Peter Schorsch - 2/2477 - 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.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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Florida Dems hire Johanna Cervone as Deputy Communications Director to focus on Hispanic outreach

The Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone to serve as its Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary.

As the Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary, Cervone will expand the party’s press outreach, with a special focus on Hispanic media and issues.

Cervone will also serve as the main point of contact for the media throughout the state.

Cervone most recently served as the South Florida Regional Press Secretary for the Hillary for Florida campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, she served as the Communications Director for Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

“Florida families deserve a spokesperson who will hold our failed Republican Governor and legislature accountable to their harmful policies. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone as our Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary. As Chair of the Party, I am more committed than ever to make sure that every Florida family has a voice in our democracy and a fair shot in our economy. Johanna brings a wealth of communications and outreach experience to the team and she will help us amplify our message of Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel.

“I am very excited to join the FDP team. I look forward to working with stakeholders across Florida to spread the party’s message in English and Spanish and build on FDP’s strong digital and communications program,” said Cervone.

Cervone’s career in politics and government began with President Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012 and she has since been involved with several local, national and international campaigns. A native of Argentina, Johanna was raised in Miami.

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Sunburn for 3.21.17 – Chamber’s Capitol Days; CRC kicks-off; A-dot-Bean’s accuser; Big poll on gambling; Happy b’day Chuck Hinson!

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

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

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Happy birthday to Tampa Electric’s Chuck Hinson. You’ll be shocked (get it, shocked?) to learn that he turns 65 years-old today.

FLORIDA CHAMBER’S CAPITOL DAYS KICKS-OFF 

When the Legislature is in session, everyone has a day for advocacy and action.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has claimed the next two.

The statewide business lobby kicks off its 2017 Capitol Days at the Turnbull Conference Center at Florida State University today. The two-day event gives members a chance to hear from Chamber officials, as well as legislative and business leaders. It’s also a chance for members to advocate on behalf of issues important to them.

“The Florida Chamber’s Capitol Days connects Florida’s business community with members of the Florida Legislature, and the governor and Cabinet to help make Florida more competitive,” said Syd Kitson, the chairman of the board, in a video.

Kitson is among those who will welcome attendees to the annual event when the conference begins at 1 p.m. Attendees will also hear from Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO, and Jerry Parrish, the Chamber’s director of research, who is expected to give a presentation about Florida’s scorecard.

Attendees will also hear from the Chamber’s legislative experts, including Frank Walker, the vice president of government affairs; Christopher Emmanuel, the director of infrastructure & governance policy; Brittney Hunt, the director of talent, education & quality of life policy; and Carolyn Johnson, the director of business, economic development & innovation policy. The first day will wrap up with a trip to the Capitol, where attendees will hear from members of the Florida Legislature before getting a chance to act as citizen lobbyists.

The conference continues Wednesday, with a panel discussion called “Is Florida Closed for Business?,” featuring Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; and Mike Grissom, the interim president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.

Also on tap for Wednesday: A discussion on insurance and legal reform, a presentation about the Constitution Revision Commission, and a panel on regulatory reform. Ken Lawson, the president and CEO of Visit Florida, and Carol Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, will also be on hand for a discussion called “Florida’s Tourism Industry: Sunshine or Rainy Days Ahead?”

The final day of the conference is expected to wrap up with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but not before one last speech. CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leaving his post at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session (whenever that might be), is scheduled to give the keynote address around 4:05 p.m. Wednesday.

NEW FLA. CHAMBER POLL SHOWS CLEAR WINNERS & LOSERS

Floridians are down on the Koch brothers, but up on the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

They’re worried about healthcare and jobs, but are less concerned about immigration and global warming. They are so-so on President Donald Trump, split on Gov. Rick Scott and tepid on Sen. Bill Nelson.

Those are just some of the revelations of a new Chamber of Commerce statewide poll. The survey of 600 likely Florida voters was conducted from March 6 through March 14 by Cherry Communications. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

The findings are expected to be presented to members of the Florida Chamber Political Institute when it meets at 9 a.m. today as part of  Capitol Days. Here’s 10 takeaways from the survey:

— Florida voters have mixed feelings about the new president. Overall, 43 percent of Florida voters said they have a favorable opinion of the New York Republican (and part-time Florida man), while 50 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion. Unsurprisingly, Republicans are giving him top marks with 79 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him. The survey found 81 percent of Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of him.

— Half of Florida voters approve of the job Scott is doing as governor, with 42 percent of voters disapproving. The poll fond 76 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents think he’s doing a good job; while 77 percent of Democrats still give the Naples Republican a thumbs-down.

— Nelson fared about the same when it came to his approval numbers, with 47 percent of Florida voters saying they approve of the work he was doing on behalf of his constituents in the U.S. Senate.

— Florida voters seem to be pleased with the direction of the state. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said they believe Florida is heading in the right direction. Republicans and no party affiliation voters, according to the polling memo, were “especially optimistic” with 72 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of no party affiliation voters saying things are heading in the right direction.

— A majority (81%) of voters say they are “about the same or better off financially” than they were a year ago. According to the polling memo, “party identification has virtually no effect on the attitudes about Floridians financial situation.”

— When it comes to the top concerns for Floridians, healthcare and the economy are No. 1. The survey found “Healthcare/Obamacare” and “Jobs and the Economy” were tied with 14 percent, followed by education. Immigration and global warming are issues that “still concern Florida voters,” according to the polling memo. The survey found 8 percent said immigration was their No. 1 concern, while 7 percent selected global warming.

— Just 13 percent of likely Florida voters have a favorable opinion of the Koch brothers. One-third of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the two men, who are tied to the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. According to the survey, 20 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of the two men.

— Personal injury lawyers don’t fare much better: 67 percent of Florida voters said trial attorneys benefit the most from a lawsuit, while 16 percent said the victim benefits the most. The survey found 72 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independent voters believed trial attorneys saw the most benefit from a lawsuit.

— Here’s another hit for trial attorneys: 71 percent of Floridians think “making money is the driving force for personal injury trial lawyers,” according to the polling memo. The survey found 80 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents said they thought personal injury lawyers were “just in it for the money.”

— Wondering if there was any good news? If you’re the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the answer is heck yeah! The survey found 54 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the statewide business association, compared to 11 percent percent who have an unfavorable view of the group.

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CARLOS BERUFF: CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION WON’T WASTE TAXPAYERS’ MONEY OR TIME via Florida Politics – The newly-formed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) won’t spend time on changes that can’t pass at the ballot box, its chairman said Monday. “If the public doesn’t feel overwhelmingly supportive of (a proposed amendment), then why do it?” said Beruff, the Manatee County homebuilder appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. The panel held an organizational meeting in the Capitol … The 37-member panel meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document, but its suggestions have to be approved by 60 percent of voters during the next statewide election. When asked if he’ll authorize polling to know what will make the cut and what won’t, he said, “That’ll probably be part of the plan but I’m not sure.”

RICHARD CORCORAN: ‘WE’RE READY’ FOR A SPECIAL SESSION via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – He made the remark to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club … in a luncheon speech about the House’s insistence that Enterprise Florida be abolished. He called EFI an “absolute cesspool” that’s “unreformable.” What’s needed, Corcoran said, is “a true and fair and just free market system,” a remark that brought applause from the audience of about 200 people. Here’s Corcoran, verbatim, on the need for a special session if necessary to abolish Enterprise Florida: “So last year, we zeroed them out. We said we’re not giving you any more incentive money and we thought that was the end of story. And this summer, we said OK, now that we’ve zeroed them out and we’ve said this is a horrendous program, why are we leaving the law on the books? Might as well delete that, too. And so we deleted that and now we’re in the current furor that you have. But I can assure you, they will be zeroed out again. And if we have to go to special session, we’re ready. Because we’re right.”

AFP-FL LAUNCHES DIRECT MAIL CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT LAWMAKERS WHO BACKED BILL TO KILL ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Florida Politics — The statewide organization launched a direct mail campaign Monday in districts of state lawmakers who supported a proposal (HB 7005) Enterprise Florida and other economic incentive programs. The mailer, according to the organization, is meant to “educate citizens in the districts of legislators that voted to eliminate corporate welfare.” “Corporate welfare is the result of government, at any level, picking winners and losers by redistributing our hard-earned tax dollars to big business and special interests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The leaders of the Florida House that have voted for H.B. 7005, vote to level the playing field for Florida’s small businesses and taxpayers,” said Chris Hudson, the organization’s state director, in a statement.

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – DOROTHY HUKILL CANCER-FREE, WILL MISS REMAINDER OF 2017 SESSION OUT OF ‘ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION’ via Florida Politics — In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, the Port Orange Republican said her team of physicians informed her that “post treatment tests show no remaining cancer and they are optimistic of a cancer free full recovery.” While Hukill said she hoped that would signal the end of her treatment, her doctors recommended “one more round of radiation treatments in an abundance of caution.”… In her letter to Negron on Monday, she said additional radiation treatments will unfortunately mean she “will be unable to return to Tallahassee prior to the completion of the 2017 Regular Session. “During this time, I will continue to be part of the legislative process from the District and I look forward to returning to Tallahassee soon,” she wrote. … Negron said Hukill will continue to manager her “district offices, staff, bills, and committee responsibilities remotely during this time.”

KIM DANIELS ACCUSED OF USING CAMPAIGN FUNDS FOR PERSONAL EXPENSES via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – The allegations stem from 2015, when Daniels was running for re-election to the Jacksonville City Council. According to records obtained from the Elections Commission, an investigation was launched after a complaint was filed that year about a $4,000 expenditure listed on her campaign finance report. Daniels is accused of using the money to purchase a magazine advertisement promoting a book she wrote called “The Demon Dictionary.” The advertisement, published in Shofar Magazine alongside an article in which Daniels discussed Jacksonville politics, encouraged readers to purchase the book without any mention of her political campaign.

TWEET, TWEET: @AGGancarski: Campaign finance trouble bubbles up for Kim Daniels – This was “BREAKING NEWS” five days ago.

A LOOK AT AARON BEAN’S ACCUSER, CARLOS SLAY via Florida Politics – The Naples Daily News isn’t a usual go-to source on northeast Florida politics, but it dropped a blockbuster story about Sen. Bean … The claim: “Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically.” But equally blockbuster is the source of the story … Carlos Slay, a self-styled “public advocate” who lost a contentious race to Drew last year.

In June, the office of Angela Corey deemed Slay’s narrative “inaccurate, generally without merit, or otherwise made with reckless disregard for the truth … a circuitous impermissible stacking of inferences and innuendo.”

Slay is also a man with serious anger management issues. Slay has some credibility issues, and some with anger management as well, as multiple injunctions for protection against domestic violence suggest. Slay got thumped in his race for Tax Collector. But at least in terms of an ephemeral March 2017 news cycle, he scored a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile, when it comes to the charges being levied against Bean: consider the original source.

TWEET, TWEET: @NateMonroeTU: Interesting. Details about the SAO report seem relevant here, at least to this Tallahassee neophyte.

TOUGH COLUMN – CUTTING FOOD STAMPS SOUNDS GOOD TO THE GUYS WEARING GUCCI via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times – Let’s start with the tax savings. There are none. At least none that will affect Florida’s budget. Other than administrative costs, the entire food stamp program is funded by the federal government. So, in essence, we are paying taxes to the IRS in Washington, D.C., and telling the agency to keep the change. If you are ideologically pure, you could applaud the idea that Florida is rejecting its federal allowance and saving money for America as a whole. But, somehow, I don’t think the rest of America cares. The great majority of Floridians will never notice if this bill passes or fails. It will not reduce their taxes, and it will not change their lives for better or worse. he only people who will care are the politicians who see this as an ideological victory. And the hungry children and seniors left in their wake.

BILL EXEMPTING CREDIT UNIONS FROM DECEPTIVE PRACTICES LAWS PASSES PANEL via Florida Politics – The committee substitute for House Bill 1347, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones, would exempt state or federal credit unions from Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act under the assumption that credit unions get all the regulation and oversight they need from other, mostly federal banking laws and regulations. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee unanimously approved it, after no one expressed any opposition. “The current statute provides exemptions for most regulated Florida industries… based on the idea that regulated industries are properly governed by their respective regulatory authorities and their respective corrective actions from those regulatory authorities,” said Democratic state Rep. Richard Stark, who presented the bill to the committee in Jones’ absence.

— “Autism law enforcement training heads to Florida House floor” via Sascha Cordner of WFSU

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, update: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide you with a quick update on the breakdown of bills that have been heard in committee as we kick off Session tomorrow morning. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As of Tuesday, 537 bills have been placed on the calendar in the Florida House. Of those, 429 are sponsored by Republicans, 73 are sponsored by Democrats, and 35 bills have bi-partisan prime co-sponsors. To put that in a percentage, 79.9% of the bills that have been heard are Republican bills, 13.6% are Democratic, and 6.5% are bipartisan.

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

LATEST LAKE OKEECHOBEE ALGAE BLOOM HAS SCIENTISTS CRYING FOWL via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm – A small blue-green algae bloom sighted in southern Lake Okeechobee had scientists wondering if another nasty, algae-choked summer could lie ahead for the St. Lucie River. A photo of the bloom along a boat ramp at Pahokee on the lake’s southern shore by Barry Rosen, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, was shared via email by numerous environmental scientists. Toxic algae from a massive bloom in the lake was discharged into the St. Lucie last summer, resulting in thick mats of noxious goo in the water at Stuart. “(It) looks like the mild winter is favoring early bloom formation on Lake O … or maybe this was happening at this time last year to this degree and was not observed,” James “Jim” Riley, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, wrote in an email. “Would like to stay ahead of the news media on this situation.” Too late.

POLL: MOST VOTERS DOWN ON EXPANDING GAMBLING via Florida Politics – The vast majority of Florida voters—84 percent—“want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows. The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a press release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group. The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

TWEET, TWEET: @SLRoss528: this is an outlier from every credible poll I’ve seen in the last 7 years

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL SET FOR WAYS & MEANS TODAY via Florida Politics – The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this Tuesday [today], records show. The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday. Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5. The Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8) has cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that would make changes to the state’s public assistance program when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee will discuss a bill meant to crack down on “sanctuary cities” when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building. The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to discuss a bill that would get rid of an insurance industry tax credit to pay for a cut in the state’s communications services tax when it meets at 9 a.m. in 401 Senate Office Building. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will discuss a bill preventing local governments from restricting the use of vacation rentals when it meets at 2 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will discuss a proposal to require drug tests for public assistance applicants during its meeting at 4 p.m. in 401 Senate Office Building.

