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A brief, personal message on Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance.

The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil.

This paste is used by the priest who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present who kneel before him at the altar rail. As he does so, he recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This period is still important to me, despite my lingering issues with the Church.

In past years, I focused on being the best man I could be for my wife and daughter. There’s no reason not to double-down on that and, while doing so, being grateful for God for placing these two wonderful women in my life.

As for actual sacrifices, I am giving up Twitter.

Just kidding! I joke each year about giving up social media for Lent, but writing on Facebook and Twitter are part of my job.

Instead, I’ll be giving up table salt, cheese, Bloody Marys (my favorite drink), and soda. That way, several times during the day, when I pass on a sprinkle of salt, I will be reminded of my faith and the need to be a better man, husband and father.

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With push to legalize marijuana, teens get false impression on pot safety

A push to decriminalize marijuana could prove a slippery slope, by giving kids the false impression on the safety of a drug increasingly legal nationwide.

Some believe a similar problem could happen in Florida, especially after voters passed Amendment 2, which began the process of legalizing medical marijuana throughout the Sunshine State.

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found as more states legalize the drug for adult use, a greater number of teenagers think it is safe. This is leading to concerns by doctors and other medical professionals that teens are underestimating the risks of marijuana use.

“Marijuana is not a benign drug for teenagers because it affects their developing mind. Teenagers are at a critical time of brain development and they have lifelong impacts from marijuana during adolescence,” Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University Medical Center told Chris Martinez of CBS New York.

In “Counseling Parents and Teens About Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana” the report outlines dangers of portraying pot as acceptable, safe and therapeutic.

For example, in California and the 28 other states (including Florida) allowing either medical or recreational marijuana use for adults over 21, pediatricians are worrying that parents using the drug think it’s OK for kids.

However, research shows that is not the case. Teenagers who use marijuana face higher risks of changes in the brain regions that affect both memory and IQ.

These concerns have now reached Washington D.C., as newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to marijuana use after a meeting with the Nebraska attorney general, who expressed concerns about marijuana flowing in from Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012.

Huffington Post reports that Sessions offered an ominous warning about state-level marijuana legalization efforts, suggesting such policies would open states to “more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

For years, Nebraska has pushed back against its neighboring state’s marijuana laws.

In 2014, Nebraska joined Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit against Colorado to invalidate its emerging laws permitting the sale of recreational marijuana; both states claim those laws have increased trafficking of the drug in their states.

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

Last week, Sessions’ comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who hinted there would be a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana in the Trump administration.

Spicer noted concerns by marijuana policy reform advocates, saying there would be a possibility of “greater enforcement” of federal laws.

Health advocacy group Smart Medicine for Florida sees a similar problem emerging in the Sunshine State, after the passage of Amendment 2.

“There’s been significant national focus and reports all over the country this week about the danger of unrestrained marijuana expansion,” says Smart Medicine for Florida spokesman Brian Hughes. “This includes serious warnings from doctors to parents about the effects of marijuana on their teenagers, and the perception that teens now have that marijuana is safe due to broad legalization efforts across the country.”

Smart Medicine for Florida is urging state lawmakers to “proceed cautiously” when implementing Amendment 2 statewide.

“Some voices are pushing for rapid expansion at the risk of Floridians — especially young people,” Hughes says in a statement. “It’s nothing more than a bait and switch — Floridians voted for medical marijuana with proper safeguards, but proponents are pursuing a goal to see Florida become a ‘recreational use’ state. “

Smart Medicine warns of those who have a dream to turn Florida into California or Colorado — places with legal recreational marijuana — with a pot shop on every corner.

That would be “dangerous,” Hughes says, “and not what voters supported.”

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 02.28.17

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

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

‘BEST OF WIVES AND BEST OF WOMEN’

Happiest of birthdays to my beloved wife, Michelle. It was six years ago today that a toast on a pirate ship — remember Anthony Pedicini? — led to our fairytale life.

A devoted mother and wife, Michelle makes every day for Ella Joyce and I seem magical, whether it be a perfectly prepared themed-lunch for Ella or the perfectly considered piece of advice for me. Smart, beautiful, elegant, vivacious, thoughtful, generous, devoted … Michelle is all of these and more.

There is a line from the musical ‘Hamilton’ which, in its simplicity, captures how I feel about about Michelle. She’s the “best of wives and women.” I’m no Alexander, but she is certainly both my Eliza and Angelica.

Happy birthday, love of my life.

PROGRAMMING NOTE – Sunburn will be off tomorrow so that I can devote all my time to helping Michelle enjoy her birthday cake.

Now, let’s lead today’s Sunburn with a report from one of my and Michelle’s best friends in the world of journalism, Brendan Farrington…

LEGISLATURE AT WAR WITH THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

The Republican-dominated Legislature’s tense relationship with the state Supreme Court is hanging over this year’s legislative session as lawmakers take up two bills to deal with the aftermath of court rulings that Republicans don’t like.

One of them is a fix to the state’s death penalty rules and the other a revision of the “stand your ground” law to better protect defendants claiming self-defense.

It’s no surprise that two other bills are seen as a shot back at the court – a proposal to limit justices’ terms to 12 years and a bill that would require them to file reports to the governor and Legislature on the timeliness of their decisions.

One of House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s priorities this session is to “reign in” the Supreme Court, which he said is trying to serve as two branches of government by writing laws.

“You see decision after decision after decision where courts are legislating from the bench,” Corcoran said.

Of the 2,300 or so bills before the Legislature, House Bill 1 would ask voters to change the state constitution to set 12-year term limits for Supreme Court and state appeals court judges. The fact that it’s the lowest numbered bill is symbolic of its importance to Corcoran.

“Nobody should have an office for life,” Corcoran said.

… For the second year in a row, lawmakers are trying to fix the state’s death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The Legislature responded by overhauling the law to allow the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote.

In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment – a decision Corcoran said created upheaval throughout the justice system. Bills are ready for votes in the House and Senate that would require unanimous decisions.

While Republicans are supporting the new death penalty bill, it doesn’t mean they’re happy about being forced to fix the law.

“Do I think the Supreme Court has shown a hostility to the death penalty? Sure. I do, but we have an issue before us,” said Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “The court has made a decision, and we can either ignore that decision and continue to allow paralysis of the system, or we can fix it.”

Another bill addresses a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that states defendants making a “stand your ground” self-defense claim bear the burden of proof during pre-trial hearings. The bill would shift that burden to prosecutors.

Republican Sen. Rob Bradley is sponsoring the bill and he doesn’t hide the fact that Republican lawmakers aren’t fond of the court. He said that tension escalated when the Supreme Court forced lawmakers to give depositions in a lawsuit over the political maps they approved.

“That decision alone has created a real tension between our branches,” said Bradley. “My sense is that they are frustrated by some of the actions they see on the part of our branch. That tension, I don’t think, is unhealthy, but to not acknowledge that there is a tension would be ignoring reality.”

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SPEAKER CHANGES VISIT FLORIDA PLAN AFTER GOP OPPOSITION via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – Speaker Corcoran agreed to separate VISIT FLORIDA from a bill that strips taxpayer money from Enterprise Florida and other programs offering corporate incentives he calls wasteful, creating a separate proposal for the tourism agency in the face of GOP opposition. A new bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Renner … would instead carve VISIT FLORIDA into its own proposal, addressing Corcoran’s plan to rein in spending at the tourism agency that many lawmakers and local leaders have praised.

HOUSE MEMBER PROJECTS TOP $2 BILLION via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Members of the Florida House have filed 1,028 appropriations projects bills as of Monday afternoon, and the total currently exceeds $2.15 billion. According to House Rule 5.14, in order for a project to be included in the House budget, it must be filed as a standalone bill, favorably considered in committee, and made with non-recurring appropriations. Forty-five bills have met the minimum requirements for inclusion of the House budget so far. So far, 61 bills request appropriations that were vetoed in previous budgets … Members had to file their appropriations project bill request forms by Feb. 7, 2017, and bills must be filed by the opening day deadline of noon Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

HOUSE FILES SHORT WITNESS LIST FOR LOTTERY TRIAL via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The House of Representatives’ in-house lawyer also plans to call just two witnesses at trial in Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s lawsuit against the Florida Lottery. House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum … listed JoAnne Leznoff, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, and Bruce Topp, budget chief for the Government Operation and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee. Leznoff, among other things, will testify as to the history of the Lottery’s budget requests, while Topp will talk about the agency’s “fiscal policy” and “communications” between House and Lottery staff about the IGT contract.

BTW – SEMINOLES PAID $40 MILLION IN BLACKJACK SHARE SO FAR THIS YEAR via Florida Politics – Despite ongoing litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to pay gambling revenue share to the state, a total of nearly $40 million for the first two months of the year. Stephen Lawson, spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Monday said the Tribe had deposited the money to cover January and February. The department regulates gambling in the state. The money will go into the state’s General Revenue Fund, Lawson previously said.

FRANCHISE BILL GETS HOUSE COMPANION via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Rep. Jason Brodeur filed HB 1069, a companion bill to one by Sen. Jack Latvala that would make it harder to terminate contracts with franchise owners. The bill would also ease restrictions on franchise owners that prevent them from selling or transferring stores without the approval of national chains. “I want to be sure that there is a level playing field for all business owners in Florida, whether they are a small independent shop or a franchisee,” Brodeur said in a statement.

NEW ON THE TWITTERS: @ProtectFLBiz

LAWMAKERS BRING BACK BILL TO REFORM HOW JUVENILES ARE TRIED AS ADULTS via Laura Morel of the Tampa Bay Times – State Sen. Darryl Rouson … a co-sponsor of this year’s SB 192, said he is optimistic the measure will move forward this time given the shift in valuing rehabilitation over punishment. “This is a good climate to discuss criminal justice reform,” he said. “I think there’s been a realization that during the 80s we had a lock-them-up mentality and attitude that has not resulted in lower recidivism.” A companion bill has not been filed. Rouson said he is in discussions with a few representatives. Rep. Sprowls … said the measure will be looked at once the House version is filed. “The topic of the juvenile justice system will be something that the House talks about this year,” he said.

HAPPENING TODAY: “House Speaker, Jack Latvala bring VISIT Florida debate to West Palm Beach” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WHEN WAS THE ELECTION? Rep. Robert Asencio will hold a ceremonial swearing in ceremony and town hall meeting at 7 p.m. at 8625 SW 124 Avenue in Miami.

CORCORAN, RICK SCOTT STILL HOLDING ON CONSTITUTIONAL PANEL PICKS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Senate President Joe Negron have already announced their combined 12 picks. Corcoran last week said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before Session begins. Scott’s office has not said when he plans to announce his 15 selections. As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate.

MYSTERY WEBSITE URGES SCOTT TO NAME ANITERE FLORES CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER via Florida Politics – A privately registered website is urging Scott to name Flores to replace Jeff Atwater when he resigns as the state’s chief financial offer at the end of the coming legislative session. “Ask Gov. Scott to stand with working class Floridians and appoint Flores as our next CFO!” the site urges. The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers website lists the Flores website’s administrator as private. The site includes a button to push to send Scott an email, and gives his office telephone number.

SCOTT: ‘GREAT TO SEE IVANKA TRUMP LAST NIGHT’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Gov. Scott …  tweeted a photo of him and Ivanka Trumpfrom [Sunday] night’s Governors’ Ball at the White House. Scott, who had lunch with Trump Saturday, remains in Washington.

DONALD TRUMP MAY VISIT ORLANDO, PALM BEACH ON FRIDAY via Mike Stucka of the Palm Beach Post – On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration warned pilots to expect the kinds restrictions around Orlando that typically accompany Trump’s visits: Flight restrictions 0f about 35 miles and an even stricter restriction of about 11 nautical miles. Those restrictions have been a hallmark of Trump’s visits, but not of trips by Vice President Mike Pence.

TRUMP AND THE MANSION THAT NO ONE WANTED. THEN CAME A RUSSIAN FERTILIZER KING via Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald – The fog of political war has made it difficult to tell the real from the shadow. Except for one very visible landmark: a sprawling, rococo seaside mansion in Palm Beach that Trump himself liked to boast about as an example of his real-estate acumen …  a wild and goofy tale of the Palm Beach real-estate market involving tax fraud, Russian billionaires, lurid divorce-court accusations and … the execrably vulgar taste of the super-rich. It’s a tale that’s now coming to a sad end: That $100 million mansion, once the most expensive home in America, has become its most expensive tear-down. Not a single trace of the compound remains, and soon even its address will disappear: The 6.3-acre estate on which it stood has been broken into three parcels, and one of them has already sold.

MATT GAETZ POSTS VIDEO OF BEING CHEERED, BOOED AT “OPEN GAETZ DAY” – Other members of Congress may have cherrypicked favorable moments at recent town halls, but Gaetz showed warts and all. The new Panhandle congressman posted a short video on YouTube of highlights from his home district “Open Gaetz Day” last week in which he is booed and cheered in turn. Gaetz is seen talking about repealing Obamacare, abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, and supporting President Donald Trump on building a wall on the border with Mexico. At one point, a protester yells that Gaetz “should be ashamed,” to which Gaetz responds, “I’m not ashamed of myself.”

PHILIP LEVINE INVITED TO TESTIFY IN SENATE HEARING via Florida Politics – Levine has been invited to testify at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In a letter dated Feb. 24, committee chair and South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune invited Levine to testify in the hearing, titled “Connecting America: Improving Access to Infrastructure for Communities Across the Country.” Thune said the hearing would focus on the infrastructure needs of communities across the country, and that the committee is looking for testimony “on the policies required to help move people, goods and information safely and efficiently.” The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

OP-ED – BORDER ADJUSTMENT WOULD SOCK FLORIDA WITH HUGELY HIGHER INSURANCE RATES via Christian Cámara – Congress repeatedly has considered legislation that would have adversely and profoundly impacted disaster-prone states like Florida. Luckily, we were spared passage, over and over again. Unfortunately, a tax “reform” package supported by House Republicans and likely to be introduced soon may contain provisions that would do essentially the same damage. Historically, these bills targeted reinsurance purchased by property insurers from affiliates located offshore. The key change would be to eliminate the U.S. subsidiary’s ability to write off the reinsurance costs from their corporate income. The measures long have been supported by a group of U.S.-based insurance companies, who sought to reduce competition they face from foreign insurers and reinsurers.

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA PRESIDENT STEPPING DOWN IN 2018 via The Associated Press – John Delaney … the former mayor of Jacksonville … will retire from his position when his contract expires in May 2018. Delaney has been UNF president since 2003 and he was appointed to the position despite never having worked in education before his selection. Delaney was elected to two consecutive terms as Jacksonville’s mayor in the 1990s. Delaney was often mentioned as a potential candidate for statewide office and he came close to getting appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2009 after then-Sen. Mel Martinez resigned.

