have a long-standing, proactive approach to bear management and will continue to build on that existing foundation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski, in a statement.We will continue implementing our comprehensive approach to bear management.”

In 2015, hunters killed 304 bears in the state’s first hunt in more than 20 years. The hunt was supposed to take place over a week but ended after two days when. Wildlife officials said there are about 4,050 black bears across the state, a 53 percent increase over 15 years.

“We are thankful that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did the right thing today by voting against a 2017 trophy hunt of Florida’s unique and rare black bears,” said Kate MacFall, the Florida State director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “Floridians are strongly opposed to hunting our bears, and want to see them protected – not gunned down for trophies.”

The state is continuing its efforts to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits, processing nearly 3,000 kits in nine months.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week the state has processed 2,963 kits in nine months, producing 681 matches in the combined DNA index system. The state is on pace to meet its goal of testing all 8,600 unprocessed kits by June 2019.

“The trauma of sexual assault can haunt a victim their entire life, especially if the predator is never caught,” said Bondi. “Testing these kits has produced hundreds of matches in DNA databases that can be used by law enforcement to track down suspects and hopefully solve crimes.”

Bondi’s announcement coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Shoes were on display at the Capitol this week, urging Floridians to “Walk In My Shoes.”

Hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the display featured about 1,000 shoes worn, decorated and submitted by sexual assault survivors from across the state. The shoes, which were accompanied by survivors’ stories, commemorated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We’ve got shoes and stories from young children, grandparents, and people from all walks of life in between,” said Sen. Lauren Book, one of the display’s supporters and the founder of Lauren’s Kids. ““We’ve even got shoes submitted by family members of survivors who ended their lives due to drugs, eating disorders or suicide, unable to overcome the trauma of their assault. It doesn’t have to be that way. With education and awareness, we can prevent 95 percent of sexual abuse – and with guidance and support, we can help survivors heal.”

Sen. Book looks at the display in the Capitol Rotunda this week. (Photo via Lauren’s Kids)

Last year more than 10,000 victims reported sexual assault to service providers in Florida, with most choosing not to report their abuse to law enforcement. Experts have said the decision not to report stems from shame, guilt, embarrassment and the fact 90 percent of victims know their assailant.

If left unresolved, survivors of sexual abuse face lifelong consequences, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I wanted to open people’s eyes to the fact that sexual violence happens much more frequently than any of us care to recognize – and that it happens to men, women and children in all kinds of communities, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, who said she was inspired by the sexual assault program at the Nancy J. Cotterman Center in her district. “We need to educate, and to help shatter the stigma surrounding sexual assault so that victims can be connected with services and help become thriving survivors.”

Speaker Corcoran caused some head-scratching during a floor session this week when he gave a caution to members.

He reminded them of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

Huh?

At a media availability later in the day, Corcoran was asked: Why the warning?

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said, “but over the last five of six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it).

“…Some of them, it was positive; someone was doing a video or pictures during the reading of the Dozier memorial,” Corcoran said, referring to the state’s apology to survivors of abuse at the now-defunct boys’ reform school in Marianna.

“But until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate,” he added.

“It wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats, but that can spiral out of hand quickly and then you can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Proceedings of the House, however, are broadcast by The Florida Channel and other outlets, and news photographers are regularly permitted on the floor to take pictures of members during debate.

To be sure, the House has been mindful of propriety lately.

Last month, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the T-shirts off or turn them inside out. The reason: They violated House decorum.

Florida is tweaking its rules when it comes to the bald eagle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week it is updating its bald eagle management efforts and conservation actions. Staff recommended eliminating the redundancy of obtaining both state and federal permits for activities with the potential to disturb bald eagles or their nests. Under those recommendations, a state permit will not be needed as conservation will be ensured by the recently established federal permitting process.

The state’s bald eagle plan got a facelift this week. (Photo via FWC)

“The FWC remains committed to the conservation of this magnificent bird,” said Brad Gruver, leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section. “We will continue our efforts to educate the public about bald eagles, provide law enforcement protections and monitor the status of the eagle population to ensure it remains stable or increasing.”

The bald eagle was removed from the state listing in 2008, and since then the number of nests has increased. Gruver said Florida has more “nesting eagles than any other state except Alaska and Minnesota.”

Give Sen. Anitere Flores a round of applause next time you see her.

The Florida Credit Union Association presented the Miami Republican with its 2016 Lawmaker of the Year Award during a reception last month in Tallahassee. Flores was honored for her longtime support of credit union initiatives.

“Senator Flores has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, the president and CEO of the LSCU. “She is supportive of current efforts to pass public deposits legislation and is always accessible and helpful to credit unions and the LSCU. Sen. Flores understands the critical role that credit unions play in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

In 2016, Flores backed legislation aimed at protecting consumer data at gas pumps.

When it comes to thinking green, Florida is No. 16.

According to WalletHub, Florida is the 16th greenest state in the nation. The rankings — determined based on a 20 metrics that look at everything from the total municipal solid waste per capita to the carbon-dioxide emissions per capita — come as the nation prepares to celebrate Earth Day.

The Sunshine State came in 10th in air quality, 18th for soil quality, and 25th for water quality. Florida, according to the rankings, was ranked 10th in the percentage of recycled municipal solid waste.

Florida has the fifth highest energy consumption per capita, but was ranked 29th in the percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources.

That ranking could be on the rise in the coming years, though. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes that would implement the $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes that were approved by Florida voters through Amendment 4 in August. The House Commerce Committee also unanimously approved its version of the bill this week.

The Sunshine State is looking for ways to add more sun power.

The Florida Alliance for Accelerating Solar and Storage Technology Readiness has been awarded a $1.75 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot initiative to increase the growth of solar energy by developing new way to use it in combination with energy storage and other resources.

The alliance — which is made up of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, Nhu Energy and the Florida Energy Office — will lead a three-year protect that includes detailed solar energy and power system studies and analysis, and development of strategies that will expand solar, energy storage and other distributed energy resources.

“Solar will be an important part of our energy portfolio going forward and we’re excited to be a part of a project that will aid in the successful expansion of solar energy in Florida. And, we’re hopeful that what we learn over the course of the next three years can guide other states and communities in their efforts to harness the power of the sun,” said Amy Zubaly, the interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, in a statement. “Taking part in this project provides FMEA and Florida’s municipal utilities with a unique opportunity to build on an exceptional history of customer service, leadership and innovation that will help shape Florida’s energy future.”

Rep. Loranne Ausley is being hailed as “pro-growth progressive.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was one of 14 leaders selected to join the NewDEAL, a national network of state and local leaders working to enact pro-growth progressive solutions in a diverse array of communities.

“More than ever, we need to support outstanding state and local leaders who have innovative ideas that address the most important issues facing Americans in our new economy,” said Sen. Mark Warner and former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the honorary co-chairs of NewDEAL, in a joint statement. “We are committed to highlighting their work, while giving them the chance to learn from each other and replicate solutions that make government work better.”

Rep. Ausley is one of more than a dozen leaders selected to join the national organization, NewDEAL officials announced this week. (Photo via the Florida House)

The group aims to bring together leaders focused on expanding opportunities by develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly-earned and sustainable. According to the organization, NewDEAL leaders have found broad support for their work, with 98 percent winning their elections last November.

Ausley served on the board of NewDEAL from 2012 through 2016.

“NewDEAL’s impressive national network includes a cross-section of public servants dedicated to expanding opportunity for everyone in the new economy, while making government work more effectively,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to discover policies and share best practices with my colleagues in state and local government from across the country.”

