PR campaign to launch for solar amendment

Wednesday marks the beginning of “the official digital launch of the summer education campaign” of a proposed constitutional amendment on solar power.

Florida for Solar, Inc., championed by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs are joining forces to get “Amendment 4” passed on the Aug. 30 primary ballot.

“Both organizations will be working together to gain support from voters through direct mail, digital and traditional media,” they said in a Tuesday press release.

The amendment would be a sort of tax break: It would exempt solar power equipment on homes from being counted toward a house’s value for property tax purposes.

It also would exempt from taxation solar energy devices on commercial and industrial properties. Those tax breaks would begin in 2018 and last for 20 years.

“Growing the solar market offers great opportunities for our economy,” Brandes said in a statement. “Floridians will have additional clean energy options, lower energy bills and lower taxes on this investment.”

The St. Petersburg Republican sponsored the amendment this past session with state Reps. Ray Rodrigues, a Fort Myers Republican, and Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, in the House.

It’s now supported by The Nature Conservancy, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, the Florida Retail Federation, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“We look forward to our partnership with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs and other groups to help move us one step closer to better options for renewable energy equipment in the state,” Brandes said.


Websites:
Florida for Solar — http://floridaforsolar.com
Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs — http://www.yeson4.org

As hurricane season begins, asking tough questions of Citizens Insurance

Recent headlines heralded the fact that Citizens Insurance, the state-run company for those who can’t get coverage anywhere else, has a lot of cash. With the official opening of hurricane season at hand, company officials say Citizens has enough money in reserve to pay claims if even a catastrophic Category 5 storm hits a major metro area.

That’s good, right?

Maybe.

Or, just maybe, in the ever-popular game of “let the free market decide” many former Citizens clients have been shifted by what the state called “depopulation” to private insurers whose ability to handle a catastrophe is unproven.

That hasn’t stopped many of them from filing double-digit rate increase requests, by the way.

Citizens reached a peak of about 1.5 million policies in 2012 but has shrunk now to less than 500,000.

Sure, the books look good for Citizens and shrinking the government always plays well, but at what cost? The aftermath of a major hurricane would be a bad time for a new company to go “oops.”

We know, of course, that it could happen, even though Florida hasn’t had a major hurricane since Wilma came ashore in October 2005 and caused an estimated $20 billion in damage. The time to ask tough questions is now, rather than play the blame game in the aftermath.

While Citizens has a reported surplus of more than $7 billion and the ability issue bonds for more than double that amount, the big question lingers about what would happen to policyholders in new, smaller companies.

“My great concern is that many of these companies won’t be able to back up claims if we have a storm that goes up the middle of the state and affects almost everybody,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, a Republican and former state legislator.

“The state would have to step in and pay the claims, and it would be a mess.”

It probably wouldn’t be quick, either. While major companies have disaster-response teams that quickly settle claims and get repairs underway, smaller companies may lack those resources.

“These companies think only of today,” Fasano said. “They don’t think of tomorrow, or next week or next year. They think only of maximizing profits today.”

That looks good for a governor and other politicians who want to brag that they helped dismantle a state-run insurance program. If something goes wrong, though, just remember what Fasano said.

Florida to get $5 million from failed visual effects studio

Florida will only get back a small portion of the millions it invested in a failed visual effects film studio whose high-profile bankruptcy was used in the contentious 2014 election between Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.

State and local governments in April reached a settlement in a complicated legal battle that involved filings in bankruptcy court as a well as a civil lawsuit filed in St. Lucie County. A bankruptcy judge approved the settlement earlier this month and the payments are expected to be made over the summer.

The state in 2009 agreed to invest $20 million with Digital Domain, which had promised to create about 500 jobs at a Port St. Lucie animation studio and a West Palm Beach film school. But the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Florida sued Digital Domain at the direction of Scott, whose re-election campaign mentioned the lawsuit in a TV ad critical of Crist since the former governor had signed off on the initial deal to help the company.