DOES AIRBNB DECREASE HOUSING VALUES, AS MIAMI BEACH MAYOR SAYS? via Amy Sherman of PolitiFact – Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company. He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why? “Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment … Some research and news articles have argued that Airbnb has decreased the rental supply and therefore is driving up prices, but it’s questionable whether all of those units can be described as “workforce housing” in already expensive areas with a lack of affordable housing. Levine did not point to evidence proving that Airbnb has decreased real estate values. It’s too soon to fully assess the impact of Airbnb on housing markets, and that’s difficult to do when it only represents a small fraction of the housing supply in any city or region. We rate this claim Mostly False.

PROPOSED ALL ABOARD FLORIDA REGULATIONS: DRIVEN BY SAFETY CONCERNS OR POLITICS? via Ed Dean of the Sunshine State News – State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, an opponent of the rail project, has introduced “The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.” Mayfield’s proposal would make high-speed rail companies pay for the installation of safety measures, including fencing along certain areas of the track that could be dangerous for pedestrians. Mayfield’s bill also makes train companies develop safety measures focused on train engineers and gate malfunctions. The bill is gaining traction in Tallahassee as it cleared the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously. Weighing in on the safety issue, Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE) Chairman Brent Hanlon says Mayfield’s bill will ensure people will be safer at high speed rail crossings across the state. “This legislation will address public safety concerns in any community across the state,” Hanlon insisted. But some question the merit of this legislation. “Is this bill really about safety or is it about politics?” Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish asked. Parrish, who supports AAF, added, “enough is enough.”

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SETTLEMENT REACHED IN GULF POWER’S BID FOR $106.8 MILLION BASE RATE INCREASE via Florida Politics – Gulf Power Co. will settle for nearly $62 million per year in increased rates for its customers in Northwest Florida, rather than the $106.8 million it had planned to seek from the Public Service Commission, environmental groups announced Monday. The deal would guarantee the utility a return on investment to Gulf Power’s stockholders averaging 10.25 percent — more than the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the PSC, had argued was justified. …  The monthly fixed charge on residential would have climbed from the existing $18 to nearly $50. According to the company, the average monthly bill will climb from $144 to $151. … PSC Chairwoman Julie Immanuel Brown said the commission would hear arguments on the merits of the agreement on April 4, and could vote on it then.

RICK SCOTT DEFENDS AYALA DECISION, STILL ‘LOOKING AT OPTIONS’ via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “The first thing I did is I asked her to recuse herself, and I talked to her and she said she wasn’t going to so I moved the case to Brad King,” Scott told reporters in the Capitol. “Last week she said she was fine with that, today she’s changed her position. And so, the case has been assigned to Brad King and that was the right decision.” Some Central Florida lawmakers have called on Scott to suspend or remove Ayala from office because she declared she wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Scott, though, isn’t going that far yet, but he’s not ruling it out either. “With regard to her actions we’ll continue to look at our options. Right now I’m focused on Markeith Loyd,” Scott said.

BOB CORTES CALLS FOR SCOTT TO SUSPENDAYALA, REASSIGN ALL HER CAPITAL CASES via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Cortes, who was among the first critics of Ayala’s “no death penalty” policy announced last week, said in a letter to Scott that he has learned Ayala already is withdrawing death-penalty charges in other cases besides the one that has dominated news since her announcement that of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Among them, Cortes said, is that of Larry D. Perry, who faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse of his son in 2013. Cortes, whose District 30 includes Maitland and other parts of north Orange County in Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit, advised Scott that it is “obvious these cases will not be handled in the manner they should be by the current state attorney. “I respectfully ask that you suspend State Attorney Aramis Ayala from her position,” he wrote.

LAWMAKERS COULD CUT AYALA’S OFFICE BUDGET OVER DEATH PENALTY STANCE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Rep. Scott Plakon, a member of the House Judicial Appropriations Subcommittee, had previously recommended a 10 percent cut to all 20 judicial districts across the state as part of a budget exercise. Now, they could slash the Ninth Circuit even more. “In light of recently reported events taking place in the State Attorney’s office of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, our team feels it prudent to revisit our recommendation to the committee as regards to their budget,” Plakon told the committee. “Previously, we used more or less an across the board approach and now believe a more targeted approach might be more appropriate.” Plakon would only say he wants to take another look at the budget recommendations, and said he hasn’t looked at the specifics of how much he would cut or where.

MORE THAN 100 JUSTICES, JUDGES, LAW PROFESSORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR AYALA via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – They signed a letter to Gov. Scott expressing their support Orlando State Attorney Ayala‘s right to decide not to pursue death penalty cases and urging the governor to back off. The signatories include former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court Harry Lee Anstead and Gerald Kogan joined with three dozen current or former judges and prosecutors and approximately 90 law professors. “We are deeply troubled by your effort to relieve State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala of her constitutional and statutory duties in the Markeith Loyd case. We believe that this effort to remove State Attorney Ayala infringes on the vitally important independence of prosecutors, exceeds your authority, undermines the right of residents in Orange and Osceola counties to the services of their elected leaders, and sets a dangerous precedent,” the letter declares.

SOME NOT BUYING STATE ATTORNEY REPORT CALLING MENTALLY ILL INMATE’S DEATH ACCIDENTAL via Sascha Cordner of WFSU – Back in 2014, then Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews promised he’d fire anyone involved in the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution. Guards took Rainey to the showers after he’d smeared human waste all over himself. And, later, after multiple firings and resignations, Crews along with lawmakers spoke of the important need for reforms … now some five years after Rainey’s death, Miami Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has decided to close the investigation without filing any criminal charges. Fernandez-Rundle also deemed there was no malice or premeditated intent to kill on the part of the correctional officers. And, she further concluded the shower used in the Rainey incident has never proven to be unsafe, adding there were no burns on the body—according to the Medical Examiner. But, George Mallinckrodt calls that “flimsy.” The psychotherapist was a former mental health counselor at Dade CI. He says it also doesn’t add up—given reported accounts of some of the prison guards, medical personnel, and inmates who say Rainey’s skin was peeling off on contact.

COURT: FLORIDA DAIRY’S SKIM MILK IS SKIM MILK, NOT IMITATION via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press – A small, all-natural dairy isn’t being deceptive when it calls it’s skim milk “skim milk,” a federal appeals court ruled in a victory for the creamery that’s fighting the state’s demand to label the product “imitation” because vitamins aren’t added to it. The ruling overturns a decision … when a federal judge sided with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which said the Ocheesee Creamery couldn’t label it’s skim milk “skim milk” because the state defines the product as skim milk with vitamin A added. The state instead said that if the creamery wanted to sell the product, it should label it as “imitation” skim milk. But that didn’t sit well with a dairy whose whole philosophy is not to add ingredients to natural products. So instead of complying, the creamery has dumped thousands of gallons of skim milk down the drain rather than label it as an imitation milk product. “The State was unable to show that forbidding the Creamery from using the term ‘skim milk’ was reasonable,” the three-judge, Jacksonville-based panel wrote in its ruling.

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

APPOINTEDPatti Ketcham to the Florida Real Estate Commission.

CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE ANNOUNCES NEW HIRE – Jake Stofan will be an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda’s Capitol News Service, the company said Monday. Stofan, a Jacksonville native, graduated from the University of North Florida last year with a multimedia journalism degree. He went on to work at KVRR in Fargo, North Dakota before accepting a job at Capitol News Service, starting next month. The self-described political junkie said he’s “incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to cover legislative matters that are shaping the future of his home state.”

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — As Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s bold stand against the death penalty sparks outrage, Trimmel Gomes latest episode of The Rotunda features the man standing on both sides of the controversy, Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee. As Chairman of the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Bracy sponsored the bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law requiring a unanimous jury for the death sentence. But Bracy also criticizes Florida’s death penalty process as inconsistent and inadequate. Gomes then discusses Sen. Aaron Bean’s secret budget appropriation for a friend as reported by Arek Sarkissian of Naples Daily News. Plus a recap of the “sometimes” annual Press Skits with FloridaPolitics.com publisher, Peter Schorsch.

MUST-READ OP-EDTSO CONCERT PAYS TRIBUTE TO TEREZÍN VICTIMS via Steve Uhlfelder for the Tallahassee Democrat – Next Saturday night, the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, joined by FAMU Concert Choir, will tell the inspiring story of the historic performances by Nazi prisoners of Verdi’s “Requiem” at Terezín concentration camp. This event has special meaning to me, because Terezín is where my grandparents died. It was a terrible place where Jews from Europe were herded before being sent on to their death in other concentration camps. In Terezín itself, Jewish prisoners were killed or died of hunger, disease and despair. This place of genocide is located in a beautiful region of the Czech Republic, surrounded by green hills and quiet rivers. My grandparents were among the first group of Jews to be transported there from western Germany … I had been able to make the trip to Terezín that was too difficult for my father, and pay respects to his parents as he was never able to. My father would be comforted to know that the memory of his parents – and the lessons of the Holocaust – will never be forgotten.

SHARERS RATHER THAN AUTHORS MORE IMPORTANT ON SOCIAL MEDIA via David Bauder of The Associated Press – The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story’s actual source in determining whether readers believe it, a study by the Media Insight Project has found. In a previous study, consumers said they paid greater heed to where the story originated. But the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, set up an experiment that found something different. News organizations are keenly interested in research that tracks consumer habits in a rapidly changing media world. Facebook was the top non-television source for election news cited by both supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in last fall’s presidential campaign, according to the Pew Research Center. Businesses grew to churn out false stories that people would share online.

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

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – It’s All-American day at the Governors Club with a Tuesday lunch buffet that includes KC steak soup; egg salad; macaroni salad; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; fried chicken; meatloaf with brown gravy; garlic Yukon mashed potatoes; glazed carrots and green beans.

AFTER NCAA BERTH, FLORIDA ST. TOP SCORERS WEIGH DECISIONS via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Florida State made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, but whether the Seminoles (26-9) can return next season will depend on the decisions of their three leading scorers. Dwayne BaconJonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes said after Saturday’s 91-66 loss to Xavier in the second round that they had not reached a decision and had no timetable. All three though are expected to put their names into consideration for the NBA draft. If all three depart, sophomore Terance Mann would be the leading returning scorer (8.4 points). Even with Bacon and Isaac, coach Leonard Hamilton extolled his team’s depth throughout the year as he used 12 players per game. Freshmen guards Trent Forrest and CJ Walker each averaged over 12 minutes per game and will be counted on more next season.

WHERE’S THE LINE? THEME PARKS AIMING TO ELIMINATE THEM via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – At Universal Orlando Resort’s new “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” ride, waiting in line has been replaced by lounging on couches and listening to a racy barber shop quartet sing until it’s time to enter the ride. Universal is leading the theme-park charge into “virtual lines” that give visitors options for exploring a park or watching live entertainment instead of the tedium of looking at someone’s back as you inch forward step by step to the thrill ride … Later this year, when Universal opens its new Volcano Bay water park in Orlando, visitors will be given wristbands that will alert them when it’s their turn to get on a ride. “I think it represents the future of what we’re going to be doing in themed entertainment,” [Universal creative director JasonSurrell said. “I kind of joke that this is the first step on a journey that will eventually lead us to a generation that doesn’t even know about theme park lines. It will be ‘What do you mean, wait in a queue? What’s that, Grandpa?'”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to future Speaker Paul Renner (wait, did we just say that aloud?). Also celebrating are great Floridians, Fran Haasch, Richard Gonzmart, Mary Repper and Ken Walters.

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A look at Aaron Bean’s accuser, Carlos Slay

The Naples Daily News isn’t a usual go-to source on northeast Florida politics, but it dropped a blockbuster story about Sen. Aaron Bean on Monday.

The claim: “Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically.”

But equally blockbuster is the source of the story.

The crux of this complaint comes from Carlos Slay, a self-styled “public advocate” who lost a contentious race to Drew last year.

And as you will see further below, a man with serious anger management issues.

Last year, Slay shopped around stories about Drew and Bean.

He summarized a batch of emails he sent this outlet in October. All grammar and construction is as originally sent. And the narrative matches the conspiracy theory in the NDN piece.

“Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean are childhood friends. The e-mail obtained through a records request show that John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean were working on creating a business opportunity that would allow each of them to make money,” Slay wrote.

“In the e-mails John Drew describes Senator Bean as the ‘salesman’ and John Drew as the ‘finance guy’ and John Daigle as the ‘creative guy’ and his wife Dr Catherine Drew as the ‘doctor’. They originally sought $600,000 in a special line item appropriation that would allocated to Florida Psychological and Health Care Associates which John Drew is described as President of the Board and is the business agent,” Slay added.

“According to the e-mails Senator Bean was suppose to use the presentation created by John Daigle to sell the www.celphie.org to the Florida Legislature and other states. It now appears that the website has been removed or taken down.  The details surrounding this was reported to the FBI for follow up,” Slay writes.

The FBI, one presumes, isn’t in any hurry to “follow up.”

“In the e-mails John Drew says he is glad FINALLy they will all make money together with this partnership.  It is clear that Senator Aaron Bean and his friend John Drew conspired to use state taxpayer dollars to fund a start up enterprise that would create a special gain for Senator Aaron Bean,” Slay contends.

“I have filed a compliant with the Florida Ethics Commision they have not yet ruled on whether the complaint has met legal sufficiency to warrant a full probable cause investigation into whether Senator Aaron Bean misused his office to create a special gain or benefit for his friend John Drew or himself,” Slay continued.

Slay shopped this narrative to the media after being rebuffed by at least one state attorney.

In June, the office of Angela Corey deemed Slay’s narrative “inaccurate, generally without merit, or otherwise made with reckless disregard for the truth … a circuitous impermissible stacking of inferences and innuendo.”

Slay has some credibility issues, and some with anger management as well, as multiple injunctions for protection against domestic violence suggest.

Mr. Slay, the respondent, had been married to Hope Slay for six years in 2004 when things took a turn toward reportable incident.

The respondent “called from cell phone threatening to kill me — told me to be gone from the house before he got back or he’d kill me,” Hope Slay asserted.

“The next day – he harassed me at work, again threatening to kill me, make me lose my job, and attempted to wipe all my money out of my bank account,” Hope Slay continued.

“He has pulled a gun on me several times — continually threatens me and my children — has attempted to harm the children as well,” Hope Slay added.

“I fear for my life and he has a violent temper. I’m afraid he will snap and kill me,” Hope Slay continued.

That wasn’t Slay’s only domestic violence complaint. In 2007, Bambi Hubbard had her own need to file for protection.

On Oct. 26, Hubbard accused Slay of “threats on my home and threats on my life … threats that he will see me in prison no matter what it takes or [costs] him.”

Carlos Slay got thumped in his race for Tax Collector. But at least in terms of an ephemeral March 2017 news cycle, he scored a pyrrhic victory.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the charges being levied against Bean: consider the original source.