Florida is an economic power house, at least according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to the organization’s annual report, the Sunshine State is ranked 6th in the nation in economic outlook. That’s an improvement from last year, when the group ranked from 8th in the nation.

“State governments are constantly competing for Americans and jobs, and in this fast-moving environment, standing still is enough to get left behind,” said Jonathan Williams, the chief economist and vice president of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. “States that have adopted pro-growth policies have enjoyed robust economic expansion, with greater wage growth and more opportunities for citizens. The facts remain clear that pro-growth policies are working and there is a clear trend in favor of market-oriented reforms.”

According to the report, Utah has the best economic outlook in 2017, followed by Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee. The worst state in the nation is New York.

Give David Melnick a high five next time you see him.

The food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary School in Pinellas County was named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Every single day he goes above and beyond for the students of Lake St. George Elementary School, and he is a great example of the tremendous impact that school support staff have on the entire community,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons and Commissioner Pam Stewart present David Melkin with his 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year award.

Melnick, school officials said, has changed the culture at the Pinellas County school with his leadership and concern for students. He works tirelessly to contribute to the health, well-being and overall education of the students.

“At Lake St. George Elementary, he established a Food Patrol Program which engages students in learning outside of the classroom while reinforcing healthy habits and responsibility,” said Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego. “We are fortunate to have him as a Pinellas County Schools employee and congratulate him on being named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year.”

Come on, get healthy!

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that 50 more Florida schools earned HealthierUS School Challenge designation during March, bringing the total number of HealthierUS School Challenge schools to 280.

The challenge is a joint effort of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The voluntary initiative recognizes schools’ efforts to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education and promote physical activity.

“Nutritious meals are the key to academic success, and I applaud these schools for providing students with the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle,” said Putnam.

Florida is continuing its fight on drugs.

The Florida House unanimously approved a bill (HB 477) this week that puts fentanyl and other synthetic drugs at the same level with heroin in the state’s drug trafficking statute.

“Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than morphine that is being cut with other drugs and sold as heroin,” said Attorney General Bondi in a statement. “Taking Fentanyl just one time can kill–and that is why I want to thank each member of the Florida House for voting to give prosecutors the tools to seek stronger sentences against traffickers selling Fentanyl and other deadly drugs in our state. We must continue to work together, and this legislation will help our continued efforts to combat this deadly crisis.”

Under the House proposal, possession of 10 grams or more of certain synthetic drugs is a felony. The bill also includes first-degree murder charges for drug dealers in cases where the buyer dies from an overdose.

Rep. Jim Boyd, show in this Jan. 2016 photo, said the House wanted to send a “clear message to drug dealers in Florida.” (Photo via the Florida House)

“We want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida, and that is that the Florida House is standing strong and we will not tolerate the way you prey on the weak,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, the bill’s primary sponsor.

The House earlier this session passed a bill to fight opioid addiction by placing new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers. The Legislature is also considering proposals that create a certification program for sober homes.

Looking for some new windows? Gov. Scott might have a suggestion for you.

Scott attended the groundbreaking of NewSouth Window Solutions new manufacturing and distribution facility in Tampa this week. The new 238,000 square-foot will allow the company to add 65 new jobs in Florida.

“It’s great to see that our commitment to economic development, cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations are helping small businesses create job opportunities for families,” said Scott in a statement. “We have worked hard to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation and will continue to fight every day to grow our economy.”

The company is one of the leading providers of factory-direct home windows in Central Florida. CEO Dan Ochstein and President Earl Rahn opened the company’s first location in Tampa in 2010. The company now employs 165 people in Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. It plans to expand into Fort Lauderdale later this year.

“NewSouth Window is proud to call Florida home. I’d like to thank Governor Scott for his work to help businesses like mine grow and succeed in the state,” said Oschstein. “In just six years, we’ve gone from zero to 40 million and we look forward to expanding and creating even more job opportunities for Floridians.”

Steroid use among racing greyhounds is one step closer to being banned in the state of Florida.

The House voted 84-32 to approve a bill by Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Alex Miller that would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

Sponsored by Reps. Smith and Alex Miller, the bill would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” said Smith in a statement. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

Female racing greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to stop the dog from going into heat and prevent the loss of race days. The steroids can push greyhounds beyond their natural limits and can have a negative impact on the dogs heart function.

This was Smith’s first bill to pass the House.

Kudos, Connie Smith.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced this week that Smith will serve as the chairwoman of the Florida Education Foundation, the direct support organization of the Florida Department of Education. Smith succeeds Stacy Carlson, who served as board chair since 2015.

“I am confident Connie will be a valuable leader in the next era of the Foundation’s growth,” said Stewart in a statement. “As the Foundation has brought its direction into focus, the coming years will be vital to the development, as they are a valued partner to the Department of Education. I look forward to the work we can do together to continue Florida’s unparalleled progress in student achievement.”

Smith serves as the program manager for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital. The program distributes $75 million in capital to Community Development Financial Institutions that serve diverse small businesses. A 21-year veteran with Wells Fargo, Smith is active in her community. She’s the past chair of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida and a member of Class XXXIIII of Leadership Florida.

“I am honored that Commissioner Stewart appointed me to serve as chair of the Florida Education Foundation,” said Smith. “Serving on the board since 2013 has been a tremendous experience, and I look forward to our continued work investing in high achievement for every student in our state.”

Millennials now have a voice in the Legislature.

Several members of the Florida Legislature are banding together to create the Florida Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators 40 years old and under.

The group — started by Reps. Holly Raschein and Sean Shaw, and Sens. Book and Flores — join the Millennial Action Project’s national movement of young elected officials “breaking through partisan gridlock to reestablish political cooperation and create meaningful programs through government institutions,” according to a news release this week.

The group will formally launch the Florida Future Caucus at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is cheering a measure that would help combat fraud.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 671) that would give the DEO access to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ photo identification database. The proposal is meant to help the jobs agency fight fraud in the state’s reemployment assistance program.

“DEO is working every day to stop criminals from fraudulently stealing Reemployment Assistance benefits from Florida job seekers who need help getting back to work,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “Thanks to the leadership of Sen. (Kelli) Stargel and Rep. (Mike) LaRosa, and the support of the Florida Senate and House this session, DEO will have access to more tools that are critical to prevent and fight public benefits fraud.”

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his signature.

There’s new rules in Collier County when it comes to manatees.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a new rule this week that would add protections to some Collier County waterways where FWC data indicates the risk manatee and boat interactions are high. But the rule also reduces regulations in other waterways throughout the county where data indicates the risk to the beloved sea cow is low, according to the state wildlife agency.

FWC officials adopted new manatee protection zones in Collier County this week (Photo courtesy of FWC)

“We are committed to continuing strong conservation measures for manatees,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s section leader for Imperiled Species Management, in a statement. “These revisions to the Collier County rule are mostly tweaks that add protection or adjust protection levels consistent with review of newer data.”

The revised rule impacts less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways.

Allez cuisine!

Five student chefs will compete in the final “Fresh from Florida” Student Chef Cook-Off in Orlando this weekend, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The student chefs will compete for a chance to have their original recipes served in school cafeterias. Dishes will be scored on taste, appearance, creativity, school food service appropriateness, best and most use of local ingredients, and execution.

So what’s on the menu? According to the Department of Agriculture, Gianna Rivera from Bloomingdale High School will be making citrus chicken tacos with watermelon salad; Katelynn Denny from Franklin County Schools will be making Tex-Mex chicken and vegetable quinoa salad; Sheldon Riley from Fort Pierce Westwood High School will be making Southwestern chicken and orzo salad; and Wesley Hill from Eastside High School is making sautéed chicken with citrus bell pepper salsa.