PRESS RELEASE ABOUT CHICKEN SH*T: “Environmental Groups Announce Lawsuit Against World’s Second Largest Chicken Producer for Illegal Pollution of Suwanee River.”

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ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, House Speaker Corcoran explains the reasoning behind his push to reform Tallahassee. Gomes also talks with former Tallahassee Representative Michelle Rehwinkle-Vasilinda about her decision to join the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia pledges to comb the state to convince conservative Democrats to switch to the GOP. A bill to create statewide ridesharing regulation advances as the coalition, Floridians for Ridesharing tout significant bipartisan support. Gomes also shares insights on upcoming reforms facing Florida’s college system from Florida Times-Union Statehouse bureau chief Tia Mitchell and the president of South Florida State College, Tom Leitzel. Gomes also looks ahead to the 2018 governor’s race as Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum announce he’s considering running for the job.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners LLC: GVDB Holdings, Inc.

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Atlantic Ocean Club Condominium Association; Boca Towers Condominium Association; Coastal House Association; Pinnacle Apartments, Inc., a Condominium; Plaza East Association, Inc.; Regency Tower South Association; The Commodore Condominium Apartments

Edgar Fernandez, Anfield Consulting: National Council of La Raza

William Helmich, Helmich Consulting: Univision Communications Inc.; Village of Pinecrest

Lisa Hurley, Smith Bryan & Myers: Florida Chamber of Commerce

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: The City of Venice

Clark Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Florida Sheriffs Association

GOVERNORS CLUB PATIO TO START CONSTRUCTION via Florida Politics – Praise the lord and pass the Macanudos: The building of the long-delayed outdoor patio in front of the Governors Club starts today (Monday). Allison Ager, the club’s membership and marketing director, says the new “front porch” should be ready in about a month, under the iconic magnolia tree on the corner of Adams Street and College Avenue. “The pavers being used are an environmentally friendly product that will allow water to flow straight through to the ground so the tree can thrive,” Ager says. The project had been hung up in permitting with the city of Tallahassee for years. All this means cigar aficionados will soon be able to puff with abandon during the day: Smoking is prohibited in the club, except on the second-floor balcony and in the lounge after 7 p.m.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD Henry Wayne Stevens, the healthy baby boy of Jodi and Monte Stevens. He was born Friday, weighing in at six pounds two ounces.

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Village of Bal Harbour keeps residents in the dark

Residents of Bal Harbour, one of the smallest municipalities in Miami-Dade County, continue to fight against the aggressive expansion efforts of the seaside town’s namesake shopping center, Bal Harbour Shops.

We first discussed the mall’s expansion plans — and the tactics of harassment and bullying it has employed to push them through — in a March 2016 piece entitled The Bullying of a Small Town.

In October, we detailed the last-ditch effort by the shopping center’s wealthy owners to remove political opponents from office, buy friends in Village Hall and impose their will of expansion on Bal Harbour’s residents and government.

Confident that overdevelopment will erode their town’s charm and exacerbate traffic nightmares, residents are pushing back on the Shops’ expansion hopes and advocating for sensible, thoughtful development.

In November, hundreds of residents opposed to the mall’s aggressive and unreasonable expansion plans signed petitions in support of charter amendments that call for responsible development and the protection of Village-owned property. The proposed charter amendments received more than enough support to be placed in front of voters for approval in a referendum.

Nevertheless, it appears Bal Harbour Shops’ tactics of harassment and investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a friendly, submissive government are now paying off, as Village Hall seems intent on blocking any challenges to the mall’s dreams of expansion.

Despite the widespread support for the proposed charter amendments and the lawful way the petitions were circulated and submitted, Village Clerk Dwight Danie has refused to accept them, effectively silencing scores of Bal Harbour voters.

Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas, Good Government for Bal Harbour’s attorney, claims that the Village has no grounds on which to refuse the petitions: “The Florida statutes have specific language on how to amend municipal charters. While municipalities can impose some criteria on the process if they so choose, Bal Harbour does not have any law regarding charter amendments. Our petitions meet the guidelines imposed by the statutes and are thus valid and should be counted.”

By refusing to count the petitions, Danie and Village officials are ignoring the concerns of residents, keeping them in the dark and curtailing their right to amend their Village Charter.

Providing no valid reason for the rejection of the petitions, the Village and Danie have demonstrated a remarkable lack of transparency and elevated the business interests of Bal Harbour Shops over the legal rights of Bal Harbour voters.

Thus, Village residents are turning to the courts to ensure their voices are heard. In a lawsuit filed two weeks ago, against Bal Harbour Village and Clerk Danie, neighbors decried Danie’s unlawful rejection of the residents’ petitions and requested that the court mandate the Clerk submit the signed petitions to the Miami-Dade County Elections Department for verification.

Furthermore, and given the lack of transparency with which the Clerk and Village officials have operated throughout the petition process, the residents have requested an emergency motion for an injunction to prevent the Clerk from tampering with or discarding their petitions.

Danie’s unjustified rejection of swathes of legal and valid petitions is baffling. The Village’s actions are also troubling — particularly considering Bal Harbour Shops’ efforts to elect a friendlier, more compliant government.

It seems like Village Hall is protecting the mall’s business interests at the expense of residents’ rights.

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I really don’t know Kevin King

I really don’t know Kevin King, the Chief of Staff to Mayor Rick Kriseman.

I believe — and Kevin can correct me if I am wrong — the last time he and I spoke was in early 2006. It was after my spiral from politics, when I was waiting tables at a now-defunct joint on Fourth Street. If I remember correctly, Kevin was charitable to me, probably feeling sorry for my station in life at the time. He was soon to become, if not already, the go-to Democratic consultant in Pinellas politics.

But even before that, we really didn’t know each other well. I don’t think we ever socialized, even though we were about the same age and doing about the same thing with our lives. We first came across each other when he was managing Kriseman’s campaign for the City Council, and I was advising first-time candidate Bill Dudley. I recall there being this sort of tension because I wanted to service Kriseman’s campaign by selling it collaterals, direct mail and the like. King wasn’t interested, which was perfectly fine, although his rebuff felt more like an I-know-better than just a simple ‘No.’

King and I have certainly not spoken since Kriseman first ran for the Florida House. During that campaign, King’s disputed criminal history came into play after someone mailed information about him to the local media. King thought/thinks I had something to do with that, but I did not. Still, a relationship that was, at best, lukewarm, turned to ice after that. King and I sniped at each other — mostly in private to others — for the next eight years.

Although we never spoke during Kriseman’s mayoral campaign, I did what King could not, namely help take out Kathleen Ford. Once she was out, Kriseman had a clear shot at incumbent Bill Foster, and the rest is local political history.

After Kriseman installed King in a newly created chief of staff position, I came to King’s defense and pushed back against those who wanted to hold King’s disputed criminal history against him. I argued that King absolutely deserved a second chance from those people who had not given him one (King’s career was never derailed, like mine was, by his mistakes; it’s just that no one really cared if King was a legislative aide to a backbench member of the Florida Legislature. King serving in a well-paying, highly visible leadership role in City Hall was really the first time many people were confronted with his history.)

I hate to see the mistakes King made more than a decade thrown into his face every time he is at the center of a controversy, as he is now that the Times’ Mark Puente has reported that King told a City Hall employee to not talk negatively about a transfer out of the mayor’s office.

“In September, Kriseman’s closest aides told the Tampa Bay Times that Lisa Brekke, 32, was moved to fire headquarters as a training specialist to enhance her “professional growth” in city government. At the time, Kriseman chief of staff Kevin King and spokesman Ben Kirby stressed that nothing else triggered the transfer.

But records the Times recently obtained show tension between King and Brekke led her to tell top fire, human resources and legal officials that King intimidated her and left her in tears when a reporter asked the mayor’s office about the transfer.”

The incident with Brekke, in and of itself, isn’t a mortal wound to King, but it is part of a troubling pattern that does not reflect well on his boss.

Increasingly, King is described as “controversial” or a “lightning rod” by the Tampa Bay Times and other local media. King’s role, as well as those roles of others in the Mayor’s Office, may be fodder for the campaign trail.

But you know what? King isn’t going anywhere. Kriseman won’t part with him. And King really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Unless King has committed a documented crime, something I highly doubt, in his execution of the day-to-day administration of Kriseman’s vision for the city, the Mayor is not going to cut off his right-hand man.

As for those who try to throw King’s disputed criminal history in the Mayor’s face, well, didn’t Kriseman know about that when he first hired King? Of course he did. Just as he knew about it when he made King his legislative aide during his time in the Florida House and just as he knew about it when he made King his Chief of Staff at City Hall.

Kriseman made a decision — right or wrong — that the mistakes in King’s past were not relevant to their joint future. And Kriseman has certainly benefited from this alliance, as he has had whip-smart lieutenant by his side for the last 15 years.

But this is also what makes me feel truly sorry for King. And it’s a realization I only recently came to.

Think about it: what does King have, professionally speaking, if he doesn’t have Kriseman? What would King do were Kriseman to lose his re-election campaign?

Fortunately for King, the Mayor has provided steady employment for the last two decades. King’s current position pays him nearly $121,000.

That kind of great job would probably not be in the cards for others once accused of propositioning an underage girl for sex.

That kind of powerful job in politics would probably not be in the cards for others who “tr(ied) to get two female students, ages 14 and 15, to skip school and drink beer with him, and asking one to perform a sex act on him.”

And there’s the tragedy. By Kriseman’s side is the best place King can do for himself even though, given his ambition and talent, he probably could have risen above that station. But where can he go in major league politics where his past would not be made an issue?

I know of what I speak here, having had my own legal issues. I know why I couldn’t make a statewide political campaign. Heck, the Tampa Bay Times spelled it out for me. I know — like King must know — that I will never get to work in The White House or be elected to office.

Realizing all of this, I deconstructed my past, atoned for my sins, and built a new, more entrepreneurial life — one that does not require the public’s trust. I was granted the perspective to understand that if I had not gone through what I had, I would not be where I am today.

Still, don’t think there aren’t moments when I wonder what life would have been like had I taken a right turn instead of a left.

I’m not sure if King realizes all of this or not. I assume he does. But, like I said, I don’t know him very well.

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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 02.27.17

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

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

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…

It was one of the most awkward moments in the history of the Oscars, of television, in entertainment, heck maybe in American history.

And somehow Warren Beatty, Hollywood’s ultimate smooth leading man, was at the center of it, and the accounting firm that is responsible for the integrity of Oscar voting apologized and was vowing a full investigation.

The producers of “La La Land” were nearly done with their acceptance speeches for Best Picture, the Oscar broadcast’s credits sequence about to roll, when a stir of whispers began on stage. Moments later “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz returned to the microphone and said “Moonlight won Best Picture” and insisting that “this is not a joke.”

 The collective jaw of the crowd at the Dolby Theatre — and of America — remained dropped long after they became convinced it was no joke, but what academy historians later called an apparently unprecedented Oscar error. The accounting firm PwC, formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, said early Monday that Beatty and Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope.

“We sincerely apologize to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture,” a statement from the firm said. “The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”

The statement came several hours after the chaotic ending, which featured Beatty returning to the mic to explain that he had opened the envelope and he was confused when it read “Emma Stone, La La Land.” He had shown it to co-presenter Faye Dunaway briefly, as though he wanted her to read it, which she did, apparently assuming the Emma Stone part was off but the “La La” part correct.

NOW ON TO POLITICS: THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

With just one week until the gavel drops on 2017’s Legislative Session, it is — to use the shopworn expression — the calm before the storm.

No meetings, no committees, no talk; just a lull in the action before regular Session starts next Tuesday.

Before lawmakers assemble to do the people’s business, now would be a perfect opportunity to spend some time with the family, partake in a round (or two) of golf or cross a few things off the honey-do list. Maybe even fly a kite.

Since Spring Training began last week, supported by Florida’s perfect weather for such undertakings (spring is a relative term around here), nobody would fault the legislator who takes in a few ballgames before his or her re-emergence in Tallahassee.

Time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Of course, everyone involved will need this period of rest and relaxation before the inevitable 60-day fracas over issues such as business incentives, gambling legislation and the 2017-18 Florida budget (the Legislature’s one constitutionally-mandated job).

And for those keen observers of The Process — present company included — it is the one week where we might reasonably expect to catch our collective breaths.

That is unless something interesting pops up during the week — which, undoubtedly, it will.

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DONALD TRUMP’S JOB APPROVAL STANDS AT JUST 44 PERCENT AS PARTISAN SPLITS REIGN via Carrie Dann of NBC News – A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal: 44 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 48 percent disapprove … Trump begins his tenure in a dramatically less popular position than any of his predecessors. He is the only president in the history of modern polling to begin his first term with a net negative approval rating — and it’s not close. Compared to Trump’s net negative rating of -4 percent, Barack Obama began his presidency with a net positive 34 percent; George W. Bush and Bill Clinton enjoyed a similar advantage, and George H.W. Bush‘s score of popular goodwill pushed even higher to a net positive of 45 percent.

AFTER TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION ORDER, ANXIETY GROWS IN FLORIDA’S FARM FIELDS via Robert Samuels of The Washington Post – As Trump moves to turn the full force of the federal government toward deporting undocumented immigrants, a newfound fear of the future has already cast a pall over the tomato farms and strawberry fields in the largely undocumented migrant communities east of Tampa. Any day could be when deportations ramp up; that, to them, seemed certain. No one knew when or where. And so the community here is in a state of suspension. Children have stopped playing in parks and the streets and businesses have grown quieter, as many have receded into the background, where they feel safe. “It’s all gringos here,” said Maria Pimentel, owner of the community staple Taqueria El Sol, who said she had never heard so much English in her restaurant in her life. Business had plummeted, she said, because her Spanish-speaking customers were “scared to come out of their house.”

MUST-READ: HERE’S WHY IT’S SO DIFFICULT TO BE A SYRIAN REFUGEE IN SOUTH FLORIDA via Patricia Mazzei, Nicholas Nehamas and Kara Dapena of the Miami Herald – The number of Syrian refugees coming to Florida has spiked in recent years, as the U.S. has started to accept more people escaping the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. But resettling these newest immigrants has proven challenging for aid agencies, charities and volunteers who help the new arrivals. Syrians don’t have a large community of their countrymen awaiting them — or many Arabic speakers with whom they can communicate. “Life without language is very hard,” Kamar Byrkdar, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Broward County five months ago with her husband and two children, said through an interpreter. “We want to be able to improve our English so that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.” … it took three months, Byrkdar said, for anyone to show them how to enroll their kids in school. She and her husband didn’t know how to buy bus fare, much less how to navigate routes. Byrkdar learned where she could sign up for English classes only three weeks ago. Her children remain anxious around the police, whom they associate with war.