Under the settlement, which was first reported by TCPalm.com, Florida will receive an estimated $5 million, but only about $3 million is expected go back to taxpayers. That’s because lawyers hired by the Scott administration were entitled to 25 percent of any money won by the state. Other court costs and fees also need to be paid off, according to Erin Gillespie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Opportunity.

During the more than two-year-old legal fight, Florida has also gotten back the rights to $20 million in film production tax credits that were initially pledged to Digital Domain.

“The bottom line is that we got the state back money they never thought they would get,” said William Scherer, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who led the legal battle for the state.

While Florida’s lawsuit contended the initial deal to benefit Digital Domain was a “de facto Ponzi scheme” Scott’s own inspector general concluded that no laws were broken.

Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said in a statement that the state has restructured its incentive program to “ensure a deal like this doesn’t happen again.”

The demise of Digital Domain has been constantly cited by critics of Florida’s incentives program. State legislators this year rejected a proposal by Scott to set aside $250 million for business incentives.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

NFIB/Florida joins groups opposed to workers’ comp hike

The National Federation of Independent Business/Florida is adding its voice to the business groups decrying a proposed 17 percent hike in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance to employers.

The rate increase “is a $623 million tax on workers in Florida that will go primarily to workers’ compensation attorneys,” NFIB/Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in a statement.

“For the sake of Florida’s small businesses and the millions they employ, this cannot stand,” he added. “The filing is the tip of the iceberg.”

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) last week asked the state to consider a 17 percent rate hike in the cost of workers’ comp to employers. Workers’ comp is mandated by states to pay workers who get hurt on the job.

The council submitted its filing to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) on Friday.

If approved, it would take effect Aug. 1.

That would collectively cost Florida businesses roughly $623 million and make the Sunshine State the costliest in the southeast part of the country to buy such insurance, according to the NCCI’s news release.

The council is “a licensed rating organization authorized to make rate filings on behalf of workers’ compensation insurance companies in Florida,” according to the OIR.

The organization directly attributed most of the increase to a Florida Supreme Court decision, Castellanos v. Next Door Company, which struck down Florida’s workers’ compensation law’s legal fee schedule as unconstitutional.

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also have come out in opposition to the increase.

Supreme Court agrees to hear smoke case

The state’s highest court agreed to hear an appeal of a punitive damages award against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in the case of a man who died from smoking, according to filings.

The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction last Thursday, court dockets show.

At trial, a jury found smoker James E. Schoeff 25 percent at fault in his death. He had “died from lung cancer ‘caused by his addiction to cigarettes,’ ” according to court documents. 

It awarded his wife Joan Schoeff $10.5 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages, even after her lawyer asked jurors not to go above $25 million.

The trial judge later reduced the compensatory damages award to almost $7.9 million but let stand the punitive damages amount. R.J. Reynolds appealed, calling the punitive damages “unconstitutionally excessive.”

The 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach agreed with RJR that the award “falls on the excessive side of the spectrum,” according to its opinion. One judge in the three-judge panel dissented.

Schoeff then appealed to the Supreme Court, noting the decision conflicted with other appellate courts in Florida.  

The high court did not immediately set a timetable.

Bevy of big cases awaits state Supreme Court

A plethora of high-profile matters is scheduled for argument before the Florida Supreme Court next week.

The state’s justices will consider questions related to gambling, guns, capital punishment and medical malpractice.

Another case involves claim bills, passed by lawmakers to pay people for injuries suffered at the hands of government or a public entity.

Still two others involve attorneys fighting to keep their law licenses following accusations they set up an opposing lawyer to be arrested on a drunk-driving charge.

First up on June 7 is a case on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Gretna Racing, the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines, brought the matter against state gambling regulators. The track is run by The Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The Creeks argue they should be allowed to offer slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012. They’re supported by the county and the city of Gretna.

A favorable ruling by the court could expand slot machines to all six counties where voters passed slots referendums: Brevard, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington.

But opponents, such as No Casinos and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, have said slots are illegal “lotteries” banned by the state constitution unless expressly permitted by law.