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Sunburn for 3.20.17 – Budget realities; A-dot-Bean’s papers; Jeb vs. Charlie on Everglades; CRC’s first meeting today

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

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

BREAKING SUNDAY NIGHT – AIRBNB REACHES TAX DEAL WITH MIAMI-DADE COUNTY via Chabeli Herrera of the Miami Herald – Under the agreement, Airbnb will collect the 6 percent Miami-Dade resort tax from its hosts and remit that money to the county every month. If trends continue, that would amount to at least $8 million a year for the county, said Benjamin Breit, an Airbnb spokesman. The agreement largely excludes Miami Beach and Bal Harbour because each city has its own resort tax set at 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. However, Airbnb will begin collecting the 3 percent convention tax from hosts in Miami Beach as part of the county tax deal.

FLORIDA’S ECONOMY STILL GROWING, BUT BUDGET CUTS STILL LOOM

State economists say Florida’s economy is growing, but it won’t be enough to dissuade legislators from cutting state spending.

State officials met Friday to draw up new forecasts to predict how much the state will collect in taxes over the next few years. The forecasts will be used by state legislators to draw up this year’s budget.

Economists predict the state’s main budget account will grow by 4.4 percent during the fiscal year that ends in June. Those forecasts estimate growth of nearly 4 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The changes are projected to add $115 million to state accounts.

But that’s a small adjustment given the size of the $82 billion state budget. Citing a potential shortfall over the next few years, House Republicans are planning to cut $1.4 billion.

— “Florida’s revenue picture improves a little — but not enough to really matter” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics

“IF WE ARE GOING TO WIN THIS YEAR, IT’S BECAUSE OF JACK LATVALA.” via Gary Fineout of The Fine Print – It’s no secret that Latvala … now the Senate budget chief – has had up and down relationships with a lot of people in the political process, including the current governor. But Latvala … is now becoming more and more aligned with Scott in his ongoing feud with House Republicans over the fate of the state’s tourism marketing program and the state’s economic development agency. Latvala has already sounded off that he does not agree with the House approach – which is to completely eliminate Enterprise Florida and place tight restrictions on Visit Florida.

This ongoing disagreement threatens to prevent the GOP-controlled Legislature from passing a new state budget. But it was still a tad surprising to see Scott – caught on camera last week – showering Latvala with effusive praise …  “If we’re going to win this year, it’s because of Sen Jack Latvala,” Scott said. “He’s going to stand with us all the way through. And he’s going to take a lot of arrows for doing it. I’m going to tell you he’s got broad shoulders and he can do it.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable with business owners, economic development leaders, tourism leaders, and community members to discuss the local economic impact of VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida. Roundtable begins 10:30 a.m. at Harbinger Sign, 5300 Shad Road in Jacksonville.

RICHARD CORCORAN DEFENDS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES TO PENSACOLA GROUP via Joseph Baucum of the Pensacola News-Journal – “What they’re talking about is an unfair system where they get to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and when that happens the entire marketplace loses,” Corcoran argued of Enterprise Florida proponents, while speaking to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club. As part of its functions, the agency recruits outside businesses to the state through administering and doling out incentives to companies such as tax breaks and funding. “Instead of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, which does more on its own to lift people out of poverty, they ought to be using that money for education, for infrastructure, for giving back taxes to the people or broad-based, fair tax cuts in the business marketplace, which is why people move here more than any other reason,” he continued.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 13; NFL Draft – 38; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 45; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 45; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 166; Election Day 2017 – 231; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 269.

DOCUMENTS: AARON BEAN HELPED FRIEND WITH SECRET $1 MILLION STATE PAYMENT via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – A state senator helped a friend’s business obtain $1 million hidden in the state budget after the two discussed how the lawmaker would promote the business, budget documents and emails show. Sen. Aaron Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically. The Drews operate Florida Psychological Associates in Fernandina Beach in northeastern Florida. They used the state money to start a pilot program that conducts early mental health assessments for schoolchildren and criminal defendants. Part of the program includes the development of a web application named “Celphie.” Bean … initially asked legislative leaders to add nearly $700,000 as a line item in the state budget for the program, but that request was knocked down to $100,000 and eventually rejected by House members, records show.

>>>Couldn’t an alt headline for this story be, “Senator helps secure funding for program he supports”

Brian Burgess doesn’t think so; he blogs, “Bean needs to spill the beans.

SENATE TAX CUT PROPOSAL, AS IS, MAY BE ON THE ROPES via Florida Politics – A tax cut that’s a priority of Senate President Negron is running into resistance from his fellow senators. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Negron’s right hand in the chamber, is running the bill (SB 378) to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers. On Friday evening, Flores said “there have been conversations” among some senators—she didn’t say whom—who want to  restructure the bill, still taking the tax credits from the insurance industry but instead applying them to another cost driver … When asked if a compromise could be struck, Flores said she wanted the legislation “to be a collaborative bill, so right now this is a work in progress.”

SOUTH FLORIDA JEWISH PROGRAMS COULD BE HIT BY BUDGET CUTS via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – A Jewish Family Services caretaking program for survivors in southeast Palm Beach County could lose $92,946 from its annual $2.5 million budget, while the Federation Transportation Services, which provides transportation for low-income seniors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, could lose $143,640 from its $922,000 budget. State Sen. Kevin Rader … who represents the area covered by the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program, called the cuts “meshugganah,” meaning crazy. The money is part of a $20 million budget cut proposed by state Sen. Anitere Flores … the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. She did not respond to multiple interview requests. Rader is also on the committee.

WHY DO HOUSE REPUBLICANS KEEP DRIVING MONEY INTO THE WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME? via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – The House voted March 10 by a 87-28 vote to kill 24 tax credits — but saved the one paid to the Hall of Fame. [The] hard line against incentives makes the golf museum a curious outlier. World Golf Hall of Fame president Jack Peter said the facility has never come close to hitting 300,000 in annual attendance, but it has increased marketing to attract golfers to Florida. The facility frequently advertises the Hall of Fame during PGA Tour events. He said the promotional value was $6.5 million just last year. Peter said he would like the attendance to grow, but insists the facility is still benefiting the state in promotional value. For every $1 the state invests in the Hall of Fame, it loses every dollar. And the state still incurs other costs, meaning for every dollar the state invests it gets nothing back and loses an additional 8 cents for every dollar invested. That translates to a loss of $4 million over the life of the 1998 agreement in addition to the $50 million the state paid in tax credits.

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

JOE NEGRON MEETS WITH ABOUT 400 IN PAHOKEE via TCPalm.com –  Kamara Woodson, of Belle Glade, was one of about 400 in the audience during a discussion with Senate President Negron and other area politicians at Pahokee Middle/High School in Pahokee. Many Glades residents are upset by the proposal of Senate Bill 10, headed by Negron, that would take 60,000 acres out of production in order to minimize Lake Okeechobee water being discharged to the east and west. “Every community has a responsibility,” Negron told the crowd.

LAKE O LAND BUY WILL KILL JOBS, RUIN GLADES, RESIDENTS TELL STATE via Susan Salisbury of the Palm Beach Post – Dozens of machinists union members wore black T-shirts emblazoned with “Save our Jobs” in white letters. Sugar cane and vegetable farmers bore green-and-white “Stop the land grab,” and “Hands off my tractor,” signs. Others hung toilet seats around their necks, stating, “Clean up your own septic mess,” a reference to the estimated 250,000 to 600,000 septic tanks draining into Lake Okeechobee from the north. The auditorium was filled to its capacity of 400, and several hundred people who quietly waited outside were turned away. Police estimated the total number of people who turned out at 1,000. “We cannot, do not and will not support SB 10 as it is today,” said Lynda Moss, a Pahokee resident whose family owns and operates Moss Towing and Trucking in South Bay. “The devastation from the loss of jobs is unimaginable at this point.” Years ago, farmers were mandated to clean up Lake Okeechobee and have exceeded their goals, Moss said.

SHOT: “Charlie Crist pushed for Everglades restoration plan he scrapped in 2008” via Sunshine State News

CHASER: “Charlie Crist stood in the way of Everglades restoration” via Jeb Bush for Sunshine State News

CHRIS SPROWLS SEEKS TO SAVE CHILDREN’S INSURANCE PLAN via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times – The plan, known as Sunshine Health Stars Plus, covered nearly 10,000 children across the state, some of whom had special needs and were unable to get coverage elsewhere. Despite its popularity, the plan was canceled last year, after the public-private organization Florida Healthy Kids said it had become too expensive to offer. Plan administrators blamed the Affordable Care Act, which ushered in regulations that mandated more benefits and abolished spending limits on essential health benefits for children. Last week, Sprowls sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, explaining what had happened to the Stars Plus plan. In the letter, he asked Price to consider exempting the plan from some of ACA’s requirements so that Healthy Kids could “continue to offer quality, affordable care to the children of Florida.”

LEGISLATORS FOCUS ON HOSPITAL COSTS, COMPETITION via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – The House speaker and the Governor have clashed often and early in this year’s legislative session. But they agree the certificate-of-need law that governs how many hospitals can be built should be repealed. This year, lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills to repeal certificate-of-need laws for hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. The governor has publicly supported the concept. But many lawmakers think hospitals, which are under financial fire from all sides this year, are the biggest priority. If anything passes, it probably will be a modified version that excludes hospices and nursing homes, said Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican nurse and hospital administrator from Sebring. “I think the current discussion is being geared to focus on hospitals,” Grimsley said.

LAWMAKERS SHIFT COURSE ON IMMIGRATION POLICY via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Trump has realigned the state’s immigration debate and GOP lawmakers are moving in the opposition direction … The heated immigration rhetoric from the presidential campaign is echoing across Florida’s Capitol as state officials debate legislation designed to crack down on immigrants who do not have legal status. “At the end of the day Donald Trump won and he won on a strong immigration platform,” said state Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is sponsoring one of the immigration bills and co-sponsoring two others. “We’re a nation of laws and here in Florida we’re no different; people have to respect the rule of law.” GOP lawmakers are proposing harsher penalties for immigrants in the country illegally who commit violent crimes, punishing local governments that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, rolling back the college tuition benefit approved in 2014, forcing businesses to verify the legal status of their employees and a range of other immigration proposals.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS DECRY BILL THAT WOULD LIMIT REGULATIONS via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel – A bill in the Legislature that would limit the authority of cities and counties to regulate businesses has Central Florida governments worried they could lose control over everything from noise restrictions to strip clubs. The legislation (HB 17) proposed by Rep. Randy Fine would prohibit local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses, professions or occupations unless the restrictions are specifically authorized by state law. Fine said his bill would help businesses thrive in Florida, by making regulations more consistent across the state. Currently, they can vary greatly from city to city and county to county. But city and county officials across the state argue the bill would upend Florida’s decades-old tradition of home rule, taking decisions away from the local politicians who know their communities best.

RAY RODRIGUES STANCE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA ANGERS AMENDMENT 2 ADVOCATES via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot. “Here’s what we know … Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent. However, … The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”

SENATE’S ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ BILL TEED UP FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday … Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice. A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

HOUSE SEEKS TO END CONTROVERSIAL STATE EMPLOYEE CHARITY PROGRAM via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics –  A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee … The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee. The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary. The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities. Participation in the program is voluntary.

HOUSE TO TAKE UP RED-LIGHT CAMERA REPEAL via The Associated Press – The bill (HB 6007), which has easily passed House committees and is slated for a Wednesday floor session, would repeal a law that allows cities and counties to install and use red-light cameras. The ban would take effect July 1, 2020 … But the issue has stalled this year in the Senate. A repeal bill (SB 178) failed to get approval last month from the Senate Transportation Committee, which deadlocked 2-2 on the heavily lobbied issue.

— “A week on the ground in Tallahassee with PolitiFact Florida” via Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact Florida

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

— OPINIONS GALORE —

DARRYL PAULSON: DO UNIVERSITIES DISCRIMINATE? THE ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH via Florida Politics – Most universities recruit students by offering specialized curricula, top quality faculty and promising to expose students to diverse views which will stimulate creative thinking and prepare the student for life after their university experience. Universities may be partially successful on the first two items, but dramatically fail in exposing students to diverse viewpoints. It is hard to think of a more close-minded institution than the American university. Groupthink and ideological orthodoxy are the standard practices on campuses. There are many professors, both liberals and conservatives, who excel at awakening students to new ideas and who maintain neutrality in expressing those views. Too many professors, dominated by the political left, push their political agenda as the correct approach to the exclusion of alternative viewpoints. Students believe that speech that offends others should be punished. Who will judge what is offensive? Unpopular speech should be challenged, not censored.

AARON BEAN, JENNIFER SULLIVAN: FOSTER CARE PROGRAM FOR TEEN DRIVERS DESERVES SUPPORT via Florida Politics – Florida legislators unanimously passed the Keys to Independence Act, an innovative three-year pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and managed by Community Based Care of Central Florida. The program, which launched in 2014, helps children as young as 15 get a learner’s permit by enrolling them in driver’s education courses and monitoring their progress until they earn a license … Keys to Independence has been a resounding success. In just a short time, the number of teens in foster care who have a driver’s license has almost tripled, and 1,035 participants are currently enrolled, including more than 330 in Tampa and Sarasota … why we are sponsoring a companion bill during the upcoming legislative session to make this program a permanent fixture for Florida’s youth. We urge our fellow lawmakers to once again give Keys to Independence their full support. We have seen how it has improved lives, and we look forward to its continued success far into the future.

GLENN BURHANS, JR.: #CASHMEOUTSIDE – ANOTHER FLORIDA POL TRIPPED UP BY CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS via Florida Politics – Former state Rep. Dwayne Taylor was recently indicted on nine counts of wire fraud stemming from the alleged embezzlement of campaign funds … also accused of submitting fraudulent campaign expenditure reports to cover up the alleged embezzlement. Here a few tips to avoid some common miscues: Contributions and expenditures can only be made for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election – do not use them for any other purpose. Campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses, except for costs incurred by a candidate or family member for transportation, meals and lodging during campaign travel. When in doubt, ask your campaign attorney. Candidates should not serve as their own campaign treasurer; instead, appoint someone that is independent and experienced in campaign accounting, preferably a CPA. Keep campaign and personal accounts segregated. The law is complex and the cost of non-compliance can be significant. When in doubt, consult your friendly neighborhood campaign finance professional to avoid costly consequences.