Judges are Justin Timineri, the executive chef for the Department of Agriculture; Lakeisha Hood, the director of the agency’s Divison of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, and Leslie Bell, the food services director for Santa Rosa County Schools.

The season is set.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week approved the 2017 recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico state waters.

“We are once again able to provide and maintain fishing opportunities for Gulf recreational anglers and provide stakeholders with spring, summer and fall fishing options for this economically important species,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The 78-day season will be open Saturdays and Sundays starting May 6. On May 27, the season will be open continuously through July 9. After that it will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day.

“In contrast to federal fisheries management, which has resulted in limited-to-zero recreational red snapper fishing days in Florida’s federal waters, the FWC has done outstanding work balancing fishing access with sustainability,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing. “We are thankful for the Commission’s dedication to maintaining recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper in state waters.”

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is looking for a few good women.

Putnam announced this week his office is now accepting nominations for the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Since 1985, the award has recognized women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture. The 2016 recipient was Judi Whitson.

The application deadline in June 1. More information can be found on the Woman of the Year in Agriculture webpage.

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

The Delegation for 4.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

More “scared jackrabbits” running for re-election

This week another Democrat made a strong run at claiming a traditional GOP seat in Congress. After a near-miss in a deep-red district in Nebraska, Jon Ossoff nearly gained a majority against 17 other candidates in Georgia’s 6th District, where Republican candidates always win by double digits.

Ossoff will still be a slight underdog in the runoff against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in the June runoff, but he will have the support of the Democratic establishment combined with a political ATM.

More than $8 million poured into his campaign from all over the country. This race is a must-watch over the next nine weeks.

What does that mean for Florida? For Bill Nelson and members of the Florida delegation representing swing districts, it means aggressive fundraising because tons of money will be raining down on them in the not-too-distant future. While in Tallahassee this week, Nelson was quoted as saying he is running for his fourth term in the Senate like “a scared jackrabbit.” Coming just after Easter, rabbit references are always welcome.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across the nation, on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.
Sen. Bill Nelson says he assumes nothing when it comes to an election. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

The recent release of first quarter campaign finance reports reveals other anxious jackrabbits. Nelson raised over $2 million and now has $3.64 million cash on hand. He knows he will need a lot more than that to compete with likely opponent Gov. Rick Scott over the airwaves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting South Florida Republicans Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo and Mast were the top two GOP fundraisers with Curbelo leading the way with $615,000. Mast had $428,000 while Ros-Lehtinen hauled in $341,000 and Diaz-Balart $126,500.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will be going after freshmen Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. Crist pulled in a delegation-best $720,000; Murphy raised $286,000.

Former Rep. David Jolly went on “60 Minutes” in 2016 to lament the time members devoted to “dialing for dollars.” Before he decides whether to run again in 2018, he should know the situation is not getting any better.

The jackrabbits are multiplying.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Trump has spent more than 424 hours in Palm Beach since his inauguration — The president has spent one out of every five minutes of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf club, reports Philip Bump with the Washington Post.

The Post tallied the amount of time the part-time Florida man has spent in Palm Beach, rounded to the half-hour, since he was inaugurated through Monday. According to Bump, Trump has spent about 424.5 hours at the so-called “winter White House” and 1,663.5 hours everywhere else, “including Air Force One headed to Mar-a-Lago.”

“(T)here’s a real sense in which Trump is splitting his time between his two jobs: service as president of the United States and acting as owner/host of Mar-a-Lago. In some cases, those roles overlap, such as when he introduced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a couple having their wedding at the resort,” writes Bump.

He went on to say while it wasn’t clear whether Trump planned to travel back to Palm Beach this weekend, if “the existing pattern holds, he’ll go on any two of the next four days.”

Scott joins Trump for veterans bill signing — Gov. Rick Scott joined Trump at the White House on Wednesday for the formal signing of the Veteran’s Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act. Scott joined several other officials in the Roosevelt Room for the signing, including Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Glenn Sutphin.

As one way of addressing the backlog for care facing veterans, the bill allows for veterans to seek care from non-VA providers. Trump stated at the ceremony that it was now “it’s time that we now take care of them properly.”

“My father served in WWII, and I proudly served in the United States Navy, and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and veterans,” Scott said in a release. “I was proud to join him today as he signed this important bill for veterans.”

Scott later met with U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Tweet, tweet:

Rubio targets HUD oversight —The Miami Republican took a shot at lax oversight at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. In an op-ed for the Florida Times-Union, Rubio wrote of his tour of the Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“Crumbling staircases, dangerous gas leaks, exposed electrical wires” and other deficiencies are conditions that have “existed for too long” at Eureka Garden and other places around the country.

“In some cases, property owners like those who owned Eureka Garden pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars instead of putting them toward needed repairs,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, properties have been given passing HUD inspection scores despite terrible conditions.”

Rubio and Carson are pledging a more diligent HUD that will be in tune to the needs of residents and make property owners accountable for the conditions in which people live.

“These would be meaningful first steps toward fulfilling one of HUD’s core functions,” said Rubio.

Nelson presses Tom Price on Florida’s opioid crisis — In a letter to HHS Secretary Price, the Orlando Democrat declared the heroin and opioid crisis is “devastating Florida” encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”

Paulson’s Principles: Reapportionment Roulette

Reapportionment is like the family portrait. The only thing you care about is how you came out; the hell with everyone else.

Democrats and Republicans have held a variety of positions on reapportionment, depending on whether they were the majority or minority party. Democrats completely dominated Florida politics for 120 years, from the end of Reconstruction to the 1990’s. When Florida and other southern states started trending Republican after World War II, Democrats used gerrymandering and reapportionment to solidify their strength.

In the early 1990’s, Republicans proposed to change the process of drawing District lines. Their proposal would be similar to the Fair District plan offered by Democrats in 2014. Democrats quickly rejected the Republican plan, believing it was simply a device to help the Republicans.

Even though Democrats controlled both houses of the Florida legislature by a 60-40% margin in 1992 and drew the state legislative lines, the Republicans won control of the state senate in 1994 and the house in 1996.

The Democrats were not able to agree on drawing the congressional district lines in 1992. Blacks, who made up about 18 percent of Florida’s population but accounted for a third of the Democratic vote, wanted Democrats to create three majority-minority districts. The Democrats refused, arguing that in doing so the surrounding districts would become whiter and more Republican.

Unable to draw the congressional districts, the task was left to federal court judge Clyde Atkins and a special master. I was hired by both the Florida and national NAACP as an expert witness to discuss the history of black voter discrimination in Florida.

In the case of Florida NAACP, et al. v. Lawton Chiles, et al., my testimony helped to influence the court to create two majority-minority districts and one minority-influence district (at least 40% minority).

After 120 years with no black member of Congress, Florida elected three African-Americans to the congressional delegation. Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings were elected in the Miami area, and Corrine Brown was elected in Jacksonville.

I would not have voted for any of the three blacks who were elected to Congress with the possible exception of Meek, but that was not important. What was important was that the black electorate can vote for the candidates of their choice.

As the size of Florida’s congressional delegation grew due to its population growth, so did the Republican domination of the delegation. After the 2010 census, the Florida delegation grew from 25 to 27 members, and Republicans controlled 17 of the seats. Democrats were in full panic mode.

A bipartisan coalition made up of mostly Democrats and a few token Republicans, joined forces with the League of Women Voters (LWV) which has become increasingly dominated by the political left. The result was (in the spirit of Easter) the resurrection of the Republican reapportionment plan of the early 1990’s.