Justice Peggy Ann Quince will be the only justice not hearing the case. She recused herself; a reason was not given. Judges generally recuse themselves because of a conflict of interest.

The case is Gretna Racing v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, No. SC15-1929.

That same day, justices will hear from a lawyer for Larry Darnell Perry, a Central Florida man who maintains that Florida’s death penalty is unconstitutional.

Perry was charged with murder in 2013 in the death of his infant son. His trial had been set for February and prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, earlier this year, invalidated Florida’s capital punishment regime. The court said juries, not judges, must determine mitigating and aggravating factors.

According to court filings, Perry now wants the state Supreme Court, among other things, to clarify whether capital punishment in Florida is now forbidden. If not, he’s asking whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision is retroactive to earlier crimes.

He also questions the legality of a new law, passed this legislative session as a quick fix, that requires at least 10 out of 12 jurors to recommend execution, as opposed to a simple majority of jurors.

The case is Larry Darnell Perry v. State of Florida, No. SC16-547.

On June 8, the court will hear the case of Dale Lee Norman, which could uphold or overturn Florida’s ban on openly carrying a firearm. The National Rifle Association has filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

Norman was arrested by Fort Pierce police in February 2012 after having gotten his concealed weapon license earlier that day, according to his initial brief.

“A concerned citizen noticed Mr. Norman’s firearm on his right hip and called police,” the brief said. “The State’s sole allegation in this case is that Mr. Norman carried a firearm conspicuously and openly rather than concealed.”

His attorney, gun-rights activist Eric Friday, says the ban should be stricken because it “infringe(s) on the fundamental individual rights of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, and the State.”

The case is Dale Lee Norman v. State of Florida, No. SC15-650.

On June 9, a law firm goes to court over the state’s claim bill process.

Florida law limits local governments and other public bodies to paying no more than $200,000 per person in damages unless lawmakers pass a claim bill, also known as a relief act, for extra money.

Lawmakers in 2012 passed such a bill for Aaron Edwards, who born brain-damaged in 1997 because of medical malpractice at Lee Memorial Health System, his brief says. The legislation directs Lee Memorial to pay $15 million “of its own funds” toward the $30 million total.

But a provision in the bill says the “total amount paid for attorney’s fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses relating to the claim may not exceed $100,000.”

The law firm who helped him through the process says that’s unconstitutional and refers to the “contingency fee contract” between the firm and Edward’s mother for attorney fees of 25 percent.

The Legislature can choose to pass a claim bill or not, but if it does, “it cannot … impair a pre-existing attorney’s fee contract between the plaintiff and his or her attorney,” according to a brief.

The case is Searcy, Denny, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley v. State of Florida, No. SC15-1747.

That same day, the court will consider whether limits on certain damages in medical malpractice lawsuits apply in personal injury cases.

The Legislature in 2003 established $500,000 limits on non­economic damages for such cases. The Supreme Court previously ruled they don’t apply in medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death.

The 4th District Court of Appeal extended that decision to personal injury cases.

The appeals court’s decision reinstates a $4.7 million damage award to Susan Kalitan, who sued North Broward Hospital District and others over complications from carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, namely that her esophagus was punctured during the administering of anesthesia.

The case is North Broward Hospital District v. Susan Kalitan, No. SC15-1858.

Finally, justices will hear arguments also on June 9 whether to disbar two Tampa attorneys involved in an alleged setup of a rival lawyer.

Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut represented radio personality Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem in a slander suit brought by another radio personality, Todd “MJ” Schnitt.

During the trial in 2013, Schnitt lawyer C. Phillip Campbell was arrested on a DUI charge. Reports later surfaced that Adams, Filthaut and their law partner, Stephen Diaco, conspired to set up Campbell to get arrested.

They allegedly encouraged their female paralegal to go undercover and drink with Campbell at a downtown Tampa bar. After ward, Campbell was caught in a police DUI stakeout set up through a Tampa police sergeant who was friends with one of the attorneys, according to reports.