ANOTHER MUST-READ FROM THE HERALD: SLAIN SEAL’S DAD WANTS ANSWERS: ‘DON’T HIDE BEHIND MY SON’S DEATH’ via Julie Brown of the Miami Herald – When they brought William “Ryan” Owens home, the Navy SEAL was carried from a C-17 military plane in a flag-draped casket, onto the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, as President Trump, his daughter, Ivanka, and Owens’ family paid their respects. Owens’ father, Bill, had learned only a short time before the ceremony that Trump was coming … “I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,’’ Owens recalled telling the chaplain who informed him that Trump was on his way from Washington. “I told them I don’t want to meet the president” … “I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens said. “Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’

TRUMP TALKS OBAMACARE OVER LUNCH WITH RICK SCOTT, SCOTT WALKER via Jordan Fabian of The Hill – The trio discussed “how best to solve the problems of ObamaCare, with a special emphasis on the states’ role in health care” … The two governors are in Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting. The lunch was not listed on Trump’s public schedule and was closed to the press. What to do about Medicaid has emerged as a thorny issue in the debate over ObamaCare repeal.

RICK SCOTT: I’LL HELP TRUMP ON CUBA POLICY via Aidan Quigley of POLITICO Florida – “I’ve been very vocal that Raul Castro does not believe in democracy and freedom and things like that,” Scott said. “I don’t believe it’s good for our country to be coddling a dictator like that. So I’m going to work with the Trump administration on what’s the right policy.” Scott said he was hopeful Trump would soon renegotiate with Cuba and he sounded confident that Trump would make good on his word. However, the Florida governor didn’t want to specify what approach he would advise the Trump administration to take. “My impression is they’re working on what they are going to do, so I don’t want to second-guess what they’re going to do,” he said. “I want to be helpful.”

IT’S OFFICIAL: SCOTT SELECTED AS VICE CHAIR OF RGA via POLITICO Florida – Scott was chosen as the new vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to lead the organization during the crucial 2018 gubernatorial elections. The RGA’s 11-member executive committee voted Friday in Washington, D.C. to name the two-term governor to the post vacated by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Scott is now the odds-on favorite to take over the chairmanship from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2018, when 36 governor’s mansions around the country are up for grabs.

MARCO RUBIO: I WON’T ATTEND TOWN HALLS FULL OF ‘LIBERAL ACTIVISTS’ via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The Florida Republican said that the much-ballyhooed events organized last week by Indivisible Miami, a group that opposes Trump, aren’t real forums to exchange ideas. “They are not town halls anymore,” Rubio told WFOR-CBS 4 … “And I wish they were, because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as [Florida] speaker of the House.” Indivisible Miami put together several “empty-chair” town halls for Rubio’s constituents last week. The senator was never expected to show up. “These are real people. They are real liberal activists, and I respect their right to do it,” Rubio said of the crowds who showed up to last week’s events, estimating that “80-90 percent” were liberal activists. “But it is not a productive exercise. It’s all designed to have news coverage at night.”

PROTESTERS: CONGRESSMAN BLEW RED LIGHT TO AVOID US via the Tallahassee Democrat – A video has surfaced that protesters say show Congressman Neal Dunn … ran a red light Thursday to avoid talking to them about health care. About 60 constituents had gathered outside of Dunn’s Tallahassee office seeking a meeting. Dunn declined an opportunity to talk to the group and instead left the office through an underground garage. Michael Nair-Collins, a professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine, and others ran to the garage to catch Dunn. They told the Democrat he left with an aide in the Chevy Tahoe caught on video.

BRIAN MAST GETS EARFUL AS HUNDREDS PACK TOWN HALL MEETING IN FORT PIERCE via Wayne Washington of the Palm Beach Post – Mast, a double amputee Army veteran … held the meeting to address the concerns of military veterans, but he got an earful on a host of other issues, particularly the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Most of those in the audience seemed intent on tearing into Mast, though the congressman had plenty of supporters among the nearly 500 people who showed up. Unlike some in his party who returned to their districts, Mast did not cancel the town hall meeting, nor did he lose his temper as angry audience members booed some of his answers or shouted at him in fury.

POTENTIAL GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES LAY OUT AGENDAS IN ORLANDO via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – … occasionally sparring over education and economic development agencies. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all outlined potential platforms in speeches to the Central Florida Urban League. Gillum … spoke at length about the importance of education, drawing on childhood memories of his grandmother telling him to go to school, pay attention, “and one day bring that education home” for the good of his family and community. Corcoran spoke at length about his “battle with the governor” over the Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida development agencies, a priority for Rick Scott. By contrast, Levine, a cruise industry entrepreneur, praised the importance of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida for the power they have to attract businesses and tourists to the state.

LISA EDGAR STEPS DOWN FROM STATE PARKS POST via Florida Politics – Edgar notified Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation … “Gary. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and the Florida Park Service. It has been an honor. Unfortunately, an immediate family emergency requires my full attention. As such, I regretfully must resign at this time,” Edgar wrote. Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, previously was deputy secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and was replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

RICHARD CORCORAN SAYS PHILOSOPHY, FACTS DRIVE HIS EFI, VISIT FLORIDA AXE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – “I’m telling you we’re right. We’re absolutely right,” Corcoran declared in a speech before the Central Florida Urban League. Corcoran described Enterprise Florida as an organization that serves the top 1 percent of companies and most of them did not deliver and belittled VISIT Florida for paying for Pitbull‘s video that he said essentially declared, “Come to Florida and have sex … Here is what we know about VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. First, Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida didn’t exist in this state until the mid-90s. Guess what we had before that? I’m going to shock you. We had visitors. I’m going to shock you. We had businesses that came to this state.” He said he was not offended by Pitbull’s video, saying he went to the University of Florida for three years, “all of them freshmen … That’s not offensive to me. But it’s the philosophy behind that,” he added. “And all of that money that goes to those things that are gratuitous waste of money, is money that could go to education, that could go to infrastructure, or creating a fair and equitable tax structure.”

SENATE COULD VOTE ON HIGHER ED REFORMS DURING FIRST WEEK OF 2017 SESSION via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – The higher education package — formerly two bills now blended into one (SB 2) — includes a variety of reforms intended to elevate Florida’s State University System and its state colleges to a more competitive level, nationally and internationally. “We should be at the very top of our game in our state university and college system,” said Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano, the higher ed budget chairman who spearheaded the legislation. “We should raise expectations, and that’s what we’re doing.” SB 2 — dubbed the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017” — advanced unanimously out of the Senate’s full budget committee with some additional revisions … the bill will be among the first considered by the chamber during the first week of session next month.

ANITERE FLORES WANTS TO REPLACE ONE TAX CUT WITH ANOTHER via Florida Politics –Flores, the Senate President pro Tempore, said she was filing legislation (SB 378) to swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron …  The move also aligns with Gov. Scott‘s and the Florida House’s appetite for continued tax relief. Flores’ proposal “could provide $300 million in recurring tax relief for families and businesses” … “Florida’s CST is one of the highest in the nation,” said Flores. “In 2015, we made great progress by permanently reducing Florida’s CST by 1.73 percent. This year, we can reduce this burdensome tax even further and provide additional monthly savings to every Floridian with a cellphone or cable or satellite TV.”

BOB CORTES, EX-TOWING COMPANY OWNER, PUSHES BILL TO HELP TOWING COMPANIES via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Cortes … said he doesn’t believe it’s a conflict of interest for him to sponsor HB 193 because he sold Cortes Towing Service last year. Yet, he still owns the property used by the company and receives rent from it. He also is a consultant for the company. “I’m no longer in the business of towing; I sold it last year,” Cortes said. Ben Wilcox, executive director of Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog group, said the situation seems like a conflict, but under the letter of the law there is none because the bill doesn’t specifically benefit Cortes or his old company. The bill would nullify local governments’ fees, fines and penalties imposed on vehicle owners when tow truck companies haul away vehicles in relation to various infractions. In Winter Springs, for instance, the city issues a $550 fee on owners of vehicles impounded after they’ve been cited for 12 offenses ranging from prostitution to littering, but the fee can be reduced to $250 if owners waive their right to a hearing.

INSIDE ABC CEO’S STRATEGY FOR DEFEATING BOOZE IN GROCERY STORES via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – Charles Bailes III is the CEO of Florida-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits … His strategy for beating the so-called “whiskey to Wheaties” bill is a bit different: appeal to the heartstrings of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas. “I’ve been in the business for 41 years and we work really, really hard to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors,” Bailes said. Bailes points to a trove of articles he’s compiled into a well-cited document. A news report in the Oregonian blames Washington’s privatization on a spike in booster-related liquor sales, where professional shoplifters walk off with sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth of booze and sell it to others. “When I hear these arguments about grocery stores being well-trained in spotting theft, I would say they haven’t read these articles,” Bailes said.

REALTORS AND BUILDERS HAVE BUSY AGENDAS FOR LEGISLATIVE SESSION via Clifford Davis of the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record – Realtors and homebuilder associations are busy laying the foundation for the agendas they’ll promote. The chief concerns in the state’s real estate and construction industries focus on taxes, workforce and regulations. “Workers’ Comp. Workers’ Comp. Workers’ Comp,” said Douglas Buck, the director of governmental affairs for the Florida Home Builders Association. “Any insurance rate increases are a real, direct cost to everyone.” Since 2003, the construction industry has seen its workers’ compensation rates trend downward after the Legislature passed a bill to base lawyer fees in cases on the amount of the defendant’s award. But that changed after an April ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that awarded attorneys an hourly rate for their work.

WORKERS’ COMP JUDGE TOSSED FROM CASE OVER COMMENT CAUGHT ON OPEN MICROPHONE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics –Following a lengthy video teleconference hearing, the 1st District Court of Appeal said in its ruling, Judge Edward Almeyda turned to someone off camera and said, “Was I nice and sweet and patient to let the attorney talk on and on and on ad nauseam?” The attorney overheard the remark and sought to have the judge disqualified. In an unsigned opinion, the court said the motion was “legally insufficient” because the judge “did not specifically single out petitioner’s attorney as the loquacious one.” However, the court pulled the judge from the case anyway, based on an objection the Office of Judge of Compensation Claims filed refuting the motion “by asserting — without any record support — that JCC ‘did not interrupt or raise his voice to counsel’ and that he ‘allowed both sides to fully make their arguments, resulting in what would normally be a five to 10-minute hearing lasting over an hour.”

PRIVATE PRISON DEPRIVED INMATES OF HEAT AND HOT WATER FOR MONTHS, DAVID RICHARDSON FINDS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The 284 women housed in C-dorm at Gadsden Correctional Facility lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste. After state Rep. Richardson demanded action following a series of surprise visits over the past 18 months, the private prison operator that runs the facility — Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah — received approval from the state to repair and replace the water heater, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $10,000. But Warden Shelly Sonberg never authorized the work. Richardson … announced another inspection this month, this time with Chad Poppell, the head of the Department of Management Services, the state agency that oversees private prisons, and two other state legislators. In the two days before they arrived, four work crews descended on the prison and made many of the repairs.

CHILD ABUSE DEATH REVIEW COMMITTEE TO EXAMINE FATALITY EMERGENCY CALLS via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A total of 931 combined child deaths were reported in Florida in both 2015 and 2016, according to the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee (CADR), which met in Tampa to discuss the issue. Broken down, 474 of those reviewable fatalities were in 2015, with another 457 reviewable notifications made in 2016. More than 200 of those are still open cases — 29 from 2015 and 175 from 2016, per graphs compiled in documents by the committee … Among the 20 circuit districts the judicial courts and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offices fall under across the Sunshine State, only three had completed, and closed, all of their investigations in 2015:  Circuits 3, 7 and 18. One, Miami’s 16th Circuit Court, had not completed or closed a single investigation into the deaths of minors, as said in a CADR review.

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

— REGIONAL READS —

LENNY CURRY BACKS ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Florida Politics — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Friday that while he recognized that “reforms” of Enterprise Florida were being discussed in Tallahassee, state economic incentives have been good for the city. “We use incentives — local incentives and state incentives through Enterprise Florida — and we use them successfully … Without the state funding, we would have had trouble closing some of the big deals that we closed … We use our tax dollars in a way that’s responsible to taxpayers, and we’ve been able to use the state incentives the same way. I hope they can figure out a way to continue to give us the opportunity to have access to state incentives.”

AFTER LIFE ON ORLANDO STREETS, ALOMA CHARTER HIGH GIVES TEEN RENEWED FOCUS via Larry Griffin of Florida Politics – Six months ago, 18-year-old Joseph Tello was homeless and living without much thought or hope for his future. But after finally finding a friend willing to provide him a stable residence and being referred to Aloma Charter High School, his hope is being restored and he is getting back on track to earning a high school diploma and accomplishing aspirations of going on to college. “I would talk to people about my life, and they’d try to provide help,” Tello said. “Someone took me in and gave me shelter, they care about my education and goals.” Aloma High is helping him out in ways his previous schools just couldn’t— a more personal style which suits him. Traditional high school, by contrast (and design), could not accommodate the pressure and stress of Tello’s home life the way Aloma High does. “At Aloma, everyone helps you plan to get somewhere with your education. It’s changed my view on charter schools.”

THE GRIMM TRUTH ABOUT ALBERTO CARVALHO’S ASSAULT ON WLRN via Florence Snyder of Florida Politics – Friends of the First Amendment have their hands full with the War in the White House Pressroom. That may explain why Miami Dade School Superintendent Alberto (Rico Suave) Carvalho thought his attempted hostile takeover of the highly respected and ferociously independent WLRN newsroom might pass unnoticed. Thankfully, fans of the free press have taken notice, and are rallying to the support of the high-quality journalism this public radio station produces with a small staff and a tight budget. The Miami Herald’s veteran columnist, Fred Grimm, explains that “Reporters who’ve dealt with the notoriously prickly Miami-Dade School District … [learned] Carvalho and company can hardly abide critical stories [such as the recent] series of stories exploring problems with the school district’s alternative school for suspended students.”

FROM THE SHADOW OF PILL MILLS, A NEW DRUG CRISIS EMERGES IN TAMPA BAY via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times – We are six years past the peak of the pill mill epidemic, and Pinellas County is going through another killer drug crisis. The statistics are still preliminary but the number of fatal overdoses in Pinellas jumped at least 53 percent from 2015 to 2016. There were 274 confirmed overdoses and, with seven cases still pending, the final tally could eclipse the 280 deaths in 2010 when oxycodone abuse was rampant. This time around, it is being driven by a combination of heroin and fentanyl. The potency is higher and the cost cheaper, and so the results are tragically familiar. “It astonishes me that people are shocked by this,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “We cannot, and we will never, solve this problem at the law enforcement level. This needs to be treated as an addiction problem, a mental health problem. We may have had great success beating back the pill mills, but all that meant is we were going to see a switch to different drugs and different dealers.”

