Peter Schorsch - 5/2486 - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

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

Sunburn for 4.14.17 – Happy Easter Weekend

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

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

EASTER AND PASSOVER AS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THESE LOBBYISTS AND POLITICAL ASSOCIATIONS

Grab your bonnet, pull out the seersucker and get ready for a good-old-fashion Easter egg hunt.

Americans are expected to spend about $18.4 billion on Easter this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. That projection is 6 percent higher than last year’s record of $17.3 billion, and marks an all-time high in the 14 years the national organization has conducted the survey.

The increase in spending is likely due to how late the holiday falls on the calendar this year. The springtime celebration is nearly three weeks later than it was in 2016, giving folks essentially an extra month to prepare for the holiday.

According to the survey, about 61 percent of consumers plan to visit family and friends to celebrate the holiday. And since Florida a prime winter location for Northeastern and Midwestern grandparents, you can imagine flights to Florida will be jam-packed this week with children and grandchildren hoping to soak in some rays and spend some quality time with their nonnas and papas.

While folks are looking for good deals on airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, American and Delta to celebrate Easter and Passover with their families, those companies have hired top-notch government affairs teams to look out for their interest during the 2017 Legislative Session.

American Airlines has hired Mike Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, Anita Berry, Matt Blair, and Amanda Stewart with Corcoran & Johnston to work with Dawn White, the company’s in-house lobbyist, on behalf of its interests in front of the Legislature. Delta Air Lines has Nick Iarossi, Andrew Ketchel, Ron LaFace, and Chris Schoonover with Capital City Consulting fighting for its interests this year.

The legacy airlines aren’t the only ones hiring the big-wigs to fight for their rights before the Legislature, so they can help get you to grandmother’s house in time for the Easter Bunny’s arrival.

Southwest Airlines has hired Bill Rubin, Melissa Akeson, Christopher Finkbeiner, and Heather Turnbull with The Rubin Group and Bo Rivard with Harrison Rivard Ducan Buzzett Chtd. to work with Sherri Hull, its in-house lobbyist, during the 2017 Legislative Session. JetBlue has the team of Slater Bayliss, Sarah Busk, Al Cardenas, Christopher Chaney, Justin Day, and Stephen Shiver at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners on its side this year.

Once you’re here, you’ve got to eat. The National Retail Federation survey found 57 percent of consumers said they planned to cook a holiday meal and 17 percent said they planned to go to a restaurant.

Regardless of how you celebrated Passover — which began at sundown on Monday — or will be celebrating Easter on Sunday, it’s likely a trip to Publix was in order for the fixings for your meal. When the Florida-based grocery chain needs a hand in Tallahassee it turns to Charlie DudleyJorge Chamizo, and Teye Reeves with Floridian Partners. The threesome works with the in-house team of Lindsey Napier and Thomas Culligan to advocate for the store in the capital city.

Need a dinner recommendation? Oscar Anderson, David Browning, Christopher Dudley, James McFaddin, and Sydney Ridley might be able to come up with one. The Southern Strategy Group team works with Amanda Conochalla, the in-house lobbyist for Darden Restaurants, to represent the restaurant giant’s interests before the Legislature.

The National Retail Federation Survey found 52 percent of consumers said they planned to go to church on Easter. That’s got to be good news to the Florida Catholic Conference and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This year, the Florida Catholic Conference celebrated its 42nd annual Red Mass on April 5, and Reps. Kathleen Peters and Danny Burgess gave readings. When the bishops need an extra hand in the capital city, they turn to Ingrid Delgado, James Herzog, Michael James McQuone, and Michael Sheedy, the organization’s executive director.

Easter isn’t the only springtime holiday being celebrated this week, though. Passover began at sundown on Monday and memorialize the emancipation of Israelites held captive in Egypt after 400 years, culminating with the Exodus and Covenant of Moses.

Florida lawmakers are known to stand with Israel, and this year is no exception. In March, the House adopted a resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. That U.N resolution, among other things, said Israel’s settlement activities constituted a violation of international law. The House resolution (HR 281) proclaimed the House’s opposition to it, and called for the repeal of the U.N. resolution.

The Senate adopted a similar resolution.

The Florida Association of Jewish Federations has an active presence in Tallahassee, tapping Mario Bailey, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Bernie Friedman, Yolanda Cash Jackson, Nicholas Matthews, and Jeremy Shir with Becker & Poliakoff to help advance its causes in front of the Legislature.

With several threats made against the Jewish community in recent months, you can imagine the Ant-Defamation League is working overtime to combat anti-Semitism. The organization acts as “the 9-1-1 for the Jewish community in Florida” and the ADL Florida Office is on the “frontline of ensuring the safety of the Jewish community” in the state.”

Look for David Barkey, the southeastern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, to be working on behalf of the organization in Tallahassee.

However you celebrate this springtime, take a moment to enjoy the long weekend before the final stretch of session.

Chag pesach, to all! And a very Happy Easter, too.

RETAILERS EXPECT RECORD-SETTING EASTER SPENDING via Florida Politics – A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation is predicting record-setting Easter spending this year with a projected total of $18.4 billion in spending for the Christian holiday. The prime date for Easter this year … will cause a 6 percent hop in spending over last year when shoppers spent $17.3 billion. The per-person average will also jump 4 percent from the previous year to $152. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers will pick up food or candy, while 61 percent plan to pick up gifts, and half say they will buy clothing, up from 45 percent last year. About two out of five shoppers plan to buy flowers, decorations or greeting cards. A little under half of those customers will visit department stores, while about a quarter plan to shop small at a local business. Online shopping is also expected to get a 6 percent bump over last year, when 21 percent of consumers made their purchases from the comfort of their home … Overall, food will make up the biggest piece of the pie with a projected $5.8 billion in spending — and that’s not including the expected $2.6 billion spent on candy. Clothes follow at $3.3 billion, gifts at $2.9 billion, then $1.2 billion in flowers and $1.1 billion on decorations.

HAPPENING TODAY – FARM SHARE HOSTS FOOD DISTRIBUTION EVENT IN QUINCY — The non-profit organization will be distributing food and providing health screenings to residents of Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Jefferson, Franklin and Wakulla counties from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the North Florida Farm Share, 18212 Blue Star Highway, #5 in Quincy. The event is free and open to the public. This year, nearly 40.5 million pounds of food has been made available to families, children, the elderly, the disabled and veterans in Florida through Farm Share distribution programs.

THE LATEST TEST FOR THE WHITE HOUSE? PULLING OFF ITS EASTER EGG ROLL via Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times – “FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near,” said a Twitter post directed at Trump; the first lady, Melania Trump; and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. “Please reach out!” The message came from Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, the company that supplies commemorative wooden eggs for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the 138-year-old celebration that has drawn 35,000 people to the South Lawn in recent years. The staff of the company, based in Buckfield, Maine, wondered whether the Trumps planned to continue distributing the wooden eggs as party favors, or whether they were even going to have a White House Easter egg Roll at all. By early March, the White House announced that the roll was on — Monday, to be exact — and soon followed up with a rush order for the wooden eggs.

WORTH THE CLICK: “John F. Kennedy’s last Easter in Palm Beach” via the Palm Beach Post

PROGRAMMING NOTE: So that the staff of Florida Politics can fully enjoy the Easter holiday, there will be no Sunburn on Monday. We will resume publication on Tuesday. 

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 13; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 20; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 20; MLB All-Star Game – 88; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 141; Election Day 2017 – 206; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 244; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 268.

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AFP-FL RELEASES DIGITAL AD CALLING ON SENATE TO ‘END CORPORATE WELFARE’ via Florida Politics — Americans for Prosperity-Florida is continuing its efforts to try to put an end to economic incentives in Florida. The organization launched a 60-second digital ad campaign Thursday, urging Floridians to “contact (their) legislator and tell them the game’s over: end this corporate welfare.” The release comes one day after the Florida Senate approved its 2017-18 budget, which included money for Enterprise Florida and economic incentive programs. The House budget does not include funding for Enterprise Florida, and the House earlier this year voted to eliminate the agency. “We’re glad that under Speaker Richard Corcoran’s leadership the Florida House is making good stewardship a priority this year so that we can ensure that our hard-earned tax dollars are going to their best possible use,” said Chris Hudson, the state director for AFP-FL, in a statement.

— “Florida Poly cancels contract paid with secret state appropriation” via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News

— “Here are millions in tax cuts that Florida lawmakers are considering. Do any save you money?” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times

FSU RETURNS $200,000 AMID QUESTIONS ABOUT CONTRACT WITH NASSAU COUNTY PROVIDER via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Records from FSU indicate that Fernandina Beach-based Florida Psychological Associates has only screened 358 students through March despite receiving $590,192 in state dollars. Benchmarks in the contract indicate that 3,800 screenings were supposed by be completed by that time. The contract is worth $800,000 to FPA, which set a goal for its first year of screening 4,500 students plus 2,600 adults involved in the court system in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

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HOUSE APPROVES ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ BILL TO SAVE FAILING FLORIDA SCHOOLS via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Legislators approved the “Schools of Hope” bill by a vote of 77-40. Democrats unanimously voted against the bill. HB 5105, sponsored by Reps. Chris Latvala and Mike Bileca would speed up the time for school districts to turn around failing schools in Florida. The proposal would also set aside $200 million in startup costs to attract new charter schools for students attending failing schools statewide. The allotted funds would pay for teacher recruitment and extending school days. It would affect 77,000 Florida students stuck in 115 “D” and “F” schools statewide. HB 5105 would … give districts only two years to fix “failure factories.” Members debated the proposal for hours, disagreeing over how effective the bill would be and how much ‘hope’ HB 5105 would actually give to students trapped in failing schools. To opponents of the measure, the proposal was too risky — and the rewards were less than certain.

— “LIBRE Initiative says it supports ‘Schools of Hope’ ” via Florida Politics

HOUSE, SENATE BILLS TO REPEAL PIP CLEAR COMMITTEES DESPITE QUESTIONS, DIFFERENCES via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 8-1 to approve a bill (SB 1766) that would repeal the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, replacing the PIP mandate with a requirement that motorists carry bodily injury protection. The Senate proposal, sponsored by Hillsborough County Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would create a medical payment, or MedPay, coverage mandate of $5,000. That system, according to a staff analysis, would provide “substantially similar coverage to current PIP medical benefits.” That provision is not included in the House proposal (HB 1063) which cleared the House Commerce Committee … That bill, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, also repeals the portion of the state law that requires motorists to obtain and maintain PIP coverage. Like Lee’s proposal, the House bill replaces the PIP mandate with a requirement to purchase bodily injury protection. The bill increases the minimum bodily injury coverage limits to $25,000 of injuries to another person, and $50,000 of injuries for two or  more people.

SENATE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BILL ACQUIRES FIREFIGHTER CANCER AMENDMENT via Florida Politics – The Senate’s workers’ compensation bill moved out of the Appropriations Committee Thursday after picking up an amendment declaring two forms of cancer occupational hazards for Florida’s 40,000 firefighters. The amendment … names multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. … Sen. Jeff Brandes objected that a bill to the same effect has been stuck in the Community Affairs Committee, and that Senate rules would steer the bill back there rather than to the Rules Committee and the floor. … That’s true only for a “substantial change” to a bill,” amendment co-sponsor Jack Latvala said. He’d offered only a small amendment. “I guess we’ll let the Rules chairman make that determination,” he continued.

SENATE VOTES TO CLEAR UP ‘MISTAKES’ IN SELF-DEFENSE LAW FOR HOMEOWNERS via Florida Politics – A bill clarifying that one need not wait to be attacked in one’s home before resorting to defensive force advanced passed the Senate Thursday. CS/CS/SB 1052 would reconcile conflicting statutes involving self-defense, correcting drafting errors muddying the legal situation made in 2014 legislation, bill sponsor David Simmons said. … A provision in existing law says one must wait to be attacked before using force. But other provisions hold that the right of self-defense begins when one “reasonably” believes it is necessary. … “They must actually believe — not only reasonably, but subjectively believe — that their lives are in danger, and they must reasonably act,” Simmons said at one point in the debate. “How much more do you want to impose upon a homeowner?”

PUBLIC-RECORDS EXEMPTION FOR MURDER WITNESSES HEADING TO GOVERNOR via Florida Politics – The Senate met the two-thirds requirement Thursday to send Gov. Rick Scott a bill creating a public-records exemption for identifying information about murder witnesses. The vote was 34-3 to accept the CS/CS/HB 111, the House version of legislation sponsored in the Senate by Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy. Exemptions to Florida’s stringent public-records laws require two-thirds votes in both Houses. The House overwhelmingly approved the measure on March 30. … “It’s long overdue,” Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia said. “Back in our community, the biggest problem we have is that people don’t want to speak up when they see a crime. This bill is going to go a long way to ensure that people’s voices are heard and their identities are kept private.”

SENATORS REVERSE POSITIONS ON TRI-RAIL, PUSH BILL TO LET CONTROVERSIAL CONTRACT STAND via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail. Brandes … sponsored an amendment that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract. Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract. Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things. Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously.

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CHAMBER ANNOUNCES GAMBLING CONFERENCE MEMBERS via Florida Politics – In alphabetical order, they are Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II, House Commerce chair José Félix Díaz, Senate President pro tempore Anitere Flores, Sen. Bill Galvano, House Tourism and Gaming Control Democratic ranking member Joe Geller, Senate Regulated Industries chair Travis Hutson, House Tourism and Gaming Control chair Mike La Rosa, Rep. Larry Metz, House Appropriations Democratic ranking member Jared Moskowitz, Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez, and Sen. Perry Thurston. The conference committee will meet next week to iron out differences between the House and Senate’s competing gambling bills. Both include a renewal of exclusive rights to blackjack for the Seminole Tribe of Florida in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. But the chambers differ in many areas, including whether to allow “designated-player games” that are similar to banked card games, like blackjack.

LEGISLATURE MAKES SLOW PROGRESS ON MEDICAL POT RULES via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Bills in the Senate and House don’t agree on the details of expanding access to the drug, from adding pot distributors to deciding whether doctors can prescribe marijuana to people who haven’t been their patients for at least three months. The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (SB 406) is seen as more permissive and has drawn support from medical marijuana advocates, while the House bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (HB 1397) is widely considered more restrictive and is backed by the Drug Free America Foundation. The Senate measure would eliminate a current requirement that a patient be under a doctor’s care for more than 90 days before being able to get a prescription for marijuana — a restriction that would be kept in place under the House version. The Senate bill would immediately expand the number of licenses issued for marijuana distributors in the state, while the House version would require that 150,000 patients sign up for medical marijuana use before expanding the existing pool of distributors.

PAUL RENNER ON ROPES AS PHANTOM 2022 SPEAKER’S RACE GRINDS ON via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Proposed rules changes, quiet caucus meetings, and a series of Wednesday night dinners around Tallahassee are the latest palpable byproducts of a phantom 2022 speaker’s race that is not supposed to be happening — but is in full swing. It has reached a point where there is potential that Speaker Corcoran “takes a look” to ensure the race is not violating new House Republican caucus rules designed to block speaker’s race jockeying until June 30. … Renner held an abrupt meeting of House freshman Republicans Thursday, just 15 minutes before the House was set to take the floor to pass its $81 billion proposed budget. The Jacksonville Republican wanted to address his colleagues about his speaker’s bid, according to several members who attended the meeting.