The Fair District Amendment was sold to eliminate politics from the reapportionment process. I always love it when reformers want to eliminate politics in the political process. It can’t be done. You simply replace one power broker with another.

The voters embraced the Fair District Amendment, and it passed. The Republicans had to redraw District lines, which the Florida courts threw out. On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Republican districts and substituted the plan of the LWV’s.

Twenty-four of the 27 districts were redrawn, and eight were substantially altered. The Democrats gained only one seat in the Florida delegation in the 2016 election, but the roulette process has only begun.

Open Gaetz Day starts early, ends late — Before leaving Washington for the nearly three-week Easter recess, the Republican from the First District did not believe Congress should adjourn before taking care of health care. That failure, according to Gaetz, meant he and his colleagues “don’t deserve recess” until they address health care.

But since the members are home in their districts, Gaetz feels they should spend quality time with constituents. He is having another Open Gaetz Day on Thursday. His schedule is a literal sunrise-to-sunset agenda.

He began the day at 6:30 a.m. with a “beach town hall” broadcast on live radio, followed by a beach cleanup.

As part of his #OpenGaetz Day, Rep. Gaetz took part in a beach clean-up. (Photo via Facebook)

The rest of the day included an education briefing, a military round table, a legislative update on live radio, two environmental cleanup public interactions, and a community legislative update.

The final event began at 6:30 p.m. when he joined a Constituent Info Booth at the Blue Wahoos baseball stadium.

Gaetz questions Navy’s lifting of training flight pause — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Navy instituted an operational pause on training flights for the T-45 aircraft at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Navy has lifted that pause much to the concern of the Republican from the First District. The issue was — and continues to be — the safety of the aircraft’s oxygen systems.

“I remain concerned with the decision to lift the operational pause for the T-45C absent sufficient data from the examination of On-board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS),” Gaetz wrote to Vice-Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander of the Naval Air Forces.

Gaetz expressed concern that the pause was lifted before “the root cause” of the problem was fully identified. He asked pointed questions of Admiral Shoemaker including whether the Navy can provide “more transparency” to their on-going process.

In addition to representing the district housing Pensacola Naval Air Station, Gaetz is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Gaetz puts Navarre Pass reopening on hold, temporarily – The first-year Republican congressman from Fort Walton Beach is pushing legislation to allow private ownership of land on Pensacola and Navarre Beaches.

But Gaetz told leaders in Navarre that it will not include reopening Navarre Pass, reports the Pensacola News-Journal. The pass, which allows boating between Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, has been closed since 1965 after Hurricane Betsy clogged the waterway with debris.

Gaetz, who said reopening the Pass would bring up to $1 billion in economic impact through tourism and fishing, believes the two issues should not be linked. That is why he dropped the issue from his proposed bill, which has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rutherford, Tom Rooney herald new VA transparency — The Jacksonville freshman Republican was enthused with a new tool to promote transparency at the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA’s new Access and Quality system allow veterans to access information on wait times and the quality of care provided by the hospitals compared to private facilities.

Rutherford, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was “proud of the work we’ve done.” Quoted in the Sunshine State News, Rutherford gave kudos to the VA “for increasing the transparency by making patient wait times and care data available online.”

“No other health care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin in a news release. “This allows veterans to see how the VA is performing.”

Also weighing in was 17th District Republican Rooney, who praised Shulkin’s leadership in making the new system a reality, adding that it indicates a “new era of transparency.”

“Veterans across the nation are justifiably tired of inexcusable wait times and their lack of trust in the government to provide the basic services we promised in exchange for their service is unacceptable,” he said.

Dunn files legislation to protect rights of seated airline passengers — The Panama City freshman is filing legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the United Airlines fiasco, where a properly seated passenger was forcibly removed from his seat. Dunn has introduced the Secure Equity in Airline Transportation (SEAT) Act, which would prohibit airlines from removing a seated passenger on over-booked flights.

“Passengers should have the peace of mind to know they will not be dragged off a plane once they’re in their seat,” said Dunn in a release. “The SEAT Act will require airlines to sort out overbooking before allowing passengers to board the airplane.”

Dunn’s bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to revise rules making it clear that not even airline employees have priority over a seated passenger. According to Dunn, the legislation makes an exception for a seated passenger who “is a threat to the safety of others.”

Lawson meets constituents with during Tallahassee town hall — About 60 people attended the freshman Democrat’s town hall meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee.

While there were some complaints — constituents complained about not being able to get through to his office, something Lawson apologized for — there was none was none of the acrimonies that has greeted Republican members of Congress from constituents angry about the GOP plan to scuttle the Affordable Care Act and federal spending. Instead, Lawson told the crowd he went to Washington to improve the Affordable Care Act, not to repeal or replace it.

Lawson said he believes in working with Republican colleagues when possible. He has to, within the Florida delegation — as he noted, he’s the only Democratic congressman between Pensacola and Orlando. His District 5 comprises eight counties between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

“I have no choice, ladies and gentlemen. I’m like the Lone Ranger on some of those issues,” he said. “When you talk about North Florida, who you talking about? I stand alone out there, waving a flag.”

He continued: “I work with a lot of my Republican colleagues because nothing was done by one particular party. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was a joint effort. To do things in America, it’s always going to be a joint effort. We have to get over the campaign and do what’s best for you, the citizens in this country.”

Buchanan seeks funds to fight red tide — Noting the dangerous threat toxic algae poses to humans, marine life and the economy, the six-term congressman announced he is requesting increased federal funding to combat red tide.

Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis algae, has lingered along Suncoast shores on and off for several months now, killing thousands of fish and discouraging potential visitors from taking in some of the country’s best beaches. Karenia brevis algae produce a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. In fact, the toxins from red tide blooms killed nearly 300 Florida manatees in 2013.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote to the leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

Spotted: Rep. Vern Buchanan writing about the bipartisan approach to animal protection issues in USA Today.

Buchanan to Interior: Restore manatee protections — The Sarasota Republican and several colleagues wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking for restoration of protective status for Florida’s manatees. Buchanan is leading the effort three weeks after blasting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for downgrading manatee protections.

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” the letter said. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

Buchanan had statistics to back up his claims. While the rule was under consideration, “nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support.”

“As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction,” the letter said. “We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.”

Also signing the letter: Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. Republican Daniel Webster also signed.

Pro-Trump group airing ads backing Mast advocating repeal, replace Obamacare — An advocacy group formed by six of Trump‘s top campaign aides launched a $3 million advertising campaign to praise Congress members working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The list of 12 select members from America First Policies includes Republican Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Obamacare is collapsing and bringing our health care system down with it, harming millions of American families,” said Nick Ayers, Chairman of the Board of America First Policies. “The time is now to repeal and replace this terrible law, but we need citizens to engage.”

The issue advocacy campaign will be on broadcast or cable, the internet and through phone calls in twelve districts, including CD 18, which stretches from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach in Southeast Florida.

Mast was lobbied personally by Trump to support the GOP’s health care bill that never came up for a vote last month, and he reportedly called on his colleagues to unite behind the bill in an emotionally charged address, according to The Washington Post.

Mast flipped the seat from blue to red last November when he defeated Democrat Randy Perkins. The seat had been held for the previous four years by Patrick Murphy, who opted to run for U.S. Senate last year.

Frankel returns from trip to Korea, Japan — The Palm Beach Democrat picked the right time to go on an Asian-Pacific fact-finding trip. She and some of her colleagues made stops in South Korea and Japan just as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began raising tensions in the region.