SERVING UP BEER THE RIGHT WAY IN FLORIDA via Matt Thompson for Florida Politics – At the three local Tallahassee establishments I own, Madison Social, Township and Centrale, we serve more than 30 types of beer from breweries all across the country. But in my establishments, like most bars and restaurants, we sometimes don’t have access to one key element that would improve the beer-drinking experience for customers — the right glassware … This glassware serves a real purpose, because the glass a beer is served in can draw out that beer’s unique quality and flavor profile … the beer industry would often like to supply us with their branded glassware in an effort to elevate consumers’ experience as they enjoy their product. Yet, due to a current Florida law, the industry is prevented from giving retailers, including bars and restaurants, their appropriate branded glassware at no cost … House Bill 853, by Representative Goodson and Senate Bill 1040, by Senator Artiles, that would allow the industry to provide the appropriate glassware to accompany their beers to Florida bars and restaurants.

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

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill to broaden a law that makes it a crime for people that know they have an STD to have sex without informing their partners when it meets at noon in Morris Hall. The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee will discuss a bill to require the education commissioner to post the tests that students have taken in previous years when it meets at noon in Reed Hall. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee will discuss legislation to exempt credit unions from regulations under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act when it meets at noon in 404 House Office Building. The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee will discuss a bill to help children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK — 2017 FLORIDA CHAMBER CAPITOL DAYS – The Florida Chamber of Commerce will host its 2017 Capitol Days this week at the Turnbull Conference Center at Florida State University. The two-day event kicks off on Tuesday, with welcome addresses from Syd Kitson, the chairman of the board; Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber; and Jerry Parrish, the organization’s chief economist and director of research. Attendees will also hear from the government affairs team, before heading over to the Capitol to meet with members of the Legislature. The conference continues Wednesday, with presentations on insurance reform, the Constitution Revision Commission, economic development and tourism. CFO Jeff Atwater is slated to give the keynote address on Wednesday, followed by a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

SAVE THE DATEVance Aloupis is holding a fundraising reception Thursday, March 23, in his bid for House District 115. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Sachs Media Group offices, 114 S. Duval St. in Tallahassee. RSVP at rsvp@vancealoupis.com.

SAVE THE DATE: Gov. Scott is the special guest Thursday, March 23, at a fundraiser for James Buchanan in his bid for House District 71. Event begins 6 p.m. at the home of Col. John and Denise Saputo, 10 Lighthouse Point Dr. in Longboat Key. RSVP with Lea Buchanan (941) 685-1245 or info@BuchananForFlorida.com.

BOB BUESING CONTEMPLATES 2018 REMATCH VERSUS DANA YOUNG via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – One of the most bitter races in all of Florida politics last year took place in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democrat Buesing faced Republican state Rep. Dana Young and independent Joe Redner. With redistricting, half the state’s 40 Senate seats are up for re-election again next year, and Buesing said Friday he is considering another run against Young in 2018. “It’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the community,” said the 63-year-old Buesing, a longtime attorney with the law firm of Trenam Kemker who before last year had never run for public office. “I’ll make a very reasoned decision, and once I talk to a lot of people, try to do what’s best for the community and if nobody else on the team is going to do this, and somebody needs to do [it], then I’ll think about it.” Buesing figures to improve his performance in 2018, especially if Redner is not part of the equation. “I met with Joe Redner and he looked me in the eye and said he’d be proud to endorse me,” Buesing said. “And said he’s not going to run.”

STRONG FEBRUARY PUT FRANCIS SUAREZ CAMPAIGN FOR MIAMI MAYOR OVER THE $2 MILLION MARK via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – Campaign records for February show that Suarez — who has yet to draw an opponent with a single dollar to his name — has cracked the $2 million mark. Despite the lack of moneyed competition, he says he’ll keep raising money, continuing with a $1,000-a-plate breakfast at the Riviera Country Club with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. “We’re going to have a very strong March, a very strong April, and it’s looking like we’ll have a very strong May, as well,” he said.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian Bautista, Impact GR: American Compliance Technologies

Travis BlantonJon Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: American Council of Life Insurers

Taylor Biehl, Capitol Alliance Group: ClickAClinic

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: The Martinique Club of Naples

Ron BookKelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: City of Miami Gardens

David Custin, David R. Custin & Associates: Beach Towing Services; Tremont Towing

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Olympus Insurance Company; Transamerica Life Insurance Company

Nicole GraganellaTrevor MaskKatherine Webb, Colodny Fass: Easter Seals South West Florida, Inc.

Nick IarossiAshley KallifehAndrew KetchelRon LaFaceScott RossChristopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: MiMedx Group

Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: Transamerica Life Insurance Company

Eli NortelusDavid Roberts, Nortelus Roberts Group: Florida Independent Spirits Association

Marlene Quintana, GrayRobinson: City of Hollywood

Margaret Timmins, Timmins Consulting: South Central Florida Express; Southern Gardens Citrus Groves Corporation; Southern Gardens Citrus Holding Corporation

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO APPLY FOR SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION via Florida Transportation Commission – The deadline is now 5 p.m., Monday, May 1. The department seeks a replacement for Jim Boxold, who resigned in January to join the Capital City Consulting firm in Tallahassee. The department has over 6,000 employees and an annual budget of $10.8 billion. The commission will conduct interviews and nominate three candidates for submission to Gov. Scott. The next secretary will be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the governor. Resumes can be sent to Jay Trumbull, Chairman of the Florida Transportation Commission, 605 Suwannee Street, M.S. 9; Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0450, by fax to (850) 414-4234 or e-mail <matthew.ubben@dot.state.fl.us>.

STATE STUDY PROPOSES HUGE REDUCTION OF DOWNTOWN OFFICE SPACE via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – A report is calling for the state to sell off almost half of its buildings between the Capitol and Cascades Park – a move that would radically change downtown Tallahassee and create significant opportunities for private development. Many of those are landmark buildings that date back to the Hoover and Eisenhower administrations and include the headquarters for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of Corrections. The recommendations are part of a 258-page report from Savills Studley Occupational Services, commissioned by the Department of Management Services, to address the state’s long-range office space needs in Leon County, where the largest concentration of state employees live and work. The Legislature approved funding for the $772,655 study. Those strategies would open up sites for private sector development that could create jobs, infill urban blight and boost tax revenues, said Jay Revell, vice president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. (Click on the image below to watch a video of the proposed renovations.)

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

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION QUIETLY GEARS UP FOR ITS FIRST SESSION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The group is scheduled to meet Monday between 2 and 4 p.m. in the Florida Senate chamber to go over ethics and adopt the group’s rules. It will then launch a series of public hearings around the state, said the group’s chairman Carlos Beruff. The outstanding question is what will the rules be? Word is they are using the rules adopted by the 1998 CRC as a starting point. Members of that commission credit the rules — which established effective procedures for building consensus in the political diverse group — as contributing to the successful passage of the recommended amendments by voters in 1998. Another question: will the practices of the notoriously open-records averse Governor rub off on the commission and Beruff? At least one member of the commission is an expert on the state’s Sunshine laws and the Governor’s views. Senate President Joe Negron‘s appointee, Martin County Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann, served briefly as Scott’s director of open government.

ABORTION, SCHOOL ISSUES COULD ROIL CONSTITUTION PANEL via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – … (P)rogressive activists are poised for potential fireworks this year over abortion and public schools. At the heart of the concern from progressive groups is the appointment of John Stemberger, a lawyer and president of the Orlando-based conservative activist group Florida Family Policy Council. He was named to the 37-member commission by Speaker Corcoran … Actually changing the constitution to give more legal standing to abortion restriction laws could be difficult to accomplish, he admits. The commission must agree to put it on the ballot, and 60 percent of voters must approve it for it to become law.

SANDY D’ALEMBERTE: CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION SHOULD OPERATE IN THE SUNSHINE via the Tallahassee Democrat – Just as we end national Sunshine Week, recognizing the importance of open government to a democracy, Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission begins work with its first meeting … The Commission will examine the Florida Constitution and make recommendations to voters. In that examination, the Commission will understand there is much that is unique to the Florida Constitution – including the provision for the Commission itself. The Commission will begin adopting its own rules. Of particular interest is whether the Commission will operate according to the principles of openness that characterize Florida government. In addressing this issue, Commission members will want to look at the Constitution and consider the Declaration of Rights, which guarantees access to public meetings and public records. This provision also is unique to Florida.

FLORIDA INSURERS KEEP A GRADES AFTER CONSOLIDATION, DEMOTECH SAYS via Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post – Ratings agency Demotech Inc. said several Florida insurers kept A grades amid a flurry of moves to shore up their financial strength but warned future downgrades remain possible. Insurers under pressure added about $200 million in loss reserves and $155 million in capital contributions … The Ohio-based ratings company warned in the aftermath of 2016 storms and continuing problems with Florida claims where contractors and attorneys control benefits that it remains “likely that insurers may face downgrades in the future.” In February, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged U.S. Treasury officials to take any actions necessary to prevent a “disaster” if thousands of Florida homeowners go into default because Demotech lowered safety grades on several property insurers.

LOTTERY RAKES IN CASH BUT FEWER STUDENTS, PARTICULARLY POOR ONES, MAKE CUT FOR SCHOLARSHIPS via Kyra Gurney of the Miami Herald – Since the Florida Legislature started instituting tougher standards tied to higher test scores beginning in 2011, Miami-Dade schools with large populations of low-income and African-American and Hispanic students have seen a drastic decrease in the number of students who qualify for what has long been billed as the Lottery’s primary payout for education. When lawmakers changed the scholarship standards, they said the goal was to control spiraling costs in the wake of Florida’s foreclosure crisis and plummeting government revenue. Now, the economy is again humming, revenue has rebounded and the Florida Lottery has seen record-breaking sales for five years in a row, earning more than $6 billion last year. But the Bright Futures program last year dropped to the lowest level of funding since 2003. Money paid out for scholarships has been cut nearly in half over seven years and the number of incoming freshmen awarded last year was almost as low as when the program was created in 1997. And, along with hiking the standards, lawmakers have cut the size of the awards.

RISE OF THE (PRE-REVEAL) MACHINES: THE COMING BATTLE IN FLORIDA GAMBLING? via Florida Politics – A recent ruling by a Tallahassee judge could result in Florida being inundated by a slot machine-style entertainment device in bars, arcades and even dog and horse tracks. It’s also not yet clear whether the decision could trigger a violation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s exclusivity rights in its gambling “compact” with the state. That would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue. Circuit Judge John Cooper earlier this month issued a declaratory judgment that a specific kind of game, usually called a “pre-reveal” game, was “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Cooper limited his opinion to a specific kind of game, “Version 67,” provided by Gator Coin II in Jacksonville. Other states, such as North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, however. “I tried to rationalize to myself why people would play this game when they knew they were going to lose,” Cooper said in court, according to a transcript.

FOR YBOR CITY IN FLORIDA, A HISTORIC CIGAR TOWN FACES A CLOUDY FUTURE via Jason Wilson of The Washington Post – Yet even with all cigar connoisseurship happening up and down Seventh Avenue, it was hard to ignore that Ybor City — a National Historic Landmark District — had seen better days. In the early 20th century, Tampa had been the undisputed cigar capital of the world, outproducing even Havana. In its heyday, the city had more than 150 factories, employing about 10,000 workers and rolling more than 500 million cigars each year. Now, beyond the small storefront producers still rolling premium handmade cigars, only one large cigar factory remains. A major reason for the decline of the cigar business — and one largely unspoken in the telling of Ybor City’s history — is, of course, our society’s realization that smoking of any kind is not a healthy pastime. For decades, and for good reason, smoking has been targeted by the government. Premium cigars, however, have largely skirted the same kind of strict regulation faced by cigarettes because of the assumption that cigars are much less addictive, they’re not to be inhaled and, since good cigars are expensive, they are never marketed to kids and sold mostly in adults-only artisan shops. But several large cigar companies ruined this narrative by selling cheap flavored cigars — strawberry, vanilla, tropical fruit, chocolate, Irish cream, etc. — targeted at young consumers, and these products opened the door for a crackdown by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

ARAMIS AYALA’S ANTI-DEATH PENALTY STAND SURPRISES MANY via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Even some of Ayala‘s supporters said they were taken aback by her decision. Lawson Lamar, a former state attorney and sheriff, who backed her run for office, said: “Anyone who raises their hand and takes the oath to be state attorney must be able to go with the death penalty even if they feel it’s distasteful.” Ayala’s campaign was helped by a Washington-based political action committee with ties to liberal Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros. The committee gave Ayala’s campaign almost $1 million, as well as millions of dollars to candidates in local races around the nation. When asked if the donations influenced her decision, she said it did not. Florida has 381 inmates on death and shows no sign of slowing down future prosecutions. The other state attorneys in Florida issued a statement Friday saying they would continue to seek the death penalty.

REST OF FLORIDA PROSECUTORS VOW TO SEEK DEATH SENTENCES via the Palm Beach Post – A day after a newly elected prosecutor said she would not seek the death penalty in capital cases, the remainder of Florida’s 20 state attorneys affirmed Friday they intend to pursue death sentences when appropriate. The statement by the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association came as a number of African-American leaders declared their support for 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ayala, who sparked an outcry from several of the state’s elected officials over her decision not to seek the death penalty in the case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd — or in any other case. “Throughout 19 of the 20 circuits of Florida, the death penalty will continue to be sought in those cases which qualify for its implementation,” the association said in a statement … “The victims’ families of Florida deserve our dedication to implement all the laws of Florida. That is why the people of Florida have elected us.” What picture you which one Jesus Christ all doing what I can like two different things what points just frustrated I cannot see I’m having trouble my eyes today.

— “Aramis Ayala should follow law in death penalty case, not try to make it” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics

— “Buddy Dyer: ‘What Markeith Loyd did deserves the death penalty’” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Julianne Holt expresses concerns about Rick Scott’s benching of Aramis Ayala” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “Markeith Loyd: The ugly politics of life and death” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Police union head John Rivera calls Aramis Ayala coward” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

PROSECUTORS: NO CRIME IN INMATE’S HOT-SHOWER DEATH via The Associated Press – Prosecutors in Florida have found no evidence of a crime in the death of a prison inmate left for nearly two hours in a hot shower, concluding that he died accidentally in part because of undiagnosed heart disease and suffered no burn injuries. The memo by the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle ends a lengthy criminal probe into the 2012 death of 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally troubled man serving a two-year sentence on a cocaine charge. An attorney for Rainey’s family, Milton Grimes of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the family is “disappointed and heartbroken” no charges will be brought.

STATE DROPS CHARGES IN CASE THAT SHOOK FLORIDA POLITICS via The Associated Press – Florida is dropping charges against an attorney once accused of being at the center of a $300 million gambling ring that led to the 2013 resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis was convicted of 103 counts of racketeering, possessing slot machines and other charges and sentenced to six years in prison. But an appeals court last year ruled that Mathis deserved a new trial because his attorneys were not allowed to call witnesses that could have bolstered his defense against the charges. The Florida Supreme Court in February declined to take up the case. The legal setback meant Florida either had to start over with a new trial or drop the charges.

***Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur are fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala and Rep. Brodeur that you support them and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at ProtectFLBusiness.com.***

TWEET, TWEET: @HalseyBeshears: What a shame FSU is knocked out this early with this much talent. No coaching. #hehastogo

EX-FLORIDA STATE DB MYRON ROLLE TO BEGIN HARVARD MEDICAL RESIDENCY via ESPN.com – Rolle, who was a Rhodes scholar and then enrolled in medical school, will begin a neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston …  Rolle, 30, played three seasons as a defensive back for the Seminoles, graduating early in 2008. He deferred an NFL career for a year to earn a master’s degree in medical anthropology at Oxford. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010 but never played a regular-season game in the NFL. In 2013, he returned to Tallahassee and entered FSU’s medical school.

36 HOURS IN ST. PETE BEACH, FLA. (AND ENVIRONS) via Colleen Creamer of the New York Times — Not far from downtown St. Petersburg lies a string of barrier islands edged with a perfect seam of white sugar sand beaches. The main town of what is often referred to as the “Gulf beaches” is bustling St. Pete Beach. Neighboring communities like Indian Shores, Madeira Beach and Treasure Island are more “Mad Men” than “Miami Vice” — charming specimens of an older era, studded with midcentury gems like the Bon-Aire Resort Motelthe Algiers Beach Motel and the Postcard Inn. The pace is much calmer than, say, Miami Beach, or Fort Lauderdale. Early morning walks along the water can be blessedly solitary. The nights, however, are hopping. Each community has its own coterie of tiki and beach bars, often within a stroll of one another along the sand. … The beaches have more than enough activity to fill a few days; if possible, head inland to visit St. Petersburg, with its seven arts districts; the splendid Salvador Dalí Museum, which attracts visitors from around the globe; or Haslam’s Book Store, a mecca for book lovers and writers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly Allison North Jones and Justin York. Celebrating today are Reps. Shawn Harrison and Larry Metz, as well as Jacob Engels, Bill Helmich, Sal Nuzzo, and Aakash Patel.

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Stephen Bittel concedes to Florida progressives – ‘it will take time for you to trust me’

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel walked into political version of a lion’s den over the weekend in Tampa and came out it not only unscathed, but maybe even a bit emboldened.

“That was a warmer greeting than I was expecting,” the recently-elected leader said in reaction to the modest applause that he received after he was introduced to the 120 members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus at the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association building on Saturday.

“I know my election doesn’t make everyone comfortable,” the wealthy real estate developer added, referring to the fact that he was the clear favorite among FDP establishment figures like Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who was booed whenever her name was mentioned at Saturday’s session) in the brief campaign for party leadership, following another disappointing cycle for Democrats statewide in 2016.

Bittel was elected party chair in January, getting 55 percent of the vote against four other candidates, but it was the controversial circumstances surrounding his election as Miami-Dade County that still sticks in the mind of a number of party members.

FDP bylaws mandate that only local party chairs or committeemen and committeewomen are eligible to run for the state party chair, positions that Bittel did not hold last December, as the race to succeed Allison Tant began heating up..

But a committeeman position magically opened up for him after Miami-Dade County state committeeman Bret Berlin voluntarily gave up his position less than a week after being elected by Miami Democrats.

In Tampa, however, Bittel played the self deprecating card.

“This is not my party, this is our party,” he insisted. “I don’t do a good job of managing my house. I don’t do a good job of managing my business. I try to find smarter better people than me. I want you to help manage me.”

Quoting Pinellas County Democrat Amos Meirs that the purpose of the Progressive Caucus is to build a bridge to the state party, Bittel said that bridge “has to be built from both sides.”

On substance, Bittel said the party needed structural changes, referring to his selection of an ad hoc committee currently reviewing reforming the charter bylaws. He also said he was “sad” to learn that the state party “had not spent investing ability into our email lists so we could reach out and have more small dollar contributions.”

He also said that beginning this week he’ll be speaking out on public policies now the the legislative session is underway, talking about ex-felon rights, mass incarceration and the death penalty (the caucus supported a resolution in support of embattle Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala for statement last week that she  would not seek the death penalty against alleged cop killer Markeith Lloyd).

“It will take time for you to trust me,” he later conceded, ultimately getting more than a third of the audience to stand and cheer him as he finished his speech.

Among the folks who Bittel was trying to win over was Zenia Perez, a member of the Miami Dade Democratic Executive Committee who was elected on Saturday as at large member to the Progressive Caucus.

Perez served as the Credential Chair for the Miami-Dade DEC during the saga that led to Bittel becoming a committeeman, a process she describes as a “fiasco.”

“I’m just a little ashamed of how we conducted ourselves,” she told FloridaPolitics on Saturday. “We kind of became an embarrassment to the state in a time where it’s critical that our leadership follow the rules, because they want us all to come together.”

Referring to Bittel’s appearance, Perez said it was his job to be there and listen to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, adding, “but then you have to work on it.”

A grassroots supporter for Bernie Sanders who also worked on Tim Canova’s unsuccessful congressional campaign against Wasserman Schultz, Perez said she was impressed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who gave the keynote speech this weekend at the Progressive Caucus forum.

“I think he’s going to be a really fun candidate to see on the trail,” she says of Gillum, who was also in Jacksonville this weekend to introduce himself to Democratic voters.

Perez says she has also met potential gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham, and said that she felt after meting her she could definitely vote for her, meeting Gillum sort of knocked her socks off.

“I’m like whoa- I want to knock on doors for you. I want to work for you,”  adding that she likes his plans on educations, the economy and criminal justice reform.

Here’s a list of officers and board members selected by the progressive caucus on Saturday:

President- Susan Smith (Hillsborough)
Vice-President – Michael Calderin (Broward)
Secretary- Lisa Murano (Palm Beach)
Treasurer – Marilyn Cappiello (Hillsborough)

Board members

Paul Stolc (Leon)
Zenia Perez (Miami-Dade)
Melody Bernal (Osceola)
Mitchell Stollberg (Broward)
Hillary Keyes (Palm Beach)
Wendy Sejour (Miami-Dade)
Mario Piscatella (St. Johns)
Amos Miers (Pinellas)
Nancy Jacobson (Orange)

 

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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Maybe a little bit better?

It’s a favorite question in the Capitol around week 2 of a Legislative Session: When are we getting allocations?

For the uninitiated, allocations are the large portions of money that go to each budget subcommittee to fund the various parts of state government.

“We’re in the early stages of session,” Senate President Joe Negron said this week. “I know that we’re getting to a point where we can start making those decisions. But I don’t think we’ve made a decision on timing yet.”

He added that the Senate is “going to have a tax cut package,” including his plan to cut the communications service tax and pay for it by repealing a tax subsidy to insurers.

But Friday’s newest revenue estimate was cold comfort to 2017-18 budget writers: There’ll be roughly $115 million more than previously forecast — not a lot in the context of an $80 billion-plus state budget.

“They’re going to end up maybe a little bit better than what we were contemplating in September,” legislative chief economist Amy Baker said. “But it’s not materially different.”

Meantime, the House released its “bad-case and worst-case scenarios” also this week.

As Florida Politics’ Michael Moline reported, the state could “pay hospitals less to treat poor people. The state would build less affordable housing. There’d be fewer prosecutors and public defenders. (And) museums, historical preservation, and economic development would be slashed.”

That sure ain’t rosy. Stay tuned…

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

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

Death penalty debate — State Attorney Aramis Ayala created an uproar this week when she announced her office would no longer seek the death penalty in cases, including the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd. The reaction was swift, with lawmakers and law enforcement officers alike criticizing her for her decision. Rep. Bob Cortes said he was outraged and said she owed the people “an explanation for this appalling decision.” Gov. Rick Scott called on Ayala to recuse herself, saying she “made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.” When Ayala didn’t recuse herself, Scott yanked her from the Loyd case and reassigned it to Lake County State Attorney Brad King. The incident came just days after Scott signed the 2017 death penalty fix into law.

Ad war — Gov. Scott’s battle with the Florida House is coming to a television screen near you. The governor’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, released a 30-second TV ad this week, hitting “politicians in Tallahassee” over their decision to go after Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. “The politicians are wrong,” the Naples Republican says in the advertisement. “There’s not a job that’s expendable. Every job’s important. Florida will compete.” The ad, which is expected to start running statewide next week, was released as Scott took part in a roundtable discussion with business, economic development and tourism leaders in Sarasota about the importance of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Earlier in the week, Scott held a rally at the Florida Capitol to call on lawmakers to fully fund Visit Florida.

Stand Your Ground — The Florida Senate voted 25-15 to approve a bill this week that shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors during the pre-trial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases. Sen. Rob Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, said if prosecutors don’t have the evidence to “prevail at this immunity hearing … the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial.” But the bill drew criticism from Democrats who worried about the consequences of the bill. It’s now up to the House to decide whether the change should move forward. The House measure has already cleared the same committee that killed it during the 2016 Legislative Session, and only has one more hearing before it heads to the House floor.

Big bill milestones — A proposal to create statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft got a boost this week when it passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. The passage marked a major milestone for the legislation, which stalled in the upper chamber for the past two sessions. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, includes minimum insurance standards and background check requirements. The Senate Appropriations OK’d a bill requiring school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A similar bill stalled in the Senate during the 2016 Legislative Session. Also this week, the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee overwhelmingly approved a proposal that would make state attorneys and public defenders eligible for impeachment under the governor’s power.

Graham 2018? — Gwen Graham appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid. The Tallahassee Democrat told Miami Beach voters this week that she plans to announce her decision on a gubernatorial run soon, saying she is “making sure everything is methodically planned out.” In February, Graham moved $250,000 from her congressional account, Graham for Congress, to Our Florida, a state political committee. Records show the committee’s chairwoman is Stephanie Toothaker, served as special counsel for former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, the former congresswoman’s father.

What do you do when a basketball legend comes to the Capitol to lobby on HIV/AIDS?

Challenge him to a game of one-on-one, obviously.

That was case this week when Magic Johnson met with Florida lawmakers this week on behalf of Simply Healthcare Plans. The Basketball Hall of Famer is an investor in the company, whose contract is up for renewal. And while Johnson met with House and Senate members to talk about the importance of testing and HIV/AIDS awareness, lawmakers took some time to snap photos, get his signature and bask in the five-time NBA champion’s shadow.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson signs autographs after meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus this week.

Sen. Lauren Book introduced her newborn twins to Johnson; while he and Senate President Joe Negron chatted about baseball (Johnson is the co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Negron is an avid Atlanta Braves fan).

Members produced balls to sign, and Sen. Randolph Bracy, a basketball standout at College of William and Mary, asked Johnson if he was ready to hit the court.

“I told him I wanted to get a game of one-on-one,” he said.

Johnson chuckled, saying they wouldn’t “have enough time” for game this visit.

You might want to call him Professor.

Sen. Jack Latvala gave advocates of economic development in the western Panhandle a quick lesson in legislating during a meeting of the Commerce and Tourism Committee this week.

Warren Yeager, a former county commissioner who oversees development projects in Bay County financed by the BP oil spill settlement, spoke in favor of allotting a percentage of the money to each county.

That seems to be where the House is headed, but the Senate bill doesn’t provide for it.

Latvala moved to salve any fears. He said he’s seen as many as five House bills on the topic, adding that it’s early in the session.

“Part of that process is to negotiate with those folks down at the other end down there. If you give them everything they want right up front, then there’s no reason for them to negotiate,” Latvala said. “So, as you express your concerns, just understand that some of us have been around doing this for a while, and we’re going to be prepared to represent your interests.”

Come on, get happy, Florida.

According to a new report from WalletHub, only one Florida city ranked in the Top 50 happiest places to live in the United States. The report, which compared 150 of the largest cities in the United States across 30 key indicators, ranked Cape Coral as the 44th happiest place to live in 2017.

The Southwest Florida city was ranked 28th when it came to “community and environment” and 43rd when it came to “emotional and physical well-being.”

Orlando earned a place in the No. 57 spot, followed by Port St. Lucie in the No. 60 spot. Pembroke Pines was ranked 65th, while Tallahassee landed in the No. 76 spot on the WalletHub list. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah Jacksonville, Tampa and St. Petersburg were all ranked in the 100s.

According to the WalletHub report, the happiest place to live in 2017 is Fremont, California.

But wait: Floridians are happy!

The annual Gallup-Healthways survey of 189 cities across the country showed the Naples region scored the highest when it comes to community well-being. This marked the second year the Southwest Florida community topped the list.

Naples wasn’t the only Florida community ranked as one of the highest well-being communities in the Gallup-Healthways report. The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area was ranked sixth, while Port St. Lucie came in No. 30.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area was ranked No. 35, followed by Cape Coral-Fort Myers in the No. 38 spot. The Tampa Bay region landed in the 115 spot and Tallahassee was ranked 120th.

According to the annual report, overall well-being reached a record high in 2016.

Florida was ranked 11th overall when it came to the state’s well-being.

The Florida Court & Comptrollers is all about Sunshine.

The statewide association pledged to continue to support open government this week in recognition of 2017 Sunshine Week.

“As Constitutional Officers and public trustees, we hold our offices to a high standard and know that providing citizens access to public information ensures dependability, clarity, and openness in government,” said Nassau County Clerk and Comptroller and FCCC President John Crawford in a statement. “Our recognition of Sunshine Week serves to reaffirm the commitment we have to uphold open government in all of Florida’s 67 counties and defend each citizen’s right to know.”

The Florida First Amendment Foundation honored Brevard County Clerk Scott Ellis with the 2016 2016 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award in recognition of his commitment to open government during its annual luncheon this week.

Call him a champion for Florida’s at-risk children.

Gov. Scott and Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman presented David Eischeid with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award this week.

“Volunteer Florida is proud to recognize David for his tireless commitment to Florida’s at-risk children and underserved families,” said Spellman in a statement. “We are grateful for the opportunity to recognize his service to children and families.”

Under Eischeid’s leadership, The Children’s Home Network established a new maternity home for pregnant or parenting teens within the foster care system.

Eischeid served as chairman of The Children’s Home Network’s board of directors from 2013 through 2016. Under his leadership, the organization established a new maternity home for pregnant and parenting teens within the foster care system; expanded its residential programs to serve children and youth needing relocation to other areas of the country; and expanded services into Osceola and Orange counties.

“I applaud David’s commitment to the well-being of Florida’s children and families,” said Scott. “His hard work with The Children’s Home Network has helped improved lives throughout his community.”

Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. is back on the job following an eight-hour surgery and a grueling six weeks of daily radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

His colleagues in the Democratic caucus welcomed back this week him with a big, blue and white sheet cake, and a whole bunch of hugs.

“It was pretty extensive, the surgery,” he said. “I had my last radiation treatment Friday of last week.”

As in three days before the welcome-back fiesta.

“I just couldn’t wait to get back,” he said.

Watson feels “a little weaker than usual,” but was strong enough to attend the caucus meeting where Rep. Kionne McGhee was elected Democratic leader for the 2018-20 term

The surgery was complicated because the cancer had spread to Watson’s nervous system.

“I will have to be tested every month for the next six years or so” — something he said he is “more than happy” to subject himself to.

Since then, he said, he’s been eating well and exercising.

“The best thing to do is move around. And coming back here helps me move around.”

Tallahassee’s springtime pollen storm is doing in Daphne Campbell.

“I’ve been coughing and coughing and coughing,” said the North Miami Beach Democrat.

She’d been suffering all week, Campbell said when asked why she missed a hearing on Sen. Anitere Flores’ bill to swap a tax break for insurance companies for one to aid telephone, cable, and satellite communications customers.

Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel delayed the hearing because only three of the five members were present.

Campbell also had been held up by a meeting with constituents.

“I was coming, but by the time I called it was already finished,” she said of the hearing.

Does she support the bill? She likes the idea of helping consumers, but hasn’t decided yet.

“I’m still working on the bill to see what is my position,” Campbell said. “I told Sen. Flores this morning the same thing.”

Maj. John Leroy Haynes got a round of applause for his service this week.

Gov. Scott presented Haynes with the Governor’s Medal of Merit during the Cabinet meeting this week. A Marines veteran, Haynes served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

A decorated veteran, Maj. Haynes served in the U.S. Marines during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

“Maj. Haynes possesses every attribute that members of the military strive for; he is the epitome of the American military member,” said Col. Glenn Sutphin, the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in a statement. “Not only has he defended his country in three wars, but he continues to advocate for his fellow veterans through public service.”

The governor also awarded 41 Florida veterans with the Governor’s Veterans Service Medal.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 would have a positive impact on Florida’s economy.

That was the key takeaway of a report released this week looking at the economic impact of tolerance. The report found there would be a significant positive impact on the state’s economy and labor force if it enacted an anti-discrimination law that included the LGBT community.

“The state is graduating some of the most talented students in the country and we need them to stay in Florida to boost the economy,” said John Tonnison, executive Vice President and CIO of Tech Data Corporation, and President of Florida Competes, said in a statement. “Competition is fierce for these future leaders, who look for both an inclusive work environment and a high quality of life. Florida needs to follow the lead of Fortune 500 companies and add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination law.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens and Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene Plasencia have filed bills to create the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. The proposals have 38 co-sponsors, but have not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.

Rep. Diamond has his sights set on beefing up public education.

The St. Petersburg Democrat filed legislation to permanently fund an extra hour of intensive reading instruction for students at Florida’s 300 lowest performing elementary schools.

“Reading is the single most fundamental skill toward building a quality education,” he said in a statement. “By permanently funding an extra hour of reading instruction for these students, we are making an investment in children who may otherwise be left behind. This bill demonstrates our commitment to helping those elementary school students most in need of our assistance.”

Diamond also filed a bill to give early learning coalitions greater local control by allowing coalitions to appoint at-large board members from their community and allow the coalitions to determine service priorities for eligible populations in the school readiness program.

“Local decision making will give Florida’s early learning coalitions the flexibility to better meet the needs of our communities and our children,” said Lindsay Carson, chief executive officer of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County.

For Sen. Kevin Rader, this resolution is personal.

The Boca Raton Democrat filed a resolution calling on the Senate to oppose a United Nations resolution that classifies Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas as legally invalid.

“It is personal because my family lives in Israel and I, my wife and kids constantly go back and forth,” said Rader, whose wife is the founder and executive director of the Neshamah Institute in Boca Raton. “The safety of everyone involved is at stake, not only for my family members but also the people of Israel.”

Filed in January, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to 6-2 to approve the resolution this week. Sens. Audrey Gibson and Perry Thurston voted against the measure. It now heads to the Senate Rules Committee, the final stop before going to the full floor.

There’s a new painting in the collection.

The Museum of Florida History announced this week that the Museum of Florida History Foundation has donated a 1930s painting of St. Augustine’s fort Castillo de San Marcos.

The oil painting on canvas board is by artist Dolly Bee Breitenbaugh, and was completed in 1935. The painting portrays the historic Spanish fort in St. Augustine, the Castillo de San Marcos. An early radio communications tower built on the grounds of the fort is included in the painting, and helps show how the city’s skyline has developed, but retained historical features.

Breitenbaugh painted the scene as seen from the Bridge of the Lions. The Kansas native was trained at the Kansas City Art Institute, and is believed to have painted the scene while on vacation in St. Augustine.

“It is very important for the Museum to collect a wide range of artifacts that interpret Florida’s history,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “Since 2000, we have worked with the Museums of Florida History Foundation to enhance the Museum’s permanent collection and exhibits.”

Welcome back, Sterling Ivey.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced this week that Ivey, a veteran of state government communications, has joined the team as communications coordinator. In that role, Ivey will serve as a spokesman and will responsible for things like coordinating interviews, news releases and internal communications.

Ivey has a long history with state government. He served as the communications director for the Department of Corrections and later the Department of State. He served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s press secretary from 2008 until 2011, and even served a stint as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s press secretary.

Most recently, he served as the vice president of corporate communications for SunTrust Banks.

Add some more land to the state’s inventory.

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet this week approved the purchase of 3,846 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch lands in Polk, Hardee, Martin and St. Lucie counties. The purchases are part of the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which partners with Florida’s farmers and ranchers to preserve active agriculture operations.

“Florida’s population is projected to reach nearly 34 million by 2070, and this growth will put additional pressure to develop more and more of our world-renowned natural spaces,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Partnering with Florida’s farmers and ranchers through conservation easements is a cost-effective way to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations.”

The purchase increases total land preserved through the program to 31,495 acres over 35 conservation easements.

Congratulations, James Stage.

The 23-year-old was presented with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Stage is the CEO of Queralyze, an education platform software company designed to help students improve their research and writing skills.

“I’m proud to recognize James with the Young Entrepreneur Award today,” said Scott in a statement. “His innovative approach to education is helping students achieve their goals and better prepare them for a career. I look forward to seeing Queralyze continue to succeed in Florida.”

Gov. Scott & the Cabinet recognize Jame Stage for his entrepreneurship.

Stage wasn’t the only person to get a kudos from Scott and the Cabinet this week. The governor also presented three educators with the Governor’s Shine Award. The award is presented to teachers and administrators who make significant contributions to the field of education.

“Every day, Florida’s teachers go above and beyond to educate Florida’s students so they are prepared for higher education and careers,” said Scott. “I applaud these educators for their dedication to ensuring the success of Florida’s future leaders.”

Scott recognized Demetria Clemons, the principal of Sealey Elementary School in Tallahassee; Lukas Hefty, the engineering program coordinator at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary School in St. Petersburg; and Brandon Wright, an Advanced Placement teacher at F. W. Springstead High School in Brooksville.

Two Florida colleges deserve a pat on the back

The Florida Department of Education announced this week that Broward College and Indian River State College have been awarded with the 2017 Aspen Prize Finalist-with-Distinction Award.

“I am incredibly proud that out of nearly 1,000 colleges throughout the country, two of our Florida Colleges have once again been recognized as national leaders for access, affordability and student success,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a statement. “This esteemed award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Broward College and Indian River State College students, as well as the faculty and leadership, who have clearly made students their top priority.”

Florida has had a winner or finalist since the inception of the award, which recognizes exceptional student outcomes in student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

“As Chancellor of Florida’s 28 colleges, I am proud of Broward College and Indian River State College for consistently offering an affordable education and achieving top graduation rates,” said Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega in a statement. “These distinctions of excellence further the successes of the Florida College System, which provides access to all Floridians seeking higher education as a pathway to the workforce.”

Government watchdog Florida TaxWatch released a report this week the cost of state education programs beyond the $19.7 billion spent on per student funding each year.

 The group highlights capital outlay, debt service and other K-12 services not included in the per student figure which add another $8.9 billion to Florida education expenditures.

 “Public education spending is a significant portion of state and local budgets and must be spent with care to ensure that taxpayers are receiving the best value for their dollar,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “It is critical that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent and what it is spent on.”

 State officials touted $7,090 in per student funding during the 2015-16 fiscal year, but TaxWatch says adding in other costs brings that figure up to $10,308.

 The group offers charter school’s as an option to save money on education, though it said the lower cost per student in those institutions comes from lower usage of buses, fewer English language learners, fewer children on free or reduced price lunch and fewer students with disabilities.

Give Uber a hand.

Attorney General Pam Bondi recognized the ride-hailing company this week for its “proactive efforts to fight human trafficking.” Bondi said the company’s drivers are uniquely positioned to help identify and prevent human trafficking, and applauded a driver who recently helped save a 16-year-old girl from sex trafficking.

“The company and its drivers, operating in more than 70 countries, are uniquely positioned to help identify and ultimately prevent human trafficking and can play a key role in the fight to stop traffickers across the globe,” she said in a statement.

Uber is putting resources in the hands of its driver-partners to help combat human trafficking.

The recognition came on the heels of Uber’s presentation at the Florida Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. During the meeting, Uber announced human trafficking information and resources were being pushed out to more than 40,000 Uber driver-partners in the state in both English and Spanish.

“We look forward to working more with General Bondi and Florida leaders on this issue,” said Stephanie Smith, the company’s senior manager for public policy. “General Bondi has fought to end human trafficking for years, bringing together government and private companies to help rid the state of this form of modern-day slavery. Her leadership on this issue has been inspiring.”

Gov. Scott is getting top marks from Keep Florida Fishing for his picks to two boards.

Scott announced this week he had recommended Phil Dyskow, former President of Yamaha Motors; Jeff Miller, owner of Millers Boating Center; and Col. James Brown, former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement officer to the Secretary of Commerce for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Scott nominated Chester Brewer; attorney Mike Kennedy; and consultant John Sprague for the open recreational seat on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

“Governor Scott has recommended six highly-qualified leaders to represent Florida’s important recreational interests on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which make critical decisions impacting the health of, and access to, our federal fisheries,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association. “We applaud the Governor’s nominations and commitment to helping maintain Florida’s title as the ‘Fishing Capital of the World.”

Preemption bills could have a big impact on local government.

A new report from the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions showed two bills (HB 17 and SB 1158) would nullify a wide swath of local ordinances that impact commerce, like minimum wage, anti-fracking, wage theft, equality, environmental and consumer protection laws.

“We think it’s important that lawmakers understand the impacts of broad-brush state preemption on local businesses, workforces, and communities,” said Michael Alfano, campaign manager for Campaign to Defend Local Solutions. “We believe innovation and economic competitiveness are stifled when local voices and local government are silenced.”

The report notes that more than 60 percent of Floridians are covered by local human rights and equality ordinances, which would be terminated by the preemption bills. Local ordinances to ban fracking would also be null and void under the proposal, as would a Miami-Dade County wage theft law that has recovered more than $7 million in unpaid wages for workers from 2010 to 2016.

Attention, Rick Perry: Don’t answer your phone if you see a Florida area code.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Costentino, a natural stone, quartz, and recycled surfacing company, was relocating its Americas headquarters from Sugarland, Texas to Coral Gables. The move, according to the Governor’s Office, will create 85 new jobs and invest more than $1 million in the local community.

“I am proud to announce that Cosentino will be relocating their Americas Headquarters from Texas to Florida and creating 85 new jobs for our families,” said Scott in a statement. “This announcement would not be possible without the help of Enterprise Florida and shows the incredibly important role EFI has in out-competing other states like Texas to bring new job opportunities to our state. I am excited to welcome Cosentino to Florida and look forward to their future success.”

A family-owned company from Spain, Cosentino Group is a world-wide distributor of surfaces for architecture and design. The company currently employs 3,700 people worldwide, including 1,200 in the United States.

The company currently has three distribution locations in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Lauderhill. It plans to open a design center in the Miami Design District.

“Miami’s location offers key strategic advantages to continue targeting the Americas,” said CEO Eduardo Cosentino in a statement. “The entrepreneurial and innovative workforce in Miami better positions us to provide new products and designs that are both sustainable and advanced.

Florida TaxWatch as a new team member.

Miranda McLaughlin has joined the research institute and government watchdog as its communications coordinator, the organization announced this week.

“We are very pleased and honored to have Miranda as a part of the Florida TaxWatch team,” said TaxWatch President Calabro in a statement. “We feel she has just the right skills required to foster productive relationships with value-added, and timely information to the taxpayers and the media.”

McLaughlin recently graduated from Florida State University with a double degree in media/communications studies and English. Prior to joining TaxWatch, she held a leadership role at Union Productions/Club Downunder.

The tourism economy keeps Amy Baker awake at night.

Tourism contributes 13 percent of Florida’s sales tax receipts. Sales taxes represent around three-quarters of general revenues.

If anything should happen to tourism —

“That’s what I worry about the most,” said Baker, director of the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

As it happens, tourism is setting records just now, helping to compensate for a sluggish construction industry.

But what if Zika re-emerges?

“We’re just getting back to the point where mosquitoes are coming into the full season again,” Baker said.

There are no clear data on international tourism, but she’s hearing anecdotal evidence that overseas visitors began avoiding the United States since President Donald Trump began blocking travelers.

“We worry about all of that,” Baker said.

It’s official: #SuitsForSession 2.0 was a big success.

Volunteer Florida and Uber announced it collected 3,282 donations of clothing, shoes, belts and other items during the one-day service project at the Capitol this week. The items will be delivered to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee in the coming days.

Majority Leader Simpson and his staff drop off clothes for the 2nd annual #SuitsForSession service project.

“I had a chance to visit the #SuitsForSession display at the Capitol and the amount of donations was remarkable,” said Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson in a statement. “I am proud of those who came together to provide donations for job-seekers statewide.”

According to Volunteer Florida, 195 suits were collected and 75 bags of clothing were donated through the Uber app. Volunteer Florida said 2,072 women’s items were collected, while 1,013 men’s items were donated.

Didn’t get a chance to donate this year? Don’t worry, the #SuitsForSession 2018 is just around the corner.

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

 

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During traffic stop, Florida woman tossed needles into backseat near toddler

It looked suspiciously like a drug deal at a gas station.