SUPREME COURT OKS TAXING SATELLITE TV HIGHER THAN CABLE via Florida PoliticsSatellite-television service can be taxed at a higher rate than cable TV, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday. Satellite companies had challenged the state’s Communications Services Tax (CST), which now taxes cable service at 4.92 percent and satellite at 9.07 percent. Those concerns, led by DirecTV, said that difference was unconstitutional and asked for a refund. But the high court reversed the 1st District Court of Appeal’s 2-1 decision, whose majority said that taxing the two services differently was wrong.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION WILL MEET ON UF’S CAMPUS via Florida Politics – The panel that reviews and suggests rewrites to the state’s governing document will meet in Gainesville on the campus of the University of Florida on Wednesday, April 26 at 5 p.m. The public hearing is at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 3201 Hull Road. The event will also be live-streamed by The Florida Channel on www.TheFloridaChannel.org. Future dates include April 27 in Jacksonville-Duval County; May 3 in Bay County; May 10 in Lee County; and May 17 in Hillsborough County.

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GOOD READ – UNIVERSITIES EYE ONLINE TUITION BEYOND FLORIDA – FINALLY via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida — Public higher education institutions … have struggled for two decades to attract students from other states and countries. Administrators have identified the schools’ limited reputations outside their regions and relatively unattractive tuition policies, as well as other states’ regulatory burdens, as hindrances to their success. …But as the State University System aims to dramatically expand online education over the next several years, administrators are renewing their hopes for gaining national traction. They’re lowering out-of-state tuition and betting on a new national network that allows students to register in online programs across state lines more easily. It’s hardly a new idea: Florida would actually be one of the last states to enter the compact, known as the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, or SARA. Skeptical politicians and policymakers have long questioned whether participating would be cost effective for institutions and expressed hesitance to surrender regulatory discretion over how schools based elsewhere operate here. Despite delays, the Legislature looks likely to pass a bill soon authorizing the Sunshine State to join.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

 Oscar Anderson, Southern Strategy Group: Apple

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Ocean Summit Association, Inc.

Kevin Marino Cabrera, Southern Strategy Group: Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Sportsman’s Land Trust

Timothy Meenan, Sarah Niewold, Joy Ryan, Meenan PA: Agrimed Industries

Jerry Paul, Capitol Energy Florida: Nuvve

Steve Schale, Schale Communications: Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky will continue last week’s discussion with Dr. James on Gov. Rick Scott’s reassignment of cases from 9th Circuit State Attorney Airamis Ayala to 5th Circuit State Attorney Ben King.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include former Republican consultant Mark Proctor, Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith, Manatee County Democratic Party Chair Sheryl Wilson and former Rep. Paula Dockery.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: This week Republican Sens. Dana Young and Jeff Brandes will be interviewed by Al Ruechel, while the Common Ground segment will feature Holly Gregory, Ed Narian, and Chris Ingram discussing the Electoral College and whether the country should switch to a popular vote for the presidency. The PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will tackle House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s claims about a jobs contract with Lockheed Martin.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Former Florida State University President and lawmaker Sandy D’Alemberte joins hosts Steve Vancore and Gary Yordon on this week’s episode.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Congressmen Al Lawson and Ted Yoho will be on the show to talk recess, town halls and Syria. HandsOn Jacksonville CEO LeAnn Daddario will also come by to talk about Florida Volunteer Month.

***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.***

CHEESY MOVIE LOVERS, REJOICE: ‘MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’ RETURNS via Robert Ito of The New York Times – After one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns so far, the series is being revived on Netflix with 14 new 90-minute episodes. Joel Hodgson, the creator of the series and one of its first hosts, who has worked as a magician, ventriloquist, stand-up comic and toy designer over the years, said he can’t quite believe his show has reached the big time. “Our show has never been on prime time, and now it kind of is,” Hodgson said. “We were always on at 2 in the morning on cable, or Saturday mornings. Now people can watch at 7 in the evening, if they want.” Hodgson’s original (and ridiculous) conceit is still intact on “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.” A hapless pilot aboard an orbiting spacecraft (the Satellite of Love) is forced to watch the endless parade of B-movies as part of a diabolical experiment conducted by mad scientists. To keep himself company (and to stave off madness), the pilot creates two robot pals, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, who join him in tossing incredulous zingers at the screen as the movies unspool.

SEAWORLD TO ADD NEW RAPID RIVER RIDE ‘INFINITY FALLS’ via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – … the centerpiece of a new themed rainforest attraction. Infinity Falls is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2018. The ride’s 40-foot drop is the world’s tallest river rapid drop … Inspired by the South American rainforests, riders will rush through the feel of an exhilarating Class IV rapids. Guests will sit atop a family-style raft that will wind through a lush jungle setting. A vertical elevator will lift each raft to the top of the ride. The new ride is just another example of how SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is moving away from animal shows, which have been criticized by animal rights groups for keeping wild animals captive. The company stopped breeding orcas last year and has vowed to focus on education and conservation.

With ‘pre-reveal’ games, it’s déjà vu all over again

Illegal gambling is like cockroaches: You kill one and there are dozens more when it came from.

Back in 2013, a multi-state illegal gambling investigation embarrassed the Legislature, resulted in dozens of arrests and eventually took down a lieutenant governor.

Jennifer Carroll stepped down because, before her election, she provided public-relations representation to the company being investigated. Yup, she was never charged with a crime and yet just the past association cost her the job.

Some weeks later, lawmakers outlawed the strip-mall casinos known as internet cafes. Florida now prohibits any “device or system or network of devices” that plays like a slot machine, which – unless you were a South Florida pari-mutuel or the Seminole Tribe – was already illegal.

That was then.

These days, we have a lone circuit judge in Tallahassee that ruled a game that looks like a slot machine and basically plays like a slot machine isn’t a slot machine under Florida law.

Judge John Cooper, in a case first reported by FloridaPolitics.com reporter Jim Rosica, last month said the entertainment devices (ha!) known as “pre-reveal” games were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.”

Are we the least bit surprised that lawmakers, historically unable to pass the least kind of gambling reform, again let the courts make what’s essentially a major policy decision about betting?

“I see a giant wave coming,” said one unnamed person in Florida’s gambling industry. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.

The judge’s ruling, taken to its logical conclusion, means pre-reveal games will pop up everywhere in the state: restaurants, bars, and probably other places where kids will be exposed to them. I have to think, in some way, that’s worse than giving slots to pari-mutuels in the handful of counties that passed a slots referendum.

Let’s cut to the chase: The House needs to reach a reasonable deal with the Senate to pass a gambling bill and regulate this stuff once and for all. Lawmakers cannot afford to allow for the thousands of pre-reveal games that will enter the state if nothing is done to stop them.

We know the drill. The pre-reveal game manufacturers will hire lobbyists, armed with the Cooper decision, and become a constituency that cannot be stopped if they are not banned this Session.

I won’t mention at length that the state allows “summer jai alai” permits, which turns into card rooms in hotels. And that the state Supreme Court still has not ruled on whether to allow slots in referendum counties.

It’s time for the Legislature to have courage and take action, rather than capitulating its authority to the courts and crafty gambling attorneys.

Reach a deal with the Tribe that limits gambling expansion for 20 years and regulate what we have. If a deal needs to include slots at referendum counties that have passed a referendum, so be it.

That’s still better than ruining the Florida brand by becoming Nevada, with pre-reveal “slots” at every restaurant, bar and gas station.

A dangerous consequence of the Eyeball Wars; throwing gasoline on Florida’s wildfire opioid crisis

It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter.

Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars.

Few can argue the opioid problem has reached epic proportions. The Washington Post is reporting more than 200,000 deaths from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, nearly 600 people died from overdoses in Palm Beach County alone, says the Palm Beach Post.

By 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the legislature had begun actively cracking down on the state’s “pill mills,” helped by the Florida Prescription Drug Diversion and Abuse program, set up by the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, created during the 2012 Legislative Session.

In 2017, a group of state legislators, including Reps. Bob Rommel of Naples, Larry Lee of St. Lucie, Nick Duran of Miami-Dade, and Cary Pigman of Sebring have each filed legislation seeking innovative ways to combat Florida’s mounting opioid crisis.

Despite efforts to fix a problem in one area, Pigman may have open the door for another.

As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, the Avon Park Republican – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida.

Sponsored by Manny Diaz, HB 1037 is a bill that would allow optometrists, who are neither medical doctors nor educated in medical school, the ability to prescribe all manner of narcotics, except Schedule 1. The bill is being aggressively pushed by the Florida Optometric Association, which has assembled a team of a dozen lobbyists to promote HB 1037, including Michael Corcoran, brother of the House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Optometrists claim the expansion of services will allow them to perform intricate, “noninvasive” laser surgery. It has been an argument thoroughly debunked by the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association, which say optometrists do not have nearly the amount of training and expertise necessary to perform such delicate procedures.

There is no such thing as “noninvasive” eye surgery, they point out.

However, the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous.

If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

Such a resolution in the Eyeball Wars would be like throwing gasoline on the raging wildfire of Florida’s opioid crisis.

Sunburn for 4.12.17 – Florida is on fire; Fundraising is cold; Jeff Atwater bids adieu; It’s Seersucker Day!

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

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

RICK SCOTT DECLARES EMERGENCY AS WILDFIRES BURN AND FORECAST LOOKS DIRE

As more than 100 wildfires burn across the state of Florida, Governor Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency to ensure proper response to the danger of more fires.

Forecasts predict hotter and drier conditions than normal in Florida during the coming months.

Florida wildfires have already burned 250 percent more acreage during the first three months of 2017 than during the same time period last year.

There are currently more than 100 active wildfires across more than 20,000 acres in Florida.

“Much of Central and South Florida are approaching drought-like conditions and the chances for wildfires are continuing to increase with hotter temperatures and low rainfall. This may only get worse as we enter the hotter summer months and it is crucial that we take every action right now to be prepared,” says Gov. Scott.

“Wildfires are burning more than 20,000 acres in Florida right now, and we haven’t seen this active of a season since 2011. From St. George Island in the Panhandle to a wildfire just north of one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions in Orlando, we’re seeing that every area of our state is susceptible to wildfire. I thank Governor Scott for signing this executive order, which will ensure we have every resource available to us to combat these wildfires to protect life, property and wildlife,” says Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Since February, wildfires have swept across 68,000 acres of the state. That amount is higher than the average acreage burned over the past five years.

The largest blaze right now is the one known as the Cowbell Fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve, which has spread to more than 10,000 acres about a mile north of Alligator Alley.

A Hernando County brush fire apparently sparked by lightning on Saturday had widened to 1,100 acres by Monday.

The dry conditions mark sharp contrast to 2016, when the state was drenched by two hurricanes.

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MILLIONS DONATE TO FLA. POLS AMID 2017 SESSION via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Some of the biggest companies involved in battles at the state Capitol showered campaign contributions to the state’s political parties and other top politicians in the first few months of the year.

Newly-filed campaign finance reports show that the Republican Party of Florida raised $2.46 million during the first quarter of the year, while a separate GOP campaign committee that raises money for state Senate candidates raised $1.43 million. The Florida Democratic Party raised slightly more than $843,000 during the same period.

— “Both major parties in Fla show tepid money-raising” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

— “Despite anti-Trump energy, Florida Dems struggle out of the gate with 2017 fundraising” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of The Florida Squeeze

— “Florida Democratic Party chair chips in $100K in first quarter” via Florida Politics

— “Richard Corcoran among top donors to RPOF during first quarter” via Florida Politics

RICK SCOTT SIDESTEPS QUESTIONS ABOUT MID-SESSION CHECKS FROM BIG DONORS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO FloridaScott’s political committee last month raked in more than $600,000 in contributions from companies with major bills before the Legislature that could end up on his desk next month to veto or sign into law. The largest amount, $100,000, came from U.S. Sugar … Others doling out $50,000 checks each to Scott’s Let’s Get To Work committee included Wal-Mart and Auto Nation … When asked about the large contributions during a Cabinet meeting, Scott would not directly respond to whether the large contributions would influence his decisions about legislation affecting the interests of some of his largest donors. “I look forward to seeing the budget,” Scott said. “I’ll go through every line item to make sure it’s good for the citizens of our state.”

DENISE GRIMSLEY RAISES $260K FOR AG. COMMISH BID via Florida Politics — Sen. Denise Grimsley raised more than $260,000 in just one week toward her 2018 Agriculture Commissioner bid, far outpacing the only other Republican candidate in the race. But state campaign finance record show Grimsley could face stiff fundraising competition from Rep. Matt Caldwell, whose political committee raised more than $224,000 in the same one-week period. State campaign finance records show Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, raised a combined $260,756 between March 1 and March 6, the eve of the 2017 Legislative Session. Grimsley brought in $85,008 to her official campaign account; her political committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland, brought in $176,000. … State records show Caldwell’s political committee — Friends of Matt Caldwell — raised $224,980 between March 1 and March 6, the day before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

— “Bill Galvano adds $500K in committee cash during March” via Florida Politics

— “Wilton Simpson tacks on $263K for political committee” via Florida Politics

 — “Jack Latvala raises more than $244K on eve of 2017 Legislative Session” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

— “Dana Young raises $150K in March for Senate re-election” via Florida Politics

— “Jason Brodeur adds $50K to Senate campaign” via Orlando Rising

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RICK SCOTT WON’T END FIGHT FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, TOURISM FUNDING via Florida Politics With the House seemingly intent on gutting VISIT FLORIDA and eliminating Enterprise Florida, Gov. Scott suggested he won’t stop counterpunching. The governor, who spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, has been openly warring with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. He’s been out to kill state government’s business incentives programs. Corcoran counts Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, its tourism marketing arm, as dispensers of “corporate welfare” … “We’re at record tourism numbers,” with close to 113 million tourists visiting the state last year. With thousands of jobs tied to tourism, “it’s important to me that we fully fund VISIT FLORIDA,” Scott said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at USTA National Campus in the Champions Lodge Dining Area, 10000 USTA Boulevard in Orlando.

NO STATE OF EMERGENCY, BUT GOV. ANNOUNCES WORKSHOPS TO ADDRESS OPIOID CRISIS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s Department of Health, Department of Children and Families and Department of Law Enforcement will in the coming weeks begin workshops in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange counties. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the initiative, a deal with drug companies to provide Narcan spray and their support for legislation related to the opioid crisis at an event in the state Capitol … An emergency declaration allows the governor to direct immediate spending to combat problems and allows public health officials to move quickly in response to a crisis. “We’re working through the Legislature, we’re doing the workshops,” Scott said Tuesday when asked why he hadn’t done the same for the opioid crisis. “We’re going to have these workshops and we’re going to see if there’s ideas that we can put forth that might have an impact. We’re going to see what we can learn, but all of us have to understand that we all have to be involved with this.” The workshops are a “starting point,” Scott said.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: On the day @PamBondi talks about dangers of opioids there is buzz that a Pa congressman will bc Trump’s pick for drug czar

A DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCE OF FLORIDA’S EYEBALL WARS; THROWING GASOLINE ON THE STATE’S WILDFIRE OPIOID CRISIS via Florida Politics – It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter. Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars … As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, Cary Pigman – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida … the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous. If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

AYALA FILES CHALLENGES OF SCOTT WITH FLORIDA SUPREME COURT, FEDERAL COURT via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – In complaints filed by her attorney, Roy Austin Jr.of Washington D.C., Ayala contends that she legally exercised prosecutorial discretion in deciding not to pursue death penalty prosecutions in the 9th Judicial Circuit. Ayala was not found by guilty of any misconduct. Consequently, Ayala argues that Scott’s executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to another state attorney were only because he disagreed with her determination not to pursue death penalties. The state action, seeking a writ of quo warranto, asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders. Ayala’s petition cites Article V, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution, which declares that “the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in that circuit,” and contends that Scott has no legitimate grounds to overcome that.