Schnitt lost the case. Diaco was disbarred earlier this year. They have denied the accusations.

The cases are The Florida Bar v. Robert D. Adams, No. SC14-1054, and The Florida Bar v. Adam Robert Filthaut, No. SC14-1056.


 This post contains reporting by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Coalition launches petition to encourage Pam Bondi to investigate insurance mergers

A coalition of consumer and physicians’ groups isn’t backing away from its request for an investigation into insurance mergers.

The Florida Campaign for Consumer Choice on Friday launched a statewide petition drive to encourage Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the mergers of Aetna and Humana, and Anthem and Cigna. The petition effort is the latest in a series of calls to action by the organization.

“We know that 88-percent of Floridians have expressed some levels of concern regarding the mergers and we need our state leaders to step up to protect Floridians,” said Alison Morano, a spokeswoman for the group, in a statement Friday.

In a May 5 letter, the group asked Bondi to “vigorously investigate” the proposed mergers. The letter was signed by the Florida Consumer Action Network, Doctors for America-Florida, Campaign for Consumer Choice, Organize Now, and Progress Florida.

The coalition said hospital groups — including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the Florida Medical Association — had encouraged Bondi to reject the mergers since they could lead to a loss in competition. However, the group said those calls were not acted on.

A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found a majority of Floridians were at least somewhat concerned about the proposed. When Floridians were given information about the possible impact of the merger, 77 percent supported calls for an investigation.

“This is why we have launched a petition to show that Floridians are urging General Bondi to do the right thing and investigate the mergers for antitrust violations,” said Morano. “We need to ensure that Florida consumers are top of mind when it comes to major changes as proposed in these mergers.”

Last year, Aetna struck an agreement to buy Humana for $37 billion. In July, Anthem announced it planned to buy Cigna for about $54.2 billion. In January, Reuters reported more than a dozen state attorneys general, including Florida’s, joined the Department of Justice’s probe into the merger.

According to STAT, a new national publication produced by Boston Globe Media, the Campaign for Consumer Choice is lobbying in five states — including Florida, Virginia and Ohio — against the proposed merger.

Compilation of Florida elected officials’ and politicians’ tributes for Memorial Day

This weekend Floridians throughout our state will remember the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have lost their lives while serving our country throughout our nation’s history. As we come together with family and friends to honor our fallen military and veterans, let us also bring to mind the tremendous sacrifice they have made for our benefit.

The following is a compilation of the messages and tributes put forth by Florida’s elected officials and politicians in honor of Memorial Day:

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, via Twitter:

“Today we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. May God bless the souls of those who died defending our liberty. #MemorialDay2016”

Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera:

“We remember our nation’s heroes on Memorial Day, and everyday, and we are privileged to live in the greatest country in the history of the world because of their sacrifices. We are deeply thankful for those who have served our country so honorably, and for those who serve our country currently. We are forever indebted to them for their bravery, service and honor.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam:

“Today, we remember all those who’ve given their lives so that we can live ours freely.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi:

“This Memorial Day, we remember and honor all the members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives protecting our country. These heroes and their selfless actions secure our rule of law, a bedrock to the American way of life and the protection of our individual rights and freedoms. I encourage all Floridians to thank a service member this weekend. It is due to their dedicated service that we are able to enjoy our freedom as we spend time with friends and family.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham:

“On Memorial Day, we pause to take the time to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation.

“We also owe thanks to the veterans here in North Florida and across our country who served proudly in the military and fought to protect our freedom both at home and abroad.

“America wouldn’t be the land of the free without the actions of our nation’s most courageous individuals.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you — we will never forget the valor and sacrifice of the men and women who defend our freedom.”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, via Twitter:

“Join me in thanking, honoring and remembering our brave and selfless fallen for their sacrifices.”

