Peter Schorsch - 5/2505 - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

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

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics – the ‘look who’s running for what’ edition

The $20 Million Dollar Man, Bernie Fensterwald, filed Friday to run in Senate District 16, the seat currently held by term-limited Jack Latvala. The Dunedin Democrat created a buzz in Florida political circles last year when, in a campaign against state Rep. Chris Sprowls, listed that he’s worth nearly $20 million in his financial disclosure forms.

Despite his fortune, Fensterwald never materialized as a serious threat to Sprowls. who thumped his opponent by more than thirty points.

The only other candidate in the SD 16 race is former Rep. Ed Hooper, who is widely seen as the establishment favorite to succeed Latvala.

Hooper had a solid, but not spectacular, month of fundraising. The Pinellas Republican added $13,372 to his campaign coffers, including a $1,000 check from state Sen. Travis Hutson‘s political committee. Almost all of the other legislative races saw little fundraising activity as lawmakers are prohibited from raising money during the legislative session.

One legislative candidate who was able to raise money during May was Republican Berny Jacques. After raising more than $40,000 during his first two months on the campaign trail, the former state prosecutor’s fundraising slowed, with Jacques raising $6,383 last month.

Ray Blacklidge became the first candidate to enter the race for House District 69. Read our profile of Blacklidge here.

First-term state Rep. Wengay Newton will introduce his legislative staff at a Sarasota town hall meeting at the North Sarasota Library, 2801 Newtown Blvd. 5:30 p.m. The St. Petersburg Democrat, whose HD 70 reaches into Sarasota County, will offer the public “firsthand knowledge” on how the “sausage is made in Tallahassee.

Anyone who knows political activist Barb Haselden knows she’s no push over. The Tea Partier is running in an ultra-competitive three-way Republican primary (versus Reps. Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters) and, going by the May fundraising reports, she’s in it to win it. She kick-started her campaign with a $20,000 loan. Sure, Ahern and Peters should be able to raise much more than that, but if Haselden uses that $20K to build a smart campaign apparatus, she’ll be able to raise a good deal of money, too.

Did anyone else know that former state Rep. Carl Zimmermann is a candidate for Pinellas County School Board?

Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment of Gregory Groger to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court (Pinellas and Pasco counties). Groger has served as an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit since 2003. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. Groger fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Walter L. Schafer, Jr.

Old news: “Janet Cruz considering a run for Hillsborough Commission” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times on June 12. Florida Politics’ Mitch Perry first reported May 31 that Cruz was thinking about running for the Commission.

Southern Strategy Group is hosting a fundraiser tomorrow for Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagen’s re-election effort. Event begins 5 p.m. at the SSG Tampa office, 201 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1450. Host committee includes former state Rep. Seth McKeel, Mike and Melanie Griffin, and attorneys Ron Christaldi, Steve Bernstein and Drew Jenkins.

Speaking of SSG – SSG lobbyists Laura Boehmer and Sydney Ridley have registered for the American Craftsman Museum, a Palm Harbor-based nonprofit that serves as the repository (along with St. Pete’s upcoming 110,000-square-foot Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement) for the Two Red Roses Foundation collection, with more than 1,600 works from the Arts and Crafts movement, 1890 to 1930.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce host the Tampa Bay Rays Outing Tuesday, June 20, at Tropicana Field. Chamber members from Clearwater, St. Pete and Tampa Chambers are invited to watch the Rays face the Cincinnati Reds at 7 p.m. Discounted Press Level seating tickets are $30 and includes a special Rays cap.

Tiger Bay Club of Tampa hosts its 2017 Legislative Wrap Up during a luncheon meeting Friday, June 16. Speakers include state Sen. Tom Lee, and state Reps. Darryl Rouson, Shawn Harrison, Wengay Newton and Dan Raulerson. Registration is 11:30 a.m., meeting starts noon at the Ferguson Law Center, 1610 N. Tampa St.

Support tax reform efforts, AFP-Florida urges Bill Nelson

Americans for Prosperity-Florida is launching a digital ad campaign urging Floridians to contact Sen. Bill Nelson and ask him to support efforts to fix the country’s broken and intrusive tax code.

The campaign is part of a nationwide effort to tap into taxpayers’ frustrations with tax laws into a grassroots movement supporting broad, pro-growth tax reform.

Here is what the digital ads will look like:

Last month AFP announced its vision for tax reform that include:

Simplicity: Lower rates, fewer brackets, and the elimination of special loopholes, deductions and exemptions will make tax compliance easier and more affordable.

Efficiency: A broad-based, low-rate tax system is the most efficient way for the government to collect revenue – causing as little disruption to the economy as possible.

Equitability: Corporate welfare and special-interest handouts in the current tax code create an unfair, two-tiered tax system and should be eliminated.

Predictability:Tax certainty is essential to a pro-growth tax system.

No burden on taxpayers: Comprehensive tax reform should be done without placing new burdens on the American people, whether in the form of a BAT, VAT, carbon tax, or otherwise.

“Floridians deserve a tax system that treats everyone fairly and helps grow the economy,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL, in a statement. “The last thing Americans want is a system that continues to raise taxes. Senator Nelson has spoken out in favor of tax reform, but he has also advocated for raising taxes. Now is the time for him to use his leadership position on the Senate Finance Committee to un-rig the system for Florida taxpayers.”

Sunburn for 6.13.17 – AFP targets Bill Nelson; Rick Scott goes Johnny Drama; Jeff Atwater leaving June 30; Greg Black heads to Gunster

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

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

— AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY URGES BILL NELSON TO BACK TAX REFORM EFFORTS —

Americans for Prosperity-Florida is launching a digital ad campaign urging Floridians to contact Sen. Nelson and ask him to support efforts to fix the country’s broken and intrusive tax code. The campaign is part of a nationwide effort to tap into taxpayers’ frustrations with tax laws into a grassroots movement supporting broad, pro-growth tax reform. 

“Floridians deserve a tax system that treats everyone fairly and helps grow the economy,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL, in a statement. “The last thing Americans want is a system that continues to raise taxes. Senator Nelson has spoken out in favor of tax reform, but he has also advocated for raising taxes. Now is the time for him to use his leadership position on the Senate Finance Committee to un-rig the system for Florida taxpayers.”

— TIME FOR A VICTORY LAP —

Gov. Rick Scott is kicking off what his office is calling his “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour” this morning. The five-city swing has been billed as a way to “celebrate the major wins for Florida families and students” during the three-day special session, which ended last Friday.

The day-long tour, according to Scott’s office, will increased K-12 per-student funding, the creation of the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, full funding for Visit Florida, and $50 million to help kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike.

Expect it to be significantly different than the “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour the Governor embarked on one month ago. Scott used that three-day, 10-city swing to slam “politicians in Tallahassee” for not backing his priorities, hint at vetoes and bristle about the lack transparency in the budget process.

This swing will have a much more “kumbaya” tone. He’ll be joined by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who played his foil during the regular session, on several stops throughout the trip. And don’t be surprised if Corcoran, who led the charge to end funding for Enterprise Florida, talks about the benefits of the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, which he has called a “model for economic development moving forward.”

“My hat’s off to the Governor and the Senate for all that they have accomplished for the people of the state,” said Corcoran during a press conference Friday. “I think what we’re doing is going home and telling parents, we’re telling business owners, we’re telling the state that we’re going to continue on that great road of prosperity, that great road, and that great road of excellent education.”

Assignment editors: Gov. Scott kicks off his five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour” at 9 a.m. at Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail in Miami. From there, he’ll head to the South Florida Water Management District, 3301 Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach for an event at 11 a.m. He’ll then head to Fort Myers for an event at Sun Harvest Citrus, 14601 Six Mile Cypress Parkway at 1:15 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., Scott is scheduled to attend an event at Creative Sign Designs, 12801 Commodity Place in Tampa. The governor will end his day at 6 p.m. at Angie’s Subs, 1436 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach.

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— POST-SESSION POST-MORTEM —

Gary Fineout, the always in-the-know Associated Press reporter, took a look at what appears to be a post-session truce between Gov. Scott, Senate President Negron, and House Speaker  Corcoran and what it could mean for the Republican Party on his blog, The Fine Print, this week.

In the post, Fineout wonders whether “the simmering feud that exploded dramatically into public view the last few months finally end.” As Fineout notes, the three-day special session ended after a deal was crafted that boosted per-student funding, fully funded for Visit Florida, set aside money for a new economic development program and money for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike. The deal also included money for university projects that were vetoed by Scott days earlier, a priority for Negron.

As for Corcoran, many have speculated that Scott and the Land O’Lakes Republican struck a deal that included Scott signing a wide-sweeping and contentious education bill (HB 7069) in return for getting his priorities passed.

Fineout writes if Scott “does in fact sign the education bill and the governor does in fact sign another high profile bill, SB 374 that is a top priority for Negron, it would theoretically put the relationship between all sides on a better foundation than it has been.”

“Remember, this GOP feud has been going on _ and building in intensity _ essentially since Scott got re-elected. Shortly after he was sworn into office for a second term Republicans blocked his pick to lead the Republican Party of Florida. Since then Scott for the most part stopped raising money for the party – which is controlled by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, an ally of Corcoran,” writes Fineout.

“The House and Senate had several meltdowns in 2015 as they bickered over Medicaid expansion and a way to end redistricting battles that were being fought in the courts. In 2016, led by Corcoran, the Legislature shredded much of Scott’s agenda for that year,” he continued. “They rejected his ambitious deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Flash forward and Scott got a much better outcome during the special session than it appeared he was going to get this year. The governor talked about how he couldn’t wait to go out across the state and “brag” about what happened. But is there any longevity to it?”