GOV’S OFFICE AFFIRMED PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION, STATE ATTORNEYS’ INDEPENDENCE, IN LETTER LAST YEAR via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Among material filed with Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden … almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services. “Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.”

RANDOLPH BRACY, JACK LATVALA REACH COMPROMISE ON SENATE CUT TO ARAMIS AYALA’S OFFICE via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsAyala‘s office would take a much smaller budget hit this year under a compromise worked out by Bracy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Latvala. State Rep. Scott Plakon engineered the House cut of about $1.3 million, to transfer that money to the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is set to get the cases Scott reassigned from Ayala. Bracy, of Oakland, is one of the few Democrats who have actively come to Ayala’s aid. Under the arrangement agreed to by Bracy and Latvala, $569,000 of the proposed Senate cut would be restored, while $622,000 would be transferred to the office of the 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

SENATE, HOUSE SPLIT ON CAPITAL OUTLAY FUNDING via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – In the House bill (HB 5001), maintenance and repair projects are funded at $54.6 million for the Florida College System and $114.8 million for the State University System. The Senate’s offer (SB 2500) is $38.1 million for colleges and $45.6 million for universities. But the Senate budget includes another $122.2 million in construction projects for colleges and $178 million for university projects. The House’s proposal does not yet include any money for such projects. Altogether, the House is considering $360 million in capital outlay funding while the Senate is contemplating more than $616 million. This number includes PreK-12 public schools, colleges and universities.

HOUSE TO TAKE UP PENSION REFORM THIS WEEK via Sascha Cordner of WLRN – Among its provisions is changing the default retirement for newly hired state employees, who haven’t chosen a retirement plan. Instead of the more popular and traditional option known as the pension plan, the bill changes the default to the 401(k) style investment plan. Supporters of the proposal say the goal is to allow more employees to take their retirement earnings with them, should they leave their state job in a couple of years. But, opponents—mainly state employee unions—say the investment plan is less stable and more risky.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Shevrin Jones and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will hold a press conference to discuss the House’s “Schools of Hope” legislation and its impacts on Florida’s public schools at 10 a.m. outside the House chamber on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

HAPPENING TODAY – CARIBBEAN DAY AT THE CAPITOL — The 9th annual event, hosted by members of the House and Senate, is meant to give community members a chance to meet with their lawmakers and give the capital city a taste of the Caribbean. The day’s events include a luncheon on the 22nd floor from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Caribbean food and barbecue from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Capitol Courtyard.

CARY PIGMAN’S DUI SOBRIETY TEST ON FHP DASHCAM VIDEO via Niels Heimeriks of WPTVPigman, 58, who represents a district that includes parts of St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, was pulled over Thursday, March 23, around 10:45 p.m. on the turnpike near the Fort Drum Service Plaza. An open bottle of wine was found on the front passenger seat of his vehicle. When asked by the trooper Pigman denied having purchased the wine and denied drinking, though the trooper could detect a smell of alcohol coming from his mouth. During the roadside test the lawmaker had problems following instructions, he was so off balance that he almost fell during one of the tests.

— KEY OPINIONS —

DARLENE FARAH: PROSECUTORS RECOGNIZE DEATH PENALTY’S HARM TO VICTIMS’ FAMILIES via Florida Politics – For so long, prosecutors have repeated the mantra that the death penalty is needed for murder victims’ families and to provide them justice. This idea developed into an unquestioned assumption that guided many district attorneys in handling cases and crafting campaign messages. Yet the recent announcement by State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando, Florida, to no longer seek death sentences challenges the notion that capital punishment helps victims’ families. Given the uncertain and painful process that capital cases put victims’ families — including my own — through, I applaud this announcement and hope other prosecutors will adopt a similar approach. There’s a vast disconnect between the theoretical death penalty championed by some officials — which they say is justice and brings closure — and what it looks like in reality. My children and I witnessed that reality firsthand after my daughter Shelby Farah was murdered in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 20, 2013.

DARRYL PAULSON: THE FILIBUSTER, THE NUCLEAR OPTION AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS via Florida Politics –  Now that the filibuster is dead in the nomination process, will it also fall by the wayside with respect to legislation? The answer is likely yes. The larger question is whether the filibuster is a good or bad part of the legislative process?  Many argue that the Constitution is premised on majority rights and the filibuster allows a minority to dictate public policy. In other words, it is undemocratic. Supporters of the filibuster contend that it serves a useful purpose. Its use forces legislators to compromise in order to secure passage of major legislation. On controversial issues such as civil rights, a supermajority vote ensures that the legislation has widespread support and its passage was critical. Critics of the filibuster … Argue the filibuster has been a tool to frustrate the will of the majority and to impede passage of important legislation. Supporters counter that the death of the filibuster will lead to greater polarization, although that is hard to imagine. They argue that a simple majority vote will allow a president to appoint more extreme nominees and will allow the Senate to pass more extreme legislation.

JOE HENDERSON: DEMOCRATS MAY FINALLY GET THE MESSAGE THAT THEY NEED, WELL, A MESSAGE via Florida Politics – Florida Democrats have become such a non-factor in state politics that the real drama frequently becomes which faction of the Republican Party will prevail on a given issue. Think about it. We have had knockdown, drag-outs between the GOP-controlled House and Senate. This year the main event has been the ongoing feud between Republican Gov. Scott and House Speaker Corcoran. It’s almost like Democrats don’t exist … Democrats are going to have to shout such things from the rooftop, with clarity and determination. It won’t be easy. Republicans have controlled the microphone for a long time now while Democrats have curled up in the corner with nothing to say. Are they up for this? Time will tell, I guess.

JIM DEBEAUGRINE: REVENUE FROM MEDICAL MARIJUANA FOR TREATMENT, PREVENTION WOULD BE MINIMAL via Florida Politics – If nothing else, the intense debate over how to implement legalized medical marijuana in Florida has given many of us a crash course in business economics, government regulation and medical protocols. Missing from this discussion, however, is the collateral damage of the drug trade – addiction, criminal behavior, broken families, unemployment, even death. Ironically, these collateral effects are the most likely to directly impact the average Floridian … the Legislature has a tremendous opportunity to make major progress toward addressing these unwanted side effects. Under current law, marijuana is subject to the state’s sales and use tax. This is, by the way, consistent with most of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. State economists estimate that tax collections will eventually rise to $24 million on an annual basis. This estimate, however, is based on assumed annual sales that are roughly one-quarter what a leading industry expert predicts. Either way, these funds represent an untapped resource that could be used to boost the state’s substance abuse education, prevention and treatment efforts.

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JEFF ATWATER GETS SENTIMENTAL SENDOFF AT CABINET MEETING via Florida Politics – The state’s CFO, who’s leaving after this legislative session to join Florida Atlantic University as a VP, got a surprise recognition at what is likely his last Cabinet meeting. “I don’t see this on the agenda,” Atwater said, laughing. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gifted him with an orange juice decanter; Attorney General Pam Bondi gave him a mug, and Gov. Rick Scott presented him with a state flag in a case. “We’ll miss you; you’ve been just a joy,” Bondi told him. “We all started together,” she added—all four were first elected in 2010. “The band is breaking up.”

99 APPLY TO RUN FLORIDA’S DEP via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Already 99 people have applied to replace Jon Steverson, the head of DEP who resigned suddenly in January, according to the Florida Cabinet which has posted the names of all 99. Currently the agency is being led by Ryan Matthews, who had been the deputy secretary for regulatory programs before he was appointed as interim secretary back in February. Matthews is not among the people to have applied so far for the permanent job. The Cabinet has set a goal of having a final vote on a new DEP leader by May 23.

HUNDREDS OF CONCERNS AUTOMATICALLY SIGNED UP TO LOBBY CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD via Florida PoliticsThe list of companies, nonprofits and others who were registered to lobby the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) now stretches to 55 pages, according to the state’s Lobbyist Registration Office. But many, if not most, of those may be from the state automatically adding names to that lobbying registry—and from lobbyists who haven’t yet “unchecked” their box for the CRC. The commission, which convenes every 20 years to review and rewrite the state’s governing document, holds its next public hearing 5 p.m. Wednesday on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION ANNOUNCES MORE MEETING DATES via Florida Politics Carlos Beruff, the commission’s chairman, on Tuesday announced more dates and locations for public hearings: Wednesday, April 26 in Gainesville (Alachua County); Thursday, April 27 in Jacksonville (Duval County); Wednesday, May 3 in Bay County; Wednesday, May 10 in Lee County; Wednesday, May 17 in Hillsborough County. “This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government,” he said in a statement. “You don’t need to be a policy expert to have a good idea.”

BLACKJACK APPEAL NOW ON HOLD TILL AFTER SESSION via Florida Politics – A mediation between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that was set for Tuesday morning was cancelled, the tribe’s attorney said. The state had appealed to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminoles to keep offering blackjack at their Florida casinos. The mediator agreed to hold off and to stay the appeal until the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. By then, the sides may know whether lawmakers pass omnibus gambling legislation, including a new blackjack agreement, that would “moot the appeal,” attorney Barry Richard said. “In a case like this, (mediation) is kind of meaningless, but they make you go through the routine anyway,” he added. Richard explained the state couldn’t agree to any mediated settlement in the case without legislative approval.

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IT’S SEERSUCKER DAY AT THE CAPITOL

The day you’ve been waiting for all session is here.

No, not the budget debate in the House and Senate. And it’s not Sine Die quite yet.

Nope, it’s Seersucker Day at the Florida Capitol. But once again seersucker aficionados are left with a dilemma: Break the rules and break out their favorite suit out of season or just wait a few more days?

Tradition dictates that seersucker should only be worn between Easter and Labor Day — or if you prescribe to the to the “fashion dos and don’ts” outlined by former Sen. Trent Lott, who started Seersucker Day in the United States Congress in 1996, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Florida lawmakers are known to bend the rules every once in a while when it comes to their love of this thin, all-cotton striped garb. In 2016, when the Legislature met from January to March the annual event was held in Feb 24. The average temperature that day was just 61 degrees.

And in case you were wondering, last year Easter was March 27. That means lawmakers celebrated all things seersucker a full month before the traditional start of seersucker season.

This year, the celebration of the Southern suit isn’t starting nearly as early. Easter is this Sunday, which means you’re only jumping the gun by a couple of days. And unlike last year, the high in Tallahassee is expected to be closer to 85 degrees, making a summer suit preferable.

Still feeling queasy about bending the rules? Style experts suggest pairing the jacket with a pair of dark pants, instead of wearing the full suit. Or maybe just wear a seersucker tie to get in the spirit. Women can pair their seersucker jacket with a darker skirt, or put a shirt under their dress to create a layered look.

But if you’re asking yourself WWJPD, you should know: It’s probably unlikely Jimmy Patronis, the former state Representative and a member of Florida Public Service Commission, will be wearing seersucker when the Constitution Revision Commission convenes at Florida A&M University tonight.

When asked about Seersucker Day on Twitter, Patronis responded “you can’t have it ‘til after Easter! Every good Southern Gentleman knows this.”

“I’m no longer on the BOD of Seersucker Day,” he continued. “I would encourage April 19 or 10, preferably a day the @MyFLHouse is in Session.”

Dare we suggest a Seersucker Day, part deux?

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY BUFFET LUNCH MENU Wednesday’s Governors club menu comes from the Pacific Northwest with smoked tomato soup; apple pear salad – celery, Granny Smith apples, pears, walnuts, dried cherries; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; smoked salmon & penne pasta salad – Pacific smoked salmon, penne pasta, scallions, capers, eggs, herb vinaigrette; rosemary peppered beef; chicken thigh yakitori; BBQ grilled salmon ; white & wild rice with apples & raisin and beans, lardon & sage.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

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Ron Pierce, Ed Briggs, Natalie King, RSA Consulting: Palm Beach County Tax Collector

CITRUS FORECAST GENERALLY HOLDS STEADY, USDA SAYS via Florida Politics – The bad news in citrus: “Grapefruit production declined.” The good news: “Florida orange production remained steady.” That’s the upshot of the latest forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, according to the Florida Department of Citrus. “The April report projects the state’s orange crop to stay at 67 million boxes for the 2016-17 season,” a Tuesday news release said. “The grapefruit crop was reduced by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million.” The industry has been savaged by a citrus greening epidemic … In a separate statement, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the latest forecast “represents a more than 70 percent collapse in production of our state’s signature crop” since the 1997-98 season.

MICHAEL GANNON, WHO MADE HISTORY LIVELY, DIES AT 89 via Cindy Swirko of the Gainesville Sun – University of Florida history professor Gannon, a former priest, an expert on the state’s Spanish beginnings and a calming presence on campus during troubled times, died days shy of his 90th birthday. Gannon was remembered by former students and colleagues as an engaging and knowledgeable professor who spent part of his youth in St. Augustine, spurring his interest in Florida history. Among them was Carl Van Ness, UF’s historian and curator of the manuscripts and archives department. “It’s hard to say where to start with Mike’s involvement with the university. It just seems like he was involved with so many things,” Van Ness said. “He was funny and had a great sense of humor — very outgoing. He had a beautiful, beautiful voice.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our great friends, top Democratic fundraiser, Stephanie Lewis-McClung, and Richard Corcoran‘s vox, Fred Piccolo. Also celebrating today is Tampa airport’s Emily Nipps, Jared Rosenstein, and former  Rep. Joe Saunders.

Professing love for Florida business, Chris King video uses stock footage from LA, Washington

Chris King, the newly announced Democratic candidate for Florida governor, wants to “lift up” homegrown businesses.

Apparently, those homegrown businesses include those in  Los Angeles and Silverdale, Washington.

In a YouTube video posted last week, the Winter Park affordable housing executive offers his vision of the state of Florida politics.

“We need a whole new generation of people to stand up and demand more from our politics,” King says in the nearly four-minute clip “Rise and Lead.”

“I am committed to the success of Florida,” he adds emotionally. “I had a real interest in affordable housing, I saw a huge need in Florida and so our business really was trying to take on that need was trying to go to communities where morale was low … bringing hope and bringing vision.”

Despite presenting a well-produced video, complete with heartfelt testimonials and inspiring words of dedication to the success of Florida business, a closer examination reveals a slightly different reality.

At the 3:08 mark, King’s video uses a few moments of slick B-roll stock footage, each coming from places far from the Sunshine State.

According to Pond5 footage exchange, the clips include “Construction Workers Talking,” produced in Silverdale and “Business People Writing Notes on Wall” coming from Los Angeles.

Would it be out of line to ask a candidate who launched his campaign for governor with a love of Florida business to actually film his first commercial in Florida?

 

Sunburn for 4.11.17 – Letting them eat cake; House demand apropos records; Pam Bondi sued; Herald wins two Pulitzers

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

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

DO NOT LET THE PERFECT BE THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD, MR. SPEAKER

If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.

“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.

“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “

That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.