The focus was the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and their effects on the entire region. She visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and American military facilities in Japan. On the itinerary were meetings with South Korean Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The trip wrapped up with a meeting between the lawmakers and a North Korean defector.

“A strong, unwavering relationship between the U.S. and its allies Japan and South Korea is necessary for the national and economic security of all three countries,” she said in a statement. “In this regard, the United States, in consultation with Japan and South Korea, must explore all reasonable economic, diplomatic, and defensive actions such as cyber that would prevent North Korea from developing such a (nuclear) capability.”

Right on cue, some are saying the U.S. indeed may have played a role in the failed North Korean missile launch earlier this week. Frankel serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Deutch, Curbelo urge Trump Administration to stay in Paris climate change accord — The two Floridians, co-chairs and co-founders of the bipartisan House Climate Change Caucus, are jointly urging the Trump Administration to remain in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With the administration rumored to be ready to pull out of the accord, Deutch and Curbelo argued strongly against the move.

“It is imperative that we maintain our seat at the table in global discussions on how to address the threats posed by climate change,” they said in a joint statement. “It is our hope the administration will take a responsible approach on this issue.”

The agreement, which was completed in 2016, calls for signees to undertake “ambitious efforts to combat climate change,” Of the 197 nations attending the conference, 143 countries have signed on.

In March, Curbelo, a Miami Republican, and Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, signed a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

“Stepping away from the agreement would mean stepping away from the immense opportunities that these international investments afford American businesses and research institutions,” they wrote.

Diaz-Balart delivers keynote at affordable housing dedication ceremony — The Miami Republican was on hand Monday as Collier County official dedicated Hatchers Preserve, an 18-unit, single-family rental community in Immokalee.

The community was built by Rural Neighborhoods in partnership with the Big Cypress Housing Corp. and was funded, in part, through by the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

“This new community will provide a safe roof over the heads of 18 deserving families,” said Diaz-Balart, who serves as the chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement Monday. “(This) dedication ceremony is a prime example of the federal government and local leaders coming together to advance solutions. I especially want to commend the great work of Rural Neighborhoods, including Steve Kirk, for their vision and determination to see this project to its completion. I look forward to continue working with the Southwest Florida community to protect and preserve affordable housing.”

The homes will be rented for $650 a month to families earning 50 percent of the area median income, and $725 a month to families earning 80 percent AMI.

Now serving his eighth term in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has become a powerful voice in Florida’s congressional delegation. As chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Diaz-Balart will play a fundamental role during budget discussions and any negotiations about infrastructure improvements. And he’s spent years pushing lawmakers to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something he says is still working on. We caught up with Diaz-Balart during his visit to Immokalee, located in the western part of his sprawling district, to talk about housing, transportation and 2018.

AP Photo

FP: You were in Miami last week with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, tell me about the trip, what you learned and what he learned about affordable housing and the needs in South Florida.

MDB: I’m very grateful that he’s actually traveling and he’s trying to figure out what’s out there, what’s working and what’s not working, which is wonderful to see. Here’s a man who is doing it for the right reason, and he’s trying to learn. These are very complicated areas. It’s a huge agency, and it’s an agency that has major problems, fiscal accountability problems. … I think it was very helpful for him to see just different things that are working and not working that well, and why. I’ve met with him, I had the opportunity to meet with him again, and had the opportunity to ride in the car with him, which was a really good time. I feel really, really optimistic about the fact that he’s a person who wants to do the right thing. And I am really looking forward to working with him in a very, very close way to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent, and that also some of the key programs are working continue to receive help.

FP: This Immokalee project was a partnership — federal, state and local. When you talk about housing, especially affordable workforce housing, in Florida and beyond how important is that local, state and federal role?

MDB: I think it’s crucial. One of the ways you get more accountability is by having a local community be part of it. There’s so many instances where the federal government, HUD and others decide this is what you’re going to do; this is where you’re going to do it. And frankly, that doesn’t work too well. This is one of the best examples. Rural Neighborhoods is this group that builds; they rehabilitate, they manage, they do incredible work. They receive funding from different sources; they leverage public funding with private funding. This is not one of the traditional things (people think of when) they think of HUD — these high rise buildings … This is a local community, having a need and going to them and saying “what can we do here?” And what you’re going to see, if you come here in five years, is these homes in pristine shape, because that’s the kind of work (Rural Neighborhoods does) around the state.

FP: President Trump, when he was on the campaign trail, talked so much about infrastructure improvements to transportation. What, if any, impact do you think the inability to get health care reform through Congress is going to have on getting those massive infrastructure improvements through?

MDB: I think the potential is for it to have a serious impact. … If we can’t — controlling the House, Senate and the White House — get together and pass legislation and do what we’ve been saying forever, which is repeal Obamacare and replace it with more a patient-centered centered system of accountability and choice, if we can’t even do that, then it begs the question of can we do the even more complicated issues like tax reform.

Why do I mention tax reform, even though you mentioned infrastructure, which is key to my heart? If you can’t do health care, it’s going to be very difficult to do tax reform. If you can’t do tax reform, then the question is, where are the funds coming from to do infrastructure? I wish I could tell you I’m not concerned, but I don’t know how you do things that are more complicated if we can’t even do health care.

FP: You’ve been a huge proponent of immigration reform for many, many years. What’s the status right now?

MDB: I’m not giving up on it. I think we have a greater opportunity, a greater chance. I think it’s obviously a problem and it’s not going to fix itself, you’ve heard me say that a million times. I’m still working, and I think we have a better shot than if Hillary (Clinton) had gotten elected. I wish I could tell you right now things are great; they’re not. But I’m optimistic. We’re still working, we’re still talking, and I think it may be one of those things that surprises folks. I think this is a president who wants to solve problems, and I think once … they all see this is broken from A-to-Z, I don’t think this president is going to sit back and let it stay broken. So, I’m optimistic.

FP: As you start looking toward 2018, are you concerned at all about re-election?

MDB: I’m a firm believe you do good things, and good things happen. I don’t worry about that. I just work, and good things happen.

Ros-Lehtinen draws another Democratic opponent for 2018 – First term Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez filed to challenge the longtime Republican incumbent in the redrawn Florida 27th Congressional District, which now leans Democrat.

“We deserve a member of Congress who will hold President Trump accountable,” Rosen Gonzalez, a single mother of three, told the Miami Herald. “Instead of the president’s lapdog, I’ll be a watchdog who stands up for science against climate change deniers, stands up for immigrants against persecution, and fights back against partisan attacks on women’s health care.”

Others looking to enter the CD 27 race include Scott Fuhrman, a Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, and University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn. Rosen Gonzalez would have one more year on the commission in the 2018 election cycle, but does not have to resign to run.

Crenshaw shines light on ‘scary’ disease affecting daughter – The former Jacksonville congressman is looking to raise public awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and help raise money for research. The Florida Times-Union reports that Crenshaw’s daughter, Alex, is one of the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease, with no known cure, affects the digestive system.

The Crenshaw family — wife Kitty, another daughter, and two grandchildren – have become advocates for the Crohn’s &Colitis Foundation, and raised about $100,000 since 2009. They regularly take part in the organization’s annual Take Steps fundraising marches. Crenshaw sits on the foundation’s national board. On April 22, the Central and Northeast Florida Chapter in Jacksonville Beach will name him an honorary chair and feature Alex as an “honored hero.”

“It’s kind of a family affair,” Crenshaw told the Times-Union.