But Fineout points out there are several things that could cause relations to “fall apart.” Those include Scott deciding to veto the higher education overhaul pushed by Negron, or if Corcoran pursues items that Scott doesn’t want to be involved with during an election year.”

Taking a page from Corcoran, who over the weekend took a page from Taylor Swift in explaining the House’s relationship with the Senate to his children, Fineout asks this in closing: “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods, are we in the clear yet?”

>>>An informed legislative source tells FloridaPolitics that Gov. Scott will sign HB 7069 Thursday in Orlando.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT — 

“Scott’s office ‘no comment’s on abandonment of ‘docs vs. glocks’ appeal” via Florida Politics – The Governor’s Office wouldn’t say why it let pass a recent deadline to challenge the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling on the 2011 law. The legislation—the only one of its kind in the nation—sought to prevent doctors from asking patients whether they own guns, on pain of professional discipline including possible loss of their licenses to practice. The appellate court in February said Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring the state law a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The law was supported by the National Rifle Association. “As a strong supporter of (the) Second Amendment, Gov. Scott is glad that a vast majority of this law was never challenged and upheld in court,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.  

Jeff Atwater says he will leave June 30” via The Associated Press – CFO Atwater turned in his formal resignation letter to Gov. Scott. Atwater announced back in February that he planned to step down from his elected post to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. Scott will be responsible for picking someone to replace Atwater for the next 18 months. Voters in 2018 will pick a new chief financial officer.

– “Jack Latvala doesn’t want to be appointed CFO, isn’t running for CFO; thinks Joe Gruters is right for the job” via Florida Politics

>>>Even with Latvala’s endorsement, we believe former Rep. Jimmy Patronis is the favorite for the CFO job. 

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Democracy for America backs Andrew Gillum — Democracy for America, a national progressive organization, has endorsed Gillum in his 2018 gubernatorial bid. “Now more than ever, Floridians need a Governor who is committed to making the state a place where success is not limited to the most wealthy or well-connected, and where all people can fairly pursue opportunities without fear,” said Jim Dean, the chairman of Democracy for America, in a statement. “As the Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum has stood up to the NRA and made it clear that he will protect immigrants against the Trump administration. He has a vision for the state that includes progressive policies like a $15 minimum wage and ending discrimination against those who have been incarcerated.” Since 2004, Democracy for America members have raised and contributed more than $40 million and more than 11.1 million volunteer calls to help elect 917 progressive candidates across the nation. 

“Adam Putnam’s political committee racks up another cool million in May” via Florida Politics – Florida Grown hadn’t posted its information with the state as of Monday morning, but has rolling contribution and expenditure information on its website. May contributions totaled more than $1.01 million, while monthly expenditures were just over $244,000. Big contributors early in the month included the A. Duda & Sons agricultural and land development company of Oviedo at $100,000, and Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Mutual of Maitland at listed at $60,000.

Baxter Troutman files to run for Agriculture Commissioner via Florida Politics — As Florida Politics first forecast, the Winter Haven Republican filed to run for Agriculture Commissioner on Monday, joining an already crowded field vying to replace Putnam in 2018. Troutman filed the necessary paperwork Monday, and opened his campaign account with a personal contribution of $2.5 million, according to his campaign. “For two decades, I’ve been building a business and continuing my work in Florida agriculture. Real experience and success in the private sector is what we need more than ever,” said Troutman in a statement. “Working side by side with folks who send their hard earned money to Tallahassee, I know why it is so important to keep taxes low, balance our budgets and grow Florida’s economy.”

Alex Diaz de la Portilla labeled ‘not a conservative’ in new mailer via Florida Politics — A new mailer landing in South Florida mailboxes has labeled Alex Diaz de la Portilla “not a conservative.” The mailer is the second from Making a Better Tomorrow, a Venice-based political committee, targeting Diaz de la Portilla in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40. “Alex Diax de la Portilla claims to be a conservative, but his record tells a different story,” reads the mailer. Much like an earlier mailer from Making a Better Tomorrow, the mailer says the Miami Republican raised taxes, increased the size of government, and hurt business and job growth. The ad also slams Diaz de la Portilla for having a “disregard for the law” and “living recklessly.” Here is a look at the second mailer:

Jose Felix Diaz raises about $450K for SD 40 race” via Florida Politics — The Miami Republican said his campaign raised about $450,000 — about $280,000 for his official campaign and another $167,000 for Rebuild Florida, his political committee — between May 10 and June 8. “Our goal was to talk to as many people as possible, to reach out to old friends, to see what the momentum was like,” said Diaz. “I was amazed to get as much support as I did.” Records show top donors to his political committee include the Conservative and Principled Leadership Committee, a political committee affiliated with Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Free Markets Florida, a political committee associated with Rep. Travis Cummings, Rep. Manny Diaz, and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues; and Friends of Matt Caldwell, the political committee associated with Rep. Matt Caldwell, who recently announced he was running for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018. Diaz de la Portilla raised $22,500 during the fundraising period. Records show he loaned his campaign $50,000 during the same time period. State records show Palomares reported raising $9,000 during the fundraising period. Palomares, according to state records, also loaned his campaign $15,000.

“Jose Oliva’s political committee spreads the (financial) love” via Florida PoliticsIn advance of his 2018-20 House Speakership, state Rep. Oliva‘s political committee this year has been sharing the wealth with his friends and allies, campaign finance records accessed Monday show. Most recently, the Miami Lakes Republican’s committee, called Conservative Principles for Florida, gave $1,000 on May 19 to fellow House Republican Jose Felix Diaz’s state Senate run. 

“Northeast Florida delivers $260K in May to Paul Renner committee” via Florida Politics — State records show Florida Foundation for Liberty, the political committee associated with Rep. Paul Renner, raised $261,500 in May. Top donors during the fundraising period were local gambling concern Best Bet at $25,000; Working for Florida’s Families, the political committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, at $10,000; and Sunshine State Conservatives, a political committee associated with Sen. Travis Hutson, at $10,000. Other top donors included Summit Contracting, Vestcor, Florida Blue, Rayonier, Gate Petroleum, and Florida East Coast Industries. Renner is one of several candidates vying to be Speaker of the House beginning in 2022.  

Ray Blacklidge becomes first to file to run in battleground House District 69” via Florida Politics – The race to replace Kathleen Peters is officially underway. Blacklidge, a Madeira Beach resident and self-described entrepreneur and consumer advocate, became the first candidate to file for the seat since Peters announced she would not seek re-election to run for the Pinellas County Commission. In a press release Blacklidge put the word “conservative” front-and-center and said that he has a strong belief in the rule of law. “Whether it’s banning sanctuary cities or fighting fraud, elected officials have a duty to uphold the rule of law, and voters should expect no less.” In 2016, Blacklidge was one of four finalists for state Insurance Commissioner, but saw his bid stymied when it was disclosed that he filed for personal bankruptcy in 2005 with $6 cash on hand.

Money moves in HD 116 GOP special primary” – In the past month, Republicans Jose Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez took in thousands of dollars in the Miami-Dade House District 116 special primary. Florida Division of Elections records show Mallea raked in $50,640 from May 1 through Thursday for $140,156, with almost $88,500 on hand. At the same time, Perez picked up another $33,660 for $83,450, with $35,000 on hand. Winner of the July 25primary faces Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon in the special election Sept. 26. Entering the race June 5, Mayaudon raised only $1,800 as of Thursday. The HD 116 seat opened when Miami-Dade Republican Jose Felix Diaz stepped down to mount a campaign for an open Senate seat.

— STATEWIDE —

After Rick Scott vetoes funding, Florida Health Choices insurance exchange may close” via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – The Florida Health Choices insurance exchange never quite lived up to [then-Speaker Marco] Rubio’s vision as it competed with a rival marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act. Now, the state-based exchange may fold after Gov. Scott vetoed funding intended to keep it afloat another year. Without the $250,000 allocation, there is little money to pay Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff and keep the website maintained. “We will have to close our doors and go to some sort of virtual office or contract it out to another entity,” Naff said. The Florida Health Choices board of directors has to decide what to do with the three-year-old exchange that has about 712 existing customers, far fewer than the 3,000 to 4,000 customers needed for the exchange to be self-sufficient.

“Lottery gets more time to file brief in appeal” via Florida Politics – The 1st District Court of Appeal last week OK’d the Florida Lottery’s request for more time to file its initial brief in the case. The agency now has till “on or before July 7,” according to an online docket. The Lottery appealed after Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in March invalidated its $700 million contract for new equipment. She essentially agreed with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year. Because then-Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT (International Game Technology) contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers said.

“Pre-reveal game makers bemoan state’s ‘heavy-handed tactics’ ” via Florida PoliticsThe companies behind what are known as “pre-reveal” games say they’re “losing money every day” even after a Tallahassee judge ruled the stand-alone consoles aren’t illegal slot machines. Gator Coin II and Blue Sky Games are asking Circuit Judge John Cooper to lift an automatic stay of his March decision. Cooper, however, already has agreed to reconsider the ruling, setting a hearing next Monday in the Leon County Courthouse. The devices—offered mostly at bars and taverns—look and play like a slot machine, Cooper had reasoned, but don’t fit the legal definition of gambling because the player always knows whether he or she is a winner or loser. Still, the companies say the continuing insistence of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) that the games are illegal is killing their bottom line.

Trulieve opens The Villages dispensary” via Florida Politics – The Villages Trulieve will be at 13940 US Highway 441, #601 in the Oakland Hills Professional Center. “We’re excited to have a location in The Villages. Many of our patients are seniors, which makes this location key,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “Our goal is to serve as many patients as we can and we will continue to open more locations throughout the rest of the year.” In addition to The Villages, Trulieve now delivers medical marijuana products statewide and through dispensaries in Clearwater, Edgewater, Miami, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Tampa.