But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.

What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.

Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.

The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.

Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.

None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.

However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.

Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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JOE NEGRON’S LAKE O RESERVOIR PROPOSAL GETS SENATE HEARING WEDNESDAY – Negron’s Everglades reservoir proposal (SB 1) is scheduled for a Senate special order hearing tomorrow, as both the House and Senate hold second readings and amendments on their respective budgets. The House budget is at $81.2 billion, around $4 billion less than the Senate. Both chambers are split on Negron’s Everglades reservoir issue, which now includes deepening 31,000 acres of reservoirs, and only using farmland as needed. The plan has also reduced from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, with Florida bonding for its share. The House version (HB 761) has yet to be heard by a committee. Corcoran, who remains opposed to bonding for the plan, says its chances are improving.

HOUSE, SENATE BUDGETERS DISAGREE ON WHAT EVERGLADES RESTORATION IS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – House members outlined $165.7 million for restoration. That’s $94.9 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP and $32 million for restoration strategies regional water quality plan (line 1594 of HB 5001); $29.9 million goes for Northern Everglades and estuaries (line 1594A). But they also include $5 million for dispersed water storage for the South Florida Water Management District (line 1589) and $3.9 million for agricultural nutrient reduction and water retention projects for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed (1356A). A press release from the Senate says it has $144 million for Everglades restoration, but if they used the more inclusive definition from the House, SB 2500 has $193.6 million; $112 million would go to CERP while the House has $94.9 million. It appears the Senate’s budget does not fully contemplate the Negron water storage bill (SB 10) as line 1595 offers $1 million for the C-51 reservoir. The House budget, of course, has no line for the reservoir.

EDITORIAL: SENATE BUDGET IS AN INVESTMENT IN FLORIDA’S EDUCATION via the South Florida Sun Sentinel ed board – The Senate would increase overall state funding for the universities by $334 million next year, about 12 percent. The House would cut that category by $183 million, almost 7 percent. The Senate also would make the universities accessible to more Floridians by expanding financial aid by $320 million. This total includes a $180 million increase in Bright Futures merit scholarships and a $126 million boost in need-based aid. The House, by contrast, would reduce Bright Futures by more than $11 million, though it would bump up need-based aid by $7 million. Negotiators in the two chambers will need to reconcile these and any other discrepancies before passing a budget and sending it to Gov. Scott‘s desk. But if lawmakers are truly committed to enhancing the quality and competitiveness of the state’s university system — and ultimately the state’s economy — the Senate’s position will prevail. A first-class higher education system is a critical component in attracting more high-wage jobs to Florida.

HOUSE BUDGET LANGUAGE WOULD UNDERMINE FLORIDA LOTTERY CONTRACT via Florida Politics – Pending an appeal of a court order blocking a $700 million Florida Lottery contract, proviso language in the proposed House budget would appear to block officials from attempting to enforce its terms. The language within the budget bill, HB 5100 (see page 329) pertains to a $26.6 million appropriation to operate game terminals. It would forbid officials from paying a vendor to “deploy, utilize, or lease” instant-ticket or full-service vending machines. The document would provide $5 million “only to pay to lease up to a maximum total of 1,500 instant ticket vending machines at a per-machine, per-month rate that must be specified in express terms in a vendor contract.”  A separate $2.9 million line authorizes leasing no more than 500 full-service machines, under a written contract with a vendor. The disputed contract would boost the number of full-service vending machines to 5,000.

DESPITE BIG DOLLARS, HOUSE ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN NOT ATTRACTIVE TO TOP NATIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL FIRMS via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – House Speaker Corcoran wants nonprofits that have operated high-performing charter schools in other states to replicate their success here. To that end, he’s made them an offer: $200 million to cover facilities costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus a wish list of statutory and regulatory changes designed to help them prosper. But it appears they’re not interested. Several of the organizations the Land O’Lakes Republican has mentioned by name or that have appeared in front of House education committees — networks that operate charter schools in New York City, Boston, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, among other locales … they have no plans to open schools in the Sunshine State.

HOUSE DEMANDS FINANCE RECORDS FROM SECRET APPROPRIATIONS via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – Speaker Corcoran wants two companies that received millions in secret appropriations to detail how they spent the taxpayer money. A Fernandina Beach psychological firm run by the friend of a state senator received $1 million in this year’s Florida State University budget with the lawmaker’s helpbut failed to produce the results it promised … An online education company operated from the Miami office of a lobbyist received $2 million in the Florida Polytechnic University budget but served fewer students at a greater cost than a separate program run through the University of Central Florida, the Daily News reported. Corcoran’s letters threatened to make the universities return the money if details aren’t provided by Thursday about how the companies spent the money or if they failed to use it as required.

ANITERE FLORES ATTACKED OVER AOB via Florida Politics – Floridians for Government Accountability is launching a direct mail campaign targeting Sen. Anitere Flores over insurance premiums. The direct mail campaign comes about a week after the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that indicated Flores, the chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, would be to blame if insurance rates increased. “Paying too much for insurance? The Wall Street Journal says Flores is at fault,” reads one side of the mailer.

TRIAL LAWYERS DENOUNCES HOUSE WORKERS’ COMP PACKAGE via Florida Politics – HB 7085 is “a handout to the insurance industry and its big-business allies – one that does little to benefit injured workers or most employers,” the Florida Justice Association said in a written statement. “The plan wipes out countless injured workers’ ability to afford legal help when insurance companies wrongfully deny benefits, without providing other new benefits to offset this added burden,” the organization said. Real reform would allow workers some choice in their doctors, a “mid-level” tier for benefits, competition between insurers on rates, and “reasonable” attorney fees, said Richard Chait, chairman of the workers’ compensation section. “The eventual outcome of the current approach will be that more injured workers will receive inadequate health care treatment to help them recover,” he said.

EVAN JENNE’S ‘TIPPING POINT’: A RUN FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER via Florida PoliticsIt’s tough to be a top Democrat in Florida, but Jenne is going for it. Jenne, of Dania Beach, recently announced his intention to seek the leadership of the House Democrats in 2020-22. In a state where Republicans have controlled the Legislature for the last two decades, “you can’t promise definitively that something will happen,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. That said, he added, “If I say I’m going to do something, you can stick to my word.”

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “As the House is poised to take up its budget proposal this week, please see the updated infographic at … below for the breakdown of legislation that has been placed on the calendar for a hearing in the Florida House through April 11th“:

***Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are hired by Florida employers, unions, and public programs to negotiate rebates and discounts from drug companies. This is one way PBMs help keep the growth in actual prescription drug spending in the low single digits despite massive price hikes by some drug manufacturers. In Florida, PBMs will save $43.4 billion over the next ten years. Learn more at DrugBenefitSolutions.com.***

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 16; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 23; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 23; MLB All-Star Game – 91; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 144; Election Day 2017 – 209; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 247; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 271.

BETSY DEVOS PRAISES THIS VOUCHER-LIKE PROGRAM. HERE’S WHAT IT MEANS FOR SCHOOL REFORM via Emma Brown with the Washington Post — Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice that the Trump administration holds up as a model for the nation. The voucher-like program, the largest of its kind in the country, helps pay tuition for nearly 100,000 students from low-income families. But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools. …Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice, does not seem to be bothered by that complaint. She is driven instead by the faith that children need and deserve alternatives to traditional public schools. … On Thursday, DeVos visited another Florida private school to highlight the program. Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary is “an awesome example of the opportunities provided through the Florida tax-credit scholarship,” DeVos told reporters. She said that the administration is working on how to expand choice nationally and that there is a “possibility” its efforts might be patterned on Florida’s tax-credit program, according to Politico.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: CFO Jeff Atwater will host the traditional “Ringing of the Bell” ceremony, honoring firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, at 8:35 a.m. at the Florida Capitol.

LAWSUIT: PAM BONDI FORCING CONTRIBUTIONS TO UNREGISTERED CHARITIES via Florida Politics – The Attorney General is forcing businesses who settle unfair trade actions with her office to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities, according to a lawsuit filed last week. She also is directing contributions to her Office’s own nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi … The petition says Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse. “Our office has not been served at this point; however, after a preliminary review of the information you provided us, we believe these claims to be without merit,” Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.

STATE, FORMER HEALTH CARE PROVIDER AGREE TO SETTLE SUIT OVER PRISONERS’ UNTREATED HERNIAS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – About 1,800 current and former Florida prison inmates who were denied medical care for hernias will be entitled to divide $1.7 million in damages from a class-action lawsuit under a conditional settlement agreed to by the Department of Corrections and its former prison health care provider, Corizon, and filed in federal court in Tallahassee last week. The suit was brought by the Florida Justice Institute and the Coral Gables law firm of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in September 2015 on behalf of three inmates. It alleged Corizon and the agency violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments by denying the inmates medical care in an effort to save money. The damages will be paid by Corizon, but the settlement agreement also requires the state prison system to adopt a new policy to provide consultations with surgeons for inmates with hernia symptoms in all Florida facilities.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor will plant a pinwheel garden with Department of Economic Opportunity staff to help raise awareness about child abuse prevention in Florida at 3 p.m. at the Caldwell Building Steps, at the intersection of Madison Street and Monroe Street, 107 Madison Street, in Tallahassee.

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS SAYS LACK OF OPENNESS STILL HINDERING CONSTITUTIONAL REWRITE PANEL via Florida PoliticsThe head of the League of Women Voters of Florida said Monday that “a lack of transparency” still plagues the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. In a letter to chairman Carlos Beruff and commissioners, LWVF President Pamela Goodman added concerns over “potential roadblocks to meaningful public engagement, potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and a less than robust respect for the Sunshine Rules.” The commission, which convenes every 20 years to fold public hearings, then review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document, still has not adopted final rules since its March 20 organization meeting.

PERSONNEL NOTE: GOVERNOR’S TOP LAWYER JOINING CONSTITUTION REVISION PANEL via Florida PoliticsWilliam Spicola, general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott for the past year, is leaving to become top legal officer of the Constitution Revision Commission. Replacing him as GC in the executive office of the governor is Daniel Nordby, a partner in Shutts & Bowen’s Tallahassee office. Both job changes become official on April 17, the governor’s office announced Monday. … Before joining Scott’s office, Spicola was a veteran of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. … Nordby has practiced election, constitutional, and administrative law at his firm since 2014. Before that, he served stints as general counsel to the Florida House and the secretary of state’s office.

***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.***

— KEY OPINIONS —

EDITORIAL: THE LEGISLATURE’S FREE-MARKET FANTASY FOR HOSPITALS via TBO.com – Access to quality health care is not just at risk in Washington. It also is at stake in Tallahassee, where Florida House Speaker Corcoran relentlessly pursues a free-market fantasy that threatens the future of hospitals such as Tampa General, Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg and the BayCare network. This is a risky strategy that would undermine the financial viability of the venerable institutions Tampa Bay residents have long relied upon for top-flight care, and it fails to recognize that hospitals cannot be treated like fast-food franchises competing for customers on opposite street corners. Corcoran declares he and his Republican allies are pushing “dynamic reform” to health care aimed at empowering patients by increasing the supply of health care options, which they believe will bring down prices. That would create a wild-west free market for health care where hospitals are treated no differently than auto dealers or furniture stores competing for customers by promising lower prices in the best neighborhoods and avoiding unprofitable sites in low-income communities. The reality is that health care doesn’t work that way unless you’re Gov. Scott, who got rich running the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system — now HCA Healthcare — that is one of the key supporters of the changes.

ROBERT MCCLURE: MISINFORMATION ABOUT EVERGLADES RESTORATION ABOUNDS via the Tallahassee Democrat – We all recognize the special place in Florida’s shared heritage and the unique ecosystem present in the Glades. So it has been somewhat disappointing to observe how much erroneous information is being written regarding attempts to restore the Everglades and fix ongoing challenges with Lake O. The James Madison Institute (JMI), with a 30-year history of nonpartisan, public policy work has done extensive research in this area, seeking to identify the most effective and efficient path forward regarding Everglades restoration. Nobody disputes the fact that heavy rain events have myriad negative impacts on the environment, the economy and the population. Heavy rains cause Lake O to reach depths requiring discharges from the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This water, often containing toxins, then flows into the Everglades estuary. And yet, many falsely claim the main source of pollution is the farmers of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This is in direct opposition to the facts on the ground, as highlighted in our report of 2016 entitled “Solving the Everglades Riddle.”

ANDY MADTES: WHAT HB 11 SUPPORTERS DON’T GET via Florida Politics – Recently the House passed HB 11, legislation that would require labor unions representing public sector workers to certify they have more than half of the workers signed up as members every single year. In their view this will empower workers to somehow bargain better contracts and benefits and, they swear, in no way an attempt to strip workers of their right to a voice on the job. It could be they just don’t understand how a union, in a “right to work for less” state like Florida, operates in a modern workplace. The wages, retirement, health care and other benefits that a union like AFSCME negotiates are enjoyed by every employee, not just those that pay dues. Things like investments in safety, emergency response protocols and, yes, how to save lives from a burning building are negotiated on behalf of bus drivers, public service aids and more, not just those in police and fire unites that the legislation would except under the belief they are the only ones dealing with public safety. All public-sector workers are on the front line of serving their community. Maybe the supporters of the legislation believe that all workers pitch in to the union in their workplace. That is not true. Members decide to pay dues for a variety of reasons but not because they are forced to do so. Non-members don’t even pay a fair share for the benefits they get to enjoy. It is a choice, but this legislation would take that choice from them.

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HOME RULE ADVOCACY GROUP ADDS TWO NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ITS ROSTER via Florida Politics – Home-rule advocates Campaign to Defend Local Solutions is adding Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Black Justice Coalition as official partners. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors that advocates for common-sense gun laws, while the National Black Justice Coalition is the country’s leading black LGBTQ civil rights organization. The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions was launched by Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in January and include in its membership elected officials from 15 states as well as local and national organizations. CDLS was formed to fight against local government pre-emption laws passed by state legislatures, which it claims are often pushed through by “shadowy special interests and unaccountable lobbyists.”

PERSONNEL NOTE: DOUGLAS SUNSHINE JOINS COURT CLERKS ORGANIZATION via Florida PoliticsSunshine has been named chief legal officer of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers statewide association, according to a Monday news release. Sunshine is a state government and legal veteran, with more than 25 years of experience. He’s been Agency Rules Coordinator for the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Department of Revenue. He also served in the Florida Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Unit, the Office of General Counsel for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Florida Engineers Management Corp., and the Florida Department of State.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FSU’S HIRES ALUMNA AS ITS NEW VP FOR STUDENT AFFAIRS via Florida Politics – The new hire is Amy Hecht, an FSU graduate who was VP for student affairs at The College of New Jersey, a public institution with about 7,400 students. Enrollment at FSU is nearly 42,000. “We are extremely pleased to welcome Amy back to her alma mater,” President John Thrasher said.  “Amy’s knowledge and experience in student affairs, as well as her passion for FSU, will serve our students well as we strive to continue on our path of excellence.” Hecht will oversee student housing, health, counseling, and recreation programs, as well as a career center, the student union, the student government association, and the dean of students. … She will succeed Mary Coburn, who is retiring at the end of this semester after 14 years as VP for student affairs.