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

SENATOR SEEKS PROBE INTO WHETHER LOBBYIST LISA MILLER POSED AS ‘CONCERNED CITIZEN’ DURING CALL via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Sen. Kevin Rader is asking Gov. Scott to investigate whether Tallahassee lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as a “concerned citizen” to mislead participants in a conference call with a company that rates Florida insurers. “I know you understand that matters such as these must be completely in the sunshine and all principals must play by the rules. This is crucial to the integrity and transparency of the insurance market,” Rader wrote in a letter … “The citizens of our state have had a difficult time with their insurance matters over the last decade and they deserve to have a full accounting of this incident. We are talking about peoples’ homes, and it is absolutely critical to get to the bottom of this. Insurers and their rating companies must play by the rules and not orchestrate false or misleading presentations with impersonations of ‘concerned citizens’ intended to deceive government officials and the public.” Miller denied posing as someone named Mary Beth Wilson to praise Ohio-based Demotech Inc. during the call Feb. 10.

PERSONNEL NOTE: SUSKEY CONSULTING HIRES ROB FIELDS FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS VP – Fields joins Suskey as a Florida government veteran with over 20 years of public and private sector experience. He most recently served as a government affairs consultant representing Fortune 500 and other various technology companies before the Legislature and various Florida agencies. Fields served as the Chief Information Officer of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which has primary responsibility for the state’s Medicaid program, the licensure of 48,000 health care facilities, and sharing health care data. Fields then became Chief Information Officer with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles where he oversaw technology operations for the Florida Highway Patrol and the State Driver’s License and Motor Vehicle Registration divisions.

WHERE GEEK MEETS GAIT: ALL CALL FOR LOBBYISTS WITH FITBITS – Sachs Media Group is looking for volunteers who wear Fitbits to participate in a “steps in the day of a Florida lobbyist” data collection project during a typical week of session. Results will be featured in the “Geek Out” section in Sixty Days. For more details, email karen@sachsmedia.com by Friday.

TRIPADVISOR: 7 OF TOP 10 BEACHES ARE IN FLORIDA via The Associated Press – The sand at Siesta Key outside Sarasota was the best rated beach in the nation. St. Pete Beach was No. 3, followed by Clearwater Beach and Panama City Beach. Hollywood’s beach in South Florida was ranked sixth, followed by Pensacola Beach and St. Augustine Beach near Jacksonville. TripAdvisor says the rankings were based on the number and quality of the traveler reviews written on its website.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Joel Brown, Ballard Partners’ Ana Cruz, POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, former Rep. Jerry Paul, Samantha Jane Sachs, editor of Capitol Soup, and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. Celebrating today is our very own Logan McFaddin, Mitch Perry, Rep. Kathleen Peters, Kathleen Haughney Rohrer,

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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Quo Warranto

The lawyer for the Florida Lottery says don’t count on any kind of settlement between his client and House Speaker Richard Corcoran in their grudge match, er, lawsuit.  

“It wouldn’t be workable for the Lottery,” said Barry Richard, of Greenberg Traurig’s Tallahassee office, on Friday. “They couldn’t have a deal where they can’t enter into a contract until they first get an appropriation. That wouldn’t work for many agencies.” The Lottery reports to Gov. Rick Scott.

A bench trial before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers is set for March 6 — the day before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Corcoran filed a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action. His suit faults the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

Richard counters that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts because that’s a quintessential executive function.” As he further told the AP, if lawmakers don’t like a particular deal, “they don’t have to fund it.”

The deal in quesiton, worth as much as $700 million, with International Game Technology (IGT) will provide the Lottery with new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

The contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery already exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

Richard is as boggled over this suit as he was over the federal lawsuit lodged by the state against the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which he also represents. Scott sued the Tribe for continuing to offer blackjack despite the expiration of a revenue-sharing agreement. The tribe won; the state is appealing. 

Last month, Richard said about that case, “I don’t recall in my career an opposing party working so hard to keep my client from paying it hundreds of million of dollars.” 

Friday, he added: “The reason for this contract is because (the Lottery) is doing so well that they need more equipment … I don’t understand the (House’s) point.”

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education. The agency this week announced it had “reached the $1 billion mark for this fiscal year (July 1-June 30) earlier than any other year in (its) history,” referring to money it kicks into that fund.

Moreover, under the contract, IGT gets a cut of sales. “The longer the contract is, the lower the percentage is that the state has to pay, because it gives them more security over time, and it locks in the vendor,” Richard said. “So they save about $18 million.”

Speaking of money, Richard agreed to be paid up to $60,000 for a trial, which he doesn’t expect to last more than a day, and an extra $40,000 for an appeal. He’s best known for representing then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election challenge. 

“Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, he has been retained at various times as special counsel to the Governor, the Florida Senate, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Attorney General, the Florida Secretary of State, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Department of Insurance,” his law firm bio says.

And sometimes, a case just has to go to court, he added: “That’s how I feed my family.”

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

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

Life support — Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs appear to be on life support after the House Appropriations Committee voted 18-12 to approve a bill that would eliminate the state agency. Two Republicans, Holly Raschein and Bill Hager voted against the bill. While the original bill would have eliminated Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, lawmakers amended it this week to put it under strict transparency and accountability rules aimed at increasing oversight of spending. And if the battle between the House and Gov. Scott weren’t enough to drive you to drink, the Senate weighed in this week when Sen. Jeff Brandes filed his own bill aimed at Enterprise Florida.

On the attack — Gov. Scott didn’t take the vote lightly. The Naples Republican released a scathing statement before the final vote was even cast, and later in the week his political committee released a video on Facebook labeling House Speaker Corcoran a “career politician” who trades in “fake news” and “waste(s) your money.” Scott says the video was prompted by Corcoran’s own staff-produced video that slammed the governor for failures of business incentive projects that began before his time in office. The speaker appeared to turn the other cheek, telling reporters this week if Scott reached out and poked him in the chest he “would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

All in — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its sweeping gambling bill, which allows the expansion of slot machines and the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at all of its casinos, this week. The committee approved it overwhelmingly, with just two members voting against it. Over in the House, the Tourism & Gaming Subcommittee OK’d it’s gambling bill, which allows the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines for 20 years, but doesn’t allow for the expansion of gambling to other part of the state. Now the question is: Who folds first?

Cleared for the floor — A bevy of bills cleared their final committee stop this week, meaning lawmakers could have a full plate when the 2017 Legislative Session is called to order on March 7. The House Judiciary Committee this week OK’d a joint resolution to place term limits on Supreme Court justices and appears court judges, a top priority for Speaker Corcoran. The same committee also approved a bill that would create a system that would allow victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and their enablers in state court. House and Senate bills to make require jury unanimity when recommending the death penalty cleared their final committee this week; as did a House bill to ban red light cameras. And the Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Act, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron is now ready for a vote of the full Senate.

Election fever — Can you feel it? Florida’s political class has election fever, but it doesn’t seem to be spreading to the general population. Associated Industries of Florida conducted hypothetical ballot tests for Governor and Cabinet as part of a recent survey of Republican primary voters. The survey found that, in a hypothetical four-way race between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and businessman (and alligator ‘wrassler’Ron Bergerson, 71 percent said they would be undecided. Ouch. But that isn’t stopping us from talking about 2018, especially since it seems like Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are inching closer to an announcement. Gillum said on Twitter this week he was “seriously considering running for Governor so that we can rebuild Florida into a state that works for all of us.” Levine announced he started his own political committee and hired Matthew Van Name, who ran Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign. And Sen. Bill Nelson seems unfazed by the prospect that he might face a primary challenger in 2018, challenging a reporter who asked about it to a push up contest this week. We can tell you one thing, he’s probably got us beat on that one.

Can’t stop, won’t stop us from writing about estoppel.

Yep, that arcane legal issue is back in the Legislature for the third year in a row, still pitting the real estate crowd against homeowner’s associations.

Associations send estoppel letters, or estoppel certificates, for a real estate closing to document any money owed them. More often than not, what’s at issue is unpaid association fees by owners who defaulted on their mortgage.

In previous years, the battle was about cost-shifting between Realtors and title companies and the associations, with neither side wanting to bear the cost of research and preparation. And if associations pay, they say, that means their constituent homeowners ultimately are on the hook through their dues.

How much the letters really cost has been a bone of contention for years. Former state Sen. Gwen Margolis once opined that all the associations do to figure out what’s owed is “punch a button on a computer. (They) never see a problem … until they have to pay … It’s been a ripoff for a while.”

On the other hand, a lobbyist for the statewide association of community association managers has said preparing estoppel letters can legitimately cost anywhere from $15 to $400.

“The legislature has refused to pass a home tax (bill) two years in a row,” Mark Anderson told us. “Unless all sides can agree on something that will not cost homeowners more money as the current bills propose to do, it will be difficult to see how a conservative Florida legislature passes any estoppel bills.”

This year’s bill (SB 398) caps the cost per letter to $200 if nothing’s owed, and an extra 200 bucks if there are unpaid fees or fines. The measure cleared its first committee this week.

In an effort to make the subject the least bit accessible to the public, news media and lawmakers, Tallahassee-based communications savant Kevin Cate last year rebranded the issue as “smashing the home tax.” 

We can only hope we once again get to see lawmakers using sledgehammers to clobber cinder blocks with “home tax” stamped on them.

When it comes to Advanced Placement testing, Florida is No. 1.

According to the Advanced Placement data report released this week by the College Board, Florida ranks first in participation in AP exams during high school. The Sunshine State, according to the report, placed third in the nation when it comes to improvement over the last decade.

“We are thrilled that Florida’s students have once again demonstrated a strong commitment to academic success, and I am confident this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for the graduating Class of 2016,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in a statement. “Support from teachers and school administrators is integral to students on their education journey, and I thank them for the ongoing guidance and support they provide to help their students reach their full potential.”

According to the state Department of Education, the number of Florida graduations participating in AP exams more than doubled over the last decade, increased from 44,893 students in 2006 to 84,986 students in 2016.

College students take note: You better make time for volunteer hours if you want that Bright Futures scholarship.

Sen. Daphne Campbell and Rep. Nick Duran have proposed legislation requiring students to volunteer 15 hours per semester to maintain eligibility for Bright Futures scholarships. The proposal was recently amended, decreasing the required per semester hours after constituents expressed concerns that the original 30 hours per semester was too much for students trying to balance maintaining their grades and paying for school.

“The amended bill gives students the time they need to dedicate to their commitments but still ensures that these students are also giving back to their community. Fifteen hours of community service can be finished in one weekend and is much more feasible for these dedicated, but busy students,” said Campbell in a statement.

The required hours can be completed by volunteering for a variety of organizations, including schools, hospitals and government agencies. Active duty military members are exempt from the requirement.

“An education is not just about what you can learn in the classroom, but also in the valuable life experiences that can be gained from immersing yourself within your community,” said Duran in a statement. “The lower service hour requirement will still add valuable capacity to the diverse efforts across the state while inspiring our young, bright minds.”

Speaking of college: Rep. Bill Hager wants students to know what they’ll make once they’ve got that degree

That’s why the Boca Raton Republican filed a bill requiring Florida colleges and universities to tell incoming students the average wage they can expect for degrees they grant.

Hager said he has seen a split over the past 20 years between “soft degrees” in liberal arts such as psychology and political science and “hard degrees” such as engineering and physics, with STEM degrees often paying more.

“It is not government’s job to tell students what to study – but it certainly is our job to provide fundamental information such as income and employment possibilities matched to degrees.  For us to do anything less is snookering our students,” Hager said.

HB 869 would require any higher education institution receiving state funds to list online the average salary for each degree it grants for alumni who are 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and 20 years after entering the workforce. The deadline for posting the information would be July 1, 2019.

Maybe Zoe Mattina should be a lobbyist when she grows up.

The 3-year-old certainly charmed members of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee when she appeared with parents Ryan and Lara Mattina to support a proposed $500,000 appropriation for early therapeutic intervention for children with hearing loss.

“Thank you, friends,” Zoe told the committee members.

“Zoe even filled out a hearing card,” putting her appearance on the official record, chairman Jason Brodeur noted.

Zoe was born deaf because her mother had been infected with cytomegalovirus, her parents explained. She benefited by early auditory-oral intervention and cochlear implants, and can hear now.

“For Zoe, early intervention services have helped her literally find her voice,” her dad said.

Lara Mattina took the occasion to issue a warning on the virus. Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should avoid kissing people, including toddlers, on the lips, and should wash their hands frequently.

“It is absolutely preventable,” she said. “It is something I think OB-GYNs should be talking to all of their patients about.”

Yippee for manatees!

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported this week a preliminary county of 6,620 manatees in Florida waters. That marks the third straight year of a minimum count higher than 6,000 manatees in Florida water, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Researchers conduct synoptic surveys annually to count manatees that are visible in the water at the time of the survey. They are conducted after a cold front and cover all known winter habitats of Florida’s beloved sea cow. The 2017 count was helped by warm, sunny weather with low winds and good visibility.

“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm water habitat to manatees in Florida,” said Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement. “The FWC will continue to work diligently with our many partners to ensure the long-term viability of these habitats and the well-being of the manatee population.”

Lisa Edgar has resigned as director of the Florida Park Service after less than two months on the job, citing “an immediate family emergency.”

Edgar notified Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, in an emailed note Thursday.

“Gary. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you and the Florida Park Service. It has been an honor. Unfortunately, an immediate family emergency requires my full attention. As such, I regretfully must resign at this time,” Edgar wrote.

“I wish continued success to you and the agency.”

Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission, previously was deputy secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and was replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

The Florida Board of Bar is looking for a few good lawyers.

The organization is looking for lawyer applicants to fill two vacancies on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. A joint screening committee of the Board of Governors members and Board of Bar Examiners members will recommend six nominees for two lawyer vacancies at its May 26, 2017, meeting.

Attorney members must have been a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years, be practicing lawyers with scholarly attainments and have an affirmative interest in legal education and requirements for admission to the Bar. Appointment or election to the bench at any level of the court system will disqualify any applicant. Law professors or trustees are ineligible.

Want to track information in Florida? There’s an app for that.

The Florida Forest Service released FLBURNTools, a new mobile app this week that is meant to inform the public about drought, wildfire danger, and wildfire activity. The app can also be used by prescribed burn practitioners to plan and submit authorization

“Wildfire activity is on the rise and wildfire danger is expected to increase greatly in the coming months,” said Jim Karels, Florida State Forester. “Floridians equipped with the ‘FLBurnTools’ app can view the locations of nearby wildfires and see up-to-date drought and wildfire danger information.”