— MOVEMENTS —

“Personnel note: Greg Black joins Gunster” via Florida Politics – Greg Black is joining Gunster’s statewide government affairs law and lobbying practice, the firm announced in a press release. Black joins the firm with an extensive background advocating for a wide range of clients in the financial services, insurance, health care, biomedical research, pharmaceutical, and technology industries. He previously represented the Florida Bankers Association where he advised financial institutions of all sizes. Black’s experience also includes procurement matters at the state and local levels.

Happy birthday to Sen. David Simmons and to one of my favorites, Allison Carvajal.

Jack Latvala doesn’t want to be appointed CFO, isn’t running for CFO; thinks Joe Gruters is right for the job

It’s the most interesting parlor game in Tallahassee.

Who will Rick Scott appoint to be the state’s next Chief Financial Officer now that Jeff Atwater has announced that he is leaving his job at the end of the month?

In a letter to the governor sent Monday, Atwater says his last day in office will be June 30.

So will the next CFO be state Rep. Joe Gruters? Or Pat Neal? How about former Rep. Jimmy Patronis? Perhaps a dark horse candidate will emerge.

Only time will tell. However, one name that can be scratched from the list is state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday that he does not want the governor to appoint him. Nor will he run for CFO in 2018, no matter who Scott picks.

“It’s not where my interests lie,” said Latvala.

If you read between the lines, it sounds like it’s the Governor’s Mansion or bust if Latvala is to be on the ballot next year.

The current Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for months has said he is actively exploring a bid for governor, but is waiting until later this summer before finalizing his decision.

In the meantime, Latvala does have a definite opinion about who Scott should choose.

“I’ve told the governor he should select Joe Gruters,” Latvala said.

“It just makes sense that the person in charge of the state’s books is a CPA,” said Latvala.

The Chief Financial Officer plays a key role in helping regulate the financial and insurance industries and also functions as the state’s treasurer.

Gruters is a first-term state Representative from Sarasota, where he is also chairman of the county Republican Party. He’s vice-chair of the Florida GOP and was a trustee at Florida State University.

Gruters is also a savvy political player, having backed Scott early in 2010 when few other establishment Republicans would and endorsing Donald Trump for president when most of the Florida GOP was with either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.

Both Gruters and Latvala were allies of Scott during the regular and special legislative session this year, supporting his push for funding for the state’s jobs and tourism recruitment agencies.

“Jack Latvala is one of the most influential and important political players here in Florida,” Gruters said after learning of Latvala’s endorsement. “I am incredibly grateful that he would try to use his influence with the Governor to support me.”

Material from the Associated Press is used in this post.

Ray Blacklidge becomes first to file to run in battleground House District 69

The race to replace Kathleen Peters in House District 69 is officially underway.

Ray Blacklidge, a Madeira Beach resident and self-described entrepreneur and consumer advocate, became the first candidate to file for the seat since Peters announced she would not seek re-election in order to run for the Pinellas County Commission.

House District 69 covers the south Pinellas beach communities from Redington Shores to Fort DeSoto, as well as portions of St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Kenneth City, and Pinellas Park.

In a press release distributed Monday, Blacklidge put the word “conservative” front-and-center and said that he has a strong belief in the rule of law.

“Whether it’s banning sanctuary cities or fighting fraud, elected officials have a duty to uphold the rule of law, and voters should expect no less,” Blacklidge said.

This is not Blacklidge’s first foray in Florida politics.

In 2016, Blacklidge was one of four finalists for state Insurance Commissioner, but saw his bid stymied when it was disclosed that he filed for personal bankruptcy in 2005 with $6 cash on hand, according to the The Palm Beach Post.

“What I’d like the citizens of Florida to know is that I hit a rough bump in life and persevered through it and with hard work and determination was able to overcome it,” Blacklidge told the Post at the time. “The experience was humbling and educational. I realize we all hit bumps in life.”

The Post’s reporting does note that during the application process Blacklidge impressed many in interviews with an approachable and disarming style.

Blacklidge currently works as an attorney in the management of a Florida-based insurance company.

According to his campaign’s press release, Blacklidge moved to Florida in 1996 and has since become involved in the Knights of Columbus, American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, The Community Law Program, Inc., the Florida Association for Insurance Reform, and Woodmen of the World.

The race for HD 69 is expected to be a wide-open affair with both local Republicans and Democrats viewing it as an opportunity to make a statement in 2018.

With 36 percent of the district’s voter registration, Republicans maintain a slight lead over the Democrats’ 35 percent. Independents and minor parties make up 29 percent of the district.

No matter what the demographics suggest, HD 69 is a Pinellas-based seat, which means it can get squirrelly for any candidates who is overtly partisan. Peters was viewed as a moderate voice in the House, as were Jim Frishe and Dennis Jones, both of whom represented part of the district before her.

Blacklidge said that he wants to continue “the tradition of excellent representation that Kathleen Peters has provided to south Pinellas” but stresses that “as a conservative, I will always seek ways to improve our economy through letting business flourish while keeping the stifling effects of too much government regulation and taxation at bay.”

Before moving to Florida, Blacklidge served 12 years as an elected official in Illinois.

Sources: Governor to sign HB 7069 in Orlando on Thursday

Governor Rick Scott will sign into law a sweeping education bill that would steer more money to privately run charter schools, require recess in elementary schools, and tinker with the state’s oft-criticized standardized testing system.

An informed legislative source told FloridaPolitics.com Monday morning that Scott will sign HB 7069 in Orlando on Thursday.

The legislation, which was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, barely edged out of the Florida Senate on a 20-18 vote where some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure. Corcoran said that the changes are even more dramatic than the A+ plan put in by former Gov. Jeb Bush nearly two decades ago that created the state’s first voucher program and created the state’s current school grading system.

“It is the greatest public school bill in the history of Florida,” Corcoran said after the bill was sent to Gov. Scott.

The Senate vote came after intense debate in which opponents contended the legislation was a give-away to charter schools, which are public schools that are run by private organizations and sometimes managed by for-profit companies.

The nearly 300-page bill includes a long list of education changes that legislators had been considering. But the final bill was negotiated largely in private and was not seen by the public until last week.

 Some of the final changes drew the ire of the state’s teacher unions, parent groups as well as superintendents of some of Florida’s largest school districts.

Included in the bill is a requirement that elementary schools must set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess,” although at the last minute charter schools were exempted from the mandate. The bill includes more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses.

Bowing to criticism about Florida’s testing regimen, the measure eliminates the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam and pushes back the date in the school year when students must take Florida’s main standardized test.

Another major part of the bill creates the “Schools of Hope” program that would offer financial incentives to charter school operators who would agree to take students who now attending chronically failing schools, many of them in poor areas and urban neighborhoods. Additionally, up to 25 failing public schools may receive up to $2,000 per student for additional student services.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Secret balloting was cause of latest Speaker’s race rift

With special session firmly in the rearview mirror, the 27 freshmen Republican members of the Florida House are quickly turning their attention to selecting one of their own to serve as Speaker, beginning in 2022.

Even during the special session — where the budget, key education policies and implementation of a medical marijuana amendment were decided — the question of who will hold the Speaker’s post was a hot topic.

All five of the announced candidates for the position – Rep. Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, Erin Grall, James W. Grant, Paul Renner – met Wednesday in Grant’s office to discuss the latest wrinkle roiling the internecine feud. At issue: whether the voting for Speaker, tentatively scheduled for June 30 (although even that has become an issue), would be conducted via secret ballot or not.

According to those present at the Wednesday meeting and subsequent emails within the freshman caucus, all five candidates agreed that secret balloting was the way to go.

However, enough happened Thursday and/or Friday that both Grant and Renner felt it necessary to email their colleagues Sunday to reiterate their commitment to secret balloting.

“Over the course of the last few days it seemed that we might not have a vote for speaker,” Rep. Ralph Massullo wrote to his colleagues Saturday evening, apparently in response to rumors swirling through the caucus that one candidate had locked up enough pledges so as to make voting, secret or otherwise, unnecessary.

Massullo, who along with Rep. Mike Grant has helped shepherd the rule-making process for this Speaker’s race, said he believed a “consensus” had developed within the class for a secret ballot “as the mechanism to elect our speaker.”

So what happened?

With the 27 members of the class all in one place at one time, undoubtedly some of the lieutenants from the various camps privately made the case for their captains to other unaligned members. Part of making that case is convincing a member that they could be left behind if they don’t join the winning side early enough.

An email from Grant confirms something was going on.

“When what is agreed to in front of the group and what happens in one-off or private conversations contradict, it obviously creates confusion and concern,” Grant wrote Sunday morning.

Grant’s team will tell you that Renner’s camp doesn’t want a secret ballot so that his allied consultants, fundraisers and lobbyists can exert pressure on undecided members.

Renner’s camp will tell you that Team Grant doesn’t want a secret ballot so that current House leadership — Speaker Richard Corcoran, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, and Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls — can exert pressure on undecided members.

Both Grant’s and Renner’s camps will tell you that Donalds and Grall want a secret ballot because they don’t want others knowing how few votes they receive on the first ballot.

What’s important is who DOES want a secret ballot. Foremost are the semi-independent members who don’t want to get caught up in a pledge card system.

And since winning these swing votes is key to winning the Speaker’s post, both Grant and Renner on Sunday wrote to their colleagues reiterating their commitment to a secret ballot.

“Each of the declared candidates met together during last week’s special session and reaffirmed our commitment to have a vote for our class leader through a secret ballot,” Renner wrote Sunday morning.

Grant wrote later, “Should you be told anything to the contrary and so that there is no confusion on my position, I wanted each of you to have, in writing, my continued commitment to support a vote by secret ballot.”

According to the inter-class emails, Massullo and Grant, “are going to secure a location in Orlando for June 30, 2017 where those who wish to attend can vote in person. Those who cannot attend will be able to cast their votes by some direct communication to either Larry Metz or Ray Rodrigues.”