FLORIDA WINTER BAR EXAM PASSAGE RATE NOW AT LOWEST POINT IN 8 YEARS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed the bar, or 57.7 percent, according to a release from the state’s Board of Bar Examiners. That’s down from the high pass rate of 80.2 percent in February 2013, when there were 819 first-timers, and the lowest passing percentage for the February exam since 2009. “Save for a few states, bar passage rates have continued to decline nationwide,” the Above the Law blog reported late last year, noting that California’s July bar exam pass rate was its lowest in 32 years. Experts have placed the blame on law schools lowering their admission standards to fill seats as the number of applicants continues to decline. Part of that decline is because full-time lawyer jobs keep dwindling, according to The American Lawyer. Citing U.S. Department of Labor data last week, the website reported “employment in the U.S. legal sector took another hit in March, with the industry losing 1,500 jobs.”

***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.***

MIAMI HERALD WINS TWO PULITZERS, FOR PANAMA PAPERS INVESTIGATION AND EDITORIAL CARTOONS via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Staff coverage of the Panama Papers, the international investigation that exposed how crooks and millionaires use the secret world of offshore companies, and the mordant political commentary of editorial cartoonist Jim Morin in a year rife with material won the Miami Herald two Pulitzer Prizes … The 2017 prize for explanatory reporting was awarded to the Herald, its parent company McClatchy and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for their dive into a massive cache of leaked documents that revealed a financial system of tax havens preferred by tax dodgers, corrupt politicians and drug dealers whose money often wound up in Miami real estate. The 2017 prize for editorial cartooning went to Morin, whose unmistakable quill-pen drawings and piercing captions have anchored the Herald’s editorial pages since 1978. Morin became a two-time Pulitzer winner, having previously earned the coveted prize in 1996.

TIMES FOOD CRITIC LAURA REILEY’S ‘FARM TO FABLE’ SERIES IS FINALIST FOR PULITZER PRIZE via the Tampa Bay Times – … which exposed false claims of food origins by many restaurants and farmers’ markets. Reiley’s work prompted state investigations into the claims and other state-level regulatory changes. She was one of three finalists for the prize, which was won by Hilton Als of the New Yorker.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, Jupiter Medical CEO John Couris discusses the Certificate of Need program as he tells lawmakers some regulations are necessary to maintain quality care in hospitals. Gomes also interviews Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez about his efforts to see a statewide ban on red-light cameras. House District 66 hopeful Berny Jacques gets a running start in his 2018 campaign. Plus, Gomes shares reactions from Florida officials about Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria.

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Tuesday’s Governors Club buffet menu offers a taste of the South with chicken noodle soup; spinach salad – spinach, red onion, roma tomato, bacon, shallots, mushrooms, eggs, herb vinaigrette; tiger slaw – red cabbage, carrots, coleslaw dressing; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; fried chicken; fried catfish & hush puppies; scalloped potatoes; butter beans & ham; and corn choux.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my favorite GrayRobinson lobbyist, Chris Carmody, as well as Betsy Collins and the St. Pete Chamber’s Chris Steinocher.

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, Mr. Speaker

If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.

“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.

“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “

That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.

But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.

What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.

Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.

The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.

Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.

And on and on and on. The only aspect of Florida government pure enough to pass the House’s litmus test is its own budget, which they will tell you is not weighed down with all of those pesky amendments like the Senate’s spending proposal.

None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.

However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.

Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The case against Rick Baker running for St. Petersburg mayor

As coy as he has been with the local media and as busy as he is promoting the Rowdies referendum, Rick Baker is almost certain to run for St. Petersburg mayor this year.

Last week, Baker was in Tallahassee for a series of not-exactly-clandestine meetings with top Republican donors like Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi.

Baker’s biggest cheerleader in the capital, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, set up the meetings.

Baker does not particularly enjoy fundraising; At least not as much as his fellow St. Petersburg office-bearer, Charlie Crist. It’s not that he can’t or won’t make the ask, it’s just that he believes — rightly so — that he probably has better things with his time.

So, for Baker to shake his tin can in Tallahassee, it’s the surest sign yet that he plans on challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman.

If polling is to be believed — and St. Pete Polls has a near-bulletproof record surveying St. Petersburg voters — Baker would actually start as a favorite against Kriseman.

Despite all the hullabaloo over the city’s sewage system crisis, as well as a lack of genuine, visible progress on big-ticket items like a new St. Petersburg Pier or a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman is popular with city voters.

Were anyone other than Baker to challenge Kriseman — from popular Republicans like Brandes to City Council veterans like Amy Foster or Darden Rice — the mayor would dispatch them easily.

But, head-to-head, Baker trumps Kriseman.

In other words, Kriseman is a popular mayor; Baker just happens to be a more popular former mayor.

Three times out of five, Baker beats Kriseman. Which means it’s not a lock that Baker will beat Kriseman in November. In fact, one can make a pretty compelling case for how Baker might lose to Kriseman.

Here are 10 reasons why Baker might not want to run against Kriseman.

Demographics  

St. Pete is an increasingly progressive city, substantially more so than when Baker was re-elected in 2005. St. Pete’s gay community is more visible and more influential than 12 years ago. And if there’s one cohort Baker is cross-wired with, it’s Team Pride. While in office, he refused to sign a proclamation celebrating Florida’s biggest Gay Pride festival — a symbolic non-gesture that many of the city’s LGBT leaders and residents have not forgotten. These folks may already be against Baker’s Republican politics, just as they were against Bill Foster‘s. But Baker’s candidacy may galvanize the gay community in a way no other candidate would.

Demographics — Part 2

When Baker won re-election in 2005, he won every single precinct in the city. That means precincts where blacks are in the majority — no easy feat for a Republican running against an opponent who would become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Black voters also functioned as the deciding vote bloc for Baker in 2001 and for Foster in 2009 (both men defeated Kathleen Ford). Baker prides himself on his relationship with the black community. Remember, this is the policy wonk who won national acclaim for his vision of a “seamless city.” But will the black vote, in this era of Donald Trump, embrace Baker over a Democratic elected official who will likely be endorsed by most major African-American leaders? Even with Goliath Davis and Deveron Gibbons as his chief surrogates, it’s difficult to envision Baker winning the black vote at the same clip he did in his first two elections.

Lessons from Jeb

In the parlance of Game of Thrones, Baker is a loyal bannerman to House Jeb. So many Republican pols admire Baker, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine him having to look up to anyone. But Jeb Bush is one of those people. Had Bush won his bid for The White House, it’s very likely Baker would be Secretary of Something right now. Obviously, that was not the case and in Jeb’s humiliating defeat — “Please clap” — there’s a cautionary tale for Baker. Bush was out of office for so long, and the political environment had shifted so much, that he was caught flat-footed by the new rules of engagement. What will Baker do when an anonymous negative website about him inevitably pops up? What will Baker’s strategy for Facebook and Twitter be? Will he be caught on video saying something honest, but politically damaging? How will he interact with the Tom Rasks and David McKalips of the mayoral campaign? There are so many possible landmines out there for anyone running for office that it can be a challenge for even a savvy operator like Baker. He can ask his friend Jeb about that.

The Times will not be with him

Baker’s never been the Tampa Bay Times’ favorite local Republican (that would be Jack Latvala), but rarely has he been in its crosshairs. The local newspaper probably doesn’t have the desire or the horses to make Baker one of its “projects,” but it’s not going to be on his side — as it was in his races against Ford and Ed Helm — either. At the end of the day, the newspaper really likes Kriseman, even if it’s aware of his shortcomings. But his politics matches its and Baker’s apparently do not, so expect the editorial page (sans Baker ally Joni James) to weigh in again and again about how Baker had his time, and the city needs to move forward with Kriseman and blah, blah, blah. Also, the Tampa Bay Times may want to make up for this.

The Bill Edwards conundrum

One day, residents of St. Petersburg may look at a statute of Bill Edwards that memorialized his many, many contributions to the prosperity of the city. Or maybe not. It very much depends on the outcome of an ongoing federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accused Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. According to Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, Baker was uncertain about Edwards’ situation, especially as it relates to the Edwards-Baker effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the city. Questions about Edwards’ future and Baker’s work for The Edwards Group could be an issue on the campaign trail. Remember, Kriseman made Foster’s remote connections to Edwards an issue during the 2013 race.

Rick being Rick

As smart and successful as Baker has been throughout his career, now and then he makes a decision that even his most ardent defenders (like me) can’t explain. After all, Baker did endorse Herman Cain for President in 2011Kriseman is already making hay about Baker’s politics

Baker is not running against a tomato can.

Not hardly — Some might say Baker has been very lucky with who he’s had to run against in his previous campaigns. Ford, well, is Kathleen Ford, the ultimate femme fatale candidate who, despite her tenacity, was never going to win over a majority of supporters. Helm, well, is Ed Helm, who, despite his sheer intelligence, could not get out of his own way for long enough to build a winning coalition. While Ford, Helm, and Kriseman are all Democrats, Kriseman is nothing like Ford or Helm. He’s already proven he can build a winning coalition of city progressives, minorities, residents from the west part of the city, young voters, and the upscale urban liberals of northeast St. Pete. He has a loyal veteran campaign team and a base of donors and supporters already hard at work. Kriseman’s camp is not taking the prospect of a Baker challenge lightly; that’s why it has been raising money hand-over-fist in what is expected to be St. Pete’s most expensive campaign ever.

Duh! Kriseman is the incumbent

Even Captain Obvious recognizes there are many advantages to being the incumbent in a local race. For example, Kriseman recently won the endorsement of the police union, an organization which went with Foster in 2009. Why? Because Kriseman is committed to building a new headquarters for the St. Pete Police Department. Will rank-and-file cops turn out for Kriseman? That remains to be seen, but advantages like this are the kind of default support an incumbent receives. He gets to be on the city’s TV channel, shows up at ribbon-cuttings, be in the newspaper and on TV any day he wants. Kriseman will be careful about doing so, but all the city’s resources are at his disposal.

Kriseman knows how to throw a punch. Does Baker know what it’s like to be hit?

To quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Kriseman knows how to throw a punch; his campaign will not hesitate to use any and all lines of attacks against Baker. In the end, Kriseman’s campaign and its allies will throw the kitchen sink at Baker, who, while no stranger from the spotlight, hasn’t had a negative mailer written about him in 12 years. He hasn’t been the star of a grainy, black-and-white television attack ad. He hasn’t had his name dragged through the mud just for the sake of doing that. How will he react? How will Baker counterpunch? The answer to these questions may be the most fascinating thing to watch during the campaign.

Does Baker really want to be Mayor again?

I think if Rick Baker had his druthers, he’d strap on his guitar and tour the state talking about his soon-to-be-released book and how there is a third way for polarized state politics. He’d speak of a “seamless state” and how Republicans can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment. Or be president of an expansion Major League Soccer team. But I’m not 100 percent sure he wants to be Mayor of St. Petersburg for the next eight years — who would run against him in 2021? Sure, Dick Greco had a successful second act as Tampa’s mayor, but by the end of his career, Greco was sadly out of touch with the community he loved so much and once loved him.

Nothing in politics would cause Baker more heartache than for him to lose the respect of his neighbors and fellow residents.

Sunburn for 4.10.17 – Pulitzer Prize Day! On the road with Chris King; Jose Mallea raises $ in D.C.; Ballard’s $900K payday

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

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

PULITZER PRIZES ANNOUNCED TODAY; WILL ANY FLA. NEWSPAPERS  TAKE HOME A TROPHY?

It should be a slow day and relatively slow week in the Capitol as lawmakers stick close to home for the Easter break. They’ll convene Wednesday and Thursday to pass each chamber’s respective budget, but other than that it’s the calm before the storm of the last three weeks of Session.

With this lull in the action, you can pay attention to the awarding of the Pulitzer Prizes, which will take place at 3 p.m. from Columbia University.

Pulitzers expert Roy J. Harris Jr. asks: With President Donald Trump‘s attacks against the media now a daily reality, “what will the winning journalism say about the press’ value to the public?” Harris also wrote his annual preview of the competition for Poynter. The big-ticket national prizes will likely be won by the New York Times and The Washington Post (look for David Fahrenthold to score for his coverage of Trump’s charitable history, or lack thereof.)

So, will any Florida-based newspapers win a Pulitzer?

The Tampa Bay Times has won 12 throughout its distinguished history, including two last year. However, I’m not readily familiar with any Times projects produced in 2016 that were awards bait. I mean, nothing like what it published on Sunday, “Why Cops Shoot.” Then again, restaurant critic Laura Reiley‘s investigation into where her local eateries were really getting their ingredients may be one of the best pieces of criticism EVER. Might the Pulitzer judges stretch a little beyond what typically wins to recognize her work?

The Palm Beach Post’s reporting on the community’s heroin crisis has garnered national attention and awards, including recognition for the ethical struggle involved in publishing the faces and stories of those who died from the epidemic. It would not be surprising to see the Post end up being a finalist for a Pulitzer, although the issue has not been wrapped up with a pretty little bow on top of it (newspaper reports, officials take concrete action, problem is mitigated) like other investigative series in competition.

Every story written by the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller probably deserves some sort of award and her Sisyphean effort to shine a spotlight on the horrors of the state’s child protective system deserves as much attention as possible, but since she did not win for her incredible work in 2014-15 on “Innocents Lost,” she may never win.

Leave it to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to be Florida’s best chance for snatching a Pulitzer. As Harris notes, a team from the SHT was a Ring finalist for “Bias on the Bench,” which detailed unequal treatment of black and white defendants in Florida. It was also  among the top American Society of News Editors honorees announced this past week.

Will the Herald-Tribune’s team of Josh Salman, Emily Le Coz and Elizabeth Johnson earn the highest honor in journalism. Tune in today to find out. The event is being livestreamed from the historic World Room of the journalism building at New York’s Columbia University.

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I THINK I DID MORE INVESTIGATING ON PAM BONDI-TRUMP U THAN STATE ‘INVESTIGATORS’ DID via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel – The state attorney assigned to decide whether Attorney General Bondi did anything wrong when she asked for and accepted $25,000 in campaign cash from Trump — after her office had been asked to investigate Trump University — declared that he found no evidence to say she did. Of course, there wasn’t much evidence the prosecutor actually looked for evidence either. In a five-page report, Fort Myers State Attorney Stephen Russell’s office does not cite a single interview his office conducted in the course of reviewing this case. Nor does it reveal any new evidence the media hadn’t already reported. Not only that — and this part is key — Russell’s investigation actually ignored key evidence that had already been unearthed. Instead, Russell’s report seems to try to substantiate a claim that Bondi has made before — that she didn’t know her office had received complaints about Trump U when she requested and took campaign money from Trump.

‘LET’S GET TO WORK’ POSTS OVER $600K IN CONTRIBUTIONS FOR MARCH via Florida Politics – The political committee behind Gov. Rick Scott recently listed its March fundraising on its website. The largest contribution was $100,000 from U.S. Sugar. Also ponying up was Southeast QSR, a Clearwater-based Taco Bell franchisee, with $50,000, and Comcast Cable with $25,000. Its biggest expenditure in March was more than $976,000 to On Message of Annapolis, Maryland for “media production.” The PAC has run TV ads in recent weeks to back up Scott’s defense of the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm. Speaker Corcoran has criticized and tried to eliminate them as dispensers of “corporate welfare.” Scott says they help create jobs.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will honor Florida veterans during a ceremony at 9 a.m. the Bonita Bay Club, 26660 Country Club Drive in Bonita Springs.