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott appointed this week announced he appointed Mark Harden and Rocky McPherson to Florida is for Veterans Inc.

Harden, a 65-year-old Pensacola resident, is the military aid director for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. He has 30 years of military experience and retired from the United States Navy in 2004.

McPherson, a 72-year-old Fernandina Beach resident is the former vice president of Military and Defense Programs for Enterprise Florida, Inc. and a retired Colonel of the United States Marine Corps with over 30 years of military service.

Both were appointed to a term ending July 14, 2020.

Scott also reappointed James Sampey, a 56-year-old Indian Rocks Beach resident, to a term ending July 14, 2020.

Sen. Travis Hutson is getting a thumbs up from the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

The organization applauded the Palm Coast Republican this week for filing legislation that would provide public depository choice for government entities.

“Public depository choice, our top priority during the 2017 Legislative Session, would allow credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities,” said Patrick La Pine, president and CEO of LSCU & Affiliates. “Not only would it allow school boards and local governments, as well as universities and colleges, the opportunity to bank with their local, member-owned credit unions, but it would also allow local funds to stay within the community, spur competition among eligible public depositories, and allow for greater rates, savings and returns to consumers.”

Poor Tallahassee.

A new report by WalletHub ranked Tallahassee toward the bottom of the list of the best state capitals to live in 2017. The personal finance website ranked the 50 state capitals across 42 key metrics, including cost of living, quality of K-12 school system, and number of attractions.

Tallahassee ranked No. 37, with an overall score of 49.12. It was wedged in between Columbia, South Carolina, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When it comes to affordability, Tallahassee came in 39th. It didn’t fare much better in the rankings when it came to the economic well-being rankings, where it ranked No. 48. WalletHub ranked Florida’s capital city 22nd when it comes to quality of education and health and 21st when it came to quality of life.

The worst capital city to live, according to WalletHub, in 2017 is Jackson, Mississippi. The best? Austin, Texas.

Volunteer Florida wants to boost student achievement in rural communities.

The statewide organization announced this week it was giving $100,000 in grant awards to 12 organizations across the state so they can provide important educational programming to students.

“Volunteer Florida is thrilled to announce the recipients of this new grant funding,” said CEO Chester Spellman in a statement. “The Rural Community Assets Fund will broaden our impact and help rural communities meet the needs of local students. We look forward to working with innovative organizations in Florida’s rural areas so that they can more effectively put volunteers to work to serve underserved students.”

The Rural Community Assets Fund allows grantees to recruit, equip and mobilize volunteers in eligible communities across the state to address acute educational needs of underserved children and youth in early childhood education settings or within the K-12 education system.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is hoping to cut costs with a series of bills he filed this week.

Rodriguez filed a series of energy related bills aimed at protecting the environment and protecting consumers’ pocketbooks.

“Consumers in Florida continue to subsidize an outdated energy system in Florida that stifles innovation, shuts out competition and hurts our environment — the bills I have filed will address those issues while giving consumers a much-needed break,” he said in a statement.

Rodriguez filed bills that would allow property owners to generate and distribute solar energy to residents and tenants on their own property; create a mechanism to prevent utilities from passing on to customers the cost of remediating environmental damage the utility caused; create a progressive rate schedule for utilities customers; and repeal advanced nuclear cost recovery in Florida.

Give these heroes a hand.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Channing Taylor was the 2016 Law Enforcement Officer of the year. Bondi recognized Taylor and nine other officers for their dedication to protecting Floridians.

“I am eternally grateful for these nominees and all our brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives daily to keep us safe,” said Bondi in a statement. “We cannot thank these officers enough for the sacrifices they and their families make to protect our communities.”

On June 14, 2015, Taylor approached a vehicle after he noticed a truck being operated without headlights. He asked the driver for her license, when suddenly a male passenger produced a revolver, fired it at Taylor, striking him in the shoulder.

Taylor took cover and drew his firearm. When the suspects tried to flee the scene, he left his covered position to gain a clear line of sight of the vehicle and its occupants and fired his service firearm, striking the male passenger and causing the vehicle to stop.

Bondi also recognized Officer Christopher Ayala with the Florida Department of Agriculture; Officer David Brady and Officer Jason Hutchinson with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Deputy Emanuel Gonzalez with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office; Officer Niel Johnson with the North Miami Police Department; Special Agent Travis Lawson with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Investigator Jason Newlin with the the State Attorney’s Office for the Second Judicial Circuit; Investigator Jayson Paul with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office; and Deputy Nicholas Worthy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

Call it a success, the folks in charge of the 2017 Florida State Fair sure are.

Unaudited numbers show the fair ended with an 11.4 percent increase in attendance over 2016 and solid gate and midway revenue, fair officials said this week. The final day of the 2017 fair was Monday.

“I am so excited we were able to share the Fair with so many fellow Floridians,” said Cheryl Flood, the executive director of the Florida State Fair Authority, who assumed her position in September. “We placed a renewed focus on family entertainment, booking Shopkins and other kids’ entertainment. We had a huge success the last weekend with a Peppa Pig Meet and Greet.”

The fair featured the largest variety of entertainment ever, including a museum quality exhibit exploring candy in pop culture; the Florida State Fair Championship Tractor Pull; Budweiser Clydesdales; concerts and agricultural exhibits.

“Agriculture is at the heart of what we do. We crowned our new Champion of Champions, Ainsley Peterson, a young lady from Mayo and showcased thousands of youth participants from all over the state,” said Doyle E. Carlton, III, FSFA Chairman. “Our barns and buildings including Salute to Agriculture, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Florida Ranch and Cattleman’s Exhibit and Agriculture Hall of Fame were filled with the best that Florida has to offer and we were delighted to demonstrate our rich agricultural and cultural heritage to so many people.”

Missed the 2017 fair? Don’t worry, planning is already underway for the 2018 fair, which is scheduled for Feb. 8 through Feb. 19.

Looking for a culturally diverse city? Then look no further than Orlando.

A new report from WalletHub ranked the City Beautiful as the ninth most culturally diverse mid-size city in the United States. The number crunchers at the personal finance website compared 501 of the largest cities in the country across three key metrics, including ethnoracial diversity, linguistic diversity and birthplace diversity.

Orlando landed in the No. 9 spot on the list of mid-size cities; but ranked 21st overall. Jersey City was the most culturally diverse midsize city; while New York landed the No. 1 spot when it came to large cities.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) rallied in Tally this week, calling on lawmakers to support $2.6 million for the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

The program provides lifesaving screenings to underserved women between the ages of 50 and 64, whose incomes are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Since it first received state funding in fiscal 2013, more than 132,500 women have received screenings and diagnostic services through it.

Recent estimates from the American Cancer Society show Florida has moved up to second in the United States for the number of new breast cancer cases each year, as well as the number of deaths.

ACS CAN also called on lawmakers to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by at least $1.

“When you consider the toll that cancer takes each year in Florida, it is a moral imperative to ensure we have policies in place that will allow everyone to have the disease detected and treated,” said Dr. Beth Lesnikoski, a surgical oncologist from West Palm Beach, in a statement. “We also have to do everything in our power to protect our youngsters from a future cancer diagnosis and there is no better way to make that happen than to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by at least $1.”

Rep. Emily Slosberg wants to extend a tax break to help struggling Floridians.

The freshman Democrat filed a bill to extend property tax breaks for homeowners with corrosive drywall. Currently set to expire in July, Slosberg’s proposal extends the tax breaks through 2025.

Millions of sheets of tainted Chinese drywall were sent to Florida between 1999 and 2009, severely impacting the market value of the property. Slosberg said “homeowners are being indirectly punished as they lose thousands of dollars in capital and on repairs” and said it was imperative the state extend the tax break to “continue to offer relief to those affected.”

 Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Three Florida organizations have something to celebrate this week.

Gov. Scott announced the Florida Defense Support Task Force has awarded $765,000 in grants to three groups across the state. The Clay County Development Authority will get the bulk of the money, $400,000, to preserve and protect the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center from land development through the purchase of adjoining property.

“We are proud to be the most military-friendly state in the nation and this funding not only supports our military members but the thousands of families that have jobs across the state thanks to our military installations, “ the governor said in a statement. “We will continue to do all we can to recognize the many brave military men and women, and their families, whose service and sacrifice keeps our country safe.”

The Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce will get $265,000 to use on a project to give the Naval Aviation Museum a more direct entrance, while the South Florida Progress Foundation of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce will receive $115,000 to “unite, champion and represent the local defense community” through the creation of the South Florida Defense Alliance.

Millions of Floridians continue to struggle to make ends meet, according to a new report from the United Way of Florida.

The United Way ALICE Report found 29.5 percent of working households are struggling to make ends meeting. Another 14.5 percent earn less than the federal poverty level, according to the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income, Constrained, Employed) report.

Introduced two years ago, ALICE is meant to put a spotlight on the number of residents who are working, earning more than the federal poverty level, but have difficulty affording the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

The report also showed the basic cost of household expenses increased steadily across the state between 2007 and 2015. It also showed households with children are more likely to struggle, particularly those with a single parent.

The 2017 report also shows the so-called “Gig Economy” is moving “more jobs from full-time jobs with benefits to part-time, on-demand or contingent employment.” This, according to the report, creates “opportunities for ALICE to fill short-term gaps in standard employment, but also transfers many costs and risks from employers onto individuals.”

It’s time to clean out your closet for a good cause.

Volunteer Florida and Uber announced this week it will host the second annual #SuitsForSession service project at the Florida Capitol on March 15. Members of the Legislature, Cabinet, local nonprofits, private sector and others will collect gently used professional attire for job-seekers in need.

“At Uber Florida, our goal is to keep people connected and we are proud to support initiatives that give back to the communities we serve,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber General Manager, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, in a statement. “Volunteer Florida’s #SuitsforSession connects people with the tools to be successful and we are excited once again to be an integral part of this year’s effort.”

The items will be donated to the Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America in Orlando, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program.

“It is an honor to sponsor the Second Annual #SuitsForSession service project at the Florida Capitol,” said Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. “As a business owner, I know the importance of having a workforce that is prepared for both the job search and the job itself, and providing professional attire for those in need is a great way to start.”

Volunteer Florida and Uber Florida will accept gently worn clothing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 15 at the Capitol. They’ll be accepting blazers and jackets, blouses and shirts, dresses and skirts, pants, and shoes for men and women.

CFO Jeff Atwater isn’t phoning in his last legislative session.

Atwater released a laundry list of legislative priorities this week ahead of his final legislative session as chief financial officer. Atwater announced earlier this month he was stepping down at the end of the 2017 legislative session to take a job at Florida Atlantic University.

“Since day one, I’ve set out to protect Floridians from fraud, waste and abuse, and this legislative session, I’ve put forward a set of priorities that I believe continue that commitment,” said Atwater. “In addition to enhancing current programs and building in consumer protections, we’re looking at ways to address the growing problems associated with the misuse and abuse of the assignment of benefits tool.”

Atwater’s 2017 legislative priorities include bills aimed at further streamlining the state’s nationally-recognized unclaimed property program; bills aimed at improving processes and honing investigative techniques to combat insurance fraud; and bill designed to streamline the state’s insurance receivership process.

Florida’s economy is cruising right along. Nothing there to change the big picture for legislators writing the next state budget.

State economists who met to crunch the numbers found that growth in tourism and slack housing starts will offset each other as overall growth produces about $31 billion in general revenues.

“Those are going to compensate for each other. So, overall, you end up about where you were, on the same path where we were heading,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“Florida has been moving in lock step in line with our forecasts for several years now. We have not really had any big surprises. I think that will continue to be the case,” Baker said.

“It’s positive, from the fact that we continue to see some strength. But it’s not going to change what they’re facing this year.”

Calling all children artists: Your masterworks are needed.

The organizers of Children’s Week, the annual advocacy event that takes place at the Florida Capitol, are asking families and teachers to participate in the “Give Us a Hand” campaign by helping young children and students create artwork of their hands that will make an impact on legislators during the session.

The artwork is meant to convey a message to lawmakers. Last year, more than 100,000 paper hand cut-outs were collected and transformed into an exhibition.

“The hands show decision makers a visual representation of the vast number of children their decisions affect. We hope that legislators will see the thousands of hands – see the personalization of each one – and envision the children who made them,” said Jason Zaborske, statewide coordinator for Children’s Week.

To have your students or child’s artwork displayed in the Capitol rotunda during Children’s Week, it must be postmarked by March 10 and sent to the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region c/o Children’s Week, 2639 N. Monroe St. Building C, Tallahassee, FL 32303.

The Hanging of the Hands ceremony is scheduled for March 26.

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

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Is Bill Nelson’s re-election race really a “Lean Democrat” in 2018?

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is set for a tough reelection battle next year, but for some reason Sabato’s Crystal Ball decided look past that and peg him as the likely victor in 2018.

The blog post lists Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat as leaning toward the Democrats and even goes so far as to give Nelson “the benefit of the doubt” due to him winning statewide several times.

Sure, that’s true, but if you can’t see the Nelson’s weaknesses and the many paths Republicans could use to take him down, you might need to get your eyes checked.

He’s already under attack by a conservative group for his votes on the ACA, and the National Republican Senate Committee is also smelling blood, recently announcing digital ads showing he has voted in lock step with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time.

While the attacks are certainly fodder for the Republican base, the comparison has a slugger’s chance of sticking during an off-cycle election in a state carried by President Donald Trump.

Nelson’s response to the attacks is baffling as well. In a Monday article from POLITICO, he said the fundraising prowess of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was “the biggest factor” in how he plans to win a fourth term in the senate.

And that’s in spite of weaknesses he didn’t hesitate to point out with theSsenate Democrat’s social media game.

“I am chewing on Senator Schumer everyday about that,” he said. “We just may surprise everybody. After this election, he might be Majority Leader.”

Yes, the New York Democrat brought in $180 million for Senate Democratic campaigns last cycle, but his results were less than stellar

In Florida alone, the DSCC spent $10 million trying to prop up former Rep. Patrick Murphy in his race, but that barely got him within 8 points of a somewhat damaged Marco Rubio.

Imagine how much money he would have to pump in for a race against expected opponent Gov. Rick Scott who also has won statewide and has had no problem spending his own money on top of the mountains of cash he brings in to his political committee.

But sure, let’s give Nelson the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like Democrats didn’t just get the wakeup call of a lifetime or anything.

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Introducing FloridaPolitics.com’s latest newsletter: “The Delegation”

We admit it; we love a good newsletter.

So with 10 new members in the congressional delegation, a part-time #FloridaMan in the White House, and plenty of Sunshine State connections to the Beltway, we thought it was about time to launch our own newsletter diving into D.C.

Welcome to “The Delegation,” Florida Politics’ weekly roundup of the news from D.C. as it relates to the Sunshine State.