Still left to be decided is how the class will “execute subsequent votes if one candidate fails to get a majority on the first round.”

As one member wrote in an email to their colleagues, “no one could ever say that serving in the FL House is easy.”

Sunburn for 6.12.17 – One year later

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica. Scott Powers and Terry Roen of Orlando-Rising.com wrote today’s topper.

— ONE YEAR LATER —

On Monday, a city still in deep mourning will reckon itself to the first anniversary of one of the darkest days any city has ever had to endure, as Orlandoans pay their respects to those killed, wounded, or forever changed in the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre.

Huge crowds are expected at a multitude of events, highlighted by an opening of a memorabilia display at the Orange County Regional History Center, a memorial ceremony at the Pulse nightclub itself, and a community cry from the city’s heart, Lake Eola Park.

Just counting journalists – more than 750 have been credentialed – this no doubt will be a worldwide-watched moment.

Landscaping pebbles outside Pulse are turned into tiny memorials as community members leave thoughts written on them.

Yet while victims, survivors, their families and friends, and thousands of ordinary citizens will deal with the very strong emotions and seek to celebrate the bonds that have made Orlando United very real, there may be a critical lack of such bonding among many key politicians.

Most of the locals, starting with Orlando’s Democratic Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County’s Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and including most of its lawmakers, will have no problems embracing and being embraced by an Orlando Family in need of their leadership. Starting in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, almost all they’ve said and done regarding Pulse has resonated with strength, love and togetherness.

It gets more complicated with those from outside of Orlando. That’s particularly true now that Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has thrown down a gauntlet to Republican Gov. Rick Scott: accusing him of turning his back on an LGBTQ community devastated by the Pulse shooting, and hinting that he might not be welcomed back.

Smith, a leader in both Orlando’s and Florida’s LGBTQ community, pointed out an obvious but not widely-discussed situation: that there has been, from the start, a stark difference in how Democrats and Republicans typically have characterized Pulse, and how they’ve acted since.

In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, photo,  Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith talks about the Pulse Nightclub shooting at his office in Winter Park “There’s no question that the tragedy at Pulse has created an entire new generation of grassroots leaders who are young, who are queer, people of color, who want to make a difference and affect change,” said Smith, who was elected to the Legislature last fall. Photo credit: John Raoux.

Was the Pulse tragedy an unthinkably-heinous hate crime against the LGBTQ community by a madman who professed hatred toward gays? Was it a terrorism act carried out by an ISIS-pledging Islamic radical? Was it both? And how should the guns issues be addressed, if at all?

Scott and other key Republicans, notably U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi, on up to President Donald Trump, all have said or done things seen by too many in Orlando as insensitive or off the mark in addressing those questions, particularly by not consistently acknowledging the LGBTQ community’s principal role.

Who among them will come Monday? Who among them will speak? Might they find the words to assert that they stand with Orlando and can embrace the communities grieving the most?

A city’s proud unity might begin to fray along political hems, or might be bound tighter, depending upon what happens.

Pulse reads:

– “Orlando after Pulse: Who we are, how we’ve changed” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

– “A year after Pulse nightclub shooting, a legacy of healing” via Amy Bennett Williams and Ryan Mills of News-Press.com

– “Pulse: Blood donors were ‘first, first responders’” via Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel

– “Pulse victim Deonka Drayton left behind complicated story” via Kayla O’Brien of the Orlando Sentinel

– “Pulse hit the LGBTQ community of color hardest. One year later, it’s a struggle to heal” via Alex Harris and Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald

– “Shooting survivor revisits Pulse: “I got out … but Eddie didn’t” via Barbara Marshall of the Palm Beach Post

– “Year After Pulse massacre, blessings and frustrations abound” via Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times

Rick Scott declares June 12 as “Pulse Remembrance Day” — Gov. Scott on Friday issued a proclamation declaring Monday “Pulse Remembrance Day,” directed flags be flown at half-staff in the state from sunrise until sunset, and called for a moment of silence to honor and remember the victims. “I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 a.m. to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse Terror attack,” he said in a statement. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.”

Services to mark one year since 49 killed” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Starting in the early hours … and continuing almost 24 hours later, survivors, victims’ families, city officials and central Florida residents will remember the victims with four services. The first service is closed to the public, and it’s being held at the nightclub for survivors, local officials and club employees. It will overlap with the exact time that gunman Omar Mateen began firing shots — a little after 2 a.m. June 12, 2016. It is followed by another midday service at the nightclub, and an evening gathering in the heart of downtown Orlando. A final, music-filled late-night service is being held at the nightclub … local churches throughout Orlando have arranged for church bells to ring simultaneously, 49 times at noon. Local officials also have declared the one-year mark as a day of “love and kindness,” and they are encouraging residents to volunteer or perform acts of compassion.

Outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, on Wednesday, September 14, 2016, just three months after a mass shooting that killed 49 people, the deadliest in this country’s history.
Photo credit: Preston Gannaway.

Assignment editors: The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence will hold a candlelight vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando at 7 p.m. in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Jason Lindsay, the executive director of the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and the Rev. Kara Scroggins are all expected to speak. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. is scheduled to perform.

Assignment editors: Rep. Kathy Castor will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. at Centennial Park, 1800 E. Eighth Avenue in Tampa to discuss the work that continues to honor the victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting. She will be joined by Nadine Smith with Equality Florida and Carrie West with Tampa Pride.

Assignment editors – In commemoration of the lives lost at the Pulse Nightclub shooting, state Sen. Linda Stewart will be volunteering to take a stand against bullying on Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness – at the Zebra Coalition Drop-in Center which is open from 12-5 p.m., 911 N Mills Avenue in Orlando.

Blood drives in honor of Pulse — OneBlood is holding blood drives throughout the state to remember the victims and honor the injured. In the days following the tragedy, thousands of people lined up for hours to give blood, but the group said it was the donors who donated in the “days before who made the vital difference.” OneBlood is urging Floridians to “make it a tradition” to give blood to commemorate the anniversary to ensure there are no blood shortages. There are blood drives at the Greater Orlando Area Donor Centers and select mobile drives through Wednesday, and all other OneBlood donor centers through Monday. Donors who give blood as part of the Pulse blood drive will receive a free commemorative T-shirt, as well as a free wellness checkup. To find a location near you, click here.

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

— EPILOGUE —

Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald conducts an autopsy of the Special Session, concluding that it ended “by delivering more of the same: backroom deal-making that resolved differences over a trade.” Klas’ reporting relies heavily on the perspective of the Senate and quotes from Democratic members, but her conclusion is right: the big winner was Scott. Here are 5 interesting nuggets from Klas’ reporting:

Scott made a midnight phone call to Joe Negron to ask him to attend a press conference in Miami the next morning where the ‘Big 3’ would announce a special session

Scott (had) refrained from making a commitment about whether he would sign or veto HB 7069. That gave him leverage over the priority legislation and a rare negotiating advantage to demand fixes to the budget.

Great imagery here: “Sitting at his conference table in the Speaker’s office early Friday afternoon, wolfing down a lunch of meat loaf and red velvet cake …”

Anyone who thinks the Senate was a bigger winner than the House needs to re-read these two paragraphs: “Scott wanted to continue incentive programs that benefit specific companies. Corcoran said no. The Senate wanted to use local property tax money for schools, override Scott’s vetoes of higher education construction projects and dip into cash reserves to give more money to hospitals but Corcoran said no. Scott expected the Senate to deliver, and when they didn’t his loyalty to them quickly shifted. In the end, Corcoran delivered more to Scott than the Senate and the speaker seized the opportunity filled the void to make his own trade.”

— Meanwhile, Jack Latvala complains that rocks weigh more today: “We’ve got three fiefdoms in Tallahassee — the House, Senate and the governor — and they are unchallenged within their own body. They get carried away.”

>>>Gary Fineout also has a must-read epilogue piece, “Short-lived truce or an end to the simmering GOP feud in Florida

— ICYMI —

Governor signs ‘religious expression’ bill into law” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – The new law, which takes effect July 1, makes clear that students in Florida’s public schools cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and that they may pray at school during non-course time. It further states that school employees also may participate voluntarily in religious activities that are initiated by students before or after the school day. Complaints that some schools in north Florida did not allow such participation have prompted lawmakers to push for such provisions over several years. Representatives from many Christian organizations lobbied for the bill in committees, saying they were being discriminated against in schools.

Florida shifts burden of proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ cases” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The new law would give defendants more protection from prosecution in “Stand Your Ground” cases by requiring prosecutors to prove whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity. The legislation would flip the responsibility onto the prosecutor to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed to use the Stand Your Ground defense in court. Republicans pushed the burden of proof bill for years but didn’t have much success until this year’s regular legislative session, when lawmakers finally passed the bill along party lines. The proposal came on the heels of a Florida Supreme Court last summer which ruled defendants would be responsible for the burden of proof showing they shouldn’t be prosecuted in “Stand Your Ground” cases.

“John Morgan to host Richard Corcoran fundraiser – even as he promises to sue lawmakers over medical marijuana” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – So not only could Morgan face Corcoran in a courtroom, he may also take him on as a candidate in next year’s governor’s race. Both men are exploring entering the contest. Morgan is a Democrat; Corcoran is a Republican. … News of the fundraiser was first reported in a tweet by Associated Press reporter Joe Reedy, and quickly confirmed in a tweet by Morgan himself. Morgan thanked Corcoran for the passage of Friday’s medical marijuana bill during the final day of a three-day special session. “We’ll show you our deep thanks for A2,” he tweeted. “You made it happen. Plain & simple! I’ll bring Makers Mark & Caymus.” … The fundraiser for Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC will be held next Thursday at the Orlando home of Zander and Carmen Clem, according to the invitation.

NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Today is the deadline for state candidates and political committees to file campaign finance reports for activity through May 31.

Good read: – “2018 Senate preview: Hurricane Scott about to make landfall on Bill Nelson’s face” via Brian Burgess of the Capitolist

Andrew Gillum’s campaign touting more than 7,000 donors” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s campaign is reporting Friday it has topped the 7,000 donor mark for $1.2 million in total contributions. That means Gillum’s official campaign and his unofficial political committee Forward Florida brought in about $150,000 from roughly 1,400 donors in May.

Save the date:

Firefighters back Jeremy Ring in Democratic primary for CFO — The Florida Professional Firefighters unanimously endorsed Ring, a Margate Democrat, in his bid to replace CFO Jeff Atwater in 2018. The decision came after Ring delivered a speech to the annual conference, where he reaffirmed his support to the state’s firefighters and pledged to give them the resources they need to fight and prevent fires. “These guys put their lives on the line for us every day and we need to make sure we have their backs not only by outfitting them with modern equipment, but also by giving them the peace of mind that their families will be provided for in the tragic event that they fall in the line of duty,” said Ring.

J.D. Alexander may run for Senate again” via John Chambliss of the Lakeland LedgerAlexander, who was the Senate budget chair in 2012, said it would be hard to continue to “just sit by” and do nothing. “I’ve enjoyed my private life, but with that said, it would be important to engage more effectively,” said Alexander If he runs in 2018, it would be for the Senate District 26 seat now held by Denise Grimsley of Sebring … he would face Rep. Ben Albritton in the GOP primar

Mailer in SD 40 race calls Alex Diaz de la Portilla a ‘tax & spend liberal’” via Florida Politics — A new mailer calling Diaz de la Portilla a “tax & spend liberal” is hitting the mailboxes of voters living in Senate District 40. The mailer, paid for Making a Better Tomorrow, highlights Diaz de la Portilla’s time in the Legislature, and urges voters to call the Miami-Dade Republican and tell him “he doesn’t deserve another chance.” … The mail piece says Diaz de la Portilla increased taxes on garbage, hunting permits, and driver’s licenses by $2.2 billion; imposed “a 300 percent job-killing tax increase on small businesses;” and grew the size of government by $20 billion since 1995. “Career politician Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s higher taxes have killed jobs and hurt seniors,” it reads. “Alex Diaz de la Portilla isn’t really a conservative. His 16-year voting record proves he is just another tax & spend liberal.”

Builders and contractors back Jose Mallea in HD 116 — The construction industry trade association has thrown its support behind Mallea in the special election to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. “We are very pleased to endorse Jose Mallea,” said Peter M. Dyga, president and CEO of the ABC Florida East Coast Chapter. “His commitment to the principles of free enterprise and free markets lines up very well with our values. We believe we can count on him to be the kind of advocate for economic growth and increased opportunity we need in Tallahassee.” ABC of Florida is part of a national construction industry trade association that represents nearly 21,000 corporate members. The Florida East Chapter represents more than 450 member companies between Key West and the Space Coast, making it the largest commercial construction association in Florida. “I am honored to have the support of ABC,” said Mallea. “I appreciate their commitment to the principles of freedom and hard work that built this nation. I look forward to working with them to keep Florida’s economy strong and growing.”

— STATEWIDE —

Donald Trump to unveil new U.S.-Cuba policy Friday in Miami” via Marc Caputo and Sergio Bustos of POLITICO – The specifics of Trump’s executive action aren’t yet clear … But it’s expected to bear the stamp of two pro-embargo anti-Castro Miami Republican hardliners, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who helped advise the White House and national security officials. Many expect that Trump will not reverse Obama’s decision to open a U.S. embassy in Havana or reinstate the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy that allowed Cuban immigrants who touched U.S. shores to become legal residents.

“Marco Rubio defends his question of James Comey” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO  – Rubio fired back at criticism that he was protecting President Donald Trump or had struck a deal over Cuba policy with him in return for his line of questioning during former FBI director James Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. Rubio told POLITICO that he instead sought to point out that the president did not interfere with the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections — the prime focus of the committee’s hearings.

As Marco Rubio questioned James Comey on Thursday, he was roundly criticized on social media by Democrats, liberals and Trump critics. Photo credit: AP.

Court says marijuana investor information public” via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments by Surterra Florida, LLC, Alpha Foliage, Inc. and Redland Nursery, Inc. that information identifying investors and partners — submitted as part of license applications to the Florida Department of Health — should be shielded from release because it is a trade secret. Alpha Foliage and Redland Nursery submitted applications, while Surterra Florida is the “contractual agent” for the nurseries, according to Friday’s ruling. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled that the information about investors and partners, along with information about the firms’ consultants, should be available. The appeals court agreed on the issue of investors and partners, though it sent the case back to circuit court for more specific findings of the consultant issue.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Tampa doesn’t pay taxes. So why do its customers?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times – The Hard Rock is on sovereign tribal land free from all state and local taxes. Yet the Seminoles choose to impose a tax on its customers, anyway, at the same rate required of other Hillsborough County hotels. State Sen. Dana Young calls the tribe’s hotel tax a “guise” to charge customers more while making it seem like Florida governments are getting a share. Santiago Corrada, Hillsborough County’s top tourism promoter, said he didn’t know about it and questioned if it was fair. But Gary Bitner, a spokesman for the Seminoles, said the tax, in part, is charged to help other local hotels. Otherwise, the Hard Rock would have “an unfair competitive advantage over other area hotels” by undercutting their prices, he said. And the money collected goes toward government functions for the tribe, such as police and fire rescue.

What Shannon Shepp is reading –Florida orange crop estimate increases slightly in June” via The Associated Press – Federal agricultural officials said that the June forecast showed the state’s orange crop growing by 500,000 boxes to 68.5 million boxes for the 2016-2017 growing season. The grapefruit crop forecast remained unchanged from the previous month at 7.8 million boxes.

— FORD’S F-SERIES KEEPS SOUTH FLORIDA MOVING —

Another sign Florida’s economy is running on all cylinders: Ford Motor Company announced May sales of its F-Series trucks were up 12.8 percent. That is the highest for the month in 13 years.

In the Miami market, Ford sales numbers show South Florida customers want power and comfort in their vehicles, based on an uptick in sales of Super Duty trucks offering stronger towing capacity, crew cabs with four doors and two rows of seats.

Among Miami’s Super Duty truck buyers, more than four in five choose diesel, and nine in 10 are picking crew cabs. Crew cabs are also popular among F-150 customers in Miami, where sales of F-150 crew cabs doubled over the last five years.

Ford’s F-series trucks have been America’s top-selling trucks for 40 consecutive years.

All this points to stronger consumer and business confidence. As the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, consumers are feeling more secure about the future and seeking out vehicles that serve both work and personal needs.

“For many of our Florida customers, the Ford F-Series is the right truck at the right time,’’ said Ford regional sales manager Rick Brisson. “As the job market continues to strengthen, people are looking for vehicles that fit their lifestyle, whether on the job or at home. May’s sales prove that.’’

Ford’s sales figures follow Gov. Rick Scott’s statewide jobs tour announcing gains and a declining unemployment rate. Statewide, Florida businesses created 15,000 new jobs in April, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent, the lowest since November 2007.

The Miami area added 16,500 new private-sector jobs over the year in April, with unemployment falling to 5.0 percent, down a 0.4 percentage point from a year ago. Many of those jobs were in trade, transportation and utilities, industries that benefit from truck ownership.

— MOVEMENTS —

Commission clears Cary Pigman in state ethics case” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – The Florida Ethics Commission cleared Rep. Pigman of charges that he misused his position to retaliate against a school principal in his district. The approved a recommendation by Judge June C. McKinney to dismiss the case against Pigman. At least one member of the commission abstained from the vote, while another member voted against the recommendation. Pigman, a doctor of emergency medicine and Army Reserve physician, was accused of “linking his efforts to obtain legislative funding for the Okeechobee School District … to retaliate or attempt to retaliate against an employee of the School District.”

New and renewed lobby registrations

Slater Bayliss, Christopher Chaney, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Citrus Home Health

Laura Boehmer, Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: American Craftsman Museum

Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: H.H. Holdings, Inc.

Jorge Chamizo, Floridian Partners: DentaQuest

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting Group: DFMMJ Investments

Happy birthday to Rep. Neil Combee, local bookstore owner Sally Bradshaw, new FDOT Sec’y Mike Dew, Matt Lettelleir, Margie Menzel, Rick Minor, and St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Medical marijuana wins one, loses one

Earlier Friday, the same day lawmakers approved the implementing bill for the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, an appellate court handed marijuana growers a loss.

The 1st District Court of Appeals held that identities of investors and partners in medical marijuana companies aren’t trade secrets.

It remanded back to Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, however, to do more fact-finding on the question of whether the identities of their consultants is a trade secret, and thus would be exempt from public record laws.

Alpha Foliage, Redland Nursery and Surterra Florida were fighting a public records request for information from a competitor.

Dodson said requests for information about financial structure, security processes and building designs, nursery operations, scientific processes, business plans, administrative materials, and standard operating procedures could be denied.

But “identities and related information of appellants’ investors, consultants, and partners do not meet the trade secret definition,” the appellate court explained.

The companies “did not present evidence showing that the identities and related information of the specific investors and partners at issue” deserved trade secret protection.

The court suggested consultants might have a better case: “Consultants in the … medical cannabis industry can supply organizations with valuable information about how to cultivate, process, transport, and dispense cannabis.”

But whether “their identities and related information … are in fact trade secrets (is a) determination (to) be made by the trial court,” the court added.

Surterra is the “therapeutic cannabis-focused brand and business of Alpha Foliage.” A spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached Friday.