Ballard Partners adds another foreign client to D.C. rosterThe Florida-based firm has been retained by the Socialist Party of Albania to “provide consulting and advocacy services in a bid to improve U.S.-Albanian bilateral relations” at a rate of $20,000 a month.

Ballard Partners work for the Socialist Party of Albania will include advising, counseling and assisting the party in its communications with the U.S. government, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents filed in April.

The year-long deal continues until the end of March 2018 and fetches the agency $20,000 per month. Earlier this month, the firm, led by Brian Ballard, signed a similar year-long contract to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

The Socialist Party of Albania rose to power following its majority win in Albania’s 2013 parliamentary elections. Leading the left-leaning political party is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who’s up for re-election in Albania’s upcoming June elections.

The Democratic Party of Albania last year hired Podesta Group in a similar bid to advance U.S. relations. That political group, which was formerly Albania’s leading political party, hired Podesta for counsel on relevant U.S. policies and Congressional activities, as well as to arrange meetings with U.S. executive branch officials and members of Congress.

In January, a third Albanian political group fighting for seats in the June elections, the Socialist Movement for Integration, retained The McKeon Group to facilitate a dialogue between members of that party and the Trump administration.

Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joins TechNet as VP — TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Before working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

Personnel Note: The National Association of Counties (NACo) added a bit more of a Florida flavor recently with the hire of Kevan Stone as Associate Legislative Director for Transportation and Infrastructure. Stone was previously a policy advisor for former Rep. John Mica. Stone holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida.

NACo’s current president is Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. The Tallahassee native’s term runs through 2017. The organization advocates on Capitol Hill for 3,069 county governments.

Sunburn for 4.21.17 – Artiles, Artiles, Artiles, bills are dying, Artiles

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

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

IN NON-FRANK ARTILES NEWS …

Yes, scientists feel they’re under attack by politics too, and like minority groups, women, gun advocates, gun opponents, social activists, and others, they’re taking it to the streets.

Twenty-one “Marches for Science” are set to take place in Florida Saturday, Earth Day, all declared as satellite marches to the main one that will take place in Washington D.C. Organizers say they’ll have more than 400 such marches worldwide this weekend.

March for Science organizers are declaring their mission as to champion “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

Organized through scientists and supporters discussing the prospect through social media, on their website they declare that, yes, their effort “is explicitly a political movement, aimed at holding leaders in politics and science accountable. When institutions of any affiliation skew, ignore, misuse or interfere with science, we have to speak out.”

In Florida marches are planned Saturday for Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Hudson, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Naples, New Smyrna Beach, Orlando, Palm Beach County, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Titusville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.

The dozens of partners sponsoring the event range from environmental groups such as the Earth Day Coalition and The Nature Conservancy, to science specialty groups as the American Society for Cell Biology and the Planetary Society, to broad groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as several universities.

They’re maintaining the marches are non-partisan.

“Science is nonpartisan,” said Blake Williams, spokesman for For Our Future spokesman, which is co-organizing the Florida marches. “Advocating for evidence-based policies and solutions serves everyone’s best interests, and Saturday’s march is about speaking out in support of science together.”

OTHER NON-ARTILES NEWSSUPREME COURT OKS GAMBLING CONTROL, FELON VOTING RIGHTS AMENDMENTS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The state’s highest court gave its approval for proposed state constitutional amendments on voter approval of new gambling and restoring voting rights to ex-cons. But there’s a big ‘if’ before either can be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot—both amendments still need hundreds of thousands of signatures. Moreover, Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissented on the gambling amendment, saying “the ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by countywide (referendums).” The Florida Supreme Court does not pass judgment on subject matter, but reviews proposed amendments only to make sure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 6; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 14; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 14; MLB All-Star Game – 80; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 133; Election Day 2017 – 199; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 237; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 261.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce March job numbers at 10 a.m. at Pelican Wire, 3650 Shaw Blvd. in Naples.

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#FRANKGATE

LAWYER: FRANK ARTILES RACIAL SLURS OFFENSIVE, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FREE SPEECH via The Associated Press – A lawyer representing [Artiles] who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities says he’ll present evidence that other senators have used similar language. Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case and said the complaint shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles’ statements — as offensive as they were — are protected under his constitutional rights to free speech. He also said the Senate lawyer, Dawn Roberts, shouldn’t handle the case because she’s also represented Artiles and witnesses who would be called to testify.

A FOUR-NAME BYLINE STORY HERE: “Artiles controversy engulfs Florida Senate with two weeks left of Session” by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald

PAM BONDI: ARTILES SHOULD CONSIDER RESIGNING OVER RACIAL SLUR via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Bondi became the first state Republican leader to suggest Artiles should leave office for using a slang version of the N-word and other derogatory language during a heated discussion with colleagues. “There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi [said]. “I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues.” Bondi stopped short of definitively calling for Artiles’ expulsion from the Florida Senate.

LEGISLATIVE JEWISH CAUCUS URGES SENATE TO EXPEL ARTILES via Florida PoliticsThe Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus “denounced” Artiles Thursday, urging his Senate colleagues to toss him out of the Legislature. “(We) denounce Senator Frank Artiles for his racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory comments directed at some of his Senate colleagues,” they said in a statement. The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, chair, and Reps. Lori Berman, Ben Diamond, Joe Geller and Emily Slosberg, and Sen. Kevin Rader. All are Democrats.

FLORIDA’S NAACP JOINS THOSE CALLING FOR ARTILES’ RESIGNATION via Florida PoliticsThe head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Artiles to step down. The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People … “A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

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OSCAR BRAYNON, FOUR OTHER DEMOCRATS, SET TO FILE IN SUPPORT OF ARAMIS AYALA via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Five Democratic lawmakers led by Senate Minority Leader Braynon are preparing to file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Orlando’s State Attorney Ayala in her effort to challenge Gov. Scott‘s power to take cases away from her. Braynon, state Sens. Jeff Clemens, Perry Thurston and Gary Farmer and state Rep. Sean Shaw all filed a request with the Supreme Court to enter an amicus brief supporting Ayala and opposing Scott. The court quickly approved it. They explicitly stated in their friend-of-the-court brief would “provide an alternative perspective to that of amici Florida House of Representatives.”

BUDGET CHIEFS SOUND HOPEFUL AS CLOCK TICKS ON STATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS via Florida Politics – With two weeks and change remaining in the 2017 Legislative Session, House and Senate budget leaders are professing optimism that they can resolve their differences and adjourn on time May 5. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo — and Jack Latvala, his Senate counterpart — both said Thursday they hope to begin formal budget conference negotiations soon. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” Trujillo told reporters.  The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die May 5,” he said. …  “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” Latvala said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

— “How the Legislature could $1.5 billion in extra Medicaid money for something other than hospitals” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE SPEAKER: THERE’S TIME TO ADDRESS SCHOOL RECESS, BUT NO PROMISES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran said: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.” The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change. Senators, meanwhile, are trying another route to force the House to consider the proposal they passed, which would require elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, separate from physical education classes.

GAMBLING CONFERENCE WON’T MEET TILL NEXT WEEK via Florida Politics – Conference members had planned to meet Thursday, then a notice went out: “The Conference Committee on Gaming will NOT meet today and will not meet before Monday, April 24.” Blame it on the Supreme Court’s decision that same day to approve the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot, vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said. Chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano wanted to make sure over the weekend that the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer,” Diaz said in a phone interview. Galvano didn’t respond to a phone message. Also, committee members Jared Moskowitz and Joe Geller had personal matters requiring their attention in South Florida and had to leave Tallahassee, Diaz added.

