Staff Reports - 3/63 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

Florida Lottery made $528 million in April, for strongest quarter to date

The Florida Lottery sold more than $528 million in tickets during April, contributing to its strongest quarterly returns on record, officials announced Thursday.

That was $100 million more than the April returns five years ago, and meant more than $130 million to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

“I am extremely proud of our Florida Lottery team and retailers as we continue to shatter previous records,” Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a press release.

“In addition to their winning experiences, our players should take pride in knowing that with the purchase of every lottery ticket, they are making a difference in the lives of Florida’s students,” he said.

The news followed a strong 2016, when the lottery surpassed $6.2 billion in sales. That set a record for annual sales.

Lottery administrators have predicted a hit to sales under new legislation requiring warnings against gambling addiction to be printed on tickets. Assuming a sales slump of 1 percent to 3 percent, they projected a revenue decline of between $16 million and $50 million.

During the past 15 years, the lottery has contributed more than $1 billion to education — 6 percent of state spending on schools.

Jim Boyd

Race to replace Jim Boyd gins up big numbers

Contributions for candidates in the race to replace House District 71’s Jim Boyd topped $115,000 for April.

Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, bested Sarasota Republican James Buchanan for the month, pulling in a whopping $97,600 to Buchanan’s $15,300, records show. And Bradenton Democrat Randy Cooper put up $2,210.

Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, is term-limited, having been first elected in 2010.

Buchanan is the son of five-term U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. The younger Buchanan founded James Buchanan Realty after graduating from Florida State University with degrees in finance and entrepreneurship.

Robinson, an attorney at Blalock Walters law firm, kicked off his election effort by lending his campaign $100,000 in February.

Cooper is a civil engineer with a degree from the University of South Florida and served 11 years with the Florida National Guard. He’s also a volunteer firefighter in Hillsborough County.

Jeff Atwater announces new record — $275 million — in returned property

The state has returned $275 million in unclaimed property thus far this fiscal year, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced Thursday — setting a new record with a month and a half yet to go.

The returns represented more than 425,000 individual claims, and surpassed the previous record $271.8 million returned during 2015-16.

“Month after month and year after year, our unclaimed property team has continued to raise the bar,” Atwater said.

“Their dedication and commitment to putting these forgotten-about funds back into the hands of Floridians is unmatched, and I am proud to announce their latest feat. Millions more lays waiting to be claimed and I hope that all Floridians will take two minutes to look on our website for an unclaimed property account in their name.”

Atwater’s office has returned more than $1.57 billion since 2011 — more than half the total in the program’s 56 years.

The property represents dormant accounts with banks, insurance and utility companies, securities, and trust holdings, plus watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, and other stuff in abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Atwater directed people to to search for unclaimed property, or to call (888) 258-2253 or (850) 413-5555.

Here is a county-by-county breakdown of unclaimed property.

After strong start, Ed Hooper raises just $640 in April for Senate bid

Call it an April slowdown.

Ed Hooper, the former Republican state representative and Clearwater city commissioner, posted just over $600 in April after two consecutive months of five-digit fundraising.

Hooper, aiming to replace term-limited Jack Latvala in Senate District 16, put up only $640 in contributions and showed $20 in expenditures for the month.

That’s after bringing in more than $25,000 and $24,000 for February and March, respectively.

Hooper, however, still has no opposition for the seat, which covers much of north Pinellas County.

All told, Hooper has raised $65,736, spent $2,721, reported $3,220 in loans and in-kind donations.

The former firefighter served four terms in the House before being term-limited. He lost a combative race in 2014 for the Pinellas County Commission to Democrat Pat Gerard, and has since maintained a public profile in local GOP circles.

Just over a year ago, Hooper filed for Latvala’s seat, when redistricting resulted in an opening after Pasco County’s former state Sen. John Legg chose not to run against Latvala, a popular figure in Pinellas County politics.

Gwen Graham talks about making a difference in first campaign video

Gwen Graham is out with her first campaign video, highlighting recent Workdays and her 2018 gubernatorial launch.

“My love for Florida runs deep, but my patience, my patience for inaction in the state I love has run out,” Graham says in the video over scenes of her announcement speech and Workdays across Florida teaching, installing solar panels and restoring wetlands.

Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, formally announced her 2018 run on May 2. Since then, she’s been traveling the state participating in Workdays and meeting with Floridians.

“I really could care less about the title of governor. I would prefer always to be just Gwen,” she says in the video. “But what I do care about is being in a position where I can make a difference for Floridians and the state that I love so much. But I still just want everyone to call me Gwen.”

Graham, who is the daughter of former senator and Gov. Bob Graham, faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King in the Democratic primary. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando attorney John Morgan are both believed to be considering a run.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam officially launched his campaign Wednesday. Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also believed to be considering a run.

New law expands use of therapy animals for children facing court proceedings

One of 11 bills signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott expands use of therapy animals in court proceedings involving child abuse, abandonment, and neglect.

“This legislation will help children and individuals with unique abilities in our state as they face some of the most challenging times in their life,” Scott said in a written statement.