A woman got out of the passenger seat of a parked car when another pulled up next to the car she was in. A plastic baggie exchanged hands, according to a Boca Raton Police report.

When the female suspect got back into her car and left the Marathon gas station, turning onto Glades Rd. with another male suspect driving, a patrolman followed.

Noticing the car she was traveling in east of downtown Boca Raton had a taillight out — plus, she didn’t come to a full stop at a stop sign, so the patrolman pulled her over, the report stated.

That’s when Christine Nancy Maier, 31, “panicked” and flung three hypodermic needles into the backseat, next to a toddler on Tuesday. The child wasn’t in a car seat, a violation in itself. The policeman noticed movement in the car by Maier as he stopped them

The child also had a cut on its face, which the woman later said happened when the child had fallen the day before.

It’s unclear if Maier is the mother, as the portion of the report indicating the relationship was blocked out, a redaction out of privacy concerns due to the child’s age.

After inspecting the driver’s license of the man behind the steering wheel, who was not married to Maier, the patrolman explained to the pair he had observed Maier conducting what appeared to be a drug transaction back at the Marathon station. He asked to search the vehicle and the driver consented.

Upon the search, the officer found the needles next to the child. In the front passenger seat lay a sunglasses case with two more needles and a baggie containing a “crystal white” substance, likely cocaine or methamphetamine.

But Maier had another excuse, the needles were for a friend, so he could shoot “methamphetamines.” The driver, the report said, became angry, telling officer he didn’t know about the drugs or needles. He had driven her to Boca Raton from rural Okeechobee, Fla. because it had “been a while since” he’d been with a woman.

The man was not arrested, according to the report. The toddler is now in the custody of the state of Florida’s Dept. of Children and Families.

Maier was booked at 7:45 p.m. into the Palm Beach County Jail by sheriff’s deputies. She was charged with felony drug possession, child neglect without bodily harm and possession of drug paraphernalia.

She is being held on $3,000 bond and is currently still in jail. She has five previous arrests, according to the Palm Beach County Clerk of Court public records, with one prior felony conviction.

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Marco Rubio hitting the slopes this weekend to raise money

Still trying to think of a spring break getaway?

How about a ski trip with Marco Rubio?

As first reported by the Montana Cowgirl Blog, the Miami Republican is one of the several federal lawmakers taking part in a two-day fundraiser at Big Sky Resort in Montana to benefit Daines Big Sky Committee, a joint fundraising committee that benefits Sen. Steve Daines and Big Sky Opportunity PAC.

The $3,000 a person fundraiser is billed as a “weekend in the Montana mountains” with Daines, Rubio, and Sens. John Hoeven, and Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Luke Messer.

The fundraiser is scheduled for today through Sunday.

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The Delegation – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State – 3.17.17

Next month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars trans-generational blockbuster. While the setup for the George Lucas classic points to a time and place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” present day Washington is ripe for comparisons.

Democrats in the Florida Delegation have joined their colleagues from other states by fully deploying their verbal Lightsabers in the vitriolic debate surrounding the American Health Care Act (a.k.a. Trumpcare, Ryancare, whatever). Not so long ago, and not so far away, Republicans did the same during conception of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare and for the next three election cycles after that.

Back in our galaxy, the fear that NASA would see big budget cuts was not well-founded. This week’s proposal from the Trump Administration should please supporters of the space program, especially Florida’s rocket man, Senator Bill Nelson. Despite the Administration’s decision to cancel direct flights from Cape Canaveral to an asteroid, future shuttle service to Mars is still in the mix.

Nelson likes to remind people about his trip to the stratosphere years ago, but back home he apparently needs to re-introduce himself to several Florida voters, according to recent polling. That’s what campaigns are for.

More wars are coming starting Monday. Nelson and Marco Rubio will be watching and commenting as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Neither are members of that committee.

Donald Trump planning another weekend at Mar-a-Lago – President Trump is planning to spend this weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach per White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Though Spicer didn’t say how long the president was planning to stay, a Federal Aviation Administration advisory gave away that Trump will arrive Friday and leave Sunday.

The trip will mark the fifth weekend Trump has spent at the resort since he took office in January.

Palm Beach County commissioner mulling over ‘Trump Tax’ – President Trump has spent a good deal of time at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, causing the county to spend millions on security and road management befitting a presidential visit.

In mid-February, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said security costs alone for the presidential visits had hit the $1.4 million mark, and commissioners’ attempts to get the federal government moving on reimbursing that money are at a standstill.

The costs have led county Commissioner Dave Kerner, also a former Democratic state representative, to explore a tax on the value of any “special benefit” doled out to Mar-a-Lago.

Kerner is looking into having the resort classified as a “municipal service benefit unit” in order to make up some of the outlay, and has instructed County Attorney Denise Nieman to look into how to go about with the plan.

In addition to county services, the Lantana airport has been forced to shut down during Trump’s visits, which the owner said has already caused a $27 million economic impact.

Florida Man’s ad highlights Trump’s ties to Russia — Stand Up Republic launched a new television and digital ad campaign this week urging Congress to conduct a comprehensive investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. The 30-second spot — called “Sunlight” — was produced with the help of Tallahassee-based GOP consultant Rick Wilson of Intrepid Media, and will initially air for two weeks on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN in D.C., and on social media and digital platforms nationwide.

“Since the inauguration, not a week has gone by without new, troubling revelations regarding the possible Russian compromise of President Trump and his closest advisors,” said Evan McMullin, the co-founder of Stand Up Republic and a former 2016 presidential candidate, whom Wilson worked with. “Russia’s multifaceted attack on our democracy is a matter of grave national security concern and requires a serious congressional investigation. The standing intelligence committees currently conducting the investigation have neither the resources nor scope of jurisdiction to execute an adequate investigation of this matter.” (Click on the image below to watch the video.)

Trump’s NASA budget preserves Mars mission, cuts Earth science, asteroid trip, education via Ledyard King of USA Today – POTUS is proposing a $19.1 billion budget for NASA in 2018 that is about the same as the current year’s $19.3 billion allocation – not bad considering the president is proposing deep cuts in many non-Defense programs. EPA alone would see a 31% reduction.

But Trump’s vision for NASA calls for some dramatic shifts from the priorities the space agency pursued under President Obama, according to a broad budget outline the White House released Thursday. Line-item details on the administration’s proposed spending plan for NASA and other executive branch agencies are expected in the coming weeks.

“The budget increases cooperation with industry through the use of public-private partnerships, focuses on the nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy,” the outline reads.

What the Trump budget would not do is continue development of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, that NASA has been pitching as a fruitful and relatively low-cost steppingstone to Mars. Many Republicans, who did not like how Obama scrapped a return to the moon under the Constellationprogram, never bought into the asteroid mission.

VPOTUS could be visiting Jacksonville – Mike Pence could be back in Jacksonville Saturday, a new Federal Aviation Administration notice suggests. Announced flight restrictions match – three nautical miles around, 3,000 feet up —  correspond to Pence’s travel restrictions. Thirty nautical mile restrictions, and up to 18,000 feet, are normally used for Trump.

Micro-op-ed via Dr. Darryl Paulson – If U.S. Senator Bill Nelson walked into the Cheers bar, nobody would shout his name. Despite a four- decades long political career in Florida, a full one-third of Floridians are neutral or have never heard of Nelson.

“Offend no one” has long been a key to Nelson’s political success. Very few Floridians could name a single political issue where Nelson has assumed a leadership position.

Nelson served in the Florida House (1972-78), the U.S. House (1978-91), served as Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner (1995-2001) and has served as U.S. Senator since winning election in 2000.

The only political defeat suffered by Nelson was not at the hands of a Republican, but was a loss to Democratic icon Lawton Chiles in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Chiles, a late entrant in the race, trounced Nelson 69.5 to 30.5%.

Nelson’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in 2000 was his only close campaign. Even though George W. Bush carried Florida by 538 votes, Nelson defeated Republican Bill McCollum 52.1 to 47.2%.

Six years later, Nelson easily defeated Republican Katherine Harris 60.3 to 38.1%.  Harris, widely criticized for her partisan role in the 2000 Florida presidential race, was never able to unite Republicans behind her candidacy.

In 2012, Nelson defeated Connie Mack IV, the son of the senator who retired his position in 2000 allowing Nelson to win. Mack was beset by both political and personal issues which undermined his campaign. Nelson won by 13%.

Some call Nelson the luckiest politician in Florida. He has consistently faced one weak Republican opponent after another in winning the senate seat. Will Nelson’s political magic continue in 2018, or will Nelson once again face defeat within the Democratic Party?

Some Democrats believe that Nelson, who will be 76 in 2018, needs to be “primaried.” Many Democrats believe that Republican Governor Rick Scott would be a difficult opponent for Nelson. One Democratic activist said Nelson “just doesn’t look fresh–he doesn’t appeal to young Democrats.”

Other Democrats see a potential Democratic primary battle as pure lunacy. Nelson, after all, is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida. Democratic fundraiser Ben Pollara commented, “If Democrats are lining up to primary Bill Nelson, it’s less a sign that Bill Nelson is weak and more a sign that Democrats are inherently cannibals.”

Will Nelson’s political magic continue, or has he pulled the last rabbit from his hat?

Florida Democrats sound off ahead of Supreme Court nomination hearings — For Our Future joined representatives from Emerge USA, Sierra Club, SEIU 32BJ and New Florida Majority to denounce Neil Gorsuch ahead of his confirmation hearing on Monday. Leaders expressed concern that Gorsuch would prioritize he interests of corporations at the expense of everyday Americans and threaten the safety, stability and rights of Muslim, immigrant, black, and middle class communities. Dwight Bullard, political director of the New Florida Majority: “One of my greatest concerns of Judge Gorsuch sits in the realm of criminal justice. Judge Gorsuch has been scored as too conservative in his previous role in the court of appeals and it’s a serious concern of mine as a black male that someone who has such a checkered past as it relates to racial justice would be sitting on the Supreme Court.” Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club: “If you care about environmental issues in Florida, you should be very concerned about Neil Gorsuch. The Sierra Club is urging all of our members to contact their Senators right now and say ‘reject Neil Gorsuch.’ Why is he bad for Florida? He has consistently pushed polluter rights over public rights.” Khurrum Wahid, criminal rights attorney and national board co-chair of EmergeUSA: “Popular law is not always right law, and we have to make sure that we have a backstop in place. That backstop is our judiciary. We have seen over the last several months how lawyers and judges have been able to uphold the constitution against an executive order or orders that our bad for the country and are unconstitutional. If we do not hold fast and make that sure our Supreme Court nominee is similarly someone who will uphold the constitution and uphold the values of America, then we have collectively lost what we value as Americans.”

Nelson to support Alex Acosta for Labor Secretary – Florida’s senior Democratic senator plans to support Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, according to a Nelson spokesman. Acosta is a Miami native and the dean of Florida International University’s law school. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for next week.

Happening today – Communication Workers of America health care workers and their allies will protest Rubio and Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Rally begins 11 a.m. at the plaza outside Rubio’s Orlando office, 201 S Orange Ave.

Rubio meets with Costa Rican president — The Miami Republican met with Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis and Foreign Affairs Minister Manuel Gonzalez Sanz this week to discuss transnational drug trafficking, Cuban migration across Central America, and the ongoing political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

“The United States and Costa Rica have long been united by our shared democratic values, and it was my honor to welcome their president to Washington today,” said Rubio, the chairman of the Senate’s western hemisphere subcommittee. “While Costa Rica’s neutrality in foreign affairs has made it an oasis of stability in the region, it has nonetheless been affected by illicit trafficking, violence and migratory crises that spill across its borders.

In a statement, Rubio said he urged the men to make sure the Costa Rican government works closely with “U.S., international relief agencies and non-profits to ensure Cuban migrants stranded in their territory are treated humanely and given an opportunity to make their asylum claims.” He also stressed the importance of all democracies in the Western Hemisphere speaking in one voice to call on “the Organization of American States to invoke the democratic charter against the Maduro regime.”

“I will continue pushing to make sure our allies and partners throughout the region understand the urgency of dealing with the political and humanitarian crisis Maduro has imposed on Venezuela, and I will continue to stand on the side of the Venezuelan people,” said Rubio

Rubio accepting applications for service academy nominations — Students looking to attend one of the four service academies can apply through the website of Sen. Rubio, he announced this week.

In order to attend the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy or U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, prospective students need a nomination from a member of congress.

“Each year, I am honored to have the opportunity to nominate young men and women from across Florida who demonstrate leadership, commitment and integrity, the qualities required to pursue the top military training our nation has to offer,” Rubio said. “I encourage all interested students to apply, and I wish applicants the best of luck as they go through the admission process to our service academies.”

Students looking to enroll in the fall of 2018 need to have their applications in by Sept. 6. Rubio also encouraged students to apply with Sen. Bill Nelson and their U.S. Representative.

Rubio not cool with Snoop Dogg video — Who figured that Florida’s junior senator and the rapper Snoop Dogg could wind up in the same story? Rubio had words of warning and a mild admonishment for the hip hop entertainer upon the release of a new video containing a scene of the Dogfather firing a replica gun at the head of a clown looking like Trump.

“I think people can disagree on policy, but we gotta be very careful about that kinda thing,” Rubio told TMZ, “because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea and you can have a real problem, so I’m not sure what Snoop was thinking.”

Trump responded wondered on Twitter what would happen if Snoop Dogg, “failing career and all,” had done such a video involving President Obama. “Jail time” was the answer to his own question.

In a Roll Call story about the video, Rubio is described as being a “long time hip hop fan.” (Click on the image below to watch the video under debate.)

Rubio gets visit from CLC – Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera met with  Sen. Rubio during a trip to Washington D.C. Wednesday, according to his official schedule.

The visit came before CLC was set to attend the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association federal-state relations meeting, and details of the meeting between two of Florida’s top Republican officials were not made available.

When asked for comment on the meeting, a Rubio spokeswoman said the pair “are personal friends and Senator Rubio always enjoys seeing him when he is in D.C‎.”

Lopez-Cantera spent part of last year campaigning to take over for his pal in the U.S. Senate, but backed out of the race after Rubio reneged on his plan to not run for re-election.

CBO says Republican health plan is bad for Florida — The newly revealed Republican health care plan could spell trouble for Florida, which already has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that most of the 1.74 million Floridians who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange will not be able to afford their premiums under the Republican plan, while an additional 4.3 million children, pregnant women, low-income elderly and disabled Floridians would see cuts in care through Medicaid.

Those who manage to hang onto their health care plans will likely see a spike in premiums, too, especially those who buy their own coverage outside of work.

The CBO predicts that prices could spike for such plans by as much as 20 percent before finally starting to go down in price around 2020.