Here you’ll find stories about President Donald Trump, hot takes about Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, video of Congressman Neal Dunn bringing a musket to the Capitol and everything in between.

Send us your tips, your thoughts and suggestions. And please be patient while we work out the kinks. We know the ins and outs of Tallahassee, but we’re still learning the tricks of the trade in D.C.

Donald Trump, Month 2: Talks on health care and tax overhaul via Julie Pace of The Associated Press —  White House chief of staff Reince Priebus expects a health care plan to emerge in ‘the first few days of March. Pressed on whether the plan would be coming from the White House, Priebus said, “We don’t work in a vacuum.”

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker now serving as Trump’s top economic adviser, and newly sworn-in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been leading talks with Republican lawmakers and business leaders on taxes. Neither man has prior government experience. …

One of the biggest questions on Capitol Hill is how involved Trump plans to be in legislative minutia. One GOP leadership aide whose office has been working with the White House described the president as a “big picture guy” … he expected Trump to defer to Capitol Hill on health care … Priebus expects Congress to pass both a tax package and legislation repealing and replacing Obama’s health care law by the end of the year. But the White House’s outward confidence belies major roadblocks on both matters.

In Trump’s future looms a familiar shutdown threat via Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press — Add a potential government shutdown to Trump‘s growing roster of headaches.

Beneath the capital’s radar looms a vexing problem — a catchall spending package that’s likely to top $1 trillion and could get embroiled in the politics of building Trump’s wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a budget-busting Pentagon request.

While a shutdown deadline has a few weeks to go, the huge measure looms as an unpleasant reality check for Trump and Republicans controlling Congress. Despite the big power shift in Washington, the path to success … goes directly through Senate Democrats, whose votes are required to pass the measure. And any measure that satisfies Democrats and their new leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is sure to alienate tea party Republicans.

Bill Nelson’s postelection pep talk — Is Sen. Nelson up for a contested Democratic primary in his re-election bid next year?

“You want to do a contest on pull-ups or push-ups?” Nelson replied to a reporter who asked that question during an informal news conference in Tallahassee Monday.

News reports have mentioned a variety of primary challengers to the 74-year-old Democrat in a year when much of the party base is fired up with anti-Trump fervor.

Nelson visited Tallahassee to speak to STEM students at Florida A&M University and deliver a pep talk to the Senate Democratic caucus. “My message is going to be: It’s worth it to keep fighting for your values.”

He praised Stephen Bittel, the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for his fundraising ability — not easy, he said, in a state where Republicans dominate government and the lobbying corps. “Stephen, he’ll go around the lobbying corps,” Nelson said. “He’ll go to all his outside contacts.”

Days until the 2018 election: 621

Nelson “on strong ground” to oppose Gorsuch — Left-leaning group Progressive Change Campaign Committee is using the results of a poll they commissioned to test out arguments against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to pressure Sen. Nelson into opposing his confirmation. The poll found nearly two-thirds of Floridians opposed Gorsuch when he told he “sided with big insurance companies, sided with employers who denied wages and retirement benefits to employees and generally protected big corporations from accountability.”

The group said the results show that Nelson “is on strong ground opposing Neil Gorsuch’s nomination” if he sticks to the talking points in the poll. PPP conducted the blended phone/online survey of 326 Floridians from Feb. 3-4. The error margin is plus-or-minus 5.4 percentage points.

Nelson takes action on property insurance ratings — Sen. Nelson has asked the Deputy Director of the Office of Federal Insurance to step in after financial stability rating company Demotech announced earlier this month that it was considering downgrading the stability of Florida companies from an A to a B. The move has the potential to cause thousands of Florida homeowners to default on their loans.

First reported by Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida, Nelson asked in the letter to Steve Seitz that he “take any and all necessary steps to help stabilize Florida’s property insurance market and avoid such a disaster.”

Demotech cited Florida’s assignment of benefits laws and a pair of rulings it said created Florida-specific standards when it made its ratings announcement.

Protesters hold mock town hall meeting in Tampa with cardboard Marco Rubio via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — His face was posted on Popsicle sticks, printed on a life-size cutout and hidden in Where’s Waldo?-styled puzzles. His name was printed on T-shirts and written on posters. But Rubio was thousands of miles away from Wednesday night’s “constituent town hall” meeting held in his honor.

“Why won’t Rubio come to town, or at least address us?” said event organizer Melissa Gallagher …”It’s really disconcerting, especially since he ran a presidential campaign and promised Floridians to protect us and look out for our best interests.”

A spokesman for Rubio said the staff has met with “dozens of these liberal activists,” including a small group of protesters a week earlier. Staff has been “fully accessible and responsive” to all who come with concerns and questions, he assured.

A cardboard cutout of Marco Rubio stood in for the Florida Senator, as more than 500 constituents attended a mock town hall meeting in Tampa Wednesday. (Photo: @DDonovan21/Twitter)

Rubio riding high in Associated Industries of Florida poll — It’s no surprise that Rubio gets top marks in the Associated Industries pre-session survey. The pro-business group had the Miami Republican leading in the U.S. Senate race throughout 2016. The survey of 800 likely Republican primary voters found 69 percent said they approved of the job Rubio was doing, compared to 22 percent who disapproved. According to the polling memo, the second term senator “enjoys a high net approval, but his overall approval is soft with 44 percent somewhat approving of the job he is doing as Senator.”

ONE hires former Rubio staffer as senior director — Sally Canfield will become senior director of U.S. government relations for ONE, the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono, which is fighting to end poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

Canfield previously served as Rubio’s deputy chief of staff and was formerly the senior director of international government affairs for pharmaceutical company AbbVie. She has held a variety of senior positions including deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, counselor to the secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, and senior policy adviser to the Speaker of the House.

In the 2000 campaign, Canfield served as domestic policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush and in the 2008 campaign cycle, she served as policy director for Gov. Mitt Romney.

Op-ed: Florida’s new members of Congress leading the way in civility via Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer for Florida Politics — This past year has seen our country feeling more divided than ever before. The 2016 election took its toll, with candidates up and down the ballot partaking in name calling and disrespectful attacks.

Florida’s newest members of Congress may have the answer … 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats — the Freshman Class of the 115th Congress, signed a Commitment to Civility — both Republicans and Democrats — from red states and blue states, from the north and the south. Florida has much to be proud of, with 9 of their 11 freshmen members (Representatives CristDunnDemingsGaetz, Mast, Lawson, RooneySoto, and Rutherford) signing the letter signaling their commitment to civility.

Florida’s freshmen … Stating what we all believe to be true, the civility statement addresses the “ … coarsening of our culture fueled too often by the vitriol in our politics and public discourse. One result has been a loss of trust in our institutions and elected officials.” For acknowledging this reality, these congressmen deserve our commendation.

Progress Florida calls out 10 members of the congressional delegation — The left-leaning activist group named 10 members of the Florida delegation who have voted in lock-step with “President Trump’s anti-environmental agenda.” According to the group, Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, and Francis Rooney have supported the White House’s position in each of the 22 environment-related roll call votes in the House. Rubio got the same score for the four votes that have come up in the Senate.

Progress Florida said the votes put each of the 10 lawmakers “squarely out of sync with public opinion in a state where a majority of residents say they are worried about global warming.”

Progress Florida Director Mark Ferrulo added: “The question is, what will it take for our elected representatives to stand up to President Trump and to vote independently, on behalf of all Floridians?”

Gaetz back in Florida Capitol — The CD 1 Republican was in Tallahassee Wednesday to discuss health care reform, including his support for a block grant funding method for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor.

After a structured media availability, the former state representative elected to Congress last year also held a more informal gaggle with members of the Capitol Press Corps. He explained without elaborating that such grants would offer more control over Medicaid to states, repeatedly knocking the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, with Congressman Matt Gaetz behind him, discusses Medicaid block grants at a Wednesday Capitol news conference.

Gaetz calls for Trump tax returns via CNN – Gaetz surprised a roomful of angry protesters Thursday night when he called for President  Trump to release his tax returns.  But the Florida Republican stopped short of saying Congress should subpoena those returns.

Gaetz has stood by Trump, campaigning with him over the past weekend and closing his raucous one-hour town hall at the Oops Bowling Alley here Thursday night by saying he wanted to “make America great again.” But he surprised the audience when he said, “Absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns.”

Dunn files resolution to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water plan — Freshman U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn announced this week that he filed a resolution to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing their water control plan for the Apalachicola Bay. “This crisis and the fight for our right to river water goes back many years, but the challenge is urgent for us today,” said Dunn, a Panhandle Republican.

Dunn’s resolution would block the Corps’ plan for the water basin that empties into the bay, which has been the subject of a yearslong dispute between Florida and Georgia, which has seen its water needs grow alongside population booms in Atlanta and other metros. “If implemented, this rule would have even more devastating effects on the ecosystem in Apalachicola and the economy in the (2nd Congressional District) than the current water control plan that led to the unprecedented collapse of our oyster fisheries in 2012,” he said.

Dunn brings musket to Capitol office — The CD 2 Republican posted a video last week showing off an antique musket that now hangs on the wall in his Capitol office. The 1777 British flintlock rifle was surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, and Dunn said the firearm is “how I’m reminded to fight for your Second Amendment rights every day.”

Dunn said he “came to Congress to fight for you and to ensure that our Constitution remains the supreme law of the land. We must never forget how precious our Constitutional rights are, and the right to bear arms is one of our most fundamental and sacred rights.” Click on the image below to watch the video.

— “Neal Dunn shuns citizens calling for town hall” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat

Save the dateTed Yoho town hall — The Gainesville Republican is hosting a town hall discussion Saturday, March 4, at Countryside Baptist Church, 10926 NW 39th Ave. in Gainesville. Doors open at 9 a.m., the event begins at 10 a.m.

Rutherford: ‘I thought I was facing death’ via Florida Politics — This weekRutherford addressed a group of young Catholic professionals at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville. Though the speech was about faith, Rutherford also discussed his ongoing recovery from a January medical episode (he collapsed in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives), and how the rosary proved to be the key to his survival.

“I thought I was having a massive heart attack … The panic was off the scale.” Feeling consciousness fading, Rutherford surmised that if he passed out, he might not come to. “I thought I was facing death … But I thought it wasn’t the ending, only the beginning … I was not afraid.” He started saying the rosary, and the pain and hyperventilation subsided.

Schedule confusion characterizes Al Lawson in Jacksonville via Florida Politics — Lawson’s itinerary … was pretty straightforward … the first-term Democrat from Tallahassee was to go to Eureka Garden on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis.

However, the plan did not come together … Lawson called an audible and made his Eureka Garden visit Monday — Presidents Day … Curry was camping with his family … Dennis likewise was busy with personal business. With no local political backup, Lawson spoke in generalities about the improvements on the property, discussing potential collaboration with Marco Rubio on HUD reform. Even so, there was a tone-deaf quality to his remarks.

From “Whenever I get my paycheck, I think of you” to his assertion that Eureka apartments — which made national news for months because of their issues — are “better than apartment in D.C.,” Lawson’s presentation confused media on hand — especially those who have been immersed in the Eureka Garden story.

Posey applauds the return of professional boxing to Palm Bay — The Rockledge Republican praised the City of Palm Bay and Telemundo for working to bring another World Boxing Organization (WBO) sanctioned boxing night to Palm Bay.

“I applaud the efforts of Mayor Capote and the City of Palm Bay for working with Telemundo and All Star Boxing to bring another exciting night of boxing entertainment here to Florida’s Space Coast,” Posey said. “Events such as this help provide a boost to local businesses and raise our profile around the world as a premier travel destination.”

“Palm Bay is excited to have ‘Showdown at the Bay VI’ back here at the Tony Rosa Community Center,” Capote responded. “Attracting top-tier programs and events, such as Boxeo Telemundo Ford, is just a taste of what we plan to do in Palm Bay as the city grows. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner Telemundo with and the event organizers as we continue to bring this event back to Palm Bay.”

Facebook fun:

Murphy unites 150+ Congress members calling for response to Jewish centers threats via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Conference, sent the letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey expressing “deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish Community Centers” and urged them to swiftly assess the situation and advise Congress about what is going on.

She also called for prosecutions and efforts to deter threats and to assist centers to enhance security.

“This is not an idle concern, given that there have been at least three casualty-causing attacks at JCCs or other Jewish institutions in the last two decades,” she added, referring to the shootings in Kansas, Seattle and California. “This is a national problem and, as such, it requires a national solution.”

Trump immigration policy spurs discussion from Demings, Soto via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — With angst rising in immigrant communities, two members of Congress from Orlando on Tuesday met with their minority constituents, who are alarmed by Trump’s immigration-enforcement plan. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings, both Orlando Democrats vocally opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, hosted roundtable discussions at their respective district headquarters.

Hours before the meetings, memos signed by Secretary Kelly revealed further details of the administration’s plan to ramp up deportations.

“My first impression is we have a community in crisis,” Soto said before about 30 people in Kissimmee Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, four local Muslim leaders met with Demings at her MetroWest office to continue a previous discussion of Trump’s ban of immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Happening Sunday: Demings’ town hall — The Rep. will answer questions and concerns about the Affordable Care Act. Event is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Dr. Phillips high school, 6500 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando. More information at www.demings.house.gov.

Webster jeered for declining to answer questions at Inverness town hall via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — The town-hall meeting at the Inverness Government Center didn’t go all that smoothly. Many in attendance appeared upset that they didn’t get to ask questions of the Congressman, who now represents Florida’s 11th Congressional District. GOP House lawmakers were warned last week to maintain “enhanced security awareness” as they return to home districts following several raucous town hall meetings in which angry Democrats dominated the proceedings, upset over plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Tweet, tweet@realDonaldTrump: The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!

Webster returns $460,000 to taxpayers — The Republican congressman returned $460,000 appropriated run his congressional office in a Thursday ceremony in Brooksville. The CD 11 representative said he has returned more than 30 percent of the money set aside to run his office over the past six years, for a cumulative savings of just under $2.5 million.

“Washington operates on the principle that if money is appropriated, it should be spent. During my service in Congress, I have exposed this flawed principle,” Webster said. “If every area of the federal government began intentionally cutting waste, we could get a lot closer to balancing our budget and trimming the massive burden of debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.”

In a cheap-and-proud-of-it-like-your-Dad moment, Dan Webster says he runs his Congressional office on less money that it’s budgeted for, now saving a total of nearly $2.5 million since he was first elected in 2011.

Crist divorcing wife Carole via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – “I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wish all the best for her.” Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service.