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:

#OrlandoStrong — Monday marks the one-year anniversary of a massacre at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead and dozens more wounded. The shooting, which happened during Latin music night at the popular gay nightclub, was the worst mass shooting in recent history. Orlando city and county officials have declared Monday “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness,” and Gov. Rick Scott issued a proclamation declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, directed flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset, and called for a moment of silence to remember the victims. “I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 AM to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse Terror attack,” he said in a statement. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.” Orlando officials will be marking the event with a series of events throughout the day, including memorial services at the site of Pulse.

Money, money, money — The original call for a Special Session focused on three things: funding for public schools, Visit Florida, and economic development programs. Lawmakers tackled several more issues than that during the three-day session,  but they didn’t forget the reason they were in Tallahassee in the first place. The Legislature approved a bill (HB 1A) that would, among other things, boost funding for Visit Florida to $76 million, up from the $25 million originally agreed to by lawmakers, and set aside $85 million for an economic development fund housed in the Department of Economic Opportunity. Legislators also agreed to a bill (HB 3A) that would increase per-student funding by $100 for the state’s nearly 3 million school children. “This special session, we’ve increased the per-pupil spending to an all-time high, we’ve established a flexible, transparent economic development program and we’ve fully funded VISIT FLORIDA so we can continue to break visitation records,” said Gov. Scott. “We know that the most important things to a family are a good-paying job and a great education for their children, and these major investments will help us continue to create opportunities across our state for generations to come.”

Joe versus the world — The first few days of the Special Session got off to a rocky start, and seemed to only get worse as the week progressed. The Senate kicked off the week by overriding the governor’s veto of the education budget, and later voted to override the vetoes of millions upon millions of higher education projects. During a House GOP mixer on Wednesday evening, House Speaker Richard Corcoran seemed to take a swipe at Negron and the Senate, saying the upper chamber “did not stick to the plan.” An uncharacteristically perturbed Negron struck back, telling reporters Thursday he wanted to clear up a “fake narrative” circulating that the Senate made a deal with Scott and Corcoran. Negron said that wasn’t the case, and went on to say the chamber was not “going to rubber stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account.”

Senate President Joe Negron speaks to reporters after a press conference at the conclusion of the Special Session. During a gaggle on the Senate floor earlier in the week, the normally cool Negron expressed frustrations with what he called a “fake narrative.”(Photo by Phil Sears.)

We have a deal — Despite a few tense days, lawmakers reached a deal Friday afternoon to get bring the Special Session in for a landing. The final deal included $60 million for 17 university projects, a priority for the Senate; a guarantee not to change the “required local effort” part of public school funding, a House priority; and $50 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike, a priority for the governor. The funding for higher education projects included $6.8 million for Florida State University for its interdisciplinary research commercialization building; Florida Gulf Coast University, which will see $12.7 million for its integrated watershed and coastal studies program; and $1.69 million for the University of Florida Health Center to fund medical marijuana research.

Medical marijuana win — Legislation to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment is headed to the governor’s desk after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved implementing legislation during the Special Session this week. The wide-ranging legislation (SB 8-A) will give guidance to state regulators as they put the state’s constitutional amendment medical marijuana into effect. Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the bill, among other things, requires the Department of Health to license 10 new growers by October, and allows for four new growers for every 100,000 patients. It also limits the number of retail facilities a grower can have to 25, but allows more to come online as the patient population. The cap expires in 2020. Gov. Scott said he will sign the bill into law.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez and, Rep. Chris Sprowls congratulate Rep. Ray Rodrigues, after passage of his medical marijuana bill on the floor of the House this week. (Photo by Phil Sears.)

Scenes from the Special Session

Post-session smiles — Gov. Scott and legislative leaders were all smiles when the three-day special session ended this week, but they didn’t get there without a few squabbles.

House leaders accused the Senate pushing for budget pork. The Senate ultimately acquiesced to an economic development system its leaders had decried as a slush fund. The House and governor made their own concessions, and each got a little of what they wanted along the way.

“Just because we’re in the same party doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be robust differences of opinion,” said Senate President Negron. “We’re not a monolithic group of people. We have diversity of opinion in our party on many ideas.

Negron stressed that he, personally, never lobbed any insults across the rotunda or toward the governor.

“I think the important thing is to look at what was actually accomplished. And what was accomplished was increased investments in our universities and of our students, and taking care of Lake Okeechobee, and doing things that we all can be proud of.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto center, leads a show of hands to have a roll call vote on an amendment to the medical marijuana implementation bill on the Senate floor Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Still friends — House Speaker Corcoran lobbed a lot of criticism at Gov. Scott’s top priorities this year.

Corcoran led the charge to eliminate Enterprise Florida and slash funding for Visit Florida, and vowed there wouldn’t be any “corporate welfare in the House budget.”

But the Land O’Lakes Republican said Scott shouldn’t take it personally.

“Gov. Scott’s a friend,” he said.  “He’s a passionate warrior for what he believes in. I think the House was passionate fighting for what we believed in.”

Corcoran told reporters this week he thought it was great for the state to engage in this type of debate, and said the House did exactly what it said it would.

“What we said all along is, we will not do corporate welfare. We will not have a system of picking winners and losers,” he said. As a result, the new incentives package “that benefits everybody,” he said. “I think this is the beginning of walls crashing down on corporate welfare nationwide. Every other governor and every other state will start looking at this fund, and the way we’re doing it, which benefits everybody — and say, “That’s how we’re going to do economic development going forward.’”

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran listens to Rep. Ralph Massullo on the House floor of the House on Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Putting his foot down, but calmly — Did Senate President Negron’s “false narrative” rant save the special session? Sen. Jack Latvala thinks so. In presenting compromise legislation intended to let legislators get home, the Clearwater Republican praised the Senate President.

“This particular product here has your stamp on it, loud and clear. And I appreciate your help in bringing that about with your very effective, lawyerly, nice, almost argument last night,” said Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.

Negron threw the most polite fit you’ve ever seen during a news conference on the Senate floor this week.

The Senate had sided with Gov. Scott throughout the regular session, he complained. Yet Scott the House were settling their differences without regard for the Senate’s higher education priorities.

“We’re not just going to rubberstamp an agreement the two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.

Scott and the House eventually agreed to most of the Senate’s demands.

Sen. Jack Latvala gets a pat on the shoulder from Sen. Lauren Book on the Senate floor Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Mansplain much? — House Speaker Corcoran offered a reporter personal instruction in conservative principles when she asked him to defend carve-outs in the medical marijuana bill for shuttered citrus processors.

A provision reserving two medical marijuana treatment center licenses for such businesses emerged during the special session. During a media availability this week, Mary Ellen Klas, a reporter with the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee Bureau, asked Corcoran how that fit in with the House’s famous aversion to picking winners and losers.

“I tell you all the time: I’m a conservative. I’m a conservative. I believe that government has a role to regulate those things that create potential dangers to society,” Corcoran replied. “If you want, one of these days I’ll do an hour-long course on conservatism and how it interacts with a free-market system.”

Klas quickly asked: “So why are you selecting citrus companies that have had a failed processing facility an allowing them to get a license?”

When Corcoran responded by telling reporters to ask the Senate, Klas fired back: “Why are you signing onto that? You have ended corporate welfare?”

The speaker’s response: “I’ll have the whole conversation with you. I’ll be glad to walk you through conservatism and how it interacts with the free market.”

Capitol watchers react

The Florida Legislature ended its whirlwind three-day session this week after lawmakers approved measures to boost money for public schools, set aside money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, Visit Florida, and economic development programs, and implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

It didn’t take long for Capitol watchers to weigh in.

Sen. Rob Bradley gets a hug from Sen. Dana Young after his medical marijuana implementation bill passed on the floor of the Senate on the final day of the Special Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Kim Rivers, the CEO of Trulieve, on the medical marijuana implementing bill: We are reviewing the legislation and its impact, as well as the ability for patients to have access to much-needed medicine, to determine our next steps moving forward.”

Ben Pollara with Florida for Care on medical marijuana: “It’s done! The House amended and passed medical marijuana legislation 103-9, and then the Senate had to vote AGAIN on the legislation, approving it 29-6. The bill’s next stop is Governor Scott’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law. Don’t get me wrong: this legislation is FAR from perfect. But it is a major step forward for patient access, and is drastically different and more patient-friendly than either chamber’s original implementing bills. Florida for Care will continue to fight – session after session – to improve upon this framework, and advocate for patient access. Now we have a strong starting point from which to do so. Thank you for everything you’ve done to get us to this point. This has been a four-and-a-half-year journey for me, and I know many of you have been at it much longer than I. This is a victory for patients in Florida. Period. We all have an enormous amount to be proud of.”

Rep. Danny Burgess congratulates Rep. Paul Renner as Rep. Larry Metz waits, at right, after passage of his tourism and economic development funding bill on the floor of the House of Representatives on the final day of the Special Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Gil Langley, chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, on Visit Florida funding: “On behalf of Florida’s robust community of 1.4 million travel industry professionals, we commend the Florida Legislature for restoring funding for Florida’s tourism marketing effort to $76 million. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of Governor Rick Scott, coupled with Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran’s willingness to recognize the vital importance of promoting our state, Florida is on the right track to continuing our eight years of record tourism growth. VISIT FLORIDA works tirelessly to ensure the Sunshine State remains on the same playing field as competing destinations such as California, Texas and Hawaii, and we are grateful the new budget reflects this priority. All Floridians will benefit from the Legislature’s continued investment in tourism promotion, and we applaud lawmakers for their efforts during the 2017 Special Session.”

Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of the Florida TaxWatch, on funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida: “The passage of House Bill 1A by the Florida Legislature will ensure that Florida’s economy continues to move forward following the crippling aftermath of the Great Recession. The bill will bring funding of VISIT FLORIDA to current fiscal year levels and up from the original $25 million appropriated in the 2017 Legislative Session, allowing the agency to continue to market the Sunshine State across the globe. We hope the language of the bill regarding VISIT FLORIDA will allow them to continue to focus on enticing tourists to Florida and boosting our economy rather than being overly bureaucratic. While Enterprise Florida (EFI) funding did not change, the bill creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, an $85 million fund to allow the Governor to approve funds for public infrastructure and workforce training projects that improve economic development. Under this, the Department of Economic Opportunity and EFI may recommend projects to the Governor. Florida TaxWatch research has found that continued funding of our economic incentive programs is crucial to ensuring the continued economic and job growth of the state as our population steadily rises. Florida TaxWatch will continue to recommend additional funding for Enterprise Florida and the state’s economic incentive programs to drive new, high-wage jobs to Florida. It is our hope that this issue is addressed in the 2018 Legislative Session.”

Chris Hudson, the state director for Americans for Prosperity-FL on the passage of a bill (HB 1A) that revamps how economic development is done in Florida: “Florida taxpayers, and those looking to grow their businesses or come to the state have struck a huge win. Businesses that already exist here will be able to take advantage of key investments in infrastructure, companies looking to relocate to Florida will be able to capitalize on the benefits of educated workforce, and the individual taxpayers will benefit from a climate for job growth. We applaud the legislature and Governor Scott for coming together to put an end to corporate welfare. This is what economic development should look like across the country.”

Sen. Jack Latvala lowers his head as Sen. Perry Thurston debates for an amendment to Latvala’s Supplemental Appropriations bill on the Senate floor. The amendment failed. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, on the conclusion of the Special Session:  “Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran, and Joe Negron should all be ashamed of their dirty, backroom politics. What we’re seeing here are three men and a handful of unelected staffers making major policy decisions behind closed doors without any opportunity for open discussion or public input. Why do we even bother electing the full legislature if a handful of power-brokers will make all of the decisions in secret? This behavior is shameless and voters deserve far better.”

David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Committee, on the conclusion of the Special Session: “In the end, Governor Scott got exactly what he wanted out of this self-serving special session: more money for his political allies and cronies, while hardworking Floridians were forced to pay the price. If Scott decides to run for the Senate in 2018, voters will remember who is responsible for the chaos and dysfunction that descended on Tallahassee as Scott sold out Florida’s public schools in order to push through his own personal agenda.”

Preparing for life on the outside

The Department of Corrections is doing its part to make sure inmates are prepared for life after prison.

The agency announced this week it was launching Compass 100, a curriculum for inmates nearing release that allows them to develop life skills combined with current education courses and substance abuse treatment programs.

The program focuses on topics like punctuality, workplace etiquette, and problem-solving. Inmates, according to the department, are required to complete a cognitive behavioral and restructuring curriculum designed to assist inmates to change the way they think and provide skills to communicate and solve problems.

“I’m incredibly proud of my staff for rethinking the way the Department operates and continuing to expand and enhance the opportunities and programs for inmates nearly release,” said DOC Secretary Julie Jones.

By the end of the program, inmates will also complete a “readiness portfolio,” which contains well-developed goals, a résumé, community resources, scheduled community appointments, and program completion certificates.

“Through programs such as Compass 100, we are able to take a more personalized approach for each inmate’s education,” said Jones. “The more prepared our inmates are for release, the more likely they will gain employment and becoming contributing members in their local communities.”

Keeping schools safe

Jewish day schools will get a boost from the state for safety measures.

Lawmakers tucked $654,000 into the fiscal 2017-18 budget, signed into law by Gov. Scott recently, for security funding for Jewish day schools throughout Florida. The money, according to the Governor’s Office, will be used to help provide security and counter-terrorism upgrades such as video cameras, fences, bullet-proof glass, and alarm systems.

“There has recently been a dramatic rise in the threats against Jewish day schools and I was proud to join Governor Scott and my fellow Legislative members in taking immediate action to help protect our Jewish communities,” said Rep. Randy Fine, who joined Scott at the Orlando Torah Academy earlier this week to discuss the funding. “This funding will help provide Jewish day schools with important security resources and ensure our students, teachers and parents feel safe.”

Gov. Rick Scott takes a selfie with students at the Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale following a stop at the school this week to highlight security funding for Jewish day schools. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Scott visited two Jewish day schools — the Orlando Torah Academy and the Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale — to highlight the funding.

“We want to make sure our students stay safe and focused on what is most important — getting a great education, and I appreciate the Florida Legislature for taking quick action to come together and fight for this important funding,” said Scott. “We will continue to work closely with the members of Florida’s Jewish community and our partners in the state and federal government to do all we can to help keep all of our students and families safe.”

There were 167 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions, including 18 Jewish day schools, in 38 states and three Canadian provinces as of March 21, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Shut it down

A robocall operation in Orlando has been shuttered, thanks in part to the efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission obtained a permanent injunction halting operations at All Us Marketing. The company, according to Bondi’s office, allegedly bombarded millions of consumers with nationwide robocall campaigns designed to trick consumers into paying up-front for credit card interest rate reduction programs.

Consumers paid between $300 and $4,999 for programs, which claimed to substantially reduce credit card interest rates and save them thousands of dollars in a short time. The company, however, did not provide the promised interest rate reductions, and allegedly used the robocalls to falsely identify themselves as representatives of consumers’ banks or credit card companies. The company also allegedly charged a fee in advances of providing the debt relief services and called consumers with telephone numbers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry.

“This massive robocall operation bombarded consumers with millions of unwanted calls and misled victims into purchasing ineffective financial services—but thanks to our joint investigation, this scheme has been permanently shut down,” said Bondi in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to partner with the FTC to shut down robocall scams targeting Floridians.”

As part of the permanent injunction, the company and its affiliates are prohibited from telemarketing, offering debt relief products and services, misrepresenting financial products and services, and making deceptive or unsubstantiated claims.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the case.

New man in charge

Congratulations, Joshua Doyle!

The Florida Bar announced this week that its Board of Governors selected Doyle, a Tallahassee-based special agent for the FBI, to serve as the organization’s next executive director. Doyle will replace John “Jack” Harkness, Jr.

“Josh instills confidence in those around him and is good at motivating people to work toward a common goal,” said Harkness. “I look forward to working alongside him over the next several months and will always be a helping hand as he transitions into this new role.”

Doyle, 37, who has spent seven years with the bureau, previously was a lawyer-lobbyist for Metz, Husband & Daughton in Tallahassee, including serving as an outside legislative consultant to the Bar, the release said.

“Josh is one of the most ethical people I have had the fortune to know and treats everyone with respect, whether it is the building maintenance staff or a Supreme Court justice,” said Martha Barnett, a Tallahassee attorney, in a statement. “He also has a keen ability to process information quickly and stay one step ahead of what’s necessary to fulfill common goals.”

Harkness was appointed to the executive director post in 1980, and will continue to serve in an ongoing consultant role. Under his tenure, the Bar has become one of the largest in the country, growing from 27,713 members in 1980 when Harkness was appointed to more than 104,000 members today.

“There are no words that adequately convey the impact that Jack has had on this organization and the people that comprise it,” said William J. Schifino, Jr., president of The Florida Bar. “He leaves not just a legacy but a roadmap to guide the Bar through the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I am confident that Josh is more than up to the task.”

Military matters

A few brave Florida men — When a maroon Honda Accord plowed through the sidewalk crowds in Times Square earlier this year, two Florida sailors were there to help the victims.

Gov. Scott honored both men — Airman David Barba and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Miller — for their bravery this week during a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, presenting both with the Medal of Merit.

One person died and 22 other people were injured when the vehicle traveled along the sidewalk for more than three blocks. The New York Times reported the driver of the vehicle was a 26-year-old Navy veteran from the Bronx who had a history of arrests for drunken driving.

Gov. Scott presents a sailor with the Medal of Merit award during a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station this week. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

The two sailors were on leave in New York from their station aboard the USS Iwo Jima and were in the immediate vicinity of Times Square when the incident occurred. According to the Governor’s Office, they immediately responded to the scene to assist and comfort injured victims until first responders arrived.

“While we train our sailors to be prepared for intense situations, I was proud that they reacted so quickly to help those in need without pausing to consider whether more danger was imminent,” said Capt. James Midkiff. The commanding officer of the USS Iwo Jima. “This is a great example of our shared commitment to protecting Americans and serving our great nation every day.”

Trumbull on defense — Rep. Jay Trumbull is defending the state’s defense industry.

Trumbull, a Panama City Republican, was appointed by House Speaker Corcoran to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which aims to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s military missions and installations. The appointment runs through November 2018.

“Florida plays a proud and strategic role in our nation’s defense,” said Trumbull. “Our military installations are key economic drivers across the state, particularly in the Panhandle, and I’m honored to be a part of this task force. I look forward to this opportunity to help make sure a Florida installation won’t be subject to a Base Realignment and Closure Action.”

This year, the task force will oversee an update of its strategic plan for protecting the state’s military installations. Florida’s 20 major military installations have an annual economic impact of $73 billion and more than 750,000 jobs.

Appointed

There are a few new judges on the bench.

Gov.  Scott announced this week he appointed Gregory Groger to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, Eric Roberson to the 4th Judicial Circuit Court, James Coleman to the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, and Darren Farfante and Christine Ann Marlewski to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court.

Groger, a 38-year-old Land O’Lakes resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit since 2003. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. Groger fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Walter L. Schafer, Jr., who died in January.

Roberson, a 37-year-old Jacksonville resident, is a county judge for Duval County. He previously worked in private practice and as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Florida and a law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Hulsey III.

Coleman, a 45-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit since 1998. He received his bachelor’s degree from State University of New York at Albany and his law degree from Saint Thomas University School of Law. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Marc Gold.