“I cannot imagine the emotional toll these terrible circumstances place on our state’s most vulnerable populations. The comfort and support provided by therapy animals can make a profound difference in someone’s life and I’m proud to sign HB 151 today.”

HB 151 allows courts to authorize use of therapy animals or “facility dogs” for emotional support in proceedings involving children, victims, and people with intellectual disabilities.

Scott also signed legislation creating statewide regulations for ride-sharing companies like including Uber and Lyft; Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan; and creating a public records exemption to shield the identities of murder witnesses.

NRCC releases ad to thank Brian Mast, Republicans for health care vote

The National Republican Congressional Committee is thanking Republicans in new digital ad campaign.

The committee released a new web ad — called “Promise Made, Promise Kept” — to highlight the passage of the American Health Care Act. The 50-second spot thanks Republicans for their support, and targets Democrats for their support of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

“The NRCC plans to remind voters through 2018 that Democrats were happy to continue to condemn them to a rapidly failing health care system that was in a death spiral. The status quo was insufficient, and Republicans took action,” said Maddie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, in a statement. “Delivering on promises to Americans should not be a groundbreaking concept, but somehow the Democrats are unable to wrap their minds around it.”

The ad is running in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. Rep. Brian Mast supported the bill.

Jose Felix Diaz officially jumping into race to replace Frank Artiles

Jose Felix Diaz is jumping into the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

“I am filing for Florida Senate District 40. It is the area that I have represented for the past seven years and the place where I am raising my kids,” he said in a statement. “I plan to mount a strong campaign and I will work diligently to represent the best interests of my community.”

His departure from the Florida House had been expected; on Monday, he gave an emotional farewell speech on the House floor.

The 37-year-old Cuban-American told his colleagues he “was never supposed to be here, because my grandparents came to this country with nothing … but they persevered.

“As a kid I spoke funny, I didn’t believe in myself, and I let others define my expectations of myself,” he said. “But I persevered.

Diaz spoke directly to his two sons, Dominick and Christian, telling them not to be afraid to cry and to help the disadvantaged.

“I pray that you realize that helping others is everything,” Diaz added. “There are rich people, and there are poor people. Help the poor ones. Help the disadvantaged; help the sick. Don’t do it because someone is watching—do it because it will make a difference in their lives, not yours.”

A government law attorney at Akerman, Diaz was first elected to the Florida House in 2010. He is currently the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and has been the chamber’s point person on gambling legislation in recent years.

The 37-year-old Miami-Dade Republican expressed interest in filing Attorney General Pam Bondi’s seat if she took a job in the Trump administration, and even said he was thinking about was running for the seat in 2018.

He was  believed to be a top contender to become South Florida’s top federal prosecutor. In April, POLITICO Florida reported Diaz and John Couriel interviewed with the Justice Department and were recommended — along with attorney Jon Sale — for the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney post. All three men were recommended by Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rick Scott sets special election dates to replace Frank Artiles in Senate

Gov. Rick Scott has set the dates for a special election to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, setting the stage for what could the first in a series of special elections in South Florida.

The special primary election in Senate District 40 is scheduled for July 25, with a special general election to follow on September 26.

While the Miami-based seat leans Democrat, Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican, defeated Dwight Bullard, an African-American Democrat, 51 percent to 41 percent in November. Bullard, a former state representative and senator, raised little money for the race and was viewed by many as an ineffective lawmaker.

Rep. Daisy Baez, a Coral Gables Democrat, has filed to run for the seat; while the Miami Herald reported Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat, is also considering a run. Both are freshman Democrats. On the Republican side, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz is widely believed to be planning a run for the seat; and if he doesn’t.

Any sitting state lawmaker who were to run for the seat would need to resign to run, triggering a special election to fill their seat. That could lead to a significant change over in the Miami-Dade delegation.

Artiles resigned on April 21, after he made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor.

Rick Scott to hold rally in Miami to call for release of Leopoldo Lopez

Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Miami Monday to rally for the release of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.

The Governor’s Office announced Scott, a Naples Republican, will hold a Freedom Rally at 6 p.m., Monday at El Arepazo 2, 3900 NW 79th Avenue in Miami. He is expected to demand the release of López, who was arrested in 2014 and charged with arson and conspiracy after he called for peaceful protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison in September 2015, a move that was highly controversial.

The rally comes just days after reports that Lopez had been rushed to a military hospital with a medical emergency. The leader of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party deflated those rumors by showing a 20-second video on state television in which Lopez appeared in good health and said he was speaking at “May 3 at 9 p.m.”

But Lopez’s father and sister said they doubt the veracity of the video released in response to rumors spreading online about Lopez’s health.

Lopez appeared “unrecognizable,” said Diana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

“We have big doubts about this video and we don’t accept it as proof of him being alive,” she said.

Scott joins other Florida Republicans in calling for López’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called López “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.”

The governor’s decision to hold a rally is also notable for another reason: He’ll be far from Tallahassee as state lawmakers finish work on the 2017-18 budget, which doesn’t fund several of his priorities.

Legislative leaders extended the 2017 Session through Monday so they can pass the 2017-18 budget. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in Tallahassee at 1 p.m. Monday, with a vote on the budget later in the day.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

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