ON THE ROAD WITH CHRIS KING, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay TimesKing, 38, an affordable housing executive and father of three from Winter Park, was on the trail just days after he launched his campaign with a hometown kickoff. He joins a diverse and wide-open field that includes … Andrew GillumGwen Graham and Philip Levine. He said Florida Democrats keep losing races for governor because they don’t articulate a vision and a message to voters, especially on economic issues. But the last two races were close — about 1 percentage point both times — so that while the losses pile up, his party is keeping within striking distance. King supports raising the minimum wage and restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons. He opposes the death penalty in most cases, saying it conflicts with his religious views, but that he would enforce the law as governor. “We need to limit its use,” King said. “I believe it’s a penalty in decline.”

TENSIONS REFLECT A REPUBLICAN ‘PARTY IN TRANSITION’ via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat –  This is an extraordinary time for the Republican Party. The November election maintained its grip on all branches of state government. Voters also delivered Washington to the GOP as well, increasing the influence of Florida’s Congressional Republican delegation and installing a kindred spirit of Gov. Scott in the White House. But once the celebration quieted, the pressure of governing opened a rift in the coalition … The split in Tallahassee became public and vicious two weeks before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. Corcoran rallied the House Republican Caucus at the trendy Edison Restaurant to go forth and eliminate Scott’s pet project Enterprise Florida. He called the economic development agency, which hands out tax credits and other incentives to businesses, an example of “corporate welfare.” Scott was said to be livid. He responded with a video depicting Corcoran as a “job-killing Tallahassee politician.” Scott and Corcoran are on opposite sides regarding whether a fiscally-conservative government provides business incentives. How the Scott v. Corcoran debate will influence the budget battle remains an open question.

SAY WHAT, MR. CALL? A savvy Capitol insider messaged: “I actually read a James Call piece. A piece in which he seems to suggest that the divide in Florida is somehow connected to Trump phenomenon. It’s not. Maybe they utilized some of the same bandwidth – but his piece misses the 2010 split between establishment and a self-funded candidate, the decision by Scott to bypass the party after they rejected his party chair, the fact that Corcoran-Scott dynamic got started last year. and any story that relies on MacManus and Pafford as its anchors …. deep breath.”

SHOT – ANITERE FLORES, ON THE EDGE OF A BLACK HOLE via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – Bright-eyed Flores — with that arresting smile, the bounce in her step and so much time, it seemed, to hear out all comers — entered the Republican Senate in 2010 with as much promise as I’d ever seen in a freshman. She was a breath of fresh air. Fast-forward to 2017 and so many are asking themselves, what happened? The promise is gone, say senators throughout her caucus. It’s been soured by … what? Ambition? Opportunity? A change of allegiance to principles perhaps she held all along but didn’t realize or reveal? They plain don’t like what they see anymore. Maybe it’s only jealousy on the part of senators left behind. Then again, maybe the heaped-on praise went to her head, who knows? The point is, when I ask GOP senators where Flores goes from here, when Negron’s gavel isn’t propping her up — I usually get a wry smile or a shrug or worse: an answer.

CHASER – FLORES’S LEADERSHIP AND ‘GUN-BILL FATIGUE’ DISARM LEGISLATURE via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When Flores declared, unprompted, a month ago that there were a lot of controversial gun-rights measures she wouldn’t support this year, the Miami Republican state senator truly set the tone for the Legislature’s gun debate in 2017. With the session half over, only a handful of the two dozen pieces of gun-related legislation proposed this year have been considered at all, and of those, only a couple have a viable path at actually becoming law. The House approved three such bills this week — two of which could likely be enacted this year, including highly divisive changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — but lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties predict those measures will be the only ones on the table for this session. Several attribute Flores — who is No. 2 in the Senate behind President Negron — as the reason. “I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” Flores told the Herald/Times.

COMPROMISE WON’T BE SO EASY IN CHANGING ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Senate President Joe Negron … wants to hold the line and stick with the Senate’s more stringent version of SB 128, which would require prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” — before trial — why a criminal defendant cannot claim immunity from prosecution in use-of-force cases. Negron said he, personally, doesn’t want to accept the compromise language the House approved that sets the standard one step lower, to “clear and convincing evidence … I would rather have ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” Negron said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, if the government wants to convict you of a serious crime and send you to prison, they should have the burden to prove that at every stage of the proceeding beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”

DANNY BURGESS: ‘ABSOLUTELY, THE INJURED WORKER IS A BIG CONCERN HERE’ via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The workers’ compensation fix that emerged from the House Commerce Committee last week was the product of hours — and hours — of testimony, debate and negotiations. We caught up with I&B chairman Burgess immediately following the Commerce vote and ducked into a hearing room alcove for a quick post-mortem. Q: Are you disappointed you couldn’t get the unions on board? The actual workers? There was a lot of discussion here that we never hear about the workers. A: I think you heard that from every stakeholder: Absolutely, the injured worker is a big concern here. You heard that in our committee (Insurance & Banking), too and from my own mouth. I believe our extension of indemnity benefits is definitely a step in that right direction. There’s no question that the injured worker is one piece of the heart of the balance of the grand bargain. Q: That’s the temporary total disability? A: Yes, from 104 to 260 weeks. — Yes! (He answered the roll call for the next bill on the agenda.)

ABUSE OF THE SYSTEM BY A FEW COULD COST EVERYONE via Ann Howard of The Capitolist – The Consumer Protection Coalition, (which is a self-described ” broad-based group of business leaders, consumer advocates, real estate agents, construction contractors, insurance agents and insurance trade groups”) says the complicated issue of Assignment of Benefits fraud  will literally cost everyone in the state, so they are taking the fight to directly to lawmakers for relief. “Make no mistake: If the Legislature fails to address the growing cancer of AOB for a fifth straight year, Florida’s hardworking families are the ones that will lose. Our leaders have crystal clear evidence that AOB fraud and abuse is threatening the affordability of homeownership for average Floridians. For lower-income families and those on fixed incomes, it could literally put the dream of homeownership out of reach,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick, independent insurance agent in Miami. According to state-run Citizens Property Insurance, AOB fraud is hitting Citizens, hard.

COST OF TAX EXEMPTION FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA WOULD BE MINIMAL via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimated the bill might reduce tax receipts, but not enough to notice — even when accounting for the non-state residents who would qualify for cannabis cards if the bill becomes law. “We felt like there might be a few snowbirds coming in, but we didn’t think that would be a lot,” said Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. More telling would be CS/SB 406’s extension of medical marijuana use to people suffering “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as those enumerated, and for which a physician believes the use of medical marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient. Bottom line: a “negative insignificant” revenue impact.

GREYHOUND ACTIVISTS JOIN FLORIDA’S GAMBLING FIGHT via Alexandra Glorioso of News-Press.com – There’s GREY2K, a national advocacy group with less muscle but no less fight championing the cause of greyhounds. This year’s battle over gambling offers the greyhound group a rare opportunity to accomplish its goal: eliminate dog racing now held to justify card games in Florida. Some Republicans say GREY2K could benefit this year from the intricate chess game of ideology, lawsuits and special interests, and successfully disconnect greyhound racing from card games. “It would completely depend on the details,” said [Mike] La Rosa. But he acknowledged, it’s “something that could be discussed.” [Bill] Galvano said he was not interested in taking La Rosa up on a slot machine-live-events trade but did call greyhound racing a “dying industry.” About GREY2K, he said, “They are effective, but it’s an easy sell.”

PRIVATE NONPROFIT, FOR-PROFIT UNIVERSITIES COULD SOON GET REGULATORY RELIEF via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – Bad press, combined with federal rules and regulations disproportionately targeting the higher education alternatives, have taken their toll on nonprofit and for-profit universities in recent years — but that could soon change. For-profit and private nonprofit colleges and universities offer career-building options separate from traditional public universities … regulatory change is afoot. In February, Arthur Keiser, chancellor and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Keiser University, was named chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. The committee will make recommendations to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a noted Florida education reformer — regarding accreditation and institutional eligibility for federal student financial aid.

***Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) reduce prescription drug costs and protect Florida consumers, employers, unions, and government programs from high drug prices. PBMs will save Floridians $43.4 billion over the next decade. Learn more at DrugBenefitSolutions.com.***

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: CFO Jeff Atwater will present the annual Florida Fire Service Awards during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on the 22nd Floor of the Capitol. The annual ceremony recognizes members of the fire services community who have shown excellence in their profession.

CONGRATS: The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association announced this week that Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean is its 2017 Legislator of the Year. FOMA said the annual award goes to a lawmaker that has proven their support for osteopathic medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the citizens of Florida. “I am beyond honored to be FOMA’s 2017 Legislator of the Year,” Bean said. “As a longtime advocate for health care issues and a former chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand how important it is to be constantly working to improve our health care and adopt treatment, prevention and alleviation advancements that benefit all Floridians.”

MOVING ONLydia Claire Brooks is no longer a legislative assistant for Rep. Loranne Ausley, per LobbyTools. She now has three district secretaries: Jessica Lamb, Shane Roerk, and newcomer Mark Hodges.

REST IN PEACE: FRANK ATTKISSON KILLED IN BICYCLE-CAR CRASH via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Former Osceola County chairman, Florida state representative, and Kissimmee Mayor Attkisson was killed when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car … Attkisson, 61, was riding on Kissimmee Park Road near St. Cloud around 6:30 p.m. Thursday when his bike was struck from behind by a car driven by 26-year-old Kristie Jean Knoebel of St. Cloud … The crash is being investigated. Attkisson was transported to Osceola Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Republican served a long political career that began on the Kissimmee City Council in the early 1990s and included a stint as Kissimmee mayor from 1996-2000. He served in the House of Representatives from 2000-2008, when he was term limited out. In 2010, he ran for and won a seat on the Osceola County Commission, and two years later was elected the commission’s chairman. However, he lost re-election in 2014.

ABORTION AGAIN AT ISSUE IN LATEST CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW HEARING via Florida PoliticsAnti-abortion activists took to the microphone early and often at Friday’s Constitution Revision Commission hearing in Boca Raton. The 37-member panel, which convenes every 20 years to review and rewrite the state’s governing document, is now on a listening tour, holding public hearings around the state. A series of speakers Friday, as they had at previous hearings, urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion. Several complained that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.

An estimated 500 Floridians made their voices heard at the most recent meeting of the Constitutional Revision Commission at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.

PRAYERS OVER A PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM ARE A FLORIDA FIXTURE via Florence Snyder for Florida Politics

In the 1960s, “morning announcements” at Miami Crestview Elementary School were served up with a side order of morning Scriptures.  The daily Bible readings skewed heavily New Testament, and the Jewish kids always dreaded spring, with its Easter ham-handed swipes at “Christ-killers.”

It was confusing, unsettling, and sometimes downright scary. Somehow, we managed to weather it without help from the ACLU.

We got all the help we needed from our teachers. Whatever the administration might be pushing on the public address system, the faculty had time, in those days, to pay attention to the children in front of them. There were fewer Test Police and Helicopter Parents. Teachers knew by the end of the first week of school what they could and could not expect of us. They had the flexibility to peel off children teetering on the brink of boredom and throw them into a “resource group,” where they learned about Malthus and Marx. Karl, not Graucho. They gave extra time to those who needed extra support.

At Easter, and all year long, the Jewish kids—-along with the children of Christians and atheists—had help from parents, as well. We learned how to go in to other people’s homes and houses of worship for simple meals and special occasions and join hands and bow our heads as our hosts gave voice to their traditions.

These lessons in respect served us as we outgrew Miami and our circles expanded to include Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and others whose beliefs were not represented in north Dade County in the years before Joe Robbie brought football to town and a stadium to our neighborhood.

Respect for those who invite you into their lives is always pleasing to any God with whom anyone has ever had a personal relationship. Grabbing the microphone in the principal’s office to proselytize to a captive audience of elementary school children is just abusive showing off.

Last week, a self-described “constitutional conservative” used her public address system at the Constitution Revision Commission—a microphone that belongs to 20 million Floridians— to pray to her god, her way.  It’s not very respectful thing to do, but it’s probably an excellent indication of where this Commission is coming from, and where it’s planning to go.

MARTIN DYCKMAN: WHO NEEDS STRONG, INDEPENDENT COURTS? WE DO. via Florida Politics – It’s a paradox in America’s ongoing experiment with self-government that we depend on the weakest branch of government to defend us from the more powerful ones. The Founders gave a lot of thought and ink to this. Writing in the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the judiciary would always be “least dangerous” to the public’s freedoms because it would be “least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.” The courts have no police or troops of their own, no power to make laws but only to review them, no control over even their own budgets. It would be their job, though, to protect against abuses of power by the president or the Congress. When you see one of those branches going after the courts, like the hotheads in the Florida Legislature at the moment, consider whose ox they’re really trying to gore: yours … The Legislature largely ignored you, to put it politely, and tried to hide the evidence of its skullduggery by hiding behind such phony excuses as “legislative privilege” and “trade secrets.” All that took time, nearly three years in fact, but the court eventually, and rightly, ordered up new maps for the state Senate and the congressional districts … Remember who needs strong, independent courts. You do.

PAT NEAL: BUSINESS RENT TAX STIFLES FLORIDA’S ECONOMIC FUTURE via Florida Politics – The business rent tax is the only state-sanctioned sales tax on commercial leases in the entire country and Florida is the not-so-proud holder of that title … Due to this burdensome tax, Florida businesses shell out more than $1.7 billion every year to the state. As a result, our state economy dramatically suffers in the form of suppressed job growth and economic activity. Luckily, Gov. Scott is committed to cutting this tax on hardworking small-business owners and budding entrepreneurs. The governor has repeatedly made cutting or abolishing this tax one of his top priorities for numerous years as part of his commitment to creating jobs for Florida families. Recently, he has hit the road advocating for a 25 percent cut in the tax –  a move that could save Florida businesses more than $400 million per year and reduce prices for Florida consumers. The business rent tax places a disproportionate burden on small businesses and startups that do not have the capital to purchase bigger office space, hire new employees or expand to other locations. All of this creates a chilling effect on many of Florida’s more than 2 million small businesses.

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REPUBLICAN BOBBY OLSZEWSKI FILES TO RUN FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 44 SEAT via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsOlszewski, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, filed for the house seat that will be vacated by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who is not running again. First, Olszewski rounded up a strong list of supporters, including 30 local elected officials, mostly from western Orange County. Two other candidates already have filed for that seat, including Republican Usha Jain of Orlando, who also ran unsuccessfully last year for the Orange County Commission, and Democrat Paul Jason Chandler of Orlando, a newcomer as a candidate.

HD 66 HOPEFUL BERNY JACQUES STARTS STRONG, RAISES NEARLY $30K IN MARCH via Mitch Perry of Florida PoliticsJacques raised $29,740 in March, the first month of fundraising after launching a 2018 bid for Pinellas County’s House District 66. Contributors to the former Pinellas County Assistant State Attorney’s campaign include former Jeb Bush staffer Slater Bayliss, GOP fundraiser Brent Sembler, local Republican heavyweight Jim Holton, Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chair Mike Griffin and Fritz Brogan, former Executive Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Rick Scott. Jacques also picked up an endorsement from another local Pinellas County official, Largo City Commissioner Jamie Robinson.