Farfante, 46 of Tampa, practices law with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and previously served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division. He received his his bachelor’s, master of laws, master of accountancy, and law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Brenda “Tracy” Sheehan.

Marlewski, a 40-year-old Tampa resident, is an equity shareholder with GrayRobinson. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida. Marlewski fills the vacancy created by the resignation of William Levens.

The governor announced he reappointed John Henslick to the Southwest Water Management District board and Virginia Jones to the Suwannee River Water Management District board. Scott also announced Jaime Weisinger and Brandon Tucker have joined the South Florida Water Management District board, and Janet Price has joined the St. Johns River Water Management District board.

All five of these appointments are subject to confirmation of the Florida Senate.

And the Calhoun County School Board has a new member. Scott appointed Clifford Newsome, a 66-year-old from Altha, to the school board for a term ending Nov. 19, 2018. Newsome is the owner and president of Florida Construction Inc. and North Florida Sod Inc. Calhoun is appointed to a vacant seat previously held by Timothy Glenn Smith, who died in February.

Blame it on the rain

What fire threat? — Florida officials spent weeks warning of the threat of wildfires. After a week of soggy weather, the threat of fire appears to be minimal.

According to the Florida Forest Service fire danger index map, most of Florida’s 67 counties were had a low risk of fire danger forecast for this weekend. One county faced a moderate risk level, while no data was available for more than a dozen counties. That’s big difference from just two weeks ago, when fewer than 20 counties were listed placed in the low risk of fire danger category.

Map via the Florida Forest Service

The Florida Forest Service also reported about 10 counties had burn bans in place. That number includes four counties that have permanent burn bans in place.

Heavy rains soaked Florida, and the Associated Press reported some areas got up to 11 inches of rain between Monday and Wednesday.

Skeeter season — The rain might have been welcome relief to parched plants, but the soaking this week could create breeding sites for mosquitoes that carry ZIka.

Mosquito control and public health officials urged Floridians to drain anything that collects water during heavy rains. Aedes aeypti mosquitoes, which spread the Zika virus, breed in stagnant water, including small items like bottle caps.

The Associated Press reported this week that Broward County officials planned to spray bacteria-based pesticides from trucks in urban areas this week to kill the mosquito larvae.

There have been 71 cases of Zika infections in Florida so far this year. According to the Department of Health, 55 of those cases were travel-related, while four were locally acquired infections.

Bill watch

Like a prayer — School districts may not discriminate against students, parents or school personnel because of a religious viewpoint under a new law signed by Gov. Scott.Scott signed the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” this week.

Senate President Negron said the law, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, was a way to protect the “constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”

“Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. The government should not impose a religion, but all too often we see the other extreme where we are taking away people’s right to free speech and their right to practice their faith in a way they believe is appropriate,” he said in a statement. “Students of any faith, or no faith, have a right to free speech. The Legislature and Governor Scott are taking the steps necessary to protect this important constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.”

Just a little prick — Call it a win for Florida’s babies (and their moms and dads).

Gov. Scott signed into law a bill (SB 1124) that calls on the Department of Health to adopt rules requiring every newborn in the state be tested for any condition included on the Federal Recommended Uniform Screening Program. The test is done through a blood draw shortly after birth, and allows diseases to be detected that would otherwise be missed until life-threatening symptoms present themselves.

Sen. Lauren Book asks a question during a Senate Health Policy Committee meeting this week. Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill, sponsored by Book, to ensure babies undergo critical newborn screenings. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“As medicine, medical testing and medical treatments advance, we are able to do more than ever before to help ensure the health and well-being of all – beginning with a simple heel prick after birth,” said Sen. Lauren Book, who sponsored the legislation.

“Knowing the results of these tests is critical to families facing an illness, ensuring that they have every opportunity to put appropriate, and often life-saving, treatment protocols in place,” she continued. “No family should have to go through the heartbreak of losing a child to a treatable illness.”

Another drink, please — Jacksonville residents lovers, rejoice! Two bills signed by Gov. Scott this week will allow more businesses to sell alcoholic beverages in certain areas of the city.

Sponsored by Rep. Tracie Davis, the first measure (HB 1291) allows businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption in the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District to also sell off-premise during popular events, including the Georgia-Florida game, the Gator Bowl, New Year’s Eve, and Jacksonville Jaguars games.

“This is common sense public policy that empowers Jacksonville’s small businesses with more opportunity to engage with a larger pool of customers,” explained Representative Tracie Davis. “Special events like the Florida-Georgia Game and Jaguars games are a big deal in our community that generate a lot of revenue. By allowing more businesses to participate, we are giving them the chance to grow and strengthen our local economy.”

A second measure (HB 1293), also sponsored by the Jacksonville Democrat, enlarges the area within Jacksonville where restaurants can be issued special restaurant beverage licenses under the reduced requirements of the local exception. The expansion includes the Murray Hill Commercial Area, Springfield Commercial Area, and the San Marco Transportation Corridor.

Get prepared — A new group, created under a bill (HB 181) signed by Gov. Scott recently, will help Floridians better prepare for the effects of natural hazards.

Sponsored by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, the measure creates an interagency workgroup to share information about individual agency’s work relating to current and potential impacts of natural hazards — such as extreme heat, drought, wildfire, sea-level change, storm surge, and flooding — throughout Florida.

Nubia Martinez, an employee at the Victoria’s Secret store at Sawgrass Mills shopping mall, makes her way through flooded streets as she tried to get home in Sunrise this week. Flooding caused one of the state’s largest outlets malls to close. (Photo via the Associated Press)

“This forward-thinking legislation will allow Florida to prepare for the devastating impact of extreme weather events,” said Jacobs in a statement. “It is my hope that Florida will be seen as the national model for smart-government strategies to address the ever-alarming impacts brought to us by climate change.”

Under the new law, the workgroup is required to meet quarterly to provide information from the Department of Emergency Management on current and potential impacts of natural hazards, coordinate efforts to address the impacts, and provide information for annual progress reports. It also requires the department to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019, and each year thereafter.

Stand Your Ground” — The burden of proof is officially flipped when it comes to the state’s self-defense immunity law.

The governor signed legislation this week that puts the burden of proof on the state in Stand Your Ground cases. Sponsored by Sen. Bradley, it also requires prosecutors to overcome the immunity claim by offering evidence meeting the standard of clear and convincing evidence.

“A defendant always has the presumption of innocence and the state always has a burden of proof,” said Bradley, in a statement. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”

The change went into effect immediately upon being signed.

Road warrior rules

Taking a road trip this summer? The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants to make safety is at the top of your list.

The agency launched its “Safe Summer Travel” campaign, an annual effort to make sure Florida drivers arrive at their summer destination alive, this week. The campaign is a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation, the Department of Children and Families, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and AAA – The Auto Club.

“Summer is one of the busiest times on Florida’s roadways, and motorists should take critical steps before departing to avoid a crisis on the road,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in a statement. “Whether it’s a day-trip or a family vacation, ensure you and your vehicle are travel-ready by checking your tires, checking for recalls, and always buckle up.”

The DHSMV suggests motorist follow a summer safety checklist before hitting the roadways, which includes preparing to drive in inclement weather, checking to make sure children and pets aren’t left in hot cars, and remember to drive sober.

Get reading

Here’s one thing you can to make First Lady Ann Scott smile this summer: Make sure your children keep reading.

The first lady is doing her part, touring the state as part of the 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure. The annual reading challenge is meant to help keep Florida students about reading and literacy, making sure they don’t lose progress made during the school year.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to children at Eden Gardens State Park earlier this week. (Photo via First Lady Ann Scott’s Twitter.)

“Reading has always been important to me and my family, and I am thrilled to once again participate in the Summer Literacy Adventure,” said First Lady Ann Scott. “Summer break is the perfect opportunity for families to spend extra time reading and learning together. I hope that all of Florida’s students will take the Summer Literacy pledge to help ensure they are prepared for a great school year ahead.”

As part of the challenge, children are encouraged to pledge to read “as many books as possible throughout the summer break.” The school whose students read the most books will get a surprise visit from the first lady next school year.

Scott kicked off her own summer literacy adventure this week when she stopped by Eden Gardens State Park to read to students with The Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast.

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

Sugar growers: We were not involved ‘in any way’ with medical marijuana implementation

Florida sugar growers are pushing back hard on accusations that “Big Sugar and Big Citrus” had a hand in writing legislation to expand access to medical marijuana.

On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that that tucked into sweeping legislation on medical marijuana is “preferential treatment to companies that promise to convert orange juice factories and other citrus-processing facilities into marijuana grow sites.”

According to the Times, lawmakers want to replenish Florida’s citrus industry, which has been struggling after seasons of devastating citrus greening affecting crops and the rural communities that rely on oranges and grapefruits.

“It’s clear the language is written to benefit specific groups and specific companies,” Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens told the Times. “They know who is going to benefit. We don’t. And they are writing a bill that benefits these groups.”

Winter Park Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith chimed in on Twitter: “Big Sugar getting special perks + incentives in cannabis bill! Why am I not surprised? Biz as usual here!” Smith represents House District 49, which covers parts of Orlando.

However, growers are aggressively fighting back on the claim, asserting there is absolutely no connection between the sugar industry and the issue of medical marijuana.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Sugar representative Judy Sanchez called the accusations “completely inaccurate.”

“A recent report from the Tampa Bay Times suggesting medical marijuana legislation was written to benefit U.S. Sugar is completely inaccurate,” Sanchez said. “Our company has NOT been engaged in any way with any member of the Florida Legislature regarding medical marijuana.”

The state Senate passed its version of medical marijuana implementation bill Friday, on the last scheduled day of the three-day Special Session. The bill is now headed to the house.

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