In addition to the drop in the number of insured Floridians, the Republican plan’s proposed cuts to Medicaid could do a number on Florida hospitals.

“To go back to that,” Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben said, “at the very time that the federal government would also cut funding to the states for Medicaid means you have double jeopardy here. … It’s going back to the way it was, only worse, potentially.”

American Action Network launches 1 million robocalls to support American Health Care Act — Constituents in three Florida districts could be getting calls from the advocacy organization encouraging them to contact their representative about the American Health Care Act.

The American Action Network launched the robocall campaign in 30 congressional districts, including Reps. Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, and Bill Posey. The campaign comes on the heels of a TV ad buy launched last week, and is meant to encourage voters to call lawmakers to tell them to support repealing the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and replace it with the American Health Care Act, which is backed by President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Obamacare has been a nightmare for millions of Americans. We are calling activists across the country to urge them to call their member of Congress to ensure they do the right thing and stand with President Trump and Speaker Ryan in repealing this failed law,” said Corry Bliss, the group’s executive director. “The American Health Care Act will lower costs, increase competition, and reduce the deficit, while protecting those with pre-existing conditions. These conservative reforms will make health care truly affordable and patient-centered – that’s what all Americans deserve.”

The effort is part of an issue advocacy campaign worth about $10 million, according to the organization.

 

Florida Democrats pounce on CBO health care report — As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings. Democrats in the Florida delegation were quick to jump on the report from the Congressional Budget Office, while Republicans…not so much.

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote Bill Nelson, while Charlie Crist used the Bible to say “the Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

Val Demmings stated “the GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and the Republicans know it.” Ted Deutch posted on Facebook that “this bill does not make good on the claims that Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, and others have made to try and sell it.”

Debbie Wasserman-Schulz pledged to “do everything I can to stop this train wreck.” Among the calmest statements came from Stephanie Murphy who said “we need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

Scott silent on Republican health care plan –  The Naples Republican has been one of the Affordable Care Act’s chief opponents, but he has yet to weigh in on whether he thinks Republicans are moving in the right direction with the newly unveiled American Health Care Act.

The Republican governor has so far sidestepped questions about the bill, including how he views the Congressional Budget Office report that estimates Florida’s uninsured rate could spike back up to pre-ACA levels.

“I’m encouraged that there’s a real good conservation going on up in D.C.,” Scott said. “I know there’s a debate about all the numbers, I’m going to continue to work on getting a good bill.”

Scott made his opinion heard during Donald Trump’s campaign, and has been one of the more vocal advocates for repealing and replacing the ACA.

His 2010 campaign for governor, his first step into politics, was marked by his staunch opposition to the ACA. During that run, he started a group called Conservatives for Patient Rights that blasted the law in television ads.

Gaetz votes for health care bill to “continue the conversation” — Despite a lack of enthusiasm, the Panhandle Republican cast another vote for the Republican health care bill on Thursday. As expected the House Budget Committee passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 19-17.  Mario Diaz-Balart also voted in favor with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz voting against. Three Republican members from the House Freedom Caucus also voted no.

Before the vote committee meeting and vote on the bill, Gaetz wrote to his constituents saying he “wanted to like it, especially after hearing from Obamacare’s victims.” He then seemed to take a subtle swipe at the Freedom Caucus.

“It’s easy to vote ‘no’ and blame others for not bending to my will,” he wrote. “It’s harder to

persuade others the conservative way is the Better Way.”

The measure now goes to the House Committee on Rules, where it will likely then move on to the full House. Among committee members are nine Republicans and four Democrats, including Alcee Hastings.

Op-ed: “Keep working to repeal and replace Obamacare” via Matt Gaetz for Florida Politics

Gaetz visits with middle school students — Pryor Middle School students in D.C. last week for a field trip got a little face-to-face time with their congressman. Gaetz took some time to snap photos with the class, who stopped by his office during a trip to the nation’s capital. The Fort Walton Beach Republican also encouraged constituents to reach out to his office if they need help planning a trip to D.C. In an email to constituents, Gaetz said constituents can visit his House website to “reserve tours of the Capitol, White House, Library of Congress or to attend a Supreme Court Lecture.”

Matt Gaetz with Pryor Middle School students during their visit to DC.

Murphy, Demings, Sotoannounce funds for Pulse shooting victims —The Florida Democrats announced an award of nearly $8.5 million to assist victims of last year’s terrorist shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The funds, which come through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, will help victims, witnesses, and first responders.

In addition, the funds will reimburse local agencies for the costs incurred in operating the Family Assistance Center. Hundreds of people were helped by the center in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“After the Pulse nightclub shooting our community stepped up to take care of the victims, their families and the first responders through the Family Assistance Center,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “We could not be more proud of Central Florida’s response to this tragedy.”

The funds will be allocated to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, who will distribute them as appropriate.

“I am thrilled that my office will receive additional funding to help victims of the Orlando attack,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice for awarding us the funds we requested so that we can continue to make payments and assist victims in any way possible.”

Tough column: “Bilirakis sees only what he wants to on health care law” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

Steny Hoyer returns to Florida for Crist fundraiserThe Maryland Democrat will be back in Florida March 24 as special guest at a fundraiser for the St. Petersburg Democrat.

Hoyer represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, and served as House Majority Leader from 2007 until 2011. Prior to that, he served as House Majority Whip from 2003 until 2007. In October, Hoyer was in Sanford to stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Crist, the freshman lawmaker representing Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, sits on the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.

Buchanan tours Sarasota bandage factory – Headquartered in Sarasota, ASO Corp. is the world’s second largest bandage manufacturer and has added 85 jobs since 2011, partly due to investments by mega retailer Wal-Mart.

“ASO has a world-class facility here in Sarasota,” said Buchanan, who toured the facility Tuesday. “This is a true manufacturing success story.”

Rep. Buchanan meets with ASO officials during a recent tour of Sarasota facility.

Buchanan was led around the facility by ASO vice president of sales and marketing Charles Hart, who praised the congressman and credited Wal-Mart for the company’s growth.

“I’d like to thank Congressman Buchanan for his commitment to jobs and for visiting us today,” he said. “Our partnership with Wal-Mart is a major contributor of ASO’s growth in employment and infrastructure for the U.S and more specifically Sarasota.”

Buchanan to host town hall in larger venue — The Sarasota Republican will hold a town hall on Saturday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. The event was originally scheduled for an auditorium at New College. Van Wezel has a seating capacity of over 1,700 people.

“We moved the event to a new location to accommodate a larger audience,” said Buchanan spokeswoman Gretchen Andersen, “We want to make sure everybody gets a chance to attend and is not turned away for lack of seats.”

The press release announcing the switch carried a bold-face sub-headline “Same day, BIGGER Venue,” obviously a reference to complaints of venues deemed too small. For example, Ted Yoho’s recent town hall was civil among the 300 inside, but violence erupted outside among agitators unable to get in.

Liberal activists have complained that Buchanan hasn’t had a town hall yet this year, but the release states that Saturday’s event will be his 75th since being elected to Congress in 2006.

In op-ed, Francis Rooney says Venezuelan regime is on its last legs — The first-term Republican from Naples says the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is ready to collapse, which should be of great interest to the United States. In an op-ed penned this week titled Time for Change in Venezuela, Rooney wrote “time is running out” for Maduro and “the only question that remains is how long it can last.”

He points out that Venezuela has “links to terrorist groups in the Middle East” which is why what happens in Venezuela and Latin America “should be a major focus of U.S. policy makers.”

Rooney, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and expresses both political and humanitarian concern for the people of the South American country. “Unfortunately, the humanitarian crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is escalating.” He pointed to a recent study showing “starvation has caused Venezuelans to lose an average of 19 pounds over the last year.”

Rooney calls on the U.S., the Organization of American States and regional leaders to help “hasten the end of Maduro’s desperate attempt to hold onto power.”

Mast linked to company accused of million-dollar marketing scam — The freshman lawmaker has been linked to a Florida marketing company under investigation by federal regulators for allegedly pocketing millions of dollars in a patent scam, reported Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan with POLITICO.

According to the report, World Patent Marketing and its owner, Scott Cooper, are accused by the Federal Trade Commission of defrauding thousands of clients of several years to the tune of millions of dollars and then harassing customers who threatened to report the scam.

Mast was appointed as a member to the company’s advisory board in February 2016, shortly before Cooper donated more than $5,000 to Mast’s election campaign. In an interview, Mast said he only met Cooper face-to-face twice — including a party celebrating his victory.

The Treasure Coast Republican has said he will return the $5,400 in donations from Cooper.

Mast, a paraplegic veteran, raised nearly $3 million through his campaign account for the 2016 cycle. He bested Democrat Randy Perkins on Election Day with 53 percent of the vote to Perkins’ 43 percent.

According to POLITICO, the Federal Trade Commission alleges Cooper, through his two companies World Patent Marketing and Desa Industries, charged customers thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions. Customers were initially charged $1,300 for a research report from the marketing company. Weeks later, salespeople would pitch the same clients on patent protection and invention promotion packages.

Mast, Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen co-sponsor resolution acknowledging climate change — The Treasure Coast Republican joined fellow Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to co-sponsor a resolution calling on the House to commit to working on economically-viable solutions to address the risks of climate change.

“If we’re going to make progress to protect our environment, it’s critical that people on both sides of the aisle speak out about the serious impact that climate change will have on our environment and our economy,” said Mast, a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, in a statement. “Treasure Coast residents know all too well about the crippling impact on both the quality-of-life and economy when environmental disaster strikes. We must act now to find economically-viable solutions to address the risk of climate change.”

The resolution calls for better environmental stewardship through “economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates,” according to Mast’s office.

“We cannot ignore these challenges and every Member of Congress has a responsibility to our constituents and future generations to support market-based solutions, investments, and innovations that could alleviate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient,” said Curbelo in a statement. “Our goal with this resolution is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real toward the tangible efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate its effects.”

The trio were joined by 14 other members of Congress.

“These leaders understand that there’s a Republican climate solution and that America’s birds and people don’t have time for more political trench warfare,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. We need bipartisan solutions to our changing climate, and we need them now. It took guts for these Republicans to step forward today, and we welcome their ideas. Climate change threatens the birds we love, the places they and we need, and the legacy we’ll leave our kids—all values that lead us to say that conservation doesn’t have a party.”

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Rundown of delegation bills filed:

Nelson, Rubio, Chris Coons and Debbie Stabenow introduce legislation to improve bankruptcy court system – Bankruptcy Judgeship Act

Rubio, Ben Cardin introduce bill targeting Chinese aggression in South China Sea – The South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act

Rubio, colleagues propose legislation to protect young athletes from sexual abuse – Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017

Rubio, Tom Cotton and Mike Lee introduce legislation that would save Social Security Disability Insurance from bankruptcy – Return to Work Act of 2017

Rubio-sponsored NASA bill supporting Space Launch System and Orion programs heads to president’s desk – S 442

Rubio, Ted Cruz, Robert Menendez introduce bill renaming street in front of Cuban embassy in honor of murdered dissident – S 539

Rubio, Tim Kaine, John McCain, Chris Murphy introduce bipartisan resolution recognizing sixth anniversary of Syrian Civil War

Curbelo, Crist introduce legislation to expand National Flood Insurance Program – Flood Insurance Fairness Act

Deutch, Lamar Smith of Texas reintroduced legislation to criminalize certain acts of animal cruelty – Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act

Ross introduces bill to encourage companies to compete for federal construction projects – Fair and Open Competition Act

Ross introduces legislation to account for federal employees use of official time – HR 1293

Florida may turn to Congress if Supreme Court favors Georgia in water dispute – The decades-old water dispute between Florida and Georgia could be going to Capitol Hill, reports Shelley Sigo of BondBuyer.com. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled for a closed-door conference on a report by its appointed special master, Maine attorney Ralph Lancaster, who presided over a suit filed by Florida against Georgia in 2014. The report’s conclusion was favorable to Georgia in the dispute over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, a significant source drinking, marine and agricultural water in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. If the high court agrees with Lancaster, there will be no relief to Florida, which has spent more than $40 million on legal fees on the case. Lancaster’s report would give authority for water allocation to the Army Corps of Engineers through its dams and reservoirs. The report has also spurred Florida’s Congressional Delegation to action, including a bill filed by Nelson requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to send more freshwater from Georgia into Apalachicola Bay. Republican Neal Dunn, who represents Northwest Florida including Apalachicola Bay, has also filed a Congressional review act resolution to prevent the Corps from implementing the “harmful” rule.

Florida scientists urge Trump to keep funding for NASA and NOAA – A group of Sunshine State scientists sent a letter to President Trump Monday asking him to maintain funding for NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association.

The letter leads off telling the president that “American scientists have historically been at the forefront of scientific discoveries and innovation” and that the country “should invest heavily” in NASA and NOAA programs.

The scientists focus on funding for earth science research, preserving scientific integrity and recognizing coastal properties at risk. The group points out Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago resort as vulnerable to sea level rise.

“Climate change can be viewed as a threat or as an opportunity,” the group concludes in the letter. “NOAA and NASA both play a crucial role in helping us to understand those risks. We are confident that the many discoveries accomplished thus far are only the beginning. With continued research, Americans can better understand future challenges and find ways to solve them.”

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump’s proposed budget would put coastal communities at risk. NOAA acting administrator Benjamin Friedman did not deny the claim, although he said that the cuts were only proposed.

Spotted: Jon Adrabi with LSN Partners in New York Post story about rumblings Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gearing up for a 2020 run.

Personnel note: Florida State University hires new federal relations director  D.C. veteran Jonathan Nurse has joined Florida State University as the new director of federal relations, Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander.

Nurse will serve as the university’s liaison to federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation as well as the state’s congressional delegation. He will be based out of Washington, D.C., and travel to Tallahassee monthly.

Chester Spellman, the organization’s chief executive officer, and Sam Seevers, the organization’s chairman, traveled to the nation’s capital last week to meet with members of Congress and their staffers. The duo chatted with Sen. Marco Rubio, and Reps. Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Francis Rooney, and Daniel Webster. They also met with the staffs of Sen. Bill Nelson, and Reps. Carlos Curbleo and Tom Rooney. Spellman and Seevers talked with officials about the importance of federal funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the impact it has on Florida.

Are DC’s beloved cherry blossoms doomed? – After a late-winter cold wave, combined with a Nor’easter that hit Washington Monday night, Benjamin Freed of the Washingtonian reports that  cherry-blossom watchers are bracing for the possibility of the first spring where the city’s celebrated crop of Japanese cherry trees fails to reach peak bloom. More than that, even if the trees manage to endure a week of freezing temperatures, snow and ice, the sheer number of visitors and a collapsing tidal basin could bring a “more perilous future.”

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