TWEET, TWEET: @MearKat00: If you put a legislative calendar up to your ear and listen very closely you can hear the sound of bills dying.

BILLS ARE DYING, BUT CHILDREN ARE DYING: “Foster care agency leaders quit amid teen suicides, other turmoil” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org.***

‘EYEBALL WARS’ BILL, SLATED FOR HOUSE COMMITTEE, GOES UNHEARD via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – A bill seeking to expand what optometrists could do — namely, performing surgery and prescribing opiates — was an agenda item in the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee … However, the bill at the center of Florida’s Eyeball Wars went unheard. HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, barely cleared Health and Human Services Health Quality Subcommittee last month, on an 8-7 vote … A similar controversy was expected in the full committee, but it didn’t manifest.

HOUSE MOVES CLOSER TO SENATE ON CHANGES TO STATE TESTING SYSTEM via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Rep. Manny Diaz, sponsor of the “Fewer Better Tests Act,” tied several of the ideas from that bill into a separate effort to allow parents and others to see certain state tests after students take them. The Diaz amendment would, among other things … Eliminate the state Algebra II end-of-course exam … Require paper-based state language arts and math tests for third- through sixth-grade … Move the state testing window to later in the spring, and shrink it to a shorter time frame … Change the value-added model of evaluating teachers.

FLORIDA MAY MAKE IT EASIER TO GET RID OF SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS via The Associated Press – The House voted 94-25 for a bill that would allow parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer. A similar bill is also moving in the Florida Senate. Critics of the bill contend that it could lead to schools removing books that discuss topics such as climate change or evolution. But Rep. Byron Donalds, sponsoring the bill, maintains that the legislation is about giving people an opportunity to raise questions about textbooks. He noted that local school districts would still have the final say on whether the materials should still be used.

HOUSE ADVANCES JUVENILE JUSTICE BILL, ADDING ADULT DIVERSION PROGRAM via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The House version (HB 205), sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, changed again in the House Judiciary Committee … would expunge the arrests of juveniles for certain first-time misdemeanor crimes. That differs significantly from its Senate companion. Miami Republican Anitere Flores‘ bill (SB 196) would mandate civil citations to juveniles for a number of first-time misdemeanors. Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s amendment to HB 205 would allow adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program. That insertion upset Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez, who for more than a year had been working on the legislation to address juveniles. He said a number of issues regarding the juvenile component of the bill remain unresolved. Those issues were now “tainted” by the discussion over adults, Gonzalez argued.

LAWMAKERS APPROVE ATTORNEY FEE TWEAK TO PUBLIC RECORD LAW via Florida PoliticsLawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Scott. The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote. The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit. Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

— “House financial literacy bill passes final committee” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE VOTE SENDS SOLAR TAX BREAK BILL TO THE SENATE FLOOR via Florida Politics – Senate implementing legislation for last year’s solar energy referendum passed its final committee test … when the Appropriations Committee voted its unanimous approval. The bill by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes would implement $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes, approved by Florida voters via Amendment 4 in August. SB 90, supported by environmental groups and solar panel installers, lacks the same safety standards and disclosure requirements found in the House version, HB 1351. Brandes said the House is moving toward the Senate’s position. “We’re going to continue to work with them. The landing site in in sight on this bill,” Brandes said.

WELFARE CHANGES IN FLORIDA INCLUDE TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Welfare recipients in Florida would face tougher penalties for failing to meet work requirements and some food stamp recipients could become ineligible if lawmakers in the Florida House have their way. The chamber passed a set of changes to Florida’s welfare laws by an 82-38 vote with three Democrats joining Republicans in support. It’s a move supporters say is supposed to help people who receive cash assistance from the state to find good jobs and discourage reliance on government. “We’re trying to help individuals, we’re trying to curb fraud and abuse and get rid of this system of dependency,” said Rep. Dane Eagle the bill sponsor. “We don’t want people to be dependent on the state. We want them to be gainfully employed.” But opponents say Eagle’s legislation (HB 23) — also a priority of House Speaker Corcoran — is an attack on the poor.

BILL BANNING STEROID USE ON GREYHOUNDS PASSES HOUSE via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – HB 743 would prohibit the use of anabolic steroids at any point in the Greyhounds career. Any licensees caught in violation of the law could lose their license and be subject to a fine of up to $10,000. While the bill had broad bipartisan support and Republican Alex Miller as a co-sponsor, there was still some debate opposing the legislation “My concern is that we’re making an emotional argument and not a factual one” said Rick Roth, a Republican from Palm Beach, citing an underlying motive to ban dog racing altogether. “My concern is that we’re jumping off the cliff too fast.” Other opponents argue that steroids are given to female dogs in heat to simply keep male greyhounds away. In closing, Smith thanked the House Speaker for letting the facts drive the discussion on the legislation instead of partisan politics. The bill passed with 84 votes in favor and 32 votes in opposition.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – NEWEST DRAFT RULES GOVERNING 2022 SPEAKERS RACE: MEMBERS NOT ELIGIBLE FOR NOMINATION IF THEY VIOLATE GOP CONFERENCE RULES via Florida Politics — An updated draft of rules governing the election of the Republican’s freshman caucus leader — and eventual Speaker of the House — moves up the organizational meeting and stipulates a member found in violation of Republican conference rules would be ineligible for consideration. Reps. Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant have been tasked with writing draft rules to help guide the freshman class’s decision-making process. While new rules approved by members this year banned any active speaker’s races until June 30, the draft election rules are meant to spell out how the freshman class would ultimately pick its leader. But, perhaps the most notable change is the provision that outlines exactly who is eligible to become leader. When it came to nominations, the earlier draft of rules only noted that nominations “shall be from the floor and must receive a first and a second to be a valid nomination. Members may be the first or second for their own nomination.” New draft rules, however, go a step further. According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules.

HOUSE APPROVES SIX-YEAR LOBBYING BAN FOR FORMER LAWMAKERS, ELECTED OFFICIALS via Florida Politics – The House approved tough new ethics legislation Thursday barring members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues for six years after leaving office. The measure also would prevent officials from leveraging their authority to seek jobs from or going into business with lobbyists. CS/SB 7083 passed on a vote of 118-0, even though Speaker Corcoran has conceded the Senate has little interest in boosting ethics laws this year, and with the scheduled end of session a little more than two weeks away. … Existing law restricts lobbying by former lawmakers and elected officials for two years.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Gregory BlackJames DaughtonWarren HusbandAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: American Association of Payers, Administrators and Networks

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting: AMOAF

Mike Haridopolos: I.O. Inc

Marc Reichelderfer, Landmarc Strategies: Bombardier Transportation

TAMELA PERDUE WILL JOIN VOLUNTEER FLORIDA FOUNDATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Perdue was unanimously approved by the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board of Directors and the Volunteer Florida Commission. Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman said, “We are thrilled to have Tammy join the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board. She brings an extraordinary amount of executive leadership and private-sector insight to the Board and we look forward to serving with her.” Perdue serves as Senior Vice President of Legislative and Government Affairs for Sunshine Health, one of Florida’s largest health plans.