U.S Rep. Dan Webster:

“Our American freedoms are inseparably linked to the sacrifice of the brave men and women who have given their lives to fight for and defend our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As we observe Memorial Day, it is with deep respect that we pause as a nation to honor the memory of those who have given the last full measure of devotion and made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.”

Congressional candidate Brian Mast has an op-ed on the meaning of Memorial Day here.

Congressional candidate Mary Thomas:

“Today we will observe Memorial Day, a day when all Americans should pause to reflect on and thank God for the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country.  I will be doing just that this morning in Perry, Florida at their Memorial Day ceremony.

“I want to deliver a special message to all of you who are in the military or who have already served.  This is my pledge to you, if elected, I will always fight for you, your families and for our country, first and foremost.

“To those serving in our Armed Services, I will work to restore our military might and we will once again listen to our commanders and generals and let our military, not the politicians, lead the way in destroying ISIS once and for all.

“To our Veterans, America and your government will once again honor you and treat you with the dignity and respect you have earned.

“As the former counsel to the Florida Defense Support Task Force and former General Counsel to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, I have served our military and our Veterans,  and in Congress I will fight the powers that be to once again return our country to greatness.

“As a first-generation American who has worked hard for everything I’ve achieved, I know just how special and precious the American Dream is.

“Thank you to our service men and women and to those who died to make that American Dream possible for me and my family. I’m running for Congress to save the American Dream for your family and the next generation.”

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto:

“As you gather with friends and family this Memorial Day, I hope you will stand with me in honoring the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice in protection of our fundamental freedoms.  These fallen heroes surrendered their lives to protect our families, our future, and the country we both love.

“The United States Military has been a rock for nearly 240 years, defending the cause of freedom. In that time, our world has changed and our Armed Forces have changed with it – but the dedication, courage, and selflessness of the men and women in uniform has remained a constant.  The spirit of our American soldiers truly shines throughout the history of our Nation.

“As we observe Memorial Day, I am grateful for all of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and women, and Marines who have bravely defended our Nation, and for those who continue to serve today.  The liberty we enjoy today is the result of their courageous actions. Freedom certainly isn’t free; it has come at the cost of many heroes’ lives.  Thank you all for your service, sacrifice, and your continued dedication to our country.”

State Sen. Jeff Brandes:

“As we enjoy this Memorial Day, please join me in reflecting on the true meaning of the holiday: honoring our fallen heroes that gave their lives defending our liberty and way of life, where every American has the opportunity to determine their own future.

“As a combat Veteran of the Iraq War, this day is particularly important to me as I remember the brave men and women that never made it home.

“So as you take part in this today’s activities, please remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice.

“From my family to yours I wish you a safe, responsible, and enjoyable Memorial Day.”

State Sen. Bill Galvano, via Twitter:

“To the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country and #freedom, we remember you today.”

State Sen. Rene Garcia:

“Thank you cannot ever explain how grateful I am for those that have sacrificed everything serving this country. Today I will proudly remember and honor those who died fighting for our freedom as well as their families who have handled their loss with God’s grace. On this Memorial Day, let this country never forget the gifts of liberty and security servicemen and servicewomen have given us. God Bless.”

State Rep. Janet Adkins:

“This Monday we celebrate and honor those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country. As the daughter of a U.S. Navy veteran and as a citizen of this great country, I applaud, salute and thank those that sacrificed for others.  Their service is not forgotten.  We set aside this day to honor them.

“Our country and our communities have so much to be thankful for on this Memorial Day as we gather throughout to celebrate our freedom.

“May God continue to bless our great country.”

State Rep. Dennis Baxley:

“All gave some, and some gave all. Today, Marion County remembers those that gave all in defense and protection of our freedom. We will be forever grateful for your sacrifice.”

State Rep. Bob Cortes:

“On this Memorial Day, I want to express how deeply grateful I am for the men and women who paid the ultimate price to preserve our great nation. Throughout our history, brave Americans have served our country with courage, dignity, and determination.

We honor those who have fallen in the high calling of defending the principles of liberty and individual rights on which we were founded. I think also of their families, who bear the burden of their loss most personally. On this and every day, let us remember them and do all we can to be worthy of their sacrifice.”

State Rep. Dane Eagle:

“In Florida, nearly every family has been touched by the loss of a loved one in time of war.   We can all remember an uncle, cousin, son, daughter, or father who has given themselves in the ultimate expression of sacrifice.

“On this day, I remember my Uncle Harry, who gave his life on the USS Indianapolis which delivered the world’s first atomic bomb, ultimately leading to the end of WWII. I also remember one of my closest friends, Jonathan Cote, who gave his life defending our freedoms in Iraq.

“Memorial Day is not a time for mourning. In fact, sorrow would be the last thing on the minds of those who we remember on this day. This is a time to express gratitude and hope. We honor the fallen and celebrate the freedom they have defended.

“Whether they lay in the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, in the shadow of our Nation’s Capital in Arlington, in the family cemetery, or in the depths of the Pacific, we remember them and we honor them.

“We recognize the brave sacrifices of America’s fallen soldiers, who showed by their service that freedom is not free. We know bad things happen when good men do nothing. Thank God for the good men and women who resolved to fight for this country and our ideals.”

State Rep. Matt Gaetz:

“Each Memorial Day, we honor the courageous men and women who gave their lives serving our nation and defending our freedom. But my friend Lt. Nathan Nelson personifies a Memorial Day mission that lasts all year: remember those who died, but don’t forget those who almost did. You can learn more about Nathan’s story and our state’s commitment to our servicemembers in my column that ran in the Northwest Florida Daily News yesterday.

“Another hero to all of us is Air Force Master Sergeant Joe Deslauriers, who lost both legs and much of his left arm during his 4th tour in Afghanistan. I met Joe through “Building Homes for Heroes,” a program that provides housing to wounded warriors and their families.

“To learn more about Joe’s service, please take a few moments to watch the below video, and you’ll be as moved as I am by his courage.

“The liberties that we enjoy every day wouldn’t be possible without those that fought to protect them. Today, please join me in honoring all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.

“From my family to yours, I wish you a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day.”

State Rep. Bill Hager:

“Memorial Day is about more than just picnics and barbecues at the beach. It is a day to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Please join me in remembering and thanking our fallen heroes, as well as their families.

“The 9th Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the South Florida National Cemetery will be held on Monday at 10am. The Cemetery is located at 6501 South State Road 7 in Lake Worth. It is open to the public and is a countywide event to honor our heroes.

“If you are using the weekend for special time with your family and friends, enjoy, be safe, and celebrate the beginning of summer!”

State Rep. Shawn Harrison:

“This Memorial Day, our family remembers Lt. Dennis Baird Gleason, KIA 4/15/69 over the Sea of Japan. He left behind a wife and 7 month old daughter. This past August the United States Navy honored Lt. Gleason with a full military service at Arlington National Cemetery. It was the most amazing and moving experience I have ever had the honor of taking part in. Like many children of heroes, Susan Harrison never got to know her dad, but his memory lives on in her and his grandchildren.

“As we enjoy our families this weekend, remember the reason we have that freedom. There are a quarter of a million reminders at Arlington.

“Thank you Lt. Gleason and the millions of other service men and women for your sacrifice and the amazing families you left behind.”

State Rep. Jake Raburn:

“This Memorial Day, join us in the remembrance of the men and women who served our country so faithfully.”

State Rep. Greg Steube:

“Our country and our community has so much to be thankful for on this Memorial Day. As we gather this weekend at barbeques, picnics and parades, I would ask that we all take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about. To the families of our fallen patriots, I offer you my deepest heartfelt condolences. As a nation, we can never adequately express our appreciation for their service. We will never be able to adequately express our sorrow and sympathy for your loss. As a veteran, I morn your loss and I carry with me the names of those who I served with. Take heart, the memories you carry are also carried by those they served with. They are not forgotten; nor are you.”

State Rep. Ed Narain:

“This Memorial Day we commