Peter Schorsch - 6/2486 - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

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

Feds reveal why Rivada Mercury, Harris lost FirstNet bid

Last week, the federal government awarded AT&T with the coveted FirstNet contract to build and manage the next-generation federal public safety communications network.

This week, unsealed court records shed added light on the reason federal officials sided with AT&T and Motorola Solutions and not rivals Rivada Mercury and Melbourne-based Harris Corporation.

Documents outline a series of obstacles to the companies’ inclusion in FirstNet, the federal initiative to create a single platform as the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated exclusively to public safety.

Redacted documents made available by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims show federal evaluators considered the proposal by Rivada Mercury and Harris Corporation “risky.”

Further, records say the bid from Rivada Mercury “contain[ed] ‘deficiencies and/or combination of significant weaknesses that, if accepted, would introduce excessive, increased risk.’ The evaluation went on to say that if accepted, success would be ‘highly unlikely.’”

A report from Urgent Communications also detailed another stumbling block for Rivada Mercury — its lack of “formal agreements with many companies included in its announced bidding team, so FirstNet would have to wait for such deals to be finalized before it could proceed with the build out of the nationwide network.”

This may explain in part why partner Harris Corporation jumped the gun announcing a partnership with AT&T before a Harris representative was forced to walk back the comment.

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently awarded the 25-year contract, which will require AT&T to invest more than $46.5 billion in the construction of the FirstNet system. Estimates are that the system will create 10,000 jobs in the first two years. Once completed, public safety users will have advanced communications capabilities, including the ability to send video and live footage from the field.

FirstNet will be a lifesaving tool during natural disasters such as major hurricanes, where residents must rely on communications between local law enforcement, the National Guard, Florida Wildlife Commissioner Officers, EMTs and others.

restroom sign

Restroom sex sullies Capitol’s 22nd floor

Which lawmaker’s intern was caught having sex in a public restroom in the Capitol’s 22nd floor?

We investigate, because Florida.

Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for Capitol Police, said: “there were no arrests, but we do have a report on the incident.” She promised to release a copy later Friday.

An officer apparently heard noise from the restroom and investigated, sources tell us.

We also hear that the other person was a Florida State student. Wanna bet the nasty happened on FSU Day?

Updated 4 p.m. — Plessinger now says the incident report on the matter isn’t finished and won’t be ready for release until Monday at the earliest.

Updated Monday 6 p.m. — An incident report was made available, reprinted below. We have blacked out the names so as not to “out” either of the participants.

Sunburn for 4.7.17 – Uber victory; Bondi didn’t bribe; Thank you for being you, Mr. Speaker; Perry Thurston is everywhere!; Worm gruntin’

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

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

AN UBER VICTORY

After three years of frustration and failure, a bill regulating transportation network companies in Florida is on the verge of reaching the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

On Thursday, the Senate Rules Committee passed SB 340 by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

The Senate move came a day after the House version (HB 221) passed 115-0, a vote very similar to the overwhelming approval received in the 2016 Session – that is before it died in the Senate, which has become a graveyard of late for ride-sharing legislation.

But in 2017, the mood in the Legislature’s upper chamber is very different.

This time, it appears statewide regulations on Uber and Lyft will soon become law.

Rep. Chris Sprowls is congratulated by Rep. James Grant after his bill to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft passed a second reading Tuesday. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

During the Rules Committee meeting, the sole objection came via Brandon Republican Tom Lee, who offered an amendment prohibiting government entities from entering exclusive contracts with a TNC. Lee maintained that if SB 340 is truly about free market competition and tearing down the taxi monopoly, government entities shouldn’t be able to make deals with local governments that restrict competition among other TNCs.

After Brandes had promised to address those concerns before his bill goes to the full Senate, Lee withdrew the amendment.

While the House version faced no dissent, sponsor Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor (who co-sponsored the bill with Tampa’s Jamie Grant) was pressed in Committee about the thoroughness of background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Sprowls, a former prosecutor, argued the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than those ride-sharing drivers will be subjected to through under the statewide bill.

“The FBI database has 95 million records,” Sprowls said. “These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill have 500 million records.”

 Although the full Senate will have ample opportunity to refine the bill further, ride-sharing company officials sound confident that the bill will soon become state law.

“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing,” exclaimed Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy.

REAX

Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison: “We are grateful to the members of the Senate Rules Committee, and especially Senator Brandes, for advancing legislation to create a comprehensive statewide framework for ridesharing in Florida. This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity. We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”

Uber’s Stephanie Smith: “Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing. At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this. We are thankful for the hard work of Sen. Jeffrey Brandes on this bill, and the 10 members of the Senate Rules Committee who voted in favor of safe and reliable transportation options for everyone who lives, works, and visits Florida.”

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PAM BONDI BRIBERY CASE DROPPED FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Fort Myers-area State Attorney Stephen Russell presented Gov. Scott with the results of an investigation. The complaint stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation about the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. The investigation came after numerous complaints filed against Bondi by a Massachusetts attorney. Scott assigned the case to Russell after the initial prosecutor, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, requested a different prosecutor. A prosecutor working for Russell’s office concluded that there is no reasonable suspicion that Trump or Bondi broke Florida’s bribery law.

RICHARD CORCORAN: THE PRESS CORPS’ ENABLER via Florida Politics – At halftime in this year’s Legislative Session, Corcoran sounds like he’s getting a bit fatigued with questions about “transparency.” At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills. “All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said. “Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on.”

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran reacts to a colleague on the floor of the House Tuesday at the Florida Capitol. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

CORCORAN SAYS EVERGLADES RESERVOIR BONDING STILL A PROBLEM AS OTHERS RAISE CONCERNS via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO FloridaCorcoran said a Senate proposal for an Everglades water storage reservoir is “getting better and better” after it was overhauled. But the proposal to borrow up to $1.2 billion to build the reservoir remains a problem … “No, we’re not bonding” he told reporters. “Bonding is an issue.” The cost still would be split with the federal government and the reservoir size to be determined later. “Obviously, it’s a Senate priority,” Corcoran said. “We feel like it’s getting more and more into a place where, that you could see some sort of finality.”

HOUSE, SENATE PHILOSOPHICALLY SPLIT ON MEMBER PROJECTS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – (T)he question of which projects get funded is always a source of contention between the House and the Senate. But this year a more fundamentally philosophical difference has emerged between the chamber’s two leaders when it comes to the relatively small pots of local funding that help pay for members’ pet initiatives, or project requests given to them by lobbyists who represent local governments or non-profits. … The House’s $81.2 billion budget, roughly $4 billion smaller than the Senate plan, includes about $100 million in what Corcoran deems member projects, a significantly smaller number than the Senate. Though there is not an agreement on the amount of member projects in that proposed spending plan, Corcoran says the upper chamber includes about $700 million. … “$700 million is too much for projects,” he said. “That’s a lot of pork.”

A HIGHER HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION? GOOD FOR HOMEOWNERS, BAD FOR COUNTIES via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – For Florida homeowners, it sounds almost too good to be true: Another break on property taxes in the form of a bigger homestead exemption. For legislators, it’s an easy way to seek favor with voters in an election year because the tax break requires their approval in 2018. But for counties and cities, it’s a disaster in the making that they warn would cut property taxes for some but force higher taxes on businesses and snowbirds or force cuts in basic services such as police and fire protection. In a year when local officials say the Legislature is trying to override home rule as never before, counties are mobilizing to defeat legislation to increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 of the first $100,000 of a home’s taxable value.

HOUSE WORKER’S COMPENSATION PACKAGE EMERGES FROM COMMERCE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The House workers’ compensation package survived hearings before the Commerce Committee Thursday, including business-friendly amendments that would leave injured workers paying their own attorney fees if they pursue meritless claims. One by one, the panel gave voice approval to three amendments offered by House Insurance & Banking chairman Danny Burgess, who has managed the underlying bill’s progress. The final vote on the bill was 20-14. … “I believe this bill does strike a balance between constitutionality and a strong reform,” Burgess said. “I fought tooth and nail to make sure we had a constitutional proposal.” Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw wasn’t sold. “I hope we get to a place that’s fair and balanced, but right now I think we’re way out of whack,” he said before voting “No.”

HOW THE TRIAL LAWYERS FINALLY LOST A ROUND IN THE FLORIDA HOUSE via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

The conventional wisdom has been that trial lawyers are dominating the 2017 Session, flexing their muscle in both chambers.

On the other side, the term “trial lawyer” is anathema, the label that the GOP uses (even though many trial lawyers are Republican) to taint an issue that crosses their friends in the business community.

Whatever you call them, the lawyers took one for the team in the House Commerce Committee Thursday. A succession of business-friendly amendments made it on to the workers’ comp bill.

A big one worth noting is a cap on attorneys’ fees, which is a big win for the business community.

With budget conference still to come, though, anything can still happen. But maybe, just perhaps, Speaker Corcoran—an attorney himself—isn’t as smitten with the lawyers as people think.

INSURANCE INDUSTRY FRUSTRATED BY LACK OF PROGRESS IN LEGISLATURE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – For the last two years, the industry has pressed the Legislature to pass legislation aimed at curbing a spike in lawsuits over disputed water claims from homeowners, particularly in South Florida. But House and Senate versions of what to do are dramatically different, raising the possibility that nothing will ultimately pass this year to address what one Miami area insurance agent called a “growing cancer” … “We are here halfway through the 2017 legislative session and it appears another year may pass without reforms,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick at a rally at the Florida Capitol Building. She said if reforms do not come, consumers are looking at rate increases to offset the cost of litigation. She said Citizens Property Insurance is looking at a 50 percent rate increase “all because the Legislature is tolerating an undeniable problem.”

AOB REFORMERS PRESENT PETITIONS, INSIST NO OFFENSE INTENDED AGAINST CARLOS TRUJILLO via Florida Politics – Advocates of assignment of benefits reform delivered 1,500 petition signatures to Speaker Corcoran’s office Thursday, renewing their campaign against what they consider dodgy lawsuits by unscrupulous contractors and attorneys. … The advocates, operating under the Florida Consumer Protection Coalition banner, blame abusive lawsuits involving AOBs for rising property insurance claims. … The speakers appeared thrown on the defensive by the first question from a reporter. It concerned a list Citizens has published naming the law firms producing the most AOB-related litigation. Fifth from the top is Trujillo Vargas Gonzalez Hevia, a name partner in which is House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo. … (Citizens Insurance chief Barry) Gilway stressed that he was not accusing Trujillo of any scams. “I did not say that or infer it, sir. What I’m saying, basically, is: There are 13 firms that are driving this, from Citizens’ perspective,” Gilway said.

HOUSE MEDICAID RESTRUCTURE INCLUDES ASKING FEDS FOR WORK REQUIREMENTS, ENROLLEE PREMIUMS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Health & Human Services Committee agreed to submit its proposed committee bill restructuring the statewide Medicaid managed care program … PCB HHS 17-03 consolidates the program from 11 regions of the state into eight larger regions, and changes the number of contracted health plans for each region. The Agency for Health Care Administration asked for the changes as it prepares to re-procure plans for the program starting later this year. The bill directs AHCA to request federal approval to require enrollees to work, be searching for work or be in school to maintain Medicaid eligibility. It would come with exemptions for those with disabilities and single parents with infants.

— “Majority of voters in Florida favor Medicaid expansion, survey says” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald

LAWMAKERS CLOSER TO ANSWER ON CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITIES via Travis Pillow of redefinED.org – The state House is pushing ahead with a plan, included in its budget package, that would require school districts to steer some of their local property taxes to charters. A similar effort had stalled in the Senate, but was jump-started this week and won bipartisan approval today from the Appropriations Committee. SB 376 would steer more than $150 million to charter schools statewide, though funding would vary significantly among districts. Before the committee passed the bill, Sen. Oscar Braynon said he wanted to add more protections to head off “private enrichment” in charter school real estate deals. “No one wants to have taxpayer money go to enrich someone, and then when they sell or divest, they make money, and they walk away with taxpayers’ money,” Braynon said. He had proposed an amendment to that effect, but withdrew it for the time being.

KEEP IT SECRET: FLORIDA MAY CLOSE PRESIDENTIAL SEARCHES via The Associated Press – A House panel approved a bill that would keep confidential the name of anyone applying to become head of a college or university. The bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel would also keep confidential the names of people applying for other top positions such as dean or provost. The legislation (HB 351) heads next to the full House. A similar bill has not moved in the Senate. If the measure becomes law, the names of finalists for top jobs would be made public 21 days before there is a final vote to hire someone.

POLLUTION-SPILL BILL RACES TO APPROVAL BY SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The Senate Appropriations Committee wastes little time or comment approving a proposal to make sure the public is notified within 48 hours of a toxic spill. The panel took bare minutes to vote the bill out unanimously. It was the final committee stop on the way to the Senate floor. CS/SB 532, the Public Notice of Pollution Act, requires notice to the Department of Environmental Protection of any spill within 24 hours. The department then would have 24 hours to tell the public. Violations could bring civil penalties of $10,000 per day. Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton filed the bill after an administrative law judge in September threw out a toxic-notice rule imposed by Gov. Rick Scott — who acted after it took three weeks for neighbors of a phosphate plant in Lake Wales to learn that it had spilled millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the aquifer.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 20; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 27; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 27; MLB All-Star Game – 95; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 148; Election Day 2017 – 213; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 251; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 275.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 8:45 a.m. (CST) Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, 210 Harbor Boulevard in Destin. He’ll then head to Pensacola, where he’ll hold a military roundtable at 11:15 a.m. (CST) at the Navy Federal Credit Union, Building 3, 5550 Heritage Oaks Drive.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. until noon in the Acura Club at FAU Stadium at Florida Atlantic University 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton. The meeting is scheduled to go until noon, but ending times are tentative based on attendance and public interest.

CRC HEARING MOVING TO CAPITAL FROM PANHANDLE via Florida Politics – The Constitution Revision Commission is moving its public hearing next Wednesday from Pensacola to Tallahassee “to maximize public input and commissioner participation,” according to a press release. Don’t worry, northwest Florida residents: the CRC “will re-schedule a public hearing to be held in the Florida Panhandle in the upcoming weeks.” The hearing now will be held at Florida A&M University’s Efferson Student Union, in the Grand Ballroom. A map of the venue is here. Free parking will be available, with doors open to the public starting at 4 p.m.. The hearing will begin at 5 p.m. More info is on the commission’s website, at www.flcrc.gov. It’s formed every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document after holding public hearings statewide. Any constitutional amendments it puts forth would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters on the 2018 general election ballot.

BEARS AGAIN ON WILDLIFE COMMISSION AGENDA via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – The agenda for the April 19-20 FWC meeting in Tallahassee, includes a discussion of “bear management,” but the staff is not going to recommend a bear hunt, according to executive director Nick Wiley. “We are not planning to propose anything specific to bear hunting in 2017,” Wiley said in an email. “With that said, there is usually public comment about bear hunting at our commission meetings and I expect that to continue at this meeting. And our commissioners can certainly discuss the topic if they wish. So, I would say the issue is likely to come up given the level of interest we continue to see.”

STATE COULD PUT POLICE LINEUP STANDARDS INTO LAW via The Associated Press – The Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to use the lineup standards to avoid eyewitness mistakes that could lead to wrongful convictions. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement encouraged agencies to adopt the standards, but agencies aren’t required to do so. Eyewitness mistakes are to blame in 64 percent of cases in which defendants are later exonerated by DNA evidence. The current guidelines suggest lineups be conducted by an administrator who does not know the suspect in order to ensure impartiality. Also, witnesses should be told that suspects may or may not be in a photo or in-person lineup and that they are not required to make an identification.

SUPREME COURT TWEAKS ITS ‘SENIOR JUSTICE’ RULE AFTER CONTROVERSY via Florida Politics The Florida Supreme Court no longer will allow its justices to keep working indefinitely on open cases after they leave the bench, according to a new rule released Thursday. After Justice James E.C. Perry officially retired on Dec. 30, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga allowed him to finish work on opinions as a “senior justice,” following decades of court practice. But critics, including Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, cried foul. They complained Perry was displacing his successor, C. Alan Lawson, who started work the next day on Dec. 31. Perry worked for an additional month after that. Lawson—GOP Gov. Rick Scott‘s first Supreme Court pick—is a conservative; Perry most often voted with the court’s left-leaning contingent.

PARENTS CONTINUE CHALLENGE OF FLORIDA’S THIRD-GRADE RETENTION LAW via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – A group of parents from Hernando County and across Florida is asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider their challenge of the state’s third-grade retention law. Their attorney, Andrea Mogensen, filed a request for review Wednesday of a recent 1st District Court of Appeals decision tossing out their complaint. “The decision announces a rule of law that conflicts with and misapplies existing precedent of the Florida Supreme Court on the same questions of law,” Mogensen said. The 1st DCA ruled that the parents should have brought their suit in local jurisdictions and not in Leon County. It also said they did not meet any requirements for injunctive relief. The court further made strong statements in support of the state’s testing and promotion system.

PERRY THURSTON, OTHERS WANT CONFEDERATE STATUE ISSUE RESOLVED via Florida Politics – Former and current black lawmakers took to the Old Capitol steps Thursday to call for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general now in the U.S. Capitol. Led by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and surrounded by alumni members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the group called for passage of Thurston’s bill that would formally approve Dr. Bethune to replace Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, will remain. But Thurston’s bill has yet to have a hearing, and competing legislation calls for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

Perry Thurston

CHRIS KING LONE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE TO SHOW AT FLORIDA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS SYMPOSIUM via Scott Powers of Florida PoliticsKing tweeted such, “Honored to talk w/the great leaders at the @FLBlackCaucus Gubernatorial Symposium about how to make our future better than our past.” The other announced Democrat so far is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum … “He’s here. Showing up is half the battle,” caucus chair state Sen. Perry Thurston. “I want to thank him for showing up, thank him for being here.”

‘GROVELAND FOUR’ EXONERATION RESOLUTION PASSES COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – ‘The Groveland Four’ were four young men and teenagers who endured one of the darkest known moments of Florida’s Jim Crow history when they were falsely accused of rape, then all of them were beaten, two of them were killed, and two were convicted and imprisoned on what legal researchers are now convinced was false evidence … the House Judicial Committee unanimously approved a House Resolution 631, declaring the story, which began with a 1949 incident on a Lake County back road outside of Groveland, to have been a “grave injustice.” The bill declares that injustice toward Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, exonerates them and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

STATE MAY SPEND $1.2 MILLION ON REFORM SCHOOL MEMORIAL via The Associated Press – The state Legislature is already considering a bill to formally apologize for abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where nearly 100 boys died between 1900 and 1973. The school was located near Marianna, some 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Tallahassee. A House panel voted to carry out recommendations made last year by a state task force. The bill authorizes creation of a memorial at the state Capitol and one near Marianna. It also calls for reburying victims of a 1914 fire at the school cemetery in Marianna, and to rebury other remains in Tallahassee.

TODAY IN #CLUSTERF*CKS: HOW A SUICIDAL FLORIDA FOSTER CHILD FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – When Lauryn Martin-Everett hanged herself at a troubled Tavernier youth shelter, children’s advocates in the small island community began asking questions. The answers, they were told, were hundreds of miles away. Though the 16-year-old had been sent to live at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key, the responsibility for her care remained in Southwest Florida. Members of a South Florida child welfare oversight board expressed frustration … that the teen had been moved far from home, and no one in her new county was responsible for ensuring her welfare. “We’re a small community down there; we’re not talking about Miami-Dade,” said Alexsa Leto, who heads the Monroe County office of the state’s Guardian-ad-Litem Program, which matches vulnerable children with court-appointed advocates. “And we didn’t know the child was there.”

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PERSONNEL NOTE: STEVE JACKSON OUT AS FDP HOUSE VICTORY POLITICAL DIRECTOR — Jackson is expected to continue with the FDP, serving as the statewide field director, Jackson was hired in 2015 after a nationwide search to serve as the political director for House campaigns. In a statement announcing his hire, then-incoming Minority Leader Janet Cruz said she thought it was important for “House Victory to have our own dedicated political director focused exclusively on electing more Democrats to the House.” A campaign veteran, Jackson got his began his career as a field organizer in Florida during President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, before going to work as the field and data director for the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee. He went on to lead the successful re-election campaign for then Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez in 2014, and spent about a year working as the data and targeting manager for America Votes, before joining House Victory. Look for Jane’e Murphy, a close advisor to incoming Minority Leader Kionee McGhee, to play a key role going forward; although she is not going to be taking over political director role (yet).

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR’S SON JOINS COREY LEWADOWSKI LOBBY SHOP via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Carlos Gimenez Jr., former consultant for Donald Trump and the son and namesake of Miami-Dade’s mayor, is joining the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski, as it drums up business in one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Gimenez said he joined the newly founded firm, Avenue Strategies, to focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology

Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecencia: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates

Jon Kilman, Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association

Toni Large, Steven Uhlfelder, Uhlfelder & Associates: Florida Medical Horticulture

Janet Mabry, Mabry and Associate: Academica

Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology

Bill Rubin, Amy Bisceglia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: St. Petersburg Distillery

Jon Yapo, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association; NeuroTrauma Association of America, Inc.

WEEKEND TV

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

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show will feature new Miami Gardens Police Chief Delma Noel-Pratt, who is also the first woman to lead the city’s police force, and Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores.

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include former Democratic State Rep. Ed Narain, Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan Ruth, political writer Joe Henderson and Tampa Republican Women Federated Club VP Terry Castro.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan will be on to talk about the upcoming Day of Love and Kindness for the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, while the show’s Common Ground segment will focus on health care legislation.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will be joined by Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week Kent Justice will bring on Visit Jacksonville President/CEO Paul Astleford, Dr. Sunil Joshi of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, and Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.

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

FLORIDA CITY SAYS ‘GAME OVER’ TO INFLATABLE SUPER MARIO  via The Associated Press – A Florida city is saying “game over” to a business owner’s decision to inflate a 9-foot-tall (2.7-meter-tall) Super Mario outside his shop. Scott Fisher owns a video game store in the city of Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville … Fisher filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the town’s ban violates his free speech. Lawyers with the conservative law organization Institute for Justice are representing Fisher. They argue that the city is discriminating by allowing inflatables to be displayed as holiday decorations or creative displays, but not to promote businesses. Fisher says the inflatable Mario helps people find his small store.

OLD-FASHIONED REST STOPS DISAPPEARING IN FLORIDA AND OTHER STATES via Jenni Bergal of Stateline.org – Cash-strapped transportation agencies are shuttering the old ones to save money, or because they don’t attract enough traffic or are in such bad shape that renovating them is too costly. Or, the stops have been overtaken by tourist information centers, service plazas that take in revenue from gasoline and food sales, or commercial strips off interstate exits. Florida, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota are among the states that have closed traditional rest stops in the past two years. But advocates of maintaining traditional rest areas say even if motorists are offered flashier options for pit stops, the ones that sprung up as highways did are still needed for driver safety and convenience … unlike service plazas, rest areas on federal interstate highways are prohibited from selling gasoline or food other than from vending machines, the proceeds of which traditionally go to people who are visually impaired. State transportation departments run the rest areas and are responsible for cleaning and maintaining them. That can take a chunk of their budget, depending on staffing and amenities, officials say.

RIVERS OF LIGHT TO BE SHOWN NIGHTLY STARTING SATURDAY via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will be shown every evening starting Saturday. Since its debut Feb. 17, the show has run at 8:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Rivers of Light is the first evening spectacular at Animal Kingdom and will play a crucial role in spreading out summer crowds once Pandora – The World of Avatar opens May 27. Disney bills Rivers of Light as “a celebration of the beauty, fragility and wild unpredictability of animals and nature told through live performers, animal spirit guide floats, fire, water and projections.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the great crusader, Lori Brown, and the great-at-something-I-just-don’t-know-what, Chris Turner.

HAPPENING SATURDAY — 17th annual Sochoopy Worm Gruntin’ Festival — The annual festival is scheduled for Saturday, and the day-long event includes a worm gruntin’ demonstration with Gray Revell, a professional bait harvester, at 10:15 a.m.; a worm gruntin’ contest open to kids ages 12 and under at 10:30 a.m.; and live music throughout the day.

New wrinkles in Florida’s medical marijuana implementation raise doubts, concerns

I’ve not been shy about expressing my concerns about the implementation of Amendment 2, many of which stem from the fact that I’m the father of a young daughter. From that perspective, it’s imperative to me that Florida exercises necessary prudence and caution while putting in place the mandate from voters on medical marijuana.

I’m not ashamed to say: “Surely, not in my backyard!”

Call me NIMBY. Call me old fashioned. Just don’t call me Shirley.

The existing seven licenses to grow marijuana in Florida have, for the most part, taken a similar stance as I have on a responsible roll out of the new law. They have good reason to do so: a cautious, slowly phased-in, expansion of medical marijuana in Florida is good for their bottom lines.

That may seem greedy or cynical to some, but I don’t think it is. The intersection of philosophy and self-interest tends to be a strong impetus for the creation of public policy, and that’s a good thing.

But self-interest being self-interest you also can’t expect that intersection to remain static on a big piece of public policy, with big dollars at stake, like medical marijuana.

Certain recent events have given me a reason to take a step back on some of these issues and evaluate the philosophical honesty of the approach of Florida’s current Dispensing Organizations, soon to be reregistered as MMTCs under Amendment 2.

Let me start by saying that I accept the basic premise put forward by these DO’s and legislators that they’ve built businesses by a foregone conclusion that our nascent medical marijuana system would expand dramatically – either under Amendment 2’s passage or legislative action. And they have done so at significant expense, without much in the way of return, thus far.

Now, that investment alone doesn’t necessarily justify a policy of abject protectionism in implementing the constitution, but again, as it intersects with the notion of caution and public safety, the case gets stronger to do so.

Except for some new wrinkles.

This week, Canadian mega-marijuana corporation, Aphria Inc., announced a deal to essentially buy CHT Medical outright, one of the seven licensed DOs. They’re doing so with $25 million cash, while launching a $35 million raise, valuing the company at $177 million (!!!). CHT only began selling low-THC marijuana to patients in January, mind you.

As I outlined in my last piece on this subject, there was an intense and rigorous application process to select those current license holders. Particularly in the case of CHT’s apparent wholesale unloading of their license to Aphria, would essentially circumvent that entire vetting process. These investors could be great news for Florida, we just don’t know, since they didn’t go through the process like everyone else.

Second, it strikes me as a tad intellectually inconsistent to argue for sympathy over their investment in the Florida market in one breath, while raising big foreign investment dollars in the next. (And CHT isn’t alone in its fundraising, just the most public. As the Miami Herald has reported, almost all of the licensees are currently raising capital from investors.)

Finally, let’s think about the pitch these companies naturally would have to make to secure these sorts of massive capital infusions. Legal marijuana is big business, to be sure, but it’s also an industry in its infancy that is handcuffed in many ways by the glaring conflicts between state laws and federal law, where marijuana remains a DEA Schedule 1 substance. That’s why you still don’t see traditional money players like Goldman and Citi and their ilk playing in this space.

So why the big investments and insane valuations? The answer lies more in the licenses granted by Florida, and less in the P&Ls of the companies in question.

Under current law, after having gone through the rigorous application process, posting a $5 million bond, building growing, processing and retail facilities, and receiving DOH approvals to cultivate and then distribute medical marijuana, licensees can pretty much do whatever they want.

Most states with some form of legal marijuana require separate applications and licenses for each individual business operation. A grow has its own license, retail dispensaries are individually licensed, etc. Other states with vertical integration, like Florida, allow multiple operations under a single license. In those states, the maximum number of retail facilities that can be operated under a license is limited to 3 or less (except for New York, which allows 4).

In Florida? There is no limit.

That’s right, folks.

What the press corps and I have likewise been derelict in reporting on, is that our present cohort of marijuana growers in Florida can open unlimited retail facilities – “pot shops” in the parlance of this issue – across the state. And that’s precisely what they are planning to do with all of this new capital they are raising by the truckload.

A pot shop on every corner? Without action to fix this glaring loophole (heh), that’s where we’re headed.

Not in my backyard.

The Delegation for 4.6.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

It is no secret that local budgets and resources are stretched when President Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach County. Local officials and members of Congress, especially Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, are asking for more federal help to recover costs.

Things should get really expensive as Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan spend Thursday and Friday in South Florida. Handling the security and other requirements of an American President is one thing, but adding a foreign head of state to the mix makes it doubly stressful. Even the Broward Sheriff’s Office is being called upon to help.

Once everyone is settled in, there is a lot to talk about. Trump apparently removed one item from the agenda recently when he agreed to a “One China” policy in a recent telephone conversation with Xi. The New York Times wins the prize for understatement with their description of the summit as two leaders with “clashing agendas.”

There is ample room for multiple disagreements. From trade deficits, to intellectual property theft, to currency manipulation, to militarizing the South China Sea, there are plenty of issues to cover in two days.

Then there is China’s black sheep stepchild, North Korea. By firing off missiles into the Sea of Japan like they are coming from a Pez dispenser, the rogue nation has the Asian Pacific, and American security officials, on edge. Will Xi commit to a spanking?

There are numerous opportunities to make news to be made over the next 36 hours, hopefully something good. The big question: will there be more photos of Trump and Xi or Melania and Peng Liyuan?

Back in Washington and soon after Xi’s arrival in Florida, the Senate will begin to move on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is accurate, the “nuclear option” will be deployed and Gorsuch will be officially on the Court around the time the Trump/Xi summit concludes.

What an action-packed two days!

Trump refuses to pay out of pocket for Mar-a-Lago visits – As for who is paying for Trump’s nearly weekly visits to South Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports that it won’t be the president. Instead, Trump is donating his first quarter presidential salary to the National Park Service, which will go to support monuments and battleground sites.

“So respectfully, it’s like, at what point does he do enough? White House press secretary Sean Spicer said after presenting a check for $78,333.32 to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “He’s done quite a bit in terms of making a donation to government.”

New Trump ad encourages support for Gorscuch — Florida will be on the front lines for a new digital ad touting the Trump administration’s accomplishments and pushing for senators to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Making America Great is launching the ad a week after a $1 million ad buy pushing President Donald Trump’s agenda. In addition to Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Wisconsin, Maine and D.C. will get boosted spending on the campaign.

“Judge Gorsuch is impeccably qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Some of our Senators’ petulant opposition is not in the best interest of our nation, and is contrary to the wishes of their constituency,” said Emily Cornell, the COO of Making America Great. “We welcome the opportunity to give Gorsuch supporters the megaphone they deserve.”

The ad says Trump is “keeping his promises” and “delivering real change. His choice to nominate Neil Gorsuch is a promise made and kept.”

Education Secretary visiting South FloridaDeVos makes her first trip to South Florida since Trump named her to the post. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reportsthat DeVos will visit two schools and Florida International University, starting in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood at the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary School. After that, DeVos will visit the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at FIU.

DeVos will also visit SLAM charter school in Miami, which specializes in Sports Leadership and Management for students in the sixth through eighth grade. On Friday, DeVos is scheduled to visit Royal Palm Elementary school in Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade College.

Delegation weighs in on Bannon’s removal from NSC — It is not often that President Trump makes personnel moves which generate bipartisan support, but he managed to do that on Wednesday. With the announcement that chief strategist Steve Bannon will no longer serve on the National Security Council (NSC), some in the Florida delegation gave the news two thumbs up…one from each side of the aisle.

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Tweeted that it was “welcome news” and reminded everyone of her opposition on the day Bannon’s appointment was originally announced. She was joined at that time by Democrats, other moderate Republicans and even some in the Freedom Caucus like South Carolina’s Mark Sanford.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy called it “a victory for democracy.” In February Murphy introduced H.R. 804 that would prohibit future political advisors from serving on the NSC. Despite Wednesday’s developments, Murphy intends to push her bill through “so that we never again jeopardize the safety and security of the American people for purely political reasons.”

Tweet, tweet:

Congress seen as not likely to pass tax overhaul quickly via Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press – After their humiliating loss on health care, Republicans in Congress could use a quick victory on a big issue. It won’t be an overhaul of the tax code. Overhauling the tax code could prove harder to accomplish than repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health law. Congressional Republicans are divided on significant issues, especially a new tax on imports embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the White House is sending contradicting signals on the new tax, adding to the uncertainty. House Republicans also can’t decide whether to move on from health care. Ryan canceled a scheduled vote on a House GOP plan after it became obvious that Republicans didn’t have the votes. He said he will continue to work on the issue but one of his top lieutenants on health care, Rep. Kevin Brady says he is now ‘100 percent’ focused on tax reform. Ryan says Congress can work on both at the same time. It won’t be easy.

SCOTUS won’t weigh in on Florida law banning extra credit card charges — The U.S. Supreme Court said it won’t weigh in on a Florida law that bans extra charges for credit card transactions.

The law was meant to allow merchants to tack on an extra fee for card users to cover transaction costs from payment networks, but last year the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was a violation of the First Amendment.

Bondi asked SCOTUS to make a decision on the issue last year, but they declined Monday.

SCOTUS didn’t say why they were skipping out on the case, but they said last week in a decision about a similar law in New York that the surcharges were a form of speech.

That law was sent back to an appeals court which will decide whether it violates the first amendment.

Rubio claims Tillerson’s remarks invited deadly attack in Syria — While fingers are being pointed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the culprit in a suspected chemical weapons attack, Florida’s Republican senator from Miami is also glaring in the direction of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Rubio believes Assad was carefully listening to Tillerson when the Secretary said last week that Assad might be left in power while the U.S. aggressively goes after ISIS. The senator believes Tuesday’s attack is not a coincidence.

On a Tampa Bay radio program, Rubio expressed his concern with Tillerson’s remarks that Assad’s future is ultimately up to the people of Syria. He likened that to “almost nodding to the idea that Assad was gonna get to stay in some capacity.”

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a few days later we see this,” said Rubio.

Rubio introduces bill to help with student loan debt – The Miami Republican introduced a bill alongside Virginia Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner to make income-based repayment the default option for paying back student loans.

“Our current federal student loan program is outdated and often leaves students and college graduates burdened with a significant amount of debt. This bill will ensure that people with federal student loans have affordable payments and stronger borrowing protections,” said Rubio. “As someone who once owed more than $100,000 in student loans, this issue is personal to me, and I will continue working to simplify this complex and bureaucratic student loan system.”

The bill would cap payment plans at 10 percent of a borrower’s income, and would exempt the first $10,000 of wages from that calculation.

Income-based repayment and other protections are already available to federal student loan holders, but many students don’t use them because they aren’t aware of their options or because the enrollment process and paperwork can be confusing and burdensome, the senators said.

Nelson/Rubio-initiated legislation passes Congress; heads to president’s desk — On Tuesday, the Senate passed HR 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, sending the measure on to President Trump for signature. The bill was the House version of legislation submitted by Florida’s senators in the last Congress named the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act.

“I applaud the House for passing the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act, which will help us make needed improvements to our storm tracking,” Rubio said in a statement. “Once the president signs this legislation into law, families, business owners and others will have better, more accurate information to better prepare for approaching hurricanes and tropical storms.”

Also included in the measure was an amendment requiring functioning backups for Hurricane Hunters aircraft in the event of the grounding of another. This occurred during Hurricane Hermine last year.

“When it comes to protecting lives and property, we can’t afford to go without Hurricane Hunters,” Nelson said after the bill’s passage in the Senate. “We need to have a backup plan in place, and I’m hopeful we’ll have one in time for hurricane season.”

On the House side, Charlie Crist and Darren Soto worked with Nelson to insert the language concerning the Hurricane Hunters.

“I thank my colleagues for helping us make this needed change to keep our hurricane hunters in the air to better protect our communities,” Crist said in a statement.

Nelson, Rubio, rest of Delegation team up on bipartisan legislation to fight Zika virus —Florida’s senators are working together to protect Floridians against the Zika virus. The state had multiple cases in 2016.

On Wednesday, Nelson and Rubio – along with Maine Independent Angus King and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr – introduced the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act.

The seven-page bill re-authorizes what was known as the MASH Act, which originally targeted the West Nile virus in 2003. Up to $130 million in grants will be authorized each year in addition to matching funds from state and local governments.

“It is extremely important that states and localities have the tools they need to combat Zika and other illnesses spread by mosquitos,” Rubio said in a joint statement. “This bill is another step toward keeping Floridians and tourists safe.”

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the mosquitos that carry it,” Nelson said. “As we head into the warmer summer months, we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.

As for the House, Rep. Ted Deutch joined Nelson, Rubio and a bipartisan, bicameral group — 47 lawmakers in all – in a letter urging Trump to keep up the federal effort and funding in combating the Zika virus ahead of Florida’s approaching rainy season.

Nelson proposes prescription drug assistance for low-income Puerto Ricans —Florida’s senior U.S. Senator has filed legislation aimed at helping an estimated 400,000 low-income seniors living in Puerto Rico. The three-page bill would make those seniors eligible for the same federal subsidies enjoyed by low-income Americans that help them afford their prescription drugs. Nelson believes that must be changed.

“That is inherently unfair,” he said. “This bill will help seniors living in Puerto Rico better afford the cost of their prescription drugs by simply putting them on the same footing as seniors living in the states.”

Puerto Ricans are technically citizens of the United States, but do not enjoy the full breadth of the benefits of citizenship until residing in the U.S.

Nelson’s bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Nelson has big lead over Rick Scott in 2018 poll — The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found Nelson leads Scott, 52 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would pick.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cellphone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

That 15-point margin represents the largest spread Nelson has enjoyed in early polling. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted on behalf of the Florida Hospital Association showed a much closer race between the two men come 2018, with Nelson at 46 percent to Scott’s 44 percent.

Meanwhile, a poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce released in March showed Nelson had a 6-point lead over Scott, 48 percent to 42 percent.

That margin was similar to one predicted in a UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey released earlier in the month that found Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. A Mason-Dixon survey showed Nelson with a 5-point edge over Scott, 46 percent to 41 percent.

Scott, who was elected in 2010, can’t run for governor in 2018 because of term-limits. He’s been boosting his national profile in recent months, and is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run.

Spotted: Gov. Scott calling the Republican health care proposal a “great starting point” in a new 60-second spot from the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee targeting potential GOP Senate candidates.

Paulson Principle’s: How 2016 results will impact 2018 campaigns

In the 2016 Florida Congressional races, an astounding 13 of the 27 districts were in play and 8 of them were decided by 5 points or less. In addition, 8 of the 27 districts elected new members. Truly amazing and unprecedented!

Why were the 2016 races so close and competitive in comparison to most congressional elections which see little turnover? First, the Florida presidential vote was close and that was reflected in the congressional elections. Second, court-ordered reapportionment led to the redrawing of the districts. Almost half of the Florida districts were impacted by the redrawn congressional map. Volatility was inevitable.

Of the 8 new congressional members, three were due to retiring Republicans who were replaced by new Republican representatives. Matt Gaetz replaced Jeff Miller in District 1; John Rutherford replaced Ander Crenshaw in District 4 in Jacksonville, and Dan Webster replaced Richard Nugent in District 11 in Hernando County.

Three formerly Republican seats were replaced by Democrats. Long-time Republican John Mica was defeated by politically unknown Stephanie Murphy in District 7. In District 13, incumbent David Jolly first announced he was resigning to run for the Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio during his presidential campaign.

Rubio withdrew from the presidential race and was heavily pressured by Republicans to re-enter the senate campaign. He did, and Jolly and other potential candidates withdrew from the race. Jolly returned to defend his District 13 congressional seat and lost to former Republican and former Gov. Charlie Crist by three percentage points.

Webster abandoned his old Orlando based District 10 to run in District 11 in Hernando County. His old seat, redrawn with a large Democratic base, was won by Val Demings, former Orange County Sheriff. The seat was a pick-up not only for Democrats, but also a gain for women and African Americans.

Finally, two congressional seats switched from Democrats to Republicans. Gwen Graham‘s former Panhandle seat in District 2 was redrawn with a much larger Republican voter base. Graham announced her decision not to seek reelection, but to consider a run for governor. The formerly Democratic seat was won by Republican physician Neal Dunn.

In District 18 in South Florida, incumbent Democrat Patrick Murphy announced his retirement in order to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Rubio. Rubio reentered the senate race and defeated Murphy. Murphy’s former senate seat was won by Republican disabled veteran Brian Mast.

The net result of 8 new members of the Florida congressional delegation was one additional Democratic seat. The Republican advantage of 17-10 before the 2016 campaign moved to a 16-11 advantage after the election. A lot of new faces; just not a lot of new Democratic faces.

Looking forward to the 2018 campaign, we know that the volatility of 2016 will lead to more volatility in 2018. The eight newly elected members in 2016 are going to draw strong opposition. Both parties will look for seats to “take-away” from the other side.

Republican Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami will draw the greatest attention from Democrats and Murphy and Crist will be the prime Republican targets. Both Murphy and Crist defeated incumbent Republicans, and both won close races.

Hang on. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Days until the 2018 election: 579.

Gaetz encourages president to focus on Everglades — The freshman congressman took to the House floor this week to encourage President Donald Trump to “remain focused” on Everglades restoration.

The conservative Panhandle lawmaker down played plans for a South Florida land buy, saying “we should get the government out of the real estate business, not deeper into it.”

The congressman instead pushed for finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which he said has bipartisan support, respects property rights and doesn’t meddle with agriculture.

“Finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will ensure that our river of grass will be around for generations to come,” he said.

The Shalimar lawmaker said “the Everglades are Florida” and said they are as iconic as the Space Shuttle and the Orange.

Group to Gaetz: “No health care for illegal immigrants” — The Shalimar Republican is under the watchful eye of the American Security Coalition. Their goal is to keep him from going along with a new health care bill that would include “footing the health care costs of illegal immigrants.”

In a web ad doubling as a fund raiser, the coalition claims Speaker Paul Ryan “is still attempting to ram ‘ObamaCare-lite’ into law.” Activists are urged to “call Congressman Matt Gaetz and tell him to ‘Close the Loophole; No Taxpayer-funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants.’”

The reason to call Gaetz, says the group, is because he “is under so much pressure” and the call could decide whether “Ryan gets his way.”

At the end is an appeal for donations to stop Ryan’s “open borders agenda.”

Gaetz looking into fighter pilot oxygen problems — The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday it has grounded all T-45 Goshawk jet training flights for three days after revelations of instructor pilots were refusing to fly the aircraft citing problems with its oxygen system. According to Fox News, the pilot boycott began late last week and had already grounded hundreds of flights.

This action affects the Naval Air Station at Pensacola.

“Pilots in the United States military should never have to worry about oxygen supply while training or in combat,” said Gaetz, whose district covers Pensacola NAS. “As a member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I will be traveling to Naval Air Station Pensacola next week to meet with command staff, flight instructors and pilots to fully assess potential malfunctions to aircraft oxygenators following the cancellation of training flights on Friday.”

“Histotoxic hypoxia” is the medical term associated with the disorienting disorder which can put pilots’ lives at risk, as well as those of civilians on the ground below.

“It can happen without warning,” one pilot said. “The system doesn’t detect contaminants.

Dunn pushes for legislation to protect against terrorist drone attacks — With the rising use of drones by terrorists, the Panama City Freshman Republican wants to protect military personnel and installations. In a letter co-written with Hawaii Democrat Colleen Hanabusa to the House Armed Services Committee leadership, Dunn urges the committee to help provide legal authority to allow the military to better protect its human and military assets.

“Recent reports indicate that Islamic State fighters are increasingly deploying armed Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) against our men and women in uniform and our allies abroad,” they wrote.

The concern is that with success overseas, ISIS will bring weaponized drones “to our shores for attacks and espionage against the homeland.”

Dunn is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Hanabusa is also a member of that committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Among the six additional co-signers of the letter was Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford. Serving on the Armed Services Committee are two freshman Floridians; Republican Gaetz and Democrat Murphy.

Yoho not backing down from Trump – The Gainesville Republican remains unfazed by Trump’s threats of a fight over health care, reports the Ocala Star Banner. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump tweeted after the failure of the American Health Care Act last week. “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”

“That’s just his style,” Yoho told reporters. “It hasn’t changed my view in any way.”

While a Trump supporter, Yoho – a member of the Freedom Caucus – opposed the AHCA because it did not fully repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yoho wanted a bill that repeals ACA “100 percent,” replacing it with something that that promotes a free market for insurance.

As for Trump’s tweet: “I think it’s a waste of internet space and broadband space.”

Lawson plans April town halls – The Tallahassee Democrat (not the newspaper) announced he’ll hold three town hall events in Jacksonville, Quincy and Tallahassee in April.

Of the three, the one of most interest will be the first one – in Jacksonville on Apr. 12.

With open questions as to Lawson’s commitment to the district, and rumblings of a challenge from former Mayor Alvin Brown, expect provocative questions on what Lawson is doing for Duval – including but not limited to appropriations requests such as TIGER Grants.

DeSantis calls for FBI look into Susan Rice It’s not quite “lock her up,” but Rep. Ron DeSantis told the Washington Examiner that the FBI should look into former Barack Obama National Secretary Susan Rice.

The issue? Requesting the identities of Trump campaign workers caught up in foreign surveillance.

“Congress needs to get to the bottom of this and the FBI should be investigating whether any laws were broken,” he said. “We need to know whether the material gleaned from the Rice unmasking is the material fed to the media in an attempt to do political damage to the Trump administration and, if so, who was responsible for leaking it.”

David Simmons mulling 2018 CD 7 run — The Altamonte Springs Republican said he is “98 percent” sure he will run against Democratic Rep. Murphy next year, reports Frank Torres with the Orlando Political Observer.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought.” Simmons said this week. “I’ve met with the NRCC and I’m 98 percent headed towards a run in the 7th Congressional District.”

A Murphy v. Simmons match-up would pit a political veteran against an incumbent who was virtually unknown a year ago, and would certainly be one of the most-watched contests in the 2018 cycle

Simmons terms out of the Senate in 2018 and has been looking for the next step in his career. In addition to the CD7 run, Simmons is eyeing a campaign for Florida Attorney General or a return to the private sector.

Murphy sets “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events — With Congress set to go into recess until April 25, interaction with constituents will be frequent occurrences for Members of Congress. The Winter Park freshman Democrat is no exception with Murphy scheduling a half dozen “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events around the Seventh Congressional District.

“My job is to listen to the people I represent, take their concerns to our nation’s capital, and fight for them every day,” Murphy said in a release announcing the events. “I’m working with both Democrats and Republicans to get results and to put people over partisanship.”

The first coffee is set for Monday at the Little Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant in Orlando. The final event will take place at the Maitland Public Library on April 17.

Soto unveils new district office; previews trip to Middle East — The Orlando Democrat had a big announcement last week with two items on the subject line. First, Soto unveiled his hew district office directly across from the Veterans Administration Hospital at Lake Nona. In light of all the problems veterans have faced in VA medical facilities, those in Congressional District 9 will not only have a place to go, but a place within walking distance.

“This location is very symbolic because our VA Hospital is across the street,” said Soto. “I’m always concerned that our Veterans have access to our court of appeals here at my office.”

Soto also revealed his whereabouts for the coming week. Joined by Floridians Dennis Ross and Neal Dunn, and other members, Soto is in Iraq visiting Florida National Guard troops.

Soto spokeswoman Iza Montalvo confirmed the group leaves Thursday and returns the following Tuesday. The delegation is also bringing 150,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the troops.

“We have a lot of things going on in Mosul,” said Soto. “It’s a huge opportunity for me in my first term to be able to learn more about the biggest policy issues that we’re dealing with.”

Demings announces open house, Women’s Advisory Council — The Orlando freshman Democrat is inviting constituents to “An Afternoon at the District Officeon Saturday. Those taking her up on the offer can “learn about what constituent services we offer, meet our staff, hear what the Congresswoman’s priorities are, and tell her what you want done in D.C.”

Hours are from 2-5 p.m. The office is located at 2295 Hiawassee Road, Suite 301 in Orlando.

Demings has also launched a Women’s Advisory Council focusing on women in business. The group, consisting of eight business leaders, will provide input “on how federal programs can be improved to improve opportunities for women and girls in Central Florida.”

“This group of women is uniquely qualified, and comes from a variety of diverse backgrounds,” she said in a news release. “I am grateful they will be a part of the Women’s Advisory Council and look forward to taking their expertise and knowledge with me to Washington.”

Demings also plans to establish other working groups in the coming weeks and months.

Demings and Murphy to speak at Central Florida Tiger Bay — The two Democratic U.S. Congresswomen are slated to speak at the April 7 Central Florida Tiger Bay Club meeting.

The pair will give their insights and views from their first three months in Washington during the noon am meeting at The Country Club of Orlando.

Those wishing to attend will need to RSVP to the Central Florida Tiger Bay Club. The event is free for club members, but will cost $40 for guests and non-members.

Bilirakis talks VA reform on House floor — Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis invoked a bit of his Greek heritage pushing for a Veterans Administration reform bill he is sponsoring on the House floor this week.

“In Greek mythology the Gordian knot represents a complex problem that needs out-of-the-box thinking to solve,” Bilirakis said. “The VA’s Gordian knot is its repeated manipulation of key data and overall lack of accountability.”

The bill’s full title is “the VA Guidance for Organizational Reform and Data Integrity for Accountability Needs Key for Necessary and Optimal Transformation Act” – or GORDIAN KNOT for short.

The bill would require the VA to standardize their data recording mechanisms, publish the average wait times for each medical facility, and streamline the agency’s organizational structure as well as hiring and firing practices.

“I believe this bill is absolutely necessary to reform the VA and assist in its mission to care for our true American heroes,” he said.

 —

Crist appeals to second president on behalf of incarcerated constituent — The St. Petersburg freshman Democrat is taking the case of Crist’s constituent, Michael Morgan, to the President of the United States for a second time. Late last week Crist wrote a letter to President Trump asking the president and his administration to look into the case of Morgan, who is serving a sentence for what a growing number believe, was a crime Morgan did not commit.

Crist describes Morgan’s status as “unjustly incarcerated.” The former governor understands that the sitting governor holds the authority to take legal action in this case, but feels Trump could play a role due to the inaction of Gov. Scott.

“Mr. President, your attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful to drive needed action by our state’s Chief Executive,” he wrote.

Crist began the letter with a call to work together on criminal justice reform, using Morgan as a visual example of the need to get something done. He also touted reforms carried out in Florida during his four years as governor.

Shortly before President Obama left office in January, the newly-sworn in Crist wrote a similar plea on Morgan’s behalf and also extolled the need for reform. In that letter, Crist gave a shout out to Speaker Paul Ryan “who has taken a strong stance on these issues.”

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” he wrote, before chiding Scott for inaction.

Crist raises record $717K in Q! – The St. Petersburg Democrat is reporting a record-breaking $717,000, claiming it was the most raised by any freshman lawmaker during the first quarter in office. Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

Castor reaffirms support for Paycheck Fairness Act – On Equal Pay Day, the point where women must work over and above the previous year to make the same amount as men, the Tampa lawmaker joined her Democratic colleagues to call Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“Equal pay is vital to women, their families and the broader economy. Paychecks for women continue to lag, and it is past time to fix the inequity,” Castor said. The Act would ban employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with each other, impose harsher penalties for pay discrimination and require employers to be able to show that wage gaps between men and women are based on factors other than gender.

To highlight the issue, first daughter Ivanka Trump posted a USA Today infographic on Instagram showing equal pay statistics, which read: “Women earn 82 percent the full-time weekly paycheck of a man. Black women earn 68 percent and Latina women earn 62 percent of the full-time weekly pay of a white man.”

Buchanan talks tax reform with Suncoast business group – The Sarasota Republican spoke to business group the Argus Foundation this week about a bill he introduced to lower taxes on small businesses.

Buchanan’s bill would make sure that no small business in the country pays a higher tax rate than large corporations by removing income earned by passthrough businesses from the individual tax code and treat it income like business income earned by corporations.

Vern Buchanan updates The Argus Foundation on his bill to cut taxes for small businesses.

“It’s time for Washington to stop punishing Suncoast small businesses and start helping them,” Buchanan told the group. “I’m very pleased my bill is building support.”

The congressman said his proposal was picking up steam and had been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Nelson and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins

Bipartisan delegation members tour Holocaust Museum — On Monday, several members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism had a private tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Taskforce co-Chairman Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, was among those taking the tour.

“It’s a very powerful place to stop when you’re in Washington because of what it says about the need to speak out; the need to stand up,” Deutch told Roll Call.

Deutch and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, co-founded the taskforce in 2015. They announced its revival in February and the two will again lead the effort.

Also joining the tour was Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and St. Lucie Republican Brian Mast. Several members of the 2017 freshman class also attended.

“There’s a certain coarseness in the air right now, so it’s important that a group of leaders in the Congress speak up and stand up for folks and try to bring people together and educate them,” Castor said.

Deutch feels those touring the museum will leave with a sense of purpose.

“I think people will be inspired to go out and play a more active role in fighting hatred and bigotry of all kinds,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz mulling over bill to ban guns in checked baggage – The South Florida Democrat is considering introducing a bill that would ban the transportation of guns on airplanes.

The longtime lawmaker met with federal, state and local law enforcement last week to talk about current law, which allows airline passengers to transport unloaded firearms as checked baggage.

Wasserman Shultz is considering the bill in response gunman who killed five people at Fort Lauderdale’s airport earlier this year after retrieving a gun from his checked baggage.

“There is no obstacle I am aware of in the law that prevents TSA from regulating the transportation of firearms,” she said. “I have continued to be in the process of taking a look and seeking input at the best way to address transportation of firearms and whether legislation is necessary. … I want to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the politics of the Second Amendment.”

Curbelo teams up with Oregon Democrat for marijuana tax bill — South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is cosponsoring a bill with Oregon Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer that would make it easier for marijuana businesses to pay taxes.

The bill would allow pot peddlers to claim common deductions and tax credits so long as they are operating in line with state law.

“One of my goals in Congress is to ensure the law treats all enterprises with fairness and equity; giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper,” Curbelo said in a statement. “This bill clarifies our federal tax code for those marijuana businesses operating legally and in compliance with state regulations by providing tax parity.”

Current law doesn’t allow companies that deal in Schedule I or Schedule II substances to deduct even simple expenses such as rent from their taxes. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance.

Former Mica staffer exonerated in college classroom dust up — A onetime staffer in the office of the former Florida Republican Congressman recently at the center of a national story was allowed to return to class after Rollins College lifted his suspension. Marshall Polston, who once served as a part time employee in Mica’s office, was originally suspended after verbal clashes with a professor over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The matter made national news when Rollins suspended Polston on March 24 following verbal exchanges with Prof. Areej Zufari after the latter reportedly told her class Jesus was not crucified. Zufari also said Polston’s presence in class made her “feel unsafe” and accused Polston of “stalking” her.

While Polston was chided by the university for behavior not “consistent with the values we abide by at the College,” he was held “not responsible” for the accusations leveled at him and allowed to return to class.

With healthcare discussions front and center at both the state and federal level, Caitlin Carroll with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has her hands full. Carroll, who recently took on the Sunshine State in her coverage area, said her organization is working to make sure patients have access to innovative treatments and care. We caught up with her to talk about what needs to be done at the state and federal levels to make sure that happens.

FP: Talk to me about what states should be doing to ensure patient access.

CC: I think when it comes to patient access, the most important thing is making sure that patient care is in the hands of the patient and the doctor who knows them best, and that they’re not getting caught up in bureaucratic red tape and the middle man system we see in our current supply chain system. One of the things we feel strongly about is making sure patients have the best options and the most information about their own coverage and their own care as possible. We want to see a level playing field between insurers and doctors and their patients, ensuring patient protections. And part of that means giving more information and a better appeals process by streamlining step therapy and fail-first protocols.

FP: How should federal lawmakers deal with these same issues?

CC: I think overall we are in the middle of having a conversation about how to improve our health care system so that it focuses on outcomes and results and what is valuable to patients, rather than a system where savings and rebates are getting caught up in middle men and aren’t being passed on to patients. From our perspective, we want to have a conversation about moving toward value-based health care that focuses on outcomes, that focuses on results and that allows patients to know that the medicines and the treatments and the cures that they’re receiving are the best ones that are going to work for them, and they’re receiving the best care possible.

FP: What should Florida lawmakers be doing to work with their counterparts in Congress and beyond about this?

CC: First and foremost, we want to make sure any policies that we adopt actually address patient concerns without penalizing innovation that is going to develop the lifesaving medication that they need. Balancing those priorities to make sure we’re ensuring affordable access, that we’re ensuring quality care and we’re also not penalizing the future innovations that are going to improve life expectancy and quality of life over the next decade. We at PhRMA are not only bipartisan, but we are a nonpartisan organization, we are willing to work with anybody and we believe that all solutions have to look at the reality of our current supply chain, and address that reality. and they also need to take comprehensive looks that bring together all health care stake holders. there isn’t just one silver bullet that is going to address improving patient access, it really has to be a comprehensive solution.

Ballard named to RNC finance postAlex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Tallahassee lobbyist secured a spot on the Republican National Committee fundraising team. Ballard served as chair of the Trump Victory in Florida and vice chair of the inaugural committee. He also had roles on the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Save the date — Fundraiser for Florida House candidate Jose Mallea scheduled for Monday — The Miami-Dade Republican, who announced he was running for state House back in March, is headed to Washington, D.C. for a fundraiser hosted by Andrew Card, former President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, and his wife, the Rev. Kathleene Card. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mission Dupont Circle, and the host committee includes Jeb Bush, Jr.

Pinellas transit officials push priorities during D.C. tripBrad Miller is hopeful several days of productive meetings on Capitol Hill will translate into good things for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Miller and Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and Pat Gerard were in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with federal lawmakers about several top priorities for the transit authority, including funding for a rapid transit project. Both Long and Gerard serve on the PSTA board.

“Public transportation, roads, it’s really a partnership between federal, state and local governments when it comes to funding,” said Miller, the transit authority’s CEO.

Miller said one of the PSTA’s top priorities in 2017 is to secure FTA Small Starts funding for the St. Pete to Beach Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. It’s the highest demand transit corridor, and having the project would be a “big boon” for the tourism community.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller, and PSTA members Janet Long and Pat Gerard met with Rep. Kathy Castor to talk transportation issues this week.

Miller said the group also met with lawmakers about changing policy about what type of ridership data can be reported to federal officials. The transit authority has partnered with Uber and Lyft to create first-mile/last-mile connecting service. The program allows people to hail a ride for about $1 to take them to the closet bus stop, and then riders are able to continue their destination.

But those first-mile/last-mile connecting service rides don’t count as transit ridership in the formula currently used to calculate future transit capital funding. So Miller said he and this team met with members about ways the formula could be changed to account for innovation.

The trio met with Reps. Kathy Castor, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist Dennis Ross and Darren Soto. They also met with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations, and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

“They’ve been very, very supportive of these programs,” said Miller. “Transportation investments drive our economy.”

Sunburn for 4.6.17 – The 2017 Legislative Session at the halfway mark

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

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

A MOMENT OF PAUSE

The Easter break is coming at just the right time in the 2017 Legislative Session. We all need a deep breath. Whether we find any (legislative) Easter eggs is another matter.

Some known knowns (“things we know that we know”): At the halfway mark, the House and Senate budgets are pretty much set up to go to conference, as is this year’s gambling legislation.

At least one high-profile bill, the alimony overhaul, has been effectively killed and isn’t coming back this year.

Here’s a known unknown (“things that we know we don’t know”): The “whiskey and Wheaties” liquor-separation repeal effort, which flew through the Senate, is hung up in the House and hanging on by a thread, lobbyists say. Maybe sponsor Bryan Avila can pull off a Hail Mary.

So policy-wise, what’s been accomplished?

Er … well … Gov. Rick Scott signed a bunch of what’s known as “repealer” bills.

According to an email, the Governor signed six bills into law Wednesday, a ho-hum assortment of pro forma measures that, among other things, “delete statutory provisions that have expired or become obsolete.”

Yay?

It doesn’t seem like much. Why, by this time in the previous regular session … well, never mind. We were kind of at the same place.

Still, last year, big leadership bills passed in the first week:

— A water protection bill that then-House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted;

— A bill favored by then-Senate President Andy Gardiner that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and

— Another that increases their educational opportunities.

And yet, and yet … the Senate this week struck a deal on a water storage plan to cut down the “guacamole water” coming out of Lake Okeechobee.

And just maybe, the state will finally compensate the twin brother of Nubia Barahona for the Department of Children and Families’ mistakes.

The 10-year-old former foster child was killed in 2011 and her body was then mutilated with caustic chemicals at the hands of her adoptive father.

Now we’ll worry about the unknown unknowns, “the things we don’t know we don’t know.” Let’s hope they don’t lead to a special session.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 21; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 28; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 28; MLB All-Star Game – 96; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 149; Election Day 2017 – 214; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 252; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 276.

IS THE SENATE ON THE RIGHT PATH ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA? via Peter Schorsch for Florida Politics

The Senate, with the revised version of SB 406, appears to be on what is a fairly balanced means of implementing Amendment 2.

Is that my opinion? Maybe.

But, as of yesterday, even the intrepid Ben Pollara sent an email saying (and I quote), “The Senate bill puts Patients First…” while most parties in attendance at the recent committee hearing waived in support. Not all, but most. That’s a far cry from where this was a few short weeks ago.

Good job senators.

But there is one provision that made it into the bill that will likely create (yet another) firestorm of lawsuits while unnecessarily jeopardizing patient safety. If enacted, this one provision and the resulting litigation conflagration will delay more licensees from entering the field of play or allow some substandard players with untested methods to slide into the market.

That provision should warrant another glance.

Here’s the deal … the bill (SB 406) as it left the committee allows — nay, requires — the Department of Health to issue five new licenses by Oct. 3 — of this year!

To clarify, these licenses must be completed and issued by Oct. 3.

Why should this freak some people out?

First, it is important to recognize that the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) has only a handful of employees who are already up to their eyeballs in regulating the current crop of licensees, managing physician, and patient registries, handling complaints, issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers, etcetera. Second, it is also vital to understand how complex these new license applications are statutorily required to be. Last round, they averaged well over the 1,000+ page range.

Keep in mind that applicants must rush in these applications and then OCU must review, evaluate, score and award them (thousands of pages worth) – IN LIGHT SPEED.

They must do this, keep in mind, while issuing new patient and physician ID cards, implement sweeping new legislation, monitoring existing operations and do everything else they already do. Whew!

What could possibly go wrong?

With lots and lots (and lots!) of dollars on the table, and tens of thousands of pages to be scoured, there will certainly be at least a handful of aggrieved losers who will take their loss to the courts. We have danced this dance before.

SB 406 began its journey like most bills in the process; with a patient threshold (and not an arbitrary date) as a trigger to begin the process of awarding new licenses. It seems to make the most sense as it not only aligns the Senate bill closer to the House version, it relies on a logical progression based on actual users.

Why the change? Why the ultra-short window? Why take this chance?

This same body spent years designing a system to ensure the safety of patients. Um, where did that go?

CANADIAN MARIJUANA COMPANY APHIRA BUYING INTO FLORIDA’S MARKET via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – Aphria, a publicly traded firm based out of Ontario, plans to invest $25 million in a shell that will purchase most or all of the assets of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the Alachua nursery that operates CHT Medical. … That placement, at $2.08 a share, implies a market cap of $177 million and suggests Aphria’s investment — which includes a 3 percent royalty on sales, plus shares — is worth $67 million, according to an analysis by Canadian investment dealer Eight Capital. … The pending agreement offers the most complete information to date on the value currently associated with Florida’s limited medical marijuana licenses, despite their current lack of income under a restrictive system. Chestnut’s CHT Medical, which won its license through a competitive process, has only been in operation since January, but the business has an implied value as the state’s number of eligible patients begins to expand following the November passage of Amendment 2.

TWEET, TWEET:

THE PANHANDLE GETS A MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY AS TRULIEVE OPENS FOURTH OUTPOST via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Trulieve, the first company to dispense medical marijuana in Florida, opened its fourth medical cannabis dispensary in the state Wednesday morning, this time in Pensacola. “We are proud to open our fourth dispensary and our first in the Pensacola area. And this opening is especially exciting because we maintain our headquarters in the panhandle and are deeply committed to our patients here,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “We also have our statewide home delivery program and will have more dispensary locations opening this year.”

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VOTERS SAID YES, BUT FLORIDA MAY CHANGE CLASS SIZE LIMITS via The Associated Press – The House voted 95-22 for a bill (HB 591) that would change the way class sizes are calculated. If the bill became law, then schools would measure class sizes by a schoolwide average instead of measuring it at the classroom level. A similar bill is moving in the Senate. Voters in 2002 first approved class size limits and rejected an attempt to change those limits in 2010. Those limits cap core classes between 18 and 25 students depending on the grade level.

MIAMI LAWMAKER: ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN IS ‘SEPARATE BUT UNEQUAL’ via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay TimesKionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools. “This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018. The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.

JOE HENDERSON: RANDOLPH BRACY’S HEART MIGHT HAVE BEEN RIGHT, BUT HIS NUMBERS WERE WRONG via Florida Politics – We all know what a firestorm Ayala created when she decided not to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott came down on the side of outrage and in a stunning turn he ordered that the case go to another prosecutor … That prompted state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, to blast Scott in an op-ed published in The New York Times. He was making strong arguments why the governor’s actions are wrong, at least up to the point where he wrote this paragraph: “As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly over-represented on Florida’s death row.” Fact check, please! Actually, there are 143 black males on death row compared to 214 white males. And when it comes to the total number of executions carried out since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas is the runaway leader with the number of people put to death with 576. Florida is fourth (behind Oklahoma and Virginia) with 92.

HOUSE SENDS BACK SENATE’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ BILL via Florida Politics The House on Wednesday OK’d the Senate’s fix to the state’s “stand your ground” law to streamline claims of self-defense—with one change. The House version changes the measure (SB 128) to switch the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to overcome self-defense. Members voted 74-39 for the amended bill, sending it back across the rotunda. The Republican majority in the Legislature wants to shift the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. A state Supreme Court decision had put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

DEMOCRATS DECRY CHANGE TO ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAW via Florida PoliticsA critic of the state’s “stand your ground” law Wednesday said a change to the law now moving through the Legislature will “make it easier for people to murder other human beings.” Lawmakers now are considering shifting the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called that making “a bad law worse.” He appeared with several fellow Democrats at a morning press conference in the Capitol. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

JACK LATVALA ARGUES REVISED LAKE O. PROJECT DEFANGS ITS CRITICS via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – If House leaders really oppose special interests they’ll support the Lake Okeechobee plan the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday, Latvala said following the vote. “When you hear their stated objections that they’ve made publicly, it’s always had to do with losing jobs or the amount of bonding involved,” Latvala told reporters. “We’ve pretty much removed those stated objections. Now it’s just going to have to come down to whether they’re going to follow the will of the special interests that are involved.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL OKS CHANGES TO NURSING HOME FUNDING via Ryan Benk of WJCT – … that includes a new formula for reimbursing nursing homes. Opponents say the proposal would cut Medicaid dollars for top performing homes, while proponents argue it’ll result in a more equitable distribution of state funds. With 60 percent of nursing home residents on Medicaid, a lion’s share of the long-term care facilities depends on state reimbursement to stay afloat. Right now, nursing homes are funded retroactively after they submit expense reports. Officials audit those payments annually to make sure taxpayers aren’t overpaying. The Senate proposal would instead pay nursing homes a predetermined amount up front based on a specific formula.

STATE CONSIDERS ISSUING CERTIFICATES AFTER MISCARRIAGES via The Associated Press – The House voted 115-1 for what’s called the “Grieving Families Act.” At a parent’s request, the state would issue “certificates of nonviable birth” to women whose pregnancies end after nine weeks and before 20 weeks of gestation. Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths and death certificates must be issued. Parents can also request a birth certificate in such cases.

BILL TO HELP FOSTER CHILDREN GET DRIVERS’ LICENSES HEADS TO GOV. via The Associated Press – … under a bill heading to Gov. Scott. The House unanimously passed the bill that would make permanent a pilot program that began in 2014. The program reimburses foster parents or children for driver’s education, license fees and insurance. The idea is to help children in state care become more independent. The cost of the program is $800,000.

NEW HOUSE WORKERS COMP AMENDMENTS GO TOUGHER ON ATTORNEY FEES via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – The House Commerce Committee will take up a workers’ compromise amendment package Thursday that takes a more aggressive approach to attorney fees than did previous versions of the legislation. The amendments to HB 7085 retain language allowing deviations from the statutory attorney fee schedule that link trial lawyer’s compensation to benefits secured through claims litigation. But it shrinks the maximum hourly fee from $250 in the existing language to $150. Such awards would be tied to customary fees charged by defense — not plaintiffs — lawyers, depending on jurisdiction.

>>>WHAT ONE INSURANCE INSIDER THINKS: “The amendments will go a long way to help the system. Is it an overhaul that will significantly lower rates? No, but it will help stem the tide of future double digit increases by affecting behavior of claimants attorneys and the judges of compensation claims, along with attorney fee guidelines. The underlying bill addressed hospital costs that will also help. Of course, it could be tweaked and made better, but within the House self imposed parameters, it is a good of place to start as any. Late word is that Associated Industries may be waffling. They think the trial bar wrote it. They are wrong, Trial bar does not like this and will not support, as they would rather have nothing, which by the way is where we may very well end up based on the overall disposition of the Senate.”

TELEHEALTH, NURSE AUTHORITY MEASURE PASSES SECOND HOUSE PANEL via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –-  The House Ways & Means Committee passed contentious legislation allowing advanced nurses who meet extensive education and experiential requirements to practice independently, without the supervision of a physician. A second component of HB 7011 regulates telehealth, allowing in-state and out-of-state professionals to use the technology. The bill also creates a tax credit for health insurers and health maintenance organizations that cover services provided by telehealth. The bill must pass the House Health & Human Services Committee before heading to the floor.

HOUSE PASSES REGULATIONS FOR UBER, LYFT via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Ride-booking companies have been pushing for statewide regulations so that their drivers are not subject to varied laws depending on what county or city they find themselves in. If the Senate passes the bill — up in its final committee hearing — local laws such as those charging fees in South Florida counties, Orlando and other large metropolitan areas around the state would all go away. The state law would demand drivers carry insurance of $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage. Local governments still would be able to keep pickup fees charged by ports and airports, so long as those ports charge taxi companies the same amount. The taxi companies continue to be against the legislation. They argue that what’s good for large cities is not necessarily what’s good for small towns.

HOUSE ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ SPONSOR SAYS BILL STILL IN PLAY via Florida Politics – Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila is keeping hope alive that a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods will garner enough votes for passage. “We had some late issues come up,” he said after Wednesday’s floor session. Lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, this week said the bill would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where booze is sold. But Avila said he disagreed with that reading of the bill and alcoholic beverage statutes. The latest issue came up after other critics raised concerns that gas stations would be allowed to sell distilled spirits under the measure. “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill,” Avila said.

USED NEWS – “Florida gambling bills with billions at stake are likely to come down to session wire” via Alexandra Glorioiso of the Naples Daily News on April 5; “Will lawmakers walk away from gambling?” via Jim Rosica on March 31.

STATE COULD OPEN UP ATHLETIC BOOSTERS AND FOUNDATIONS via The Associated Press –  The Florida House is moving ahead with a measure to repeal a state law that now allows university groups to keep most of their records private. If the bill becomes law athletic boosters and university foundations could only keep confidential information on the names of donors. The legislation would also prevent colleges and universities from using taxpayer money to pay for people who work for direct support organizations, which usually raise money to help pay for athletics and other university operations. The House this year started scrutinizing university spending and requested private records that showed how much university foundations spend on travel and salaries.

STATE MAY SPEND MONEY TO BOOST SECURITY AT JEWISH SCHOOLS via The Associated Press – House and Senate budget committees voted to set aside money for security in spending plans being drawn up by the Legislature … The amounts that legislators set aside range between $254,000 and $500,000. Rep. Randy Fine says the money would go to pay for security upgrades at day schools now serving around 10,000 children. Budget documents say part of the funding go to fences and installing bullet proof glass. Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to a report issued late last month by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

WTF? This remake is guaranteed to be funnier than the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart original. We can hear Rene Garcia saying, “Too tight. Too tight!”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Health & Human Services Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7) that would eliminate the state’s certificate of need program when it meets at 8 a.m. in 17 House Office Building. The Judiciary Committee will tackle a proposed committee bill dealing with the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The committee will also discuss a bill (HB 1335) calling on the Legislature to acknowledge and apologize for the abuses at the reform school. The Commerce Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7085) dealing with workers’ compensation reform when it meets at 1:30 p.m. in 212 Knott. Over in the Senate, the Appropriations Committee will take up several proposals when it meets at 8 a.m. in 412 Knott. The Rules Committee will take up a bill (SB 340) to create statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft when it meets at 10:30 a.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. Greyhound doping is on the agenda when the Regulated Industries meets at 1 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: County commissioner from across the state are expected to speak out against proposals that would strip local governments of their home-rule authority during a Florida Association of Counties press conference at 9:30 a.m. on the fourth floor by the Senate Chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Consumer Protection Coalition will address the growing abuse of assignment of benefits during a press conference at 12:30 p.m. in front of the House Chamber doors.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Elizabeth Porter and Sen. Rob Bradley will hold a joint press conference to announce joint resolutions to designate April 2017 as “Springs Awareness Month” at 1 p.m. in Room 333 of The Capitol.

HAPPENING TODAY – FAMU DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Get ready to see a lot of orange and green in the Capitol on Thursday. Why? Well, it’s FAMU Day at the Capitol. Students, alumni, staff and administrators will use the day-long event to advocate on behalf of Florida A&M University and thank lawmakers for their support. The FAMU Student Government and FAMU National Alumni Association will provide free shuttle services to the Capitol throughout the day. Go Rattlers!

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will stop by the 2nd annual Build Tamp Bay, a technical career fair for high school students, at 9:15 a.m. at Port Tampa Bay – Cruise Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Drive in Tampa. He’ll then head to Gainesville for a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 3:30 p.m. at Optym, 76000 NW 5 Pl.

RICK SCOTT’S SEARCH FOR AGENCY LAW FIRMS WITH LEGISLATIVE CONNECTIONS COMES UP EMPTY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Hunting for what it calls potential conflicts of interest, Scott‘s office asked every state agency to disclose a case in which it employs a law firm that has a state legislator on its payroll. More than 30 agencies responded, but none said it has such an arrangement. Only the Department of Corrections appeared to hedge somewhat, telling Scott’s office that “it does not appear to have any current contracts with a law firm that employs a current Florida legislator.” Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal, asked agencies to respond after learning that Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has received more than $235,000 in legal work from Enterprise Florida since 2014. A top Corcoran priority is to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he has repeatedly cited as an example of waste and “corruption” in state government.

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UNIVERSAL ORLANDO STEPS INTO CAPITOL BEER BATTLE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Universal Parks & Resorts is stepping into the middle of a bar fight between beer makers and distributors over legislation that would allow brewers to sponsor rides or events at major theme parks. The bill (SB 388) seeks to carve out an exemption for theme parks to a Prohibition-era law, known as “tied house evil,” that bans brewers from giving gifts or special deals to retail sellers. In Britain, a “tied house” is a bar required to sell beer from a particular company. The law is intended to keep brewers from creating monopolies and pushing out the competition by preventing rival beers from being sold. Supporters of the bill think the law is an unnecessary relic. “It’s got to be close to the most archaic, anti-competitive, heavily regulated regulatory statute on the books,” said Universal lobbyist Mac Stipanovich. Under the bill, brewers would be able to acquire sponsorships at theme parks with at least 25 acres and 1 million visitors per year. It would apply to Universal and Disney theme parks, but not connected areas such as City Walk or Downtown Disney.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association; Pinch A Penny, Inc

Robert Beck, Adams Street Advocates: Quidel Corporation

Travis Blanton, Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: PP+K

Christian Caballero, Foley & Lardner: Blue Head Land & Cattle Co., LLC

Kevin Cabrera, Southern Startegy Group: Miami Downtown Development Authority

Jon Costello, Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: Heartland Education Consortium

Claudia Devant, Adams Street Advocates: The Children’s Forum; DataLogic Software, Inc.

Chris Dawson, GrayRobinson: Accelerated Learning Solutions Florida

Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: ExamWorks

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Argo Partners; SkyMed International (Florida) Inc.

Michael Harrell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association

Corinne Mixon, Jessica Janasiewicz, Mixon & Associates: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates

Toni Large, Uhlfelder & Associates PA: Orange County Medical Society

Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Rural Economic Development Association

Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: Beer Industry of Florida, Inc

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Crystals Corporation

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – PERSONNEL NOTE: CYNTHIA HEFREN NAMED CFO OF VISIT FLORIDA via Florida PoliticsHefren is coming home: She will be VISIT FLORIDA‘s next chief financial officer, President & CEO Ken Lawson announced Wednesday. Hefren most recently was Assistant State Audit Supervisor for the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor. But she’s a Florida state government veteran, previously serving as Director of Auditing for the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, and several other positions. She starts next Monday.

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

JOSE MALLEA RAISES $50K IN THREE WEEKS IN HD 116 RACE via Florida Politics – The Miami Republican announced in March he was running to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. According to Mallea’s campaign, he raised $50,000 since filing to run for office March 9. “We are off to a strong start,” said Mallea.

DAVID RIVERA ETHICS CASE GATHERING DUST ON RICHARD CORCORAN’S DESK via Ann Howard of the Capitolist – With House Speaker Corcoran firmly positioning himself as a no-nonsense leader, taking up the matter of Rivera’s ethics issues should be low=hanging fruit – an easy way to score points and take a fellow Republican to the proverbial woodshed. It remains unclear what, if anything, Corcoran plans to do about it. Over the past two days, Corcoran declined several requests for a comment on the matter. So for now, at least, the ethics case against Rivera remains mothballed on the Speaker’s desk.

OIR OK’S 10,500 CITIZENS TAKEOUTS FOR JUNE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – To assist in depopulation efforts, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved 10,511 policies to be removed from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in June. The takeouts have been approved for Weston Insurance Company. June takeouts bring the year’s total approved takeouts to 68,235. Only 11,399 policies have been removed from Citizens in 2017.

ELECTION SUPERVISOR’S ISLAM PRESENTATION CAUSES ALARM via The Associated Press – The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants an election official in Florida to cancel a presentation on Islam that he’s offering to voters and poll workers … Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis will present what he calls a “history of radical Islam” Thursday night. Stamoulis told the station his speech is an extension of something he calls “voter education.” He says he feels it’s an important issue for both voters and poll workers … CAIR says it’s inappropriate for an official to host such a polarizing event. Some groups are planning to protest the event.

LEGAL DEBATE OVER ARAMIS AYALA’S DECISION TURNS INTO HOCKEY GAME via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A debate in Orlando between former 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton and retired 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. broke down into near chaos at times, with shouted interruptions leading to political accusations, a few insults, a bit of belittling, sarcasm and condescension, and angry protests of unfairness. And most of that wasn’t between the prosecutor and the judge who were officially squaring off, but between Ashton and the debate moderator, Orlando defense attorney Mark O’Mara. “I hoped this discussion would not become political but it almost immediately did,” said an exasperated-sounding Ashton, who lost the JC9 seat to Ayala in a nasty election battle last year, and then took the positions opposing her decision. “I hoped that somebody would show me a case or an interpretation or a rule or a statutory construction. “But all I’ve heard is you two yelling at me that I’m wrong!” “I haven’t yelled at you at all. I’m very soft-spoken,” corrected Eaton, quipping about his reputation on the bench.

MUST READ, PART 1 — WHY COPS SHOOT via Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Times — In September 2014, the Tampa Bay Times asked all of Florida’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies for reports generated any time an officer shot someone between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014. The newspaper analyzed more than 10,000 pages of police records, combed through hundreds of court documents and media reports, and conducted dozens of fresh interviews to build Florida’s most comprehensive database of policy shootings. The top line findings: Florida police shot 827 people in those six years, about one every two and a half days. More than half were fatal. Nearly one-fifth of the people shot were unarmed, or about 156 people. And about half of those were black, in a state where blacks make up just 15 percent of the population. That means unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot as by police than whites.

MUST READ, PART 2 — FLORIDA EMBRACES ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION, EVEN AS POLITICAL DIVISIONS RUN DEEP via Jessica Bakeman of POLTICO Florida — In the first in a multi-part POLITICO series on the policies and politics behind the increasing move toward online education at the state’s public universities, Bakeman looks at the deep divisions among politicians and policymakers about whether virtual courses and degree programs can be accessible, affordable and high quality. The piece looks at Gov. Rick Scott’s push to move to a system of virtual education, while Senate President Joe Negron, one of the state university system’s biggest backers, continues to have a “strong wariness and skepticism” toward online education.

GUITARS OUST MINARETS AS HARD ROCK REDOES TAJ MAHAL CASINO via Associated Press Rock ‘n’ roll and guitars — lots of guitars — are in as the Hard Rock chain re-does Atlantic City’s former Trump Taj Mahal casino. The company owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe on Wednesday unveiled its $375 million plan for the shuttered casino resort, which it bought last month from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and plans to reopen by summer 2018. It will draw on the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia to help brand the new resort, with a decided New Jersey slant … “There will not be one — and underscore the word ‘one’ — piece of design, architecture, minaret or anything left over from the Taj Mahal,” Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. “We are removing it all.”

AMAZON PICKS OFF NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FROM TWITTER via Mae Anderson of The Associated Press – The e-commerce powerhouse will stream NFL Thursday Night games this season via its Amazon Prime video service, replacing Twitter. The live-streams of the games will be available to the estimated 65 million members of Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year and also includes other perks like free videos, books and shipping. That means that technically, the games won’t be free to stream, but they will still be carried by broadcast networks CBS or NBC, as well as simultaneously on the NFL Network … it’s a one-year deal worth close to $50 million … about five times what Twitter paid for the right to stream the games last year.

IT LOOKS LIKE A BERRY GOOD YEAR FOR FLORIDA BLUEBERRY FARMERS via Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times – There’s a sweet spot, after Chilean imports and before the Georgia harvest, in which Florida’s southern high bush berries are not just the only game in town. They’re the only game on Earth. This is not an accident. Scientists have worked with Florida growers for decades developing varieties that will ripen right when there isn’t competition. This year, they appear to have nailed it. In short, it’s an early season, having started near the beginning of March. And the yield is looking strong — maybe 20 million pounds, experts project. According to Alto Straughn, who has 750 acres of blueberries in north Florida and is co-owner of 230 acres in Georgia, this year’s season started 10 to 14 days early. “We picked 100,000 pounds last week,” he said. “That’s unheard of. Prices are really high right now… Last year everything was three to four weeks late.”

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY BUFFET LUNCH MENU Thursday’s Italian Day at the Governors Club with Tuscan white bean soup; Sicilian caprese salad – tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, red onion, chopped parsley & olive oil – Italian green salad – iceberg, romaine, red onion, Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, pepperoncini – seasonal greens; three dressing sections; beef steak pizzaiola; rosemary chicken; potato gnocchi with tomatoes, olive oil and basil; roasted garlic eggplant and grilled vegetables.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Tribune’er Rosemary Curtiss, former Rep. Jim Frishe, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Carolyn Johnston, Chelsea Murphy, and the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeremy Wallace.

Is the Senate on the right path on medical marijuana?

The Senate, with the revised version of SB 406, appears to be on what is a fairly balanced means of implementing Amendment 2.

Is that my opinion?  Maybe.

But, as of yesterday, even the intrepid Ben Pollara sent an email saying (and I quote), “The Senate bill puts Patients First…” while most parties in attendance at the recent committee hearing waived in support. Not all, but most. That’s a far cry from where this was a few short weeks ago.

Good job senators.

But there is one provision that made it into the bill that will likely create (yet another) firestorm of lawsuits while unnecessarily jeopardizing patient safety. If enacted, this one provision and the resulting litigation conflagration will delay more licensees from entering the field of play or allow some substandard players with untested methods to slide into the market.

That provision should warrant another glance.

Here’s the deal … the bill (SB 406) as it left the committee allows — nay, requires — the Department of Health to issue five new licenses by Oct. 3 — of this year!

To clarify, these licenses must be completed and issued by Oct. 3.

Why should this freak some people out?

First, it is important to recognize that the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) has only a handful of employees who are already up to their eyeballs in regulating the current crop of licensees, managing physician, and patient registries, handling complaints, issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers, etcetera. Second, it is also vital to understand how complex these new license applications are statutorily required to be. Last round, they averaged well over the 1,000+ page range.

Keep in mind that applicants must rush in these applications and then OCU must review, evaluate, score and award them (thousands of pages worth) – IN LIGHT SPEED.

They must do this, keep in mind, while issuing new patient and physician ID cards, implement sweeping new legislation, monitoring existing operations and do everything else they already do. Whew!

What could possibly go wrong?

With lots and lots (and lots!) of dollars on the table, and tens of thousands of pages to be scoured, there will certainly be at least a handful of aggrieved losers who will take their loss to the courts. We have danced this dance before.

But that’s not even the worst problem.

And what of these drive-thru applicants?  Will they be properly vetted?  Will their seed-to-sale systems be thoroughly reviewed for safety, purity, and consistency? Will the OCU be able to really ensure safe products?  We are, after all, dealing with some very sick patients who probably don’t need pesticides or other impurities being vaped into their lungs.

Consider that these new applicants must be able to demonstrate a safe and secure system of growing, processing and extracting CBD and THC products. OCU must evaluate, verify and score those systems. The applicants must clearly articulate how they will keep pesticides and other chemical impurities out of the final product. Then they need to develop and explain a failsafe system of tracking and identifying products while diagnosing on-site issues before the drugs leave their facilities. Further, they must also have a method – in writing – to ensure a consistent extraction technique to make sure that a dosage is exactly what it is supposed to be.

All of these safety measures must be carefully reviewed.

It isn’t growing tomatoes in your backyard. This is growing, processing and extracting a controlled substance. A substance that is meant to be carefully administered to very sick people and, I am sorry, but three short months is simply not enough time to ensure the safety of the patients who will be taking these drugs.

I am not disputing the notion of expanding the number of licenses – that’s another conversation for another column – but with such a (hyper) short application to award window, the most likely outcome (from this vantage point) will be years of litigation followed by an onslaught of safety problems.

Here’s what puzzles this writer.

SB 406 began its journey like most bills in the process; with a patient threshold (and not an arbitrary date) as a trigger to begin the process of awarding new licenses. It seems to make the most sense as it not only aligns the Senate bill closer to the House version, it relies on a logical progression based on actual users.

Why the change?  Why the ultra-short window?  Why take this chance?

This same body spent years designing a system to ensure the safety of patients. Um, where did that go?

Amendment 2 isn’t going anywhere, and, as of right now, there are only a few thousand active patients in the registry and far (far!) more than enough active dispensaries who are willing and able to service them. And, in case anyone needs to be reminded, you will be right back here in about 10 short months to evaluate progress.

The state of the market will be a whole lot clearer then, and we won’t have to guess how the system is working. But rushing to open the floodgates before the waters rise, just doesn’t seem like good policy – especially when sick patients’ lives are at stake.

Sunburn for 4.5.17 – Hope has returned to the Florida Legislature

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

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

THERE IT IS.

When the final history of the 2017 Legislative Session is written, it is very possible that Tuesday, April 4, marked the turning point in the annual lawmaking period. Because of what transpired yesterday, it’s much more likely that the House and Senate gavel out on time rather than go in to an extended session or have to call for a special session to hammer out a budget agreement.

With Senate President Joe Negron and Sen. Rob Bradley agreeing to scale back the project’s acreage while still storing between 100 billion and 120 billion gallons of water by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet, it’s now possible to game out how the 2017 Session concludes.

News of the compromise was first reported by the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas. And as soon as her story flashed across the Twitterverse, capital insiders knew a turning point had arrived.

“The amendment is just a recognition, again, of what the No. 1 goal of this legislation is. And that is to have additional southern storage to reduce and, hopefully, one day eliminate the discharges,” Negron said. “That’s the indispensible component of this issue.”

By “discharges,” Negron meant what Bradley calls the toxic, algae-laden “guacamole water” that issued from the lake in June, sickening both people and the tourism economy along waterways.

The total cost of the plan would shrink from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, saving money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state.

Honestly, none of those details are important to anyone not living near the Caloosahatchee River. What is important is that the Senate President appears ready to deal.

Richard Corcoran‘s House should and will go along with Negron’s new plan because it a) does not include any bonding during the first year and b) doesn’t include exercising an option to purchase land from U.S. Sugar.

In exchange, the House should get its top priorities: a lot of funding for charter schools and not much funding for Enterprise Florida or VisitFlorida. The House will also probably get some sort of legislation that puts a hurting on the judicial branch, while both chambers — each led by attorneys inclined to support the trial bar — will back a host of other legislation — AOB “reform,” workers’ comp — that basically favors the folks at the Florida Justice Association over the good people of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, clearing the impasse over the Lake O. proposal may also pave the way for something to be done about gambling. A court ruling on Tuesday — one that could lead to more gaming expansion, if only by default — is the latest reminder that bureaucrats and judges are regulating the gambling industry, not lawmakers. With some extra bandwidth afforded by Negron’s willingness to compromise on Lake O., it’s possible another compromise could be reached on the Seminole Compact, slots, and the so many other issues which have been left unattended by the Legislature.

Horse-trading will abound on any number of issues.

Of course, it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. There are a thousand different ways the 2017 Session could implode.

First of all, Governor Rick Scott says he will not accept a budget that zeroes out funding for Enterprise Florida. His ally in the Senate on this issue, Sen. Jack Latvala, is in charge of one-half of the appropriations process and could be an obstacle. But maybe Latvala goes along to get along with a low budget number for EFI if the House gives in to him on the rest of his budget priorities.

After all, what will it accomplish for Scott if he vetoes the budget only to see a unified Legislature override said veto?

U.S. SUGAR TAKES A VICTORY LAP (without rubbing Negron’s nose in it): “This amendment makes significant progress and demonstrates that the Florida Senate has begun taking seriously the concerns of residents from communities south of Lake Okeechobee. The decision to no longer take 60,000 to 153,000 acres of farmland out of production is a positive step forward. While the amendment improves the bill, there are significant concerns related to the arbitrary timelines for the southern storage reservoir, which appear to conflict with the current timing of the federally-authorized projects in the Integrated Delivery Schedule. We agree with Senator Negron that science should continue to guide this bill, and we look forward to providing additional input on developing science-based solutions that actually will reduce the harmful discharges and build real solutions that work for all of our communities.”

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 22; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 29; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 29; MLB All-Star Game – 97; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 150; Election Day 2017 – 215; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 253; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 277.

— “After 5 straight losses for governor, Democrats ready to try something new” via Joe Henderson for Florida Politics

— “Gwen Graham will have some explaining to do for Democratic base” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

CHRIS KING VOWS TO BRING ‘PROGRESSIVE ENTREPRENEUR’ SPIRIT TO GOVERNOR’S RACE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – King introduced himself to Florida Tuesday evening as the “progressive entrepreneur” promising to bring bring a head for hard work, return on investment and financial stewardship but also a heart to Tallahassee. King, a 38-year-old Winter Park businessman with no experience in politics, kicked off his campaign for the state’s highest office at an Orlando rally with 400 to 500 people, a musical warmup, several advance speakers and an ice cream truck, in the parking lot of the 11-story Hillcrest Hampton House, an affordable-housing senior tower his Elevation Global Initiative company developed.

King’s 27-minute speech placed him squarely in the center of most Democratic issues and values, from environmental protection [“I would put scientists back in charge of environmental agencies;”] to affordable housing [his business speciality;] from minimum wage increases, to investing far more in public education [“I will be a champion and advocate for public education;”] social and legal equality for all, to expanding health care access and investment in mental health. “If you’ve come here tonight and you are an advocate for public education or environmental protection or housing, or health care, I’m with you,” King said. “I want to be too.”

ADAM PUTNAM SAYS HE WILL PREVENT THE CALIFORNICATION OF FLORIDA via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – In a fundraising letter sent out last week and signed by Putnam from his political committee, Florida Grown, California is described as a “failed big government model” that “powerful and angry special interests” want to apply to Florida. “Unsustainable debt, disastrous environmental regulations, unfunded pensions for public employees, and massive government work projects they can’t afford are a recipe for disaster,” the letter warns its readers. “I will work day and night to prevent that. The crippling left-wing policies of their Golden State must never take root here in our Sunshine State!” The letter never explicitly says in what capacity Putnam would prevent the Californication of Florida. Although Florida Grown has already raised $9.4 million, Putnam hasn’t officially declared to run for governor in 2018.

HOW FLORIDA BECAME GROUND ZERO FOR NATION’S PRESCRIPTION OPIOID CRISIS via Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham of The Washington Post –  Florida’s lax laws, dishonest doctors and unscrupulous pharmacists had turned the state into ground zero for the nation’s prescription opioid crisis. One distributor that caught the attention of the DEA for sending drugs to Florida was KeySource Medical, a regional company based in Cincinnati. In 2010, it sent 41 million tablets of Mallinckrodt-made oxycodone to Florida, documents show. That was nearly 2.5 pills for every man, woman and child in the state. The DEA accused KeySource in June 2011 of trying to conceal the amounts of drugs it was shipping by splitting its orders and told the company to halt its oxycodone shipments. Mallinckrodt’s oxycodone cropped up again when the DEA looked at one of the nation’s three largest drug distributors, Cardinal Health, which was sending vast quantities to four pharmacies in Florida.

PROPOSAL TO DRUG TEST WELFARE APPLICANTS RETURNS TO FLORIDA via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – A divided House panel voted for a bill that would require applicants convicted of a felony drug charge or suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance to undergo a drug screening at their expense before receiving benefits. Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican sponsoring the bill, said it was intended to ensure that people getting state funds are “not using that money for drugs. Under the bill, people applying for temporary cash assistance would have to pay up to $40 for the drug test. The state would not cover the costs, but it would reimburse those who pass the test. “I would assume they can borrow the money from a friend or a family member, but the state is not going to be responsible for paying for their drug test,” Latvala said. Democrats, however, decried the proposal, especially since a broader program had already been struck down by a federal court.

COURT RULING COULD RESULT IN EXPLOSION OF GAMBLING PERMITS via Florida PoliticsAn appellate court’s ruling promises to further muddy the legal landscape of gambling in Florida. A 1st District Court of Appeal opinion released Tuesday reversed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and ordered the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit. The department regulates gambling. Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting. The decision promises to result in an wave of new applications, gambling experts say, and came on the same day the House was scheduled to take up the Senate’s already-passed omnibus gambling legislation for 2017.

HOUSE SEES SENATE ON GAMBLING BILL, RAISES THEM via Florida Politics The House amended the Senate’s gambling measure with its own bill Tuesday, setting up the legislation for conference. The difference between the two chambers’ approach was set up by Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. He said the House effort “erects a firewall against the expansion of gaming in the future,” adding there would be “no more loopholes.” With the Senate OK with some gambling expansion, the stark contrast has led House Speaker Richard Corcoran to call a compromise this year “a heavy, heavy lift” and Sen. Bill Galvano to say he “couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution.”

PANEL APPROVES BILL TO REQUIRE GAMBLING WARNINGS ON LOTTERY TICKETS via Florida Politics – Lottery tickets, and places that sell them, could come with a warning: “Gambling can be addictive,” under a bill approved by the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries. Senate Bill 1370 may go where some Florida lawmakers are uncomfortable to follow, declaring the state’s lottery games to be a form of gambling. As a result, the bill got a few no votes, including one from Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville.

HOUSE AMENDS SENATE’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ BILL via Florida Politics The House on Tuesday began consideration of a Senate bill changing the state’s “stand your ground” law to make it easier to claim self-defense. But the House soon amended the measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The burden would be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

CENTRAL FLORIDA REPUBLICANS KEEP UP CALLS FOR ARAMIS AYALA’S SUSPENSION via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “What happens in all cases in the future that may qualify or may have aggravated circumstances for a death penalty case?” said Rep. Bob Cortes. “Will the governor have to step in and issue executive orders for each case in the future? Is this best serving the interests both of victims, defendants and the residents of the 9th Judicial Circuit?” Cortes said his call for her suspension has to do with respect for the law, not race. “I disagree that this has anything to do with [race]. If the state attorney had been white, black, Hispanic – I’m Hispanic myself so for me to be targeting her race? It has nothing to do with it.”

RICK SCOTT SAYS DECISIONS RELATED TO ARAMIS AYALA ‘NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS’ via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – “State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” Scott stated … When asked, Scott had the following response. “First off, this has nothing to do with politics. It has all to do with — think about the victims. This was about three weeks ago now when the State Attorney in Orlando said that she wouldn’t pursue the Markeith Loyd case to the fullest extent of the law. It just personally bothered me.”

FLORIDA’S VENGEFUL GOVERNOR via Randolph Bracy for The New York Times Scott’s executive orders appear to be without precedent in Florida … meant to punish the state attorney, Aramis Ayala, Florida’s first black elected prosecutor, for announcing she would no longer seek the death penalty because it was not in the best interest of her jurisdiction … Ayala rightly argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, nor does it protect police officers. Instead, it often leads to protracted appeals, and rarely delivers closure to the victim’s family. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly,” she said. “Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” The governor’s action also got ahead of the normal judicial process. Pre-emptively calling the death penalty “justice” wrongly presumes the defendants should be executed without consulting the families of the victims or considering any mitigating evidence about the accused. While I may not agree with Ayala’s decision to reject the death penalty in all cases, I strongly affirm her right to make that choice. As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. Ayala demonstrated leadership when she made her decision. “An analysis of the death penalty must be pragmatic,” Ayala concluded. “It must be realistic and not simply theoretical, impulsive or emotional.”

LAWMAKERS HOLD EMOTIONAL PRESS CONFERENCE ABOUT DOZIER LEGISLATION — Sen. Darryl Rouson was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, Rep. Chris Sprowls, Rep. Tracie Davis, former Gov. Bob Martinez, USF Professor Erin Kimmerle, and former students of the Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools during an emotional 30-minute press conference Tuesday morning. The press conference gave former students a chance to tell their stories, and gave members a chance to make remarks and apologize for the abuses that occurred at the reform schools. “Today is the next step for this Legislature to honor their memory and to declare with honesty, conviction and clarity that these types of atrocities and tragedies should never occur again,” said Rouson.

‘SINGLE WORST CASE:’ BILL COMPENSATING BARAHONA TWINS’ SURVIVORS GETS COMMITTEE APPROVAL via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – In a case of two young children who endured torture, sexual abuse, violence, murder and attempted murder by an adoptive family while the Florida Department of Children and Families did nothing, a House committee voted to support a $5 million settlement. The money would go to Victor Docter Barahona, now 16, who survived the physical and mental abuse, torture and attempted murder, and to other beneficiaries including blood relatives of his and his twin sister Nubia Docter Barahona, whose equally-horrific young life ended with her murder at age 10 in 2011. “This is for me the single worst case that I’ve ever seen,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, who sponsored House Bill 6523 along with state Rep. Katie EdwardsJorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, are awaiting trial on first-degree murder and numerous other charges in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The 2011 case led to national outrage and alarm toward, and reforms of, the Department of Children and Families, including reforms pushed by Diaz.

FLORENCE SNYDER: WHY CHILDREN DIE — PART 2; CLUES IN THE CLAIMS BILLS via Florida Politics – Claims bills are the state’s reluctant, belated, grudging way of saying “we’re sorry” for the malfeasance and malpractice that ruined someone’s life. In a functioning system, simple mistakes and honest errors are caught quickly and generally capable of remediation for a sum less than $200,000. That’s the cap on damages that can be paid to an injured person without the legislature’s specific permission in the form of a claims bill. We do not have a functioning system. We have, instead, claims bills for victims who’ve spent years stonewalled by taxpayer-funded lawyers working for “leadership teams” whose political skills exceed their managerial competence. Sometimes, if the publicity gets bad enough, the state will admit wrongdoing, spare the victim a jury trial, and support (or pretend to support) a claims bill.

BILL GALVANO DROPS SUPPORT FOR ANTI-HAZING PROGRAM HIDDEN IN STATE BUDGET via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily NewsGalvano, who chairs the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was seeking more taxpayer money for the Educational Management Services’ anti-hazing program in next year’s budget. The program, based out of the Miami office of lobbyist Fausto Gomez, received $1.5 million this year tucked inside Florida Polytechnic University’s $34.5 million budget, a secret appropriation that was not identified in the state budget. But Galvano said he was withdrawing the budget request after learning … the program didn’t serve as many students as a similar anti-hazing program. “I reviewed the information we have on the program with staff,” Galvano said in a text message. “It does appear to have a very limited impact.”

GREG STEUBE’S BOOKING PHOTO PUBLISHING BILL CLEARS SENATE FLOOR via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – SB 118 … would require booking photos to be removed within 10 days if the subject of the photo requests its removal. An amendment was adopted on the floor that would allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to “administratively seal the criminal record of a person found not guilty or where the charges against that person have been dismissed,” according to Steube. The provision is in lieu of court-ordered expungement allowed in previous language.

HOUSE GETS ONE STEP CLOSER TO PASSING STATEWIDE REGS ON UBER, LYFT via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNC) in Florida advanced on its second reading through the Florida House. The bill sponsored by Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. Although critics say that the measure should include Level II federal background check requirements, Sprowls said that database is smaller than the one that Uber and Lyft will have to use in Florida. “The National Certified Background check has up to 500 million records,” he said. The proposal would prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

DEMOCRATS FORCE LGBT RIGHTS VOTE ON HOUSE FLOOR via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Rep. David Richardson tried to add language to a bill regulating rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft (HB 221) that would prevent the companies from discriminating against drivers and riders, specifically listing “race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Democrats forced a recorded vote on Richardson’s amendment, which failed 70-44. “It’s not going to give me as a member of the gay community protection and afford me the opportunity to use a transportation network company,” said Richardson, one of two openly gay members of the Legislature. Sprowls said he was working with other lawmakers to require ridesharing drivers follow the same nondiscrimination laws as taxicabs and other public accommodations. However, those laws do not outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

VOTING ACCESS BILL WATERED DOWN AFTER REQUEST FROM DUVAL ELECTIONS CHIEF MIKE HOGAN via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Absentee ballots would be accepted at early voting sites under a proposal that has received unanimous support in two House committees and is scheduled for a floor vote in that chamber … But the measure was watered down in the Senate after a last-minute maneuver linked to Duval County Supervisor of Elections Hogan, who won election by defeating the legislator sponsoring the House bill. Sen. Aaron Bean said that at Hogan’s request he filed an amendment to Senate Bill 726 that allows supervisors of elections to opt out of the practice of accepting vote-by-mail ballots at early voting sites.

‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ MEASURE POSTPONED AGAIN via Florida PoliticsA bill that would allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods was temporarily postponed for the second time on the House floor Tuesday. Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, who’s carrying the measure (HB 81), didn’t stay on the floor for questions after the daily session. As one lobbyist involved with the issue explained later, “The vote’s just that close.” A companion measure already has passed the Senate. It’s a top priority for Miami-Dade Republican Sen. Anitere Flores and big-box retailers, including Walmart and Target. But it’s opposed by Publix and a raft of independently-owned liquor store owners across the state. Dozens of them were in the Capitol this week, wearing T-shirts saying, “Save Jobs & Small Businesses: Vote No.”

CORRECTION: Tuesday’s Sunburn incorrectly reported Auburn University license plates, authorized in Senate Bill 1374, was approved by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. In fact, an amendment removed the plates. The item also said state Sen. Dennis Baxley for presenting the bill. The bill was actually presented by Doug Broxson. We regret the errors.

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

OPHTHALMOLOGISTS RELEASE NEW VIDEO IN EYEBALL WARS – A Facebook video produced by Florida Society of Ophthalmology president Dr. Adam Katz counters recent testimony from Florida Optometric Association chair Ken Lawson supporting HB 1037, the House Bill seeking to allow optometrists to perform laser surgery. The minutelong video disputes the optometrists’ claim that the “noninvasive” laser they seek only “stimulates” the eye. Katz then uses the laser to pop a balloon. “There are no minor procedures when it comes to the eye,” the caption says.

TWEET, TWEET:

PSC APPROVES $62 MILLION RATE COMPROMISE FOR GULF POWER CO. via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The Public Service Commission bestowed its blessings upon a rate settlement that will allow Gulf Power Co. to raise prices by nearly $62 million per year, but give the utility less of a return on investment than it wanted. Gulf Power originally sought to charge its customers in Northwest Florida an additional $106.8 million. “I do believe the settlement represents a very fair balance of interests,” Chairwoman Julie Imanuel Brown said. “This settlement is rational and reasonable and, on balance, in the public interest,” Commissioner Donald Polmann agreed. The vote was unanimous.

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

HAPPENING TODAY — GATOR DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Grab your orange and blue, and be on the lookout for Albert and Alberta Gator: It’s Gator Day at the Capitol. The annual event brings together University of Florida students, alumni, faculty, and administration to advocate on behalf of the university. There will be displays throughout the second and third floor rotundas and in the Capitol courtyard, and a “Gator Pride Spirit” contest. Want to participate? Wear your orange and blue and share a photo on Twitter with the #GatorDay hashtag.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Appropriations Committee will discuss its proposed $81.2 billion budget when it meets at 9 a.m. in 212 Knott. The Senate Appropriations will take up its proposed $83.2 billion spending plan when it meets at 10 a.m. in 412 Knott. The Senate only has the appropriations meeting on its schedule Wednesday, but the House has a few other things scheduled. The Ways & Means Committee will chat about fantasy sports when it meets at 9 a.m. in 17 House Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: LeadingAge Florida and nursing home advocates will hold a press conference to urge caution with a proposed prospective payment system plan at 8:30 a.m. in Room 333, the Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Florida Health Care Association will hold a press conference support the proposed payment plan at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will attend the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Commemoration ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Cabinet meeting room at the Capitol.

ASSINGMENT EDITORS: Rep. Robert Asencio and Muslim leaders will hold a press conference to celebrate religious freedom and encourage civic engagement at 12:15 p.m. on the fourth floor outside the House chamber.

HAPPENING TODAY – ANNUAL RED MASS CELEBRATED — Catholic leaders from across the state will converge on Tallahassee to celebrate the 42nd annual Red Mass at 6 p.m. at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, 900 W. Tennessee Street. Participants are expected to include Reps. Kathleen Peters and Danny Burgess, as well as the state’s bishops and archbishops.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: Circles of Care

Kenneth Bell, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: ASI Insurance Group

Jim Boxold, Andrew Ketchel, Ron LaFace, Capital City Consulting: Metro Development Group

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: Evolent Health

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: Second Sun

Marnie George, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association; Pinch A Penny

Michael Harrell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Pinch A Penny

Lauren Claire Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: Multistate Assoc. Inc. o/b/o Consumer Technology Association

Ron Pierce, Natalie King, RSA Consulting: Goldcoast Eagle Distributing; Suncoast Beverage Sales

Paul Mitchell, Monte Stevens, Southern Strategy Group: ExamWorks

Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: The Stacole Company, Inc. d/b/a Stacole Fine Wines

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Knowledge Services

JAMES BUCHANAN BLOCKBUSTER FUNDRAISING FOR HD 71 BID Buchanan brought in a monstrous $138,000 haul in his first month in the race to replace termed-out Republican Rep. Jim Boyd. Buchanan’s campaign says more than four-fifths of that money came from inside the district, which covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties. “One month into our campaign and the amount of support from every corner of our community has not only been encouraging, but overwhelming and humbling,” Buchanan said in a press release. Buchanan, whose father is U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, is going up against Bradenton attorney Will Robinson in the Republican Primary for the right-leaning seat. Robinson loaned his campaign $100,000 in February and has not yet reported March numbers.

JIM ROSICA TALKS SESSION, FAKE NEWS AND LEGAL BACKGROUND via Patrick Slevin of SL7 Consulting — Rosica, a statehouse reporter for FloridaPolitics.com, chatted with Slevin about everything from the 2017 Session to fake news, and how Rosica’s legal background helps him on the job. On how having a working knowledge of law helps him: Early on, maybe 2012, I was in a gaggle with a lawmaker about some bill and he was saying something that didn’t ring true. He then spouted the old saying, “I’m not a lawyer, but…” I had to pipe up and say, “Well, I am a lawyer, and…” That didn’t go over well. Bottom line: It does help me figure out the signal from the noise. …On favorite legislative issue:  I tend to like booze bills. There was the growler bill a few years ago, and now the fight over free beer glasses. For the record, I’m more of a brown liquor guy. But there’s craft distilling bills up this year too, so I’m covered. And of course, I may have been the first reporter to cover the whiskey and Wheaties bill when it was first filed back in 2014. On fake news: So really, the “fake news” thing is the agitation by some who don’t like a particular story or line of coverage. Reporters have always dealt with accusations of bias, fair or not. But I honestly don’t think we deal with it as much in Tallahassee as the D.C. reporters do. I know I don’t worry about it, and it doesn’t sway how I write any given story.”

RUTH HERRLE DEPARTS NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA via Florida PoliticsHerrle and the News Service of Florida have parted ways, according to those with knowledge of the separation. She had been publisher of the Capital-based news provider since 2008, her LinkedIn profile says. It’s owned by the same company that runs State House News Service in Boston. “Her leaving was a Boston-thing,” said one insider, in reference to the holding company, Affiliated News Services. The company previously announced it was “reorganizing its management structure and welcoming Will Galloway, founder of The Capital Steps tracking, to supervise further growth.”

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

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Wednesday’s Governors Club lunch buffet comes from the Pacific Northwest with Washington State salmon bisque; Washington trio apple salad – chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, celery, red delicious apple, Fuji, green delicious – spinach pear salad – spinach, pears, tomatoes, red onion, sunflower seeds – seasonal greens; three dressing sections; Oregon herb rubbed tri-tip; California drunken chicken; potatoes & wild mushroom au gratin; lime asparagus and broccoli & cauliflower au buerre.

BABIES ROMEO AND JULIETTE MAKE DEBUT IN FLORIDA HOSPITAL via The Associated Press – Two sets of new parents were surprised to learn their babies were part of a Shakespearean connection at a Florida hospital just two weeks after another pair of infants premiered as Romeo and Juliet on the same day at a hospital in South Carolina. Juliette Crouchwas born Friday morning at Leesburg Regional Medical Center, northwest of Orlando. Hours later, Romeo Kidd made his debut down the hallway. “I was completely shocked by it,” Marie Crouch said, adding that she’d heard about the babies born March 19 in a Hardeeville, South Carolina, hospital. Baby Juliet in South Carolina is spelled as Shakespeare wrote the name. “I had no clue the same thing was going to happen to us,” Marie Crouch said. In spite of the hospital rules, the two central Florida families began searching for each other. “I was going to walk down the hallway and say, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?'” Justin Crouch, Juliette’s father, said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith, and Pinellas Co. Property Appraiser Mike Twitty.

Ruth Herrle departs News Service of Florida

Ruth Herrle and the News Service of Florida have parted ways, according to those with knowledge of the separation.

Ruth Herrle
Herrle

Herrle had been publisher of the Capital-based news provider since 2008, her LinkedIn profile says.

It’s owned by the same company that runs State House News Service in Boston.

“Her leaving was a Boston-thing,” said one insider, in reference to the holding company, Affiliated News Services.

The company previously announced it was “reorganizing its management structure and welcoming Will Galloway, founder of The Capital Steps tracking, to supervise further growth.”

Galloway now serves as vice president of operations.

“With the largest Capitol bureau in the state, our six full-time reporters’ work is distributed to newspapers, television stations, radio stations, lobbyists, legislators, state agencies, universities and others who need access to fast-breaking news,” reads the News Service’s own reporting of Galloway’s promotion.

“We have now expanded the resources we provide to include ‘live’ bill tracking by Bill Tracking of Florida, whose mobile app greatly simplifies the user experience.”

Developing…

Rick Baker works Tallahassee’s Adams Street in advance of possible mayoral run

Who was that tall Republican who burnished a reputation during the aughts for his strong conservative leadership walking the streets of Tallahassee on Monday? Jeb Bush? No, it was former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who was SPOTTED meeting with several state leaders and capitol insiders to — we hear — lay the groundwork for a mayoral run later this year.

Baker, the president of the Edwards Group who is currently leading the effort to win a May 2 referendum that would allow for the expansion of Al Lang Stadium as part of an effort to entice a Major League Soccer team, was seen having dinner at Shula’s 347 Grill with future Senate President Bill Galvano, Sen. Jeff Brandes and his chief aide Chris Spencer, and USF Vice President Helen Levine.

We’re told Baker also met with several prominent Tallahassee lobbyists as part of an effort coordinated by Brandes to connect him with top Republican fundraisers in the event Baker decides to run for Mayor. On Baker’s call sheet were Brad Burleson and Chris Dorworth of Ballard Partners and Nick Iarossi of Capital City Consulting.

Baker also made appearances at political watering holes, Clyde’s and the Governors Club.

Baker running for a third term as Mayor of the Sunshine City has dominated local political conversations for more than a year. Polling consistently shows that if Baker were to run again, he would begin his challenge to incumbent Rick Kriseman with a modest, but definite, lead.

The most recent survey from St. Pete Polls did not ballot test Baker vs. Kriseman but it did ask about each man’s favorability rating. Only residents who have voted in a city election held during the last four years were polled.

Kriseman has a plus-13 favorability rating of 48 to 35 percent favorable to unfavorable. Meanwhile, Baker’s favorability rating soars at 60 to 23 percent favorable to unfavorable.

Despite these favorable poll numbers — or, perhaps, in the face of them — Kriseman is taking a possible challenge from Baker very seriously. He continues to raise money hand-over-fist. He’s also laying out a narrative that creates a clear contrast between him and Baker.

“I’m likely to face my own challenge this year,” Kriseman told a gathering of statewide Democrats over the weekend, “from a former mayor who campaigned for John McCain and called Sarah Palin ‘a great pick for Vice-President.’”

“He then served as campaign manager for Herman Cain’s (Florida) campaign and also served as Mitt Romney’s advisor on urban policy, and we all know how well Mitt did in urban areas,” the Mayor continued, before acknowledging that it’s not a given that he’ll ride easily to re-election.

“Regardless of that, I may have my work cut out for me,” he acknowledged. “I will need your support.”

Reporting from Mitch Perry contributed to this post.

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