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Cruise Missiles over Syria. Bombs over Afghanistan, Aircraft Carriers off the Korean Peninsula, Russian Nuclear Bombers flying 36 miles off the coast of Alaska – are we headed for war? Dr. James discusses the recent shows of force with political analyst Dr. Lawrence Miller.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: The Sunday morning show will kick off with a segment on what everyone in Tallahassee is talking about: Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles’ slur-filled rant at the Governor’s Club. The PolitiFact Trump-O-Meter rates the current status of the president’s campaign promise to dramatically scale back the EPA. On the Common Grounds segment, guests Kevin Doyle of the Consumer Energy Alliance and former Rep. Dick Batchelor look at the EPA regulations rollback and discuss how it could affect the environmental climate and the business climate moving forward.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Congressmen John Rutherford and Ron DeSantis will make an appearance, while the panel will consist of Carlton Robinson of the Jax Chamber, Ellen Sullivan of BairFind, Jeannie Fredrick of Women Business Owners of NE Florida, and Iris Simmons of The Genesi Group.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Steve VancoreGary Yordon and Sean Pittman will be joined by none other than some guy named Peter Schorsch.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lloyd Dunkelberger, Andrew Hall, and a true Florida gentleman who doesn’t even read Sunburn, Erik Suskey.

All Aboard Florida

Still waiting: Senators get non-answer from FDFC on All Aboard Florida bonding

Still waiting.

A pair of Republican lawmakers have yet to receive an adequate explanation from the Florida Development Finance Corporation about its approval of a $600 million private equity bond application for All Aboard Florida.

The rail project is seeking to offer passenger service from Miami to West Palm Beach with the possibility of future service to Orlando. In 2015, the FDFC approved the issuance of $1.75 billion in bonds for All Aboard Florida, a move that led Martin and Indian River counties to sue, alleging the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Questions arose after the first request for $1.75 billion in bonds was withdrawn, replaced by a new application for $600 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In February, Miami Sen. Anitere Flores sent a letter to FDFC Director William Spivey to clarify the FDFC’s role in the approval of the new bond. Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne reaffirmed the request with a separate letter March 30, asking Spivey for elucidation on the process by April 10.

An April 6 letter to Flores from Donna Blanton of the Tallahassee-based Radey law firm – who serves as outside counsel for the FDFC — was less than enlightening.

“As I am sure you realize,” she writes, “the FDFC is a collegial body that is governed by a board of directors.”

Blanton added that Spivey cannot provide “the position” of the FDFC, since the board makes its positions known “through formal action of its board of directors” by way of public meetings.

“Moreover, an application for Private Activity Bond allocation is a separate and distinct process from an application for financing requiring consideration by the board of directors.”

All Aboard Florida, the attorney writes, has “not submitted any request or proposal for consideration by FDFC since FDFC approved its original Resolution relating to Private Activity Bonds on Aug. 5, 2015.”

Blanton concludes that “it would be improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond.”

Not much of an answer.

Similarly, a letter to Mayfield dated April 14 echoed the explanation given to Flores.

The gist of the letters – which, in essence, say nothing – suggest that instead of acting as a public instrument, FDFC insists on conducting work in the dark.

After two ranking lawmakers questioned the process, instead of answers, lawyers respond with a veritable word salad. How better to describe such verbal gymnastics like “it would improper to speculate on what AAF may or may not ask of the FDFC’s board of directors and how the Board may respond?”

AAF publicly stated in November 2016, before a final ruling on the legality of the USDOT $1.75 billion bond allocation, that both the DOT and AAF filed motions announcing the withdrawal of the allocation, first granted December 2014.

Then, AAF applied — and DOT had approved — a “new” $600 million bond allocation financing only Phase I of the project (the part running from Miami to West Palm Beach).

So again, Flores and Mayfield have (rightfully) asked the FDFC to explain. Both senators seek a better understanding of the process, and ensure AAF and the FDFC are following all best practices in the re-issuance of $600 million in bonds.

And both are still waiting.

 

Newest draft rules governing 2022 Speaker race: Members not eligible for nomination if they violate GOP conference rules

An updated draft of rules governing the election of the Republican’s freshman caucus leader — and eventual Speaker of the House — moves up the organizational meeting and stipulates a member found in violation of Republican conference rules would be ineligible for consideration.

Reps. Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant have been tasked with writing draft rules to help guide the freshman class’s decision-making process. While new rules approved by members this year banned any active speaker’s races until June 30, the draft election rules are meant to spell out how the freshman class would ultimately pick its leader.

The latest draft of rules states an organizational meeting shall be called for June 30, 2017, “at a time and location that will be determined.” An earlier draft of the rules called for the meeting to held on July 1.

The newest version also adds an extra layer when it comes to proxies. According to new provisions, caucus members may not be the proxy designate for more than one absent caucus member. That’s something the earlier draft of the rules was silent on.

But, perhaps the most notable change is the provision that outlines exactly who is eligible to become leader.

When it came to nominations, the earlier draft of rules only noted that nominations “shall be from the floor and must receive a first and a second to be a valid nomination. Members may be the first or second for their own nomination.”

New draft rules, however, go a step further.

According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules.

Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”

The conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”

The addition of the provision comes just a week after POLITICO Florida reported Rep. Paul Renner held a meeting of House freshman Republicans to talk about his speaker’s bid.

Renner is one of several people widely believed to be in the running for House Speaker in 2022-24, and his meeting came after two separate dinners were held by groups opposed to his bid.

How Frank Artiles’ colleagues should respond to his defiance

A great deal has already been said about the yes-he-really-said-it Frank Artiles saga.

And there seems to be near-universal agreement on these points:

— Artiles is a world-class jerk.

— What he said goes far beyond the limits of acceptable.

— This was not his first foray into the unacceptable.

— Artiles needs professional help.

— The Senate President needs to either send him home for the session (so presumably he can get some much-needed help), encourage (also read as “force”) him to resign, or use whatever power is afforded him to have him removed from office. Something!

But there is another element and let me be among the first to write it.

Hey, senators not named Frank Artiles, now it’s your turn — and, unfortunately, there is a burden that probably falls to the black members and then the Democrats, in that order.

This is uncomfortable, and a little unfair, but the calls for an apology or sanction are not enough.

The members of the Black Caucus, in particular, know American history all too well — heck, they are living embodiments of what peaceful civil protest can yield. And they know, perhaps better than their colleagues, the power that sitting, standing, staying or leaving can have.

So here goes: If Artiles shows up to a committee or on the Senate floor, they should quietly stand up and leave. The Black Caucus members need to lead on this and, as a show of solidarity, their fellow Democrats should leave as well. I can easily take this to its natural conclusion and say ALL members should rise and quietly leave.

Why?

Not for themselves. Not for the press. Not to force the hand of the Senate President. They should walk out because their voters will genuinely appreciate that they would not sit (literally) for such utter nonsense. Members of the Black Caucus need to express zero tolerance for Artiles’ comments and his behavior.

Artiles, by merely being in the room, degrades the legitimacy of the body. Likewise, sharing the dais or the floor with him adds an element of complicity to those who tolerate his presence.

Sorry, senators. I don’t mean to make you the target, but not taking more serious action is almost tantamount to acquiescence.

Richard Corcoran actually thanks FSU for returning controversial appropriation

House Speaker Richard Corcoran thanked Florida State President John Thrasher for returning money from a now controversial appropriation.

The university got part of an appropriation for Florida Psychological Associates, a firm operated by friends of Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican.

“I recognize that the lack of direction … placed FSU in a situation it did not seek,” Corcoran wrote in a letter dated Tuesday, saying Thrasher’s willingness to return the money was “commendable.” The letter was released Wednesday.

While saying he still had “concerns regarding expenditures that fail to return sufficient value to taxpayers,” the Speaker recognized the school “attempted to develop good measures” for the Mental Health Early Screening program.

The Naples Daily News has reported that Bean helped his friends secure state money for their business and claimed it was “hidden” in the state budget. Corcoran said the company “fell short of expectations.”

The letter is reprinted below:

 

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