HAPPENING TODAY:

PERSONNEL NOTE: GINGER DELEGAL SELECTED AS FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF COUNTIES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR via Florida PoliticsVirginia “Ginger” Delegal is one step closer to becoming the next Florida Association of Counties executive director. Delegal had been selected by the FAC Executive Committee in February, and confirmed by the Board of Directors last week. She has been interim Executive Director since Feb. 9. President Kathy Bryant and Immediate Past President Barbara Sharief now will begin final contract negotiations with Delegal. The contract, when complete, will go before the Board for final approval … She is married to Mark Delegal, currently a partner with Holland & Knight.

APPOINTED: Sara Gaver to the Florida Rehabilitation Council.

REAPPOINTED: Paul Wilson to the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

BALLARD PARTNERS SIGNS $900K CONTRACT WITH THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC via Megan Wilson of The Hill Ballard Partners, a firm connected to Trump, has signed its first foreign government as a client: the Dominican Republic. The Florida-based company helped Trump win the state in the presidential election and recently opened a K Street office to expand its business to Washington. The Dominican Republic signed a one-year contract with the firm worth $900,000, according to disclosure reports filed with the Justice Department. The contract does not list specifics about what the firm, founded by longtime Florida lobbyist and fundraiser Brian Ballard, will be doing for the country.

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR’S SON JOINS COREY LEWANDOWSKI LOBBY SHOP via Marc Caputo of POLITICO FloridaCarlos Gimenez Jr., former consultant for Trump and the son and namesake of Miami-Dade’s mayor, is joining the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager, Lewandoski, as it drums up business in one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Gimenez said he joined the newly founded firm, Avenue Strategies, to focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America. “We’re not just representing any client,” Gimenez, a 40-year-old attorney from the Miami-area, said. “We represent those who would further the interests of the Trump Administration and the American people.” Asked what interests those would be, Gimenez quickly said: “bringing back jobs and manufacturing to the United States.”

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brett Bacot, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: City of South Daytona

Rob Fields, Suskey Consulting: QlikTech, Inc.

Shawn Foster, Sunrise Consulting Group: Roche Surety and Casualty Company, Inc

Lindsay Erin Raphael, Corey Staniscia, Tripp Scott: The Balmoral Condominium Association, Inc.

Trey Traviesa, Strategos Public Affairs: SAI Interactive, Inc. d/b/a Thinking Media; Study Edge

SPOTTEDMarty Fiorentino at Omarosa Manigault‘s wedding and reception in Washington, D.C. at Trump International Hotel. She married Pastor John Allen NewmanFiorentino has taken a stint at the USDOT to work alongside Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

***The Senate Prospective Payment System plan will protect Florida’s aging seniors by incentivizing quality care. Learn more about how this reimbursement plan will promote improvement in Florida’s skilled-nursing centers. Learn more here.***

FSU RETIREMENT TRIBUTE TO VP MARY COBURN DRAWS HUGE CROWD AT WESTCOTT via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat – For the past 14 years, Coburn has helped chart the course for nearly everything involving FSU students – opening new residence halls, resolving issues of Greek life, addressing issues of free speech, consoling parents who have lost a child and promoting diversity and civility on campus. She’s done it all. Coburn is retiring as of May 19. She will take a sabbatical this summer and return to teaching this fall. Her successor is expected to be named next week. Coburn’s tenure at FSU actually started in 1981 in student development, rising to associate dean from 1994 to 2005. She left from August 1995 to January 2003, to become vice president for student affairs at Tallahassee Community College under President T.K. Wetherell. She returned to FSU after Wetherell assumed the presidency in 2003 to become vice president of student affairs.

HYPERLOOP ONE EYES 26-MINUTE MIAMI-ORLANDO ROUTE FOR TUBE TRAIN via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel –  … as one of 11 new alternatives. The Hyperloop initiative was created by billionaire Elon Musk; it hopes to connect cities at speeds similar to, or faster than, air travel at a much cheaper cost, eventually. The Orlando route was included in a recent announcement without much detail about who proposed it. Last January, teams of students from UCF submitted ideas for the local route. Hyperloop is a fledgling concept, having been introduced in 2013 by Musk, who shortly thereafter left the project to focus on his other businesses. Hyperloop One met policymakers and transportation experts in Washington D.C. … where it introduced 11 routes that had been pitched.

PAGING SPEAKER CORCORAN – HARBOR BRANCH FOUNDATION SUES FAU IN ‘HOSTILE TAKEOVER’ OF $68 MILLION via Conrad deFiebre of TCPalm – The nine-year marriage of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and Florida Atlantic University is on the rocks amid a lawsuit accusing the university of a “hostile takeover” to seize control of the foundation’s $68 million endowment … it’s a big-bucks battle over a world-renowned research facility often described by FAU’s president as the university’s “crown jewel.” Lawyers for the Fort Pierce-based institution’s foundation said without intervention by the St. Lucie County circuit court, Boca Raton-based FAU could divert Harbor Branch Foundation funds away from its charitable charter’s mission of marine research and state requirements for its administration of millions in specialty license plate money. “We don’t know what FAU would do if they got control of the endowment,” said Harbor Branch Foundation attorney Joseph Galardi. According to his legal filing, FAU in 2015 began trying to use endowment funds for purposes not approved by the endowment’s independent board.

TAMPA RELEASES ‘TAMPA TOGETHER: STATE OF THE CITY’ VIDEO — The city of Tampa has released a five-minute video highlighting Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s “State of City” speech. Buckhorn, who announced earlier this year he won’t run for governor in 2018, can’t run for re-election again because of term-limits, but used his address to unveil several initiatives, including one called Autism Friendly Tampa. “I came here not to do little things but to do big things; to leave this city in better shape than it was given to me, to prepare Tampa for its next chapter to give hop to the least, and the last and the lost, to empower our neighborhoods, to invest in the infrastructure of opportunity, to make this city the place in America where the best and the brightest want to be,” he said. “I don’t know about you, Tampa, but I intend to finish strong.” Click the image below to watch the video.

DISNEY SEEKS PATENT FOR INTERACTIVE ‘HUMANOID’ ROBOTS via Ashley Carter of Orlando News 13 – The robots would “move and physically interact like an animated character.” The soft-body robots would be used to provide “interactive guidance or entertainment in stores and amusement parks,” according to the patent application. Since the robots would be interacting with park visitors, especially children, the inventors are making safety a priority. “To physically interact with children, the inventors understood that the robot should be soft and durable,” the filing stated. In order to achieve this, the robots would be comprised of multiple body segments and interconnecting joints. Each segment would have a “fluid-filled void” that could sense pressure (i.e., a hug from a child or collision) and adjust how the joints operate.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Jeff Atwater, Emily Duda Buckley, Matt Carlucci, Jesse Phillips, and Alli-Liby Schoonover. Celebrating today with a Budweiser is Jose Gonzalez. Also celebrating today is Jeremy Branch.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pinwheels, and putting the pieces back together

Mike Carroll sounded tired as he took to the mic during this week’s Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention kickoff at the Governor’s Mansion.

The secretary of the Department of the Children and Families again has had to deal with high-profile deaths, including, most recently, Naika Venant and Lauryn Martin-Everett.

Both were ‘system’ kids; both had hanged themselves.

First Lady Ann Scott, entertaining a group of little kids from Tallahassee’s Bethel Christian Academy, had tried to keep it light.

First Lady Ann Scott speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“How many here want to be governor?” she asked them. Almost all raised their hands.

“How many want to be a first lady?” When one of the boys raised a hand, the other kids giggled. “We have some female governors … you can be a first gentleman,” Mrs. Scott said, smiling.

Earlier that same morning, a House panel voted to approve a $3.75 million claim bill to compensate the surviving twin brother and other family of Nubia Barahona.

She was still another ‘system’ kid whose adoptive father killed her in 2011, then doused her body in caustic chemicals.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who is sponsoring the claim bill in the House, said “at every step of the way there were errors, there were flags that DCF should have seen.”

Maybe Carroll had the 10-year-old in mind as he spoke.

Mike Carroll, Secretary of Department of Children and Families, speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“Our kids are not as resilient as we think,” he said. “You can’t always see the hurt on the inside.  By the time they come into our system, they’re broken … and we try to put the pieces together.

“When we can’t, that’s the tragedy of our system,” he went on. “… No one state agency can fix this. The only way it’s fixed is people helping people.

“Sometimes it just takes one adult who will care,” Carroll said.

Nubia Barahona thought Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, were two of those adults.

Now the couple is awaiting trial on first-degree murder and other charges in Miami-Dade County.

After Carroll and others finished speaking, they took the kids outside and planted blue and white pinwheels in the garden. People took photos, and the kids got a snack.

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

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

Money talks — We’re officially one step closer to Sine Die. Well, at least one step closer to having a budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $83.2 billion spending plan after agreeing to more than 100 amendments, which included local projects and budget language giving directions to execute existing line-items. The House Appropriations approved its $81.2 billion proposal after making a few tweaks during its Wednesday. Both chambers are will take up the bills next week, with floor sessions scheduled for Wednesday to begin debate on the proposals.

Grand compromise — Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority got a big facelift this week, when he announced he no longer planned to pursue a plan to buy 60,000 acres of farm land to build a reservoir. Instead, lawmakers approved an amended plan that would use 14,000 acres of land the state owns and leases to Florida Crystals until 2019. The price of the project — once listed at $2.4 billion — also dropped to $1.5 billion. The compromise came after pushback from the sugar industry, which owns much of the land in the area Negron was focused on, and some of his Democratic colleagues. U.S. Sugar, which fiercely opposed the original proposal, called the amended plan “significant progress.” Negron has said the plan would achieve his original goal of storing up to 120 billion of gallons of water that currently gets sent down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. discusses Senate Bill 10: Water Resources as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, listens in the background. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

More than an apology — State lawmakers took steps this week to apologize for the abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Mariana, but also to try to right some of the wrongs. House and Senate panels this week approved bills that acknowledges the abuses experiences by the students and expresses the Legislature’s regret. But the House Judiciary Committee went one step further this week, approving a proposed committee bill that, among other things, calls for the state to set up memorials in Mariana and Tallahassee and allows for the state to come up with a plan to search for more bodies on the property.

Hail a ride — Florida is speeding to statewide regulations for transportation network companies. After years of discussion, the House voted unanimously to approve a bill by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant that sets up a statewide regulatory system for ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft.  The proposal, among other things, sets minimum insurance standards and requires third-party background checks. The Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, cleared the Senate Rules Committee on a 10-1 vote this week, and now heads to the full Senate for a vote in the coming days.

Rep. Chris Sprowls is congratulated by Rep. James Grant his bill to regulate transportation network companies passed a second reading. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

577 Days — Add another Democrat to the list of folks getting of folks throwing their hat into the 2018 gubernatorial election. Orlando businessman Chris King made it officially official this week, launching his gubernatorial campaign at a senior affordable housing community his company renovated. He joins Andrew Gillum as just one of two mainstream candidates in the race, but plenty more are running shadow campaigns and expect to make a formal announcement — as former Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely 2018 contender has said — “soon.” They might not be in the race, but several would-be candidates are stocking away some cash for a rainy day (or gubernatorial campaign). Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political committee reported it raised nearly $1.1 million in March; while Sen. Jack Latvala’s political committee raised $246,000 in the first six days of the month.

Gulf Power Co.’s $62 million electric rate settlement agreement includes language authorizing a five-year experiment in operating electric vehicle charging stations.

Existing stations belong to shopping centers, hotels, and other businesses. The utility charges for the power.

Gulf Power will own the stations in its experiment, and they’ll be linked to the customers’ regular utility bills. No muss. No fuss.

Utility spokesman Rick DelaHaya said 52 customers have signed up so far, including hospitals and college campuses. Some units will be networked, so the Public Service Commission can review use data.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkle views the provision as a good thing.

“if it encourages electric vehicle usage, it’s good,” Rehwinkle said. “How you account for it in regulatory world, we’ll just see over the next five years.”

Jacksonville might want to change its nickname to “solar city.”

A new report found Jacksonville ranks 19th in the nation for installed solar capacity. The report, released this week, came as state lawmakers began discussions about implementing the pro-solar power constitutional amendment, which would remove solar barriers for businesses.

“By using solar power, Jacksonville is reducing pollution and improving public health for everyday Floridians,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida, in a statement. “To realize these benefits, city leaders should embrace a big vision for solar on rooftops throughout the state.”

For the third year in a row, Jacksonville ranked higher than Tampa, Miami and Orlando for the amount of installed solar.

According to the report, the Top 20 cities listed in the report have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. In 2016, solar was the leading new source of energy installed in Florida.

Florida working hard to keep the state’s “veteran friendly” status.

State lawmakers held a press conference this week to highlight various military-friendly bills from the 2017 Legislative Session.

“We’re focused in on making sure we maintain (our status as) the most veteran friendly state in the country,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who, along with Rep. Paul Renner, has proposed legislation that would grant exceptions to occupational licensing application fees and requirements to certain active duty members, honorably discharged members, and their spouses.

The press conference gave members a chance to encourage support for their proposals at the midway point in session, as well as highlight some of the work that has been done over the years.

Rep. Burgess, speaks about HB 55 Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans, during a press conference on military-friendly legislation at the Florida Capitol.

Lawmakers also highlighted a proposal (HB 55) that allow the state Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with organizations to provide alternative treatments to veterans.

 “It’s a good bill, and honestly it will save some of my brothers and sisters lives,” said Brian Anderson, a president and CEO of Veterans Alternative and former Green Beret.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Danny Burgess and Frank White, cleared the Health Innovation Subcommittee in March, but has not been scheduled for a second hearing.

Local leaders said “thanks” this week.

More than 100 mayors and county leaders across Florida recognized the impact AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs made in their communities as part of the fifth annual Mayor, County and Tribal Recognition Day for National Service. The annual event is a bipartisan effort to recognize the positive impact of national service, thank those who serve and encourage citizens to give back.

“Cities and counties are increasingly turning to national service as a cost-effective strategy to meet local needs,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “We are grateful for the elected officials who are participating in today’s recognition.”

Volunteer Florida administers over $32 million in federal, state and local funding to deliver national service programs like AmeriCorps to Florida.

“We are proud to be working with city and county leaders across America as we continue to strengthen communities through national service,” said Kim Mansaray, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

This year 108 Florida leaders participated in the event, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Nursing home groups held dueling press conferences this week — one to warn of changes to payment plans, the other to encourage support for it.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, called on Senate leaders to slow down the implementation of the prospective payment system included in the upper chamber’s proposed $83 billion spending plan. Thirty minutes later, the Florida Health Care Association called on lawmakers to move ahead with the plan.

Leading Age Florida says while it doesn’t oppose a prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out the details.

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

Florida lawmakers took action this week to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The House approved a bill (HB 557) that would modernize the current prescription drug monitoring program, shorten reporting times to better identify drug abuse, and limit the initial prescription of opioids to a 5-day supply for the treatment of acute pain, putting Florida in line with the Center for Disease Control’s recommended guidelines on opioid prescriptions.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Nick Duran, passed after emotional testimony from several members, including the Miami Democrat.

During his closing, Duran talked about the connection between heroin abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers, noting that people addicted to painkillers are “40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.”

Rep. Duran during debate on his bill this week. (Photo by Meredith Geddings)

“It starts somewhere, and it ends somewhere,” he said.