Crist asks supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida”Crist sent out an email this week urging supporters to “fight for a cleaner Florida.” The former governor and first term congressman extolled the virtues of Florida’s environment, but added that “recklessness and lack of oversight can have devastating impacts” on nature. “As someone who has always had a deep appreciation for the environment and a vocal advocate, the first few weeks of this new administration have been disheartening. Now, I am certain we will need everyone to join in and make our voices heard to protect Florida’s most important resource.”

Crist blasts the Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics  “This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said on Thursday.

Crist to host St. Pete student at presidential address — He has selected an eighth grade student from St. Petersburg to be his guest at next week’s address by President Trump before a joint session of Congress.

Oliver Hess, a student at Shorecrest Preparatory School, is assisting a Syrian family fleeing persecution as part of a school “passion project.” He recently wrote to Crist saying “families being denied a better life and a safe future is devastating to me.” Crist commended the “conscientiousness” of Hess, earning him the invitation. “I look forward to having him join me in Washington next week to bring greater attention to helping refugees in need.”

Castor’s district director retiring after decade in officeChloe Coney is retiring as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district director after a decade of service, Castor’s office announced recently. Before her work with Castor, Coney spent more than 40 years working in housing and urban development. “Chloe’s passion and expertise have served our neighbors, families and businesses well,” Castor said. “She is revered by Tampa’s community for her lifetime of service.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also weighed in on Coney’s retirement, saying that more than almost anybody, Chloe spearheaded the effort to begin the revitalization of East Tampa.”

Marcia Mejia, Castor’s communication director, will take over for Coney, while Steven Angotti will take over communications for the 10-year congresswoman.

At town halls, doses of fury and a bottle of Tums via Trip Gabriel, Thomas Kaplan, Lizette Alvarez and Emmarie Huetteman of The New York Times — During the first weeklong recess of the new Congress, many Republicans have chosen not to hold events at all, wary of protests that might greet them. Others gamely faced the music, including Dennis Ross.

Ross, one of the most conservative members of Congress and an enthusiastic defender of Trump’s, was called a liar by participants in his town hall in Clermont … They held signs reading “Disagree,” “Nyet My President” and “No Pipeline.”

One protester tried to reason with the passionate crowd, urging people to let Ross speak and adding that if they were angry, the correct response was to vote. “But in the meantime, let him talk so we can hold him accountable,” she added.

“This is democracy in action,” Ross said at one point.

Buchanan spends congressional recess overseas — Instead of returning to Sarasota during the Presidents Day break, Buchanan is visiting Afghanistan and other countries, including Israel. While in Afghanistan he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discussing the country’s fight against the Taliban and the U.S. role in assisting this struggle. He reaffirmed the need to maintain “strong alliances with our allies in the fight against terrorism.” Buchanan also met with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the 8,500 American troops in the region. He also visited with several troops from Florida, calling it “an honor and privilege to meet some of the Florida soldiers keeping us safe overseas.”

Vern Buchanan (front row, second from right) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (front row, third from left) and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Hugo Llorens (second row, second from left)

Buchanan: Restore USDA animal protection website immediately — The Sarasota Republican is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully restore a site designed to expose animal abuse. Citing “privacy concerns,” the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suddenly removed the online database earlier this month.

A partial restoration was found lacking by Buchanan, who joined more than 100 colleagues writing to President Trump urging a full restoration “immediately.” Buchanan, the co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus in Congress, said “there’s no reason to hold back this vital information. Putting a few documents back online is not good enough.”

The database is used by animal welfare groups and journalists to watch puppy mills, zoos, circuses and research facilities.

F. Rooney gives history lesson to MSNBC host — Republican Rep. Francis Rooney gave MSNBC host Katy Tur a bit of a history lesson Monday when he brought up Barack Obama’s promise to give then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev more “flexibility” after the 2012 election cycle. Though Rooney misremembered the incident as Obama talking to Vladimir Putin, the content was correct and was a major story during Obama’s campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Tur, who said she didn’t know what Rooney was talking about during the broadcast, hit Twitter later in the evening to say “she didn’t touch politics in 2012,” and that she would “rather be honest about what I know and don’t know in the moment.” More from Mediate here.

Protesters heading to Rooney’s office Saturday while he speaks in D.C. via Alexandra Glorioso via the Naples Daily News — Rooney‘s decision not to hold an open, town-hall style constituent meeting … left some Southwest Florida residents feeling that he’s avoiding them.

Rooney … will hold a “tele-town hall” at 4 p.m. Tuesday. To participate, residents of his district must go to his website — francisrooney.house.gov/contact — and send an email requesting an invitation.

On Saturday, local members of the left-leaning national group OurRevolution have scheduled a protest near Rooney’s Naples office as he’s speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. The group will hold the protest at 10 a.m. at the Collier County Courthouse Complex on the same day as other national protests are held against efforts to repeal Obamacare.

P. Rooney celebrates cost cutting for F-35 project — Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney lauded a new deal between Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense that will save taxpayers $728 million on the next 90 F-35 fighter jets purchased by the US. In addition to the savings, the manufacturer announced it would add 1,800 jobs at its Fort Worth, Texas, facility.

“It has always been my top priority to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the latest and greatest technology at their disposal to defeat our adversaries, which for us means the F-35 aircraft,” Rooney said. “I appreciate Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon for swiftly coming to an agreement that equips our military with the most advanced aircraft in the world, while also saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Rooney also worked to strike funding for an alternative engine for the fighter jet back in 2011, which saved taxpayers up to $3 billion.

Florida congressmen demo F-35 at West Palm Beach event — U.S. Reps. Rooney and Brian Mast took to the (virtual) skies in an F-35 fighter jet during a Wednesday demonstration at manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s West Palm Beach engine center. The two congressman and area business leaders were invited to hear an update on the fighter jet project and demo a demonstration unit packed with virtual missions.

Mast and Rooney both spoke at the event and emphasized the importance the project plays in the Florida economy.

Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corporation, said the fighter project “supported over 14,700 direct and indirect jobs and created an economic impact of $3.1 billion” last year in Florida.

Palm County Republican Brian Mast takes control of the F-35 Lightning II cockpit simulator during a visit to the Pratt & Whitney Engine Facility in Jupiter.

Happening today — Mast hosts veterans’ town hall meeting — The Palm City Republican congressman is hosting a town hall in Fort Pierce to “honor our nation’s heroes, ask questions and hear about services we offer for veterans.” The event, which is open to the public, will be Friday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Havert L. Fenn Center, 2000 Virginia Avenue in Fort Pierce. RSVP at masthouse.gov.

— “Mast has first town hall as GOP faces angry crowds” via Isadora Rangel of TC Palm

Frankel faces constituents from both sides of political aisle at West Delray town hall via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Question after question at the 75-minute session concerned what the president is doing: on his court-blocked ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, on his new order calling for more deportations of immigrants who aren’t in the country legally, and about potential conflicts between serving as president and the businesses he still owns.

The crowd at the Kings Point condominium community was largely friendly, unlike what many Republican members of Congress are encountering as they are being pushed by voters to explain their support for Trump and his policies.

At times Frankel had to dial down some of the anti-Trump comments from her constituents, one of whom suggested first lady Melania Trump be deported, and another of whom suggested the president’s attacks on the news media show he’s acting like a Nazi. Frankel immediately rejected the Nazi label. As to the first lady, Frankel said “Hands off the president’s family.”

Deutch tapped for two leadership posts — This week the South Florida Democrat took on two leadership roles in the House of Representatives. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped the Boca Raton Democrat for the role of Ranking Member on the House Committee on Ethics. Pelosi said Deutch “will be a pillar of ethics and accountability.” Also, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa for the third consecutive term.

Deutch expressed pride in the “bipartisan work” of the subcommittee and the collaborative engagement with the chairman, Cong. Ros-Lehtinen. Besides Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen, Republicans Ron DeSantis and Brian Mast also serve on the subcommittee.

Diaz-Balart calls out human rights record of Venezuela’s Maduro — The District 25 Republican took the opportunity to shine a little light on the human rights abuses of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Following a visit to his Washington office by Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Ledezma, wives of political prisoners Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, Diaz-Balart called for the release of all Venezuelan political prisoners on the third anniversary of Lopez’s jailing.

Diaz-Balart also listed all that is wrong politically and economically in Venezuela with deteriorating human rights, corrupted government institutions and a failing economy topping the list. The Congressman also praised President Trump for “placing tough sanctions on Maduro’s right-hand thug Tareck El Aissami.

Diaz-Balart renames foreign aid as “national security spending” — Is there a better way to describe the term “foreign aid?” During a Miami forum sponsored by the US Global Leadership Coalition, Diaz-Balart said “national security spending” is a more accurate definition of U.S. assistance to other nations.

Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign expenditures, predicted the federal budget “will survive” attempts to slash the $52 billion allotted for foreign assistance. Diaz-Balart and fellow panelists that included retired Air Force General Richard Hawley, discussed why overseas investments and projection of American values are good for the country’s security and prosperity. “The world is safer when the U.S. leads,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz denounces Trump administration immigration changes via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “There’s a long list of pretty terrible things that have happened in the Trump administration so far. This is definitely among the worst.”

She pledged to do everything she could to counter the new policies, including opposing the spending authority Trump would need to hire 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 5,000 new Customs and Border Patrol Agents. “I’m going to fight. I’m going to stand up for the values of this community,” Wasserman Schultz promised.

She rejected the idea that the policy is OK because Trump won the presidency after promising during the campaign to get tough on illegal immigration. “It doesn’t matter whether we should have expected it,” she said. “You have to fight injustice wherever you can.”

Curbelo: Tax reform helps small businesses via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News — From his new seat on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee … House Republicans featured Curbelo in their latest “Tax Reform Tuesday” web video.

“Greetings from South Florida. I’m Carlos Curbelo, and I represent this community in Congress,” the South Florida Republican says in the video which was also released in Spanish. “We House Republicans are starting our work on tax reform and tax reform is about people. We want to build a simpler, flatter, and more fair tax code, so that people like these behind me can dedicate more time to their families and can have more resources to get ahead instead of just getting by.”

“So that small business owners like the family who came from Cuba decades ago and struggled to build this wonderful restaurant can invest more in the community, provide better jobs, and pay their employees more.”

Suspicious package flagged at Curbelo’s Capitol Hill office, all OK via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Someone hand-delivered an anonymous envelope … addressed to “Comrade Curbelo,” according to one of the congressman’s staffers. Instead of a return address, it listed, “Kremlin.”

Curbelo wasn’t in the office — he’s spending the congressional recess in the district — but some of his aides were. The Capitol Police checked out the letter “out of an abundance of caution … We were able to clear it without any threat.”

Capitol Police deals with similar situations “on almost a daily basis.”

Spotted: U.S. Reps. Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a POLITICO report about The Partnership for a New American Economic, an advocacy group led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

DCCC Twitter ad targets Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for ACA votes — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Wednesday that it is targeting Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen in a series of targeted Twitter ads.

“Representatives Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen’s reckless vote to rip apart the Affordable Care Act without a replacement is causing widespread backlash at home,” said DCCC Spokesman Javier Gamboa. “These digital ads expose Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen for being shameless enough to take people’s health care away and then run scared when their constituents demand answers.”

The ads show a crowd assembled in front of a stage with an empty chair, asking “Where’s Curbelo?” and “Where’s Ros-Lehtinen?” The DCCC will also promote a Spanish version of the ad on the social media platform.

Ros-Lehtinen tells reporters they are not the enemy — The Miami Republican distanced herself from President Trump’s anti-media comments in her first public appearance of the congressional recess.

“To the members of the press, I want to say thank you,” she said to an audience including reporters. “You are not the enemy of the American people.” Ros-Lehtinen, Florida’s most senior representative in the House, added that the media has “a central role in our republic.” The statement is in seemingly in response to a tweet President Trump made last week calling major news outlets “the fake news media” and “the enemy of the American People.”

Ros-Lehtinen, whose son is transgender, calls Trump change to bathroom rules ‘lamentable’ via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald — Ros-Lehtinen criticized the Trump administration’s move to lift protections for transgender students, who under Obama-era rules had been allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.

Ros-Lehtinen — whose son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, is transgender — noted that in 2015, she introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She has also signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in a Supreme Court case seeking to protect access to public accommodations for transgender students.

“This lamentable decision can lead to hostile treatment of transgender students and studies have shown that bullying and harassment can be detrimental to the emotional and physical well-being of teenagers,” Ros-Lehtinen said …”Evidence has shown that acceptance of transgender students lowers their risk of suicide. SNDA prevent discrimination of transgender young people, and we will reintroduce it because our country benefits when everyone is accepted, and we live up to our nation’s promise of inclusiveness.”

Ex-David Jolly staffer hangs out shingle via Florida Politics — Preston Rudie, who served as Jolly’s communications director, is now a media consultant for state Sen. Latvala.

The Clearwater lawmaker is the most high-profile client for Rudie since he’s gone into the consulting business. He says that with the Catalyst Communications Group, he’ll be working with both private companies and elected officials. Rudie was an award-winning television reporter with more than 20 Emmy’s and 6 Edward R. Murrow awards to his name while working at WTSP 10 News from 2002-2014.

“Preston Rudie was the best Communications Director in Congress,” Jolly says. “Colleagues across the country would often share with me just how remarkable Preston was at his job. His clients at Catalyst, including candidates for regional or statewide office, will find great success working with Preston. Simply put, he’s one of the best in the business.”

Harris CEO Bill Brown meets with Trump via Wayne Price of FLORIDA TODAY – Harris was the only Florida-based company that took part in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council meeting. Brown and the other business leaders first met with Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet members and top aides … Topics of discussion involved deregulation, tax and trade, training and the workforce of the future, and infrastructure.

Others invitees … included top executives from U.S. business stalwarts like The Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co., Johnson & Johnson and the Whirlpool Corp. Also invited was SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Hillsborough County drops long time lobbyists Alcalde & Fay via Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta — Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay lost Hillsborough County as its client after close to 25 years of representing its interests in the Capitol.

The firm’s founder, Hector Alcalde, lived in Tampa for several years, having built strong relations. At one time, he represented most of the region’s local governments, including the City of Tampa. Hillsborough Community College and the Tampa Port Authority still retain the firm. Alcalde is also a partner in Potomac Partners, which represents the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Squire Patton Boggs is the new federal lobbying firm for Hillsborough County. The two-year contract is for $216,000.

Marty Fiorentino assisting Trump administration via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union — Fiorentino is the owner of the most prominent Jacksonville-based lobbying firm in state politics, but he is away from Florida’s Capitol these days. Fiorentino is working in Washington as a consultant for new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Trump appointed Chao, and shortly after Senate confirmation, she asked Fiorentino to come to Washington for a meeting.

He agreed to help her transition. The two are friends who met nearly three decades ago when he was working at the Federal Railroad Administration, and she was Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Fiorentino expects to spend a couple of months helping Chao in her new role before returning to his lobbying work in Florida.