He then went on to tell his colleagues that less than a year ago, his brother-in-law passed away, “not from taking heroin, he was seven years clean.” But Duran said in a matter of a few weeks he “spiraled downward;” and when his family cleared out his home, they found fentanyl patches, a prescription pain medication. He urged members to support the legislation, saying a vote on the measure says Florida is “going to follow some of the same guidelines that other states believe are needed.”

“It is time for us to take a stand,” he said. “We know they are dangerous. They’re killing families. That’s what we’re dealing with. Enough is enough.”

The bill passed on a 93-22 vote.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee moved through a crowded and contentious agenda a tad too expeditiously for Sen. Oscar Braynon.

The panel had given swift approval to nearly a dozen bills before tackling major reforms of the workers’ compensation system and assignment of benefits agreements. With time running short, the committee limited testimony on those measures.

“I agreed to the time-certain thing, but I don’t believe this is how we should be doing this type of legislation,” Braynon said. “There are plenty of people who want to be heard, and I understand there are other bills that want to be heard. But I just don’t 100 percent agree with how we’re handling this one.”

“So, is there a motion?” Chairwoman Anitere Flores asked.

“No, no motion,” Braynon replied — he’s just wanted it noted for the record.

Sunshine, sand and … stress?

According to a new report from WalletHub, Florida is the 13th most stressed state in the nation. The number crunchers at the personal finance website looked at 33 key metrics — including average hours worked per week, the personal bankruptcy rate, and share of adults getting an adequate amount of sleep — to determine which states had the highest stress levels.

The Sunshine State — or should we call it the “Stressed-out State” — ranked 13th overall, but landed in the No. 6 spot when it came to family-related stress. The state was rank 16th in both work-related and money-related stress.

The most stressed out state is Alabama, which also ranked high when it came to work-related, money-related and family-related stress. Minnesota is the least stressed state in the nation.

Celebrate the springs: It’s what Bellamy Beaver would want.

Representatives from several water management districts, including the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District, were in Tallahassee this week as the House and Senate announced resolutions designating April as “Spring Awareness Month.” The resolutions are meant to promote awareness for preservation and restoration of Florida’s springs and natural resources.

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, Sen. Rob Bradley and water management officials celebrate “Springs Awareness Month.” (Photo via SRWMD Facebook)

“On behalf of the District and its 256 springs, I applaud the commitment that continues to be shown by Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature, and Secretary (Ryan) Matthews to protecting and restoring springs throughout the entire state,” said Jon Costello, a governing board member for the Northwest Florida Water Management District. “We are proud to stand with our friends from the other water management districts, DEP, and northwest Florida communities as we all continue to work toward the preservation of these precious natural resources.”

The event also featured an appearance from Bellamy Beaver, the mascot Ichetucknee Partnership. The nonprofit aims to promote the environmental and economic well-being of the Ichetucknee Springshed through locally-led, voluntary programs.

“There is no better symbol of the natural, pristine beauty of Florida than our world-famous springs,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, the House sponsor, in a statement. “From the legendary attraction of the renowned Ichetucknee to the secret splendor of the many small springs hidden up and down our rivers, we have an abundance of natural treasures in our state that we must preserve for our children and grandchildren.”

Call it a $274,000 month.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported it recovered $274,174 on behalf of Florida consumers in March. The state agency fielded 3,560 consumer complaints and initiated 3,560 investigations during the one-month period.

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the department provided assistance to 23,478 consumers through the 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and email during March. It also added 18,187 telephone numbers to the state’s Do Not Call List.

Last year, the department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, health studios, and telemarketers.

Applying for a state grant? Secretary of State Ken Detzner wants to make it a bit easier.

The Department of State launched its new online grant application system DOSGrants.com, which is meant to streamline the application process for grants offered by the Department of State, including arts and culture, historic preservation and library grants.

“These grant programs help to ensure that all Florida families have access to arts and culture programs, our state’s historic properties, and educational opportunities,” said Detzner in a statement. “The organizations who receive these grants create jobs, stimulate tourism and attract skilled workers. The new DOS Grants website, DOSGrants.com, will make it easier for more organizations to apply for grants while increasing transparency and allowing Floridians to search for state-funded programs in their community.”

The state department awarded more than $90 million in grants through 12 programs in fiscal 2016-17. The grant application period for several state grants, including the historic preservation small matching grant, general program supporting grants for cultural organizations, specific cultural project grants, and library services and technology act grants, are currently open.

Go Seminoles!

Florida State University alumni, faculty and staff stormed the Capitol this week as part of the Tallahassee university’s annual FSU Day at the Capitol. The annual event showcases the university’s accomplishments.

“Florida State is on a roll, both on and off thefield,” said FSU President John Thrasher in a statement on the university’s website. “There’s a lot of excitement at Florida State these days. We are a preeminent university with our sights set on even higher national prominence.”

FSU Day at the Florida Capitol

This year the university highlighted successes including receiving a record number of 2017 admissions applications, rising four-year graduation and retention rates, and one of the nation’s highest graduation rates for African-American students.

The day included a pep rally, and performances by the Flying High Circus, Marching Chiefs and the Florida State cheerleaders. FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher and football players Deondre Francois and Ryan Izzo also attended the festivities.

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott appointed Col. John Domenech and Sheldon Suga to the District Board of Trustees for the Florida Keys Community College.

Domenech, a 62-year-old Big Pine Key resident, is a retired senior project manager at Leidos, and formerly serves as a colonel in the U.S. Army. He succeeds Michelle Maxwell and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2020.

Suga, a 62-year-old Duck Key resident, is a VP managing director at Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key. He fills a vacant seat, and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2017.

Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

When it comes to Florida, millennials are swiping left.

A new report from WalletHub found the Sunshine State is the 10th worst state for millennials. The personal finance website compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 metrics, including the share of millennials, average monthly earnings, and millennial unemployment rate.

According to the report, Florida ranked 48th in the nation for the percentage of millennials, generally described as people in their “late-teens to early-30s,” living with their parents, and 38th for the millennial unemployment rate.

The state, according to the report, ranked 50th in the nation for the percentage of millennials with health insurance coverage and 48th for the percentage of millennials.

So where are the best places for millennials? Well, according to the number crunchers at WalletHub: North Dakota ranks No. 1, followed by Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, D.C., and Utah.

Florida’s lawmakers observe delicate courtesies during debate. It makes sense not to go out of one’s way to offend a colleague who might be on your side, or at least persuadable, tomorrow.

So Rep. Burgess was at pains not to label a Mike Miller amendment to his workers’ compensation fix “unfriendly” during Commerce Committee debate.

The amendment would have lowered the burden of proof and eliminated the requirement for a physical injury for claims involving mental or nervous injuries in the workplace for first responders.

As an Army reservist, Burgess sympathized. But Miller’s amendment could significantly increase insurance costs.

“It’s been said that this workers’ compensation issue, and the bill we have before us today, is an egg on a spoon on a tightrope over a whole bunch of molten lava,” Burgess said. “There’s no way, shape or form a willingness to call this an unfriendly amendment. But at this time I would prefer to move forward without this amendment attached.”

Miller finally withdrew his amendment, saying, “I do not want to be the person who injures that bill in any way.”

Way to go, Boston Whaler.

Gov. Scott stopped by the Edgwater company this week to commend it for its growth over the past few years. According to the Governor’s Office, the company has added more than 160 additional jobs since completing an 18-month expansion in 2015. The boat manufacturer now employs 750 Floridians.

Gov. Scott applauded Boston Whaler for its growth in recent years.

“I am proud to recognize Boston Whaler’s ongoing success in Florida following the completion of their expansion project two years ago,” said Scott in a statement. “Boston Whaler is a great example of why Enterprise Florida works: the economic incentives EFI offered helped Boston Whaler invest in our state, and our focus on making Florida business-friendly has led to years of further growth at Boston Whaler. I look forward to seeing their continued success in our state.”

Boston Whaler has been building boats in Florida since 1988.

Three Florida trauma centers were honored this week for their “heroic response to mass casualty events in their communities.”

The Florida Senate designated April 4 as Trauma Care Day, and recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital and Broward Medical Center for their work during tragedies this year.

In particular, lawmakers recognized Broward Health Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center for their efforts following the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. After the shooting, 54 victims were transferred to the Broward trauma center. The team sprang into action and worked around the clock to take care of the patients.

“These were challenging circumstances but our doctors, nurses and technical staff cared for all the patients coming from the Fort Lauderdale incident,” said Dr. Ivan Puente, Trauma Medical Director, Broward Health Medical Center. “Our Level 1 Trauma Center was established to prepare for this type of incident and I proud to serve with such a superb team of healthcare professionals.”

The resolution also recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center for its work in the days after the June 12 Pulse shooting and Lee Memorial for its work after the July 25 shooting at Club Blu in Fort Myers.

Three cheers for first responders and victim advocates.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Scott recognized first responders and victims’ rights advocates from across the state during an annual ceremony at the Capitol this week to commemorate National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.

“I am thankful for all who dedicate their lives to serving victims of crime, including those who rushed to the scene of tragedy following the Pulse nightclub attack—we honored some of those individuals today for their work helping victims and their families in the aftermath of the attack,” said Bondi in a statement. “All our award recipients are exceptional and play a vital role in helping victims heal and I am eternally grateful for their service.”

Bondi presented awards to Jeri Eubanks, a victim advocate with the State Attorney’s Office in the Seventh Judicial Circuit; Stephanie Mariano with Christ Church in Orlando; Joel Morales, a victim service advocate with the Orlando United Assistance Center; Detective Yulieth Ortiz with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Ross Partee with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office; Leidy Patino, a senior legal assistant with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit; and Officer David Starke with the Ormond Beach Police Department.

Scott also issued a proclamation to recognize National Crime Victims’ Week in Florida.

The Florida Lottery set a sales record during the third quarter by collecting more than $1.6 billion in ticket sales.

March alone accounted for more than $590 million in sales, the lottery has announced.

It was the best month for scratch-off sales to date, exceeding $433 million.

It all meant a contribution of $412 million to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund for the quarter.

“As we make the final push toward the end of the fiscal year, the Lottery remains committed to our mission of generating the most money possible to provide Florida’s students with the opportunity to receive a great education,” said Secretary Tom Delacenserie.

Consumers have a good feeling about Florida.

The Governor’s Office announced this week the consumer sentiment index shot up to a 15-year high of 99 in March. Personal income rose 4.9 percent for Floridians last year, the highest of the 10 largest states. Home values increased 12.5 percent.

“We have worked hard to turn Florida’s economy around and create opportunities for our future generations,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “Today’s announcement shows that when companies choose Florida to expand and grow, other parts of our economy, like personal income and home values, improve.”

Calculated by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, the Florida Consumer Sentiment Index measures five key indicators of consumers’ feelings about the economy. The report found all five components measured by the index rose in December, including personal finance indicators and expectations of future economic growth.

“Floridians are confident in their ability to find a good job and provide for their families, which is helping to fuel our state’s growing labor force and boosting our consumer confidence levels to new highs,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “We must build on the strong momentum Florida has already established by continuing to invest in job creation and economic diversification.”

Life got a tiny bit easier for Florida’s foster children.

The House approved a bill this week that makes permanent a program to help foster children get drivers licenses. Often called the “Keys to Independence Act,” the program helps kids get their learners permit or driver’s license, helps them find driver’s education courses and insurance, and offers financial assistance.

“Being able to drive is so important to being self-sufficient,” said Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who sponsored the bill in the House. “There are many places in Florida where you can’t get a job if you don’t have a license or you’re limited in where you can attend school because there is no mass transportation. Kids from the child welfare system should not have to start adulthood at a disadvantage.”

The bill also expands eligibility for the program and allows a grace period to complete the program if a child transitions to a new home. The bill, which already received Senate approval, now heads to Gov. Scott.

“Foster youth are often at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons, particularly when it comes to obtaining driver’s licenses and trying to become independent, successful adults,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, the Senate sponsor. “This bill solves these problems and provides Florida’s foster kids the opportunity they want and so rightly deserve.”

Florida students could soon be required to know their dollars and cent to graduate.

A Senate bill to require high school students to take a half-credit, full-semester course in personal financial literacy education as a graduation requirement cleared is final committee stop this week. Sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the bill received unanimous support during each of its committee stops.

“A required personal finance course will prepare our high school students heading to college or entering the work force with the tools and insight they need to be well-equipped to handle their personal finances,” said Hukill in a statement. “Sound financial management skills are important to all Floridians and especially to our students preparing for adulthood.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

CFO Jeff Atwater got top marks for being a good Catholic.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops presented Atwater with the Thomas A. Horkan, Jr. Distinguished Catholic Leader Award during the annual Catholic Days at the Capitol this week. According to the organization, the award is given each year to a Catholic Floridian whose life and work is “especially noteworthy for enhancing Florida’s laws and way of life through Gospel values.”

“Jeff Atwater has distinguished himself in Florida politics as a Catholic leader who is principled, political in the best sense, civil without being soft and deeply engaged,” said Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami present CFO Atwater with an award recognizing his service.

Atwater, who has served at the local level before being elected to the Florida House and later the Florida Senate, served as the Senate President from 2008 until 2010. He was elected to serve as the chief financial officer in 2010. He announced earlier this year he planned to step down at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session to take on a similar role at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Named for Thomas A. Horkan, Jr., the founding executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, Atwater is only the seventh recipient of the award since its inception in 1995.

It’s been 100 years since the United States entered World War I, and state officials are joining the nation in recognizing that moment.

The Department of State this week joined the nation in recognizing the United States’ entry into World War I by providing online education resources to tell the story of Floridians participation. Florida Memory, the digital outreach program of the State Library and the Archives of Florida, launched a new online exhibit Florida in WWI this week. The online exhibit features documents, images and artifacts.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources has also created a Florida page on the United States World War One Centennial Commission webpage. The commission’s webpage is the online portal to the United States World War I Centennial Commission, which is charge of planning and coordinating national commemorations of the centennial. It is also working on establishing a National World War I Memorial in Washington D.C.

Put down your phone, and focus on the road.

That’s the message the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is sending this throughout April as it promotes Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The state agency is teaming up with the Florida Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA—The Auto Club Group to raise awareness about the risks of driving distracted.

“Driving distracted significantly slows a driver’s reaction time to effectively avoid a crash, and no one should take that risk,” said Terry Rhodes the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In 2016, there were 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida. That’s more than five crashes every hour. According to the department, distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious bodily injuries and 233 fatalities.

“It’s easy to underestimate the devastating effects of distracted driving, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly for our drivers and the officers who are trying to keep them safe on our roads and highways,” said Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal. “Make a commitment today to put down your phone and whatever else might be commanding your attention and keep your eyes on the road.”

Take it slow Monday: It’s Florida Gopher Tortoise.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging communities, organizations, and individuals to do their part to help conserve the threatened species.

“If you’re a fan of the gopher tortoise, help us spread the word on conserving this threatened species, whose burrows are home to hundreds of animals, including the eastern indigo snake, gopher frog and Florida mouse,” said Deborah Burr, the head of the FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Program. “If you see a gopher tortoise crossing the road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the same direction it was heading, but only if it safe for you to do so. Remember, the gopher tortoise is a land animal, so never put it in water. And don’t forget it is illegal to harm a gopher tortoise, its eggs or its burrow.”

Seven counties — Alachua, Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Indian River, and Sarasota — and several cities are adopting Florida Gopher Tortoise Day resolutions this year.

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

 

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