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 2.24.17

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

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

TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

Even if Gov. Rick Scott reached out and poked him in the chest, Richard Corcoran “would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Yes, those words did come out of the House Speaker’s mouth.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican, seemingly showing signs of fatigue less than two weeks before the start of Session, spoke with reporters Thursday.

That was after Scott’s political committee beat him up in a new video over the Speaker’s attack on Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives.

That video, which refers to him as “Rich Corcoran,” labels him a “career politician” who trades in “fake news” and “waste(s) your money.”

Of course, that was prompted by Corcoran’s own staff-produced video that slammed Scott for failures of business incentive projects that (whoops) began before his time in office.

When asked about the latest video, Corcoran turned on his trademark grin and told a story of how Scott and his wife Ann helped him after his “cataclysmically” unsuccessful 2007 run for a state Senate seat.

The future governor hired Corcoran, an attorney, to do legal work for the Solantic walk-in urgent care centers he then owned.

“There’s too many people in this world who forget what (other) people have done for them” Corcoran said. “Gov. Scott, Ann Scott, I met with them in their house in Naples and they helped contribute to my ability to make money and feed my family.

“To those around him, or their political committees, I would say, for lack of a better phrase, if Gov. Scott poked me in the chest, or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times,” he said. “He’s been a very good man to me and my family.

“That said, we have a position on an issue and we believe in that position and we’ll fight for it,” Corcoran added. “We’ll try to do it as civilly and honorably as we can.”

That must not apply to his film crew. But hey, that’s what surrogates—and staff—are for.

CONCILIATORY RICHARD CORCORAN ANNOUNCES ‘WE’LL GET THERE’ ON A JOINT RULE WITH SENATE ON BUDGET PROCESS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Corcoran said he is open to compromise with the state Senate on his hardline new rules aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the budget process. Senate President Joe Negron has resisted Corcoran’s rules, last week even threatening to sue the House over what he considers an unconstitutional attempt to control the Senate, an independent coequal branch of government. Negron defused the potential legal battle when he said the Senate would not sue but instead would work out their differences over the House rules in closed-door negotiations to come up with a joint rule.

Corcoran believes the rules, which have the support of both the Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House, “have revolutionized the budget process.” Although he taunted the Senate last week, urging them to “sue us,” he sounded more conciliatory this week. “The concepts of transparency and accountability and not hiding things in the budget, if we could get that in a joint rule, absolutely we’ll compromise,” Corcoran told the Herald/Times in a pre-session interview.

— “So I guess Twitter is Florida’s new field of honor” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will be in Washington, D.C. to take part in POLITICO’s 7th annual State Solutions Conference. He’ll be taking part in the afternoon session, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m.

RICK SCOTT THE HEAVY FAVORITE TO BE NEXT RGA CHAIR via Kevin Robillard of POLITICO – Scott is the heavy favorite to be the new vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to lead the organization during the crucial 2018 gubernatorial elections. The RGA’s 11-member executive committee will vote on a new vice chair Friday in Washington, D.C., according to two sources with knowledge of the executive committee’s thinking.

SCOTT TO COURT: THROW OUT LOTTERY LAWSUIT via Associated Press Scott’s administration is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by Speaker Corcoran. A Leon County circuit judge held a brief hearing Thursday over Corcoran’s lawsuit that maintains the Florida Lottery broke the law when it approved a more than $700-million contract with IGT Global Solutions to help run lottery games. Corcoran’s lawsuit contends the contract is illegal because it exceeds the department’s authorized budget.

SCOTT COULD BE BIG LOSER IN FIGHT OVER ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times – All the “So’s your old lady!” bickering between Scott and House Speaker Corcoran makes for lousy government. But it sure is fun watching this Tallahassee pie fight between politically ambitious egos. Sensing perhaps that Scott’s lame duck light is beginning to flicker more brightly, Corcoran is challenging Scott over his pet projects, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida … The speaker sees them as needless, wasteful expenditures of precious taxpayer dollars. This has royally peeved the state’s official hologram. Scott, who would rather bestow public money on swells rather than peasants in need of Medicaid coverage, has flitted about the state trying to save his legacy bureaucracies, most notably by attacking fellow Republicans. Say, there’s a brilliant strategy on the part of a politician who just might need GOP support in 2018 in an expected race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

AMID REPUBLICAN ROW, SOME HOUSE DEMOCRATS VOICE DISAPPROVAL OF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – Several House Democrats joined their Republican counterparts in voicing displeasure with Enterprise Florida. House Minority Leader Janet Cruz even broke ranks and voted with the GOP, although she was the only Democrat to do so … The shared criticism signals an area of bipartisan agreement at the outset of a legislative process that’s sure to entail a contentious and drawn-out process of argument and amendment. Rep. David Richardson was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the taxpayer-funded business assistance organization during a House Appropriations Committee hearing … “I have very little good to say about Enterprise Florida and the way it has been conducted in the past,” he said. The rub, however, is that eliminating Enterprise Florida also would include reducing Visit Florida’s budget to pre-2009 levels under the substitute approved this week, something Richardson said he wasn’t prepared to do. “But if you pull out Enterprise Florida … I’d be happy to kill it for you,” he said.

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL GETS THUMBS UP ON FIRST LOOK via Florida Politics – With its chair saying he wants to “freeze” gambling in the state, a House gambling panel on Thursday cleared that chamber’s overhaul bill, including a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d the measure on a 10-5 party-line vote. But the bill, which isn’t yet assigned to another committee, differs greatly from the Senate’s gambling legislation. Its proposal now is cleared for consideration by the full chamber after a 14-2 vote in the Appropriations Committee, also Thursday.

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

DISMAYED, DCF HEAD MIKE CARROLL EXPLAINS FRAGMENTS OF FACEBOOK LIVE SUICIDE CASE via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009. Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature. “Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.” Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

FEDERALISM MESSAGE ECHOED BY HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE MEMBERS via Erin Clark of FloridaWatchdog.org – The House Health Innovation Subcommittee approved sending a memorial to Congress asking lawmakers to consider giving Medicaid funding to the states in the form of block grants. “As you know, Medicaid is supposed to be a partnership. In reality, the federal government is in control,” said state Rep. Frank White who introduced the memorial at the hearing. He argued that the states need flexibility to design programs tailored to their specific demographic and geographic needs. In the public testimony on the memorial, speakers offered a mix of caution and enthusiastic support. “In the redesign of health care, would you like to be in charge, as the state Legislature? Or would you like a bunch of people in Washington to be in charge, dictating terms, creating more requirements, limiting your ability to manage the utilization of your own Medicaid program?” asked U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

FLORIDA TO LEGISLATE FREE SPEECH ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES? via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education heard from conservative academic Stanley Kurtz about the Campus Free Speech Act, a piece of proposed legislation that he says would defend free speech in Florida universities. “When protesters disrupt speakers or break in on meetings and take them over to list demands, administrators tend to look the other way,” Kurtz told committee members as he began his 16-minute address. “Students have come to take it for granted that they will face no discipline for such disruptions, administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow and highly regulated so-called free speech zones. University boards and trustees rarely act to curb these administrative abuses.”

HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO RAISE THE BAR FOR PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS via Florida Politics – A lively debate on governing principles broke out Thursday as a House committee voted unanimously to ask the voters to raise the threshold for amending the Florida Constitution. HJR 321 would require approval by 66 2/3 percent of the voters to change the state’s foundational document. At present, that requires 60 percent approval. Sponsor Rick Roth … acknowledge his proposal would make it harder to change Florida’s basic law. “I watch politics very closely, and have for 30 years, and it seems like it’s becoming, more and more, who has the money to put something on the ballot,” he said  following the 14-0 vote by the Oversight, Transparency, & Administration Subcommittee.

HOUSE PANEL WOULD ALLOW INTEREST PAYMENTS ON NONECONOMIC VERDICTS via Florida Politics – Insurance interests are up in arms about a House committee’s approval of a bill that would allow plaintiffs to recover prejudgment interest on noneconomic claims, including pain and suffering. HB 469 says that plaintiffs who prevail in lawsuits could collect interest — at a rate now set a 4.9 percent, but varying with inflation — from the date of a loss. They could collect against attorney fees and costs, too. … Sponsor Shawn Harrison, an attorney from Tampa, said plaintiffs could not collect interest on punitive damages. … “A person who is damaged by a tortfeasor is just as damaged regardless of whether they have an action in contract or in tort,” Harrison said. “Why should there be a difference?”

***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 THIS WEEKEND – GOP LAWMAKERS HOSTING ANNUAL ‘MARDI GRAS’ FUNDRAISER via Florida Politics – Ever wanted to ask Senate President Negron what he’d do to earn some Mardi Gras beads? Well, you’ll have the chance to do just that if you take part in a “Mardi Gras Celebration” at Universal Studios in Orlando where Negron, Speaker Corcoran, Senate Presidents-to-be Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson and House Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls and other legislative leaders will come together for a fundraiser this weekend … the Republican lawmakers will take part in a full schedule of activities, including VIP tours. There will be a lunch and dinner, followed by a VIP viewing of a Mardi Gras Celebration Parade & Concert. Funds raised at the event will benefit House Majority 2018, one of the campaign arms of the Republican Party of Florida.

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:

HAPPENING NEXT WEEK:

BRING ON THE ORANGE JUICE: DENISE GRIMSLEY SCHEDULES BREAKFAST FUNDRAISER FOR MARCH 7 via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee. The reception … is hosted by Sens. Aaron BeanDennis BaxleyRob BradleyAnitere FloresGeorge GainerBill GalvanoRene Garcia, Jack LatvalaTom LeeDebbie MayfieldDavid SimmonsWilton SimpsonKelli Stargel and Greg Steube. The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

>>>Interesting that Steube is on the host committee; there has been some reporting he too wanted to run for Ag. Commissioner. Guess he’s staying in the Senate?

ANDREW GILLUM TO MAKE CASE FOR GUBERNATORIAL BID IN ORLANDO SPEECH via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Gillum will all but announce his 2018 bid for governor today, hoping to become the first African-American to win an office that Democrats haven’t held in two decades. Gillum won’t commit outright to running for governor – at least not yet. But his speech this morning to the Central Florida Urban League in Orlando has all the trappings of a campaign stemwinder, replete with biographical references, policy positions and shots at Republican President Donald Trump, according to excerpts shared with POLITICO Florida.

PHILIP LEVINE LAUNCHES POLITICAL COMMITTEE, HIRES MATTHEW VAN NAME via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Levine launched All About Florida and has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union. The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is scheduled to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future. He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

SURPRISE (OR NOT): MICHELLE REHWINKEL VASILINDA JOINS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY via Florida Politics – The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican. Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee … “We are excited to welcome former Representative Michelle Rewinkle Vasilinda into the Republican Party,” said Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

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

AS DONALD TRUMP REVOKES TRANSGENDER STUDENT PROTECTION, FLORIDA LGBTQ COMMUNITY WONDERS WHAT’S NEXT? via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Michael Jones, a well-known entertainer and drag whose stage name is “Meagan Towers,” was in street clothes, sipping on a drink at Pepperz Cabaret in Gulfport … “I think what they’re doing is wrong,” Jones, who works mostly in Naples, said. “I know too, too many trans people that this could affect if (Trump) takes this further.” He and a couple of friends worried whether Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress were poised to do much more, like rescind the right for those in the LGBTQ communities to legally marry. Jones said Trump used to support “the LGBTQ team,” but since becoming president, the shifting winds of politics had taken hold. “Apparently, he’s making it known to all minorities and us that he doesn’t give a damn,” he said, irked.

SPECIAL REPORT: IN HARM’S WAY via Kathleen McGrory and Connie Humburg of the Tampa Bay Times — Gun injuries are a growing problem for Florida’s children, rising along with the increasing availability of firearms across the state, the Tampa Bay Times has found. To determine how many kids are shot each year — accidentally, intentionally or during the commission of a crime — the Times looked at millions of hospital discharge records for patients across Florida, as well as data collected by the state’s 24 medical examiners. The analysis found that, between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms. Put another way, a child in Florida was shot, on average, every 17 hours. From 2010 through 2015, the number of kids killed in gun-related incidents rose nearly 20 percent. Injuries from guns jumped 26 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.

SOLARCITY’S QUESTIONABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES A WARNING FOR FLORIDA SOLAR DEBATE? via Florida Politics – A recent New York Times article exposes some of the “diminutive” players in Florida’s solar industry for what they really are – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations which engage in highly questionable business practices to lure consumers. SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea; a 20-year lease for those signing up for its solar panels. Reporters found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered such long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity submitted paperwork to the government … in the past few years, SolarCity lowered its requirements for entry into the program – using a 650 FICO score cutoff, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

WHAT WILL WEATHERFORD IS READING – FLORIDA CHAMBER CEO DELIVERS UNEXPECTED MESSAGE via Janelle O’Dea of the Bradenton Herald – Mark Wilson delivered a somewhat unexpected message to a room of 75 businesses leaders and government officials. “I’m positive that when some of you got the invite for today you asked, ‘What’s the chamber doing looking at poverty?’” he said. Wilson took attendees through a presentation showing how business leaders and their attitudes need to adjust to solve the problems associated with generational poverty. “Generational poverty means you were born into it,” Wilson said. “It is not your fault. If you’re born into poverty, you don’t know anything else.” He recognized that this concept may be foreign to some, especially business leaders who thrive on the idea that if one works hard enough, they can ascend the throes of a life in poverty. It’s not that easy, Wilson explained.

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

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Melissa Akeson, The Rubin Group:  Friends of the Underline; Orthodox Union

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Florida East Coast Industries LLC.; Friends of the Underline

Travis Blanton, Jon JohnsonDarrick McGhee Sr., Johnson & Blanton: Transdev North America, Inc.

Michael Bronstein, Bronstein Consulting LLC: American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Region X of the Appraisal Institute

Lynne Elizabeth Grinsell, Capital City Consulting: Zurich American Insurance Company

Travis Mitchell, Louis Betz & Associates Inc.: 3 Bees Corp

Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Wexford Health Sources

William RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Friends of the Underline

Ryan Sacco, The Rubin Group: Broward County Property Appraiser; Dosal Tobacco Corporation; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida Taxi Cab Association; Friends of the Underline

Lane Stephens, SCG Governmental Affairs: Florida Airboat Association

SPOTTED on American Association of Political Consultants’ 40 Under 40 lists: Tim Saler, the vice president of Grassroots Targeting former deputy campaign manager of Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the former deputy executive director for political strategy at the Republican, and Christian Ulvert, president and founder of EDGE Communications.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jessica Ellerman, Matt Farrar, and Susan Goldstein. Belated wishes to my longtime friend, Joel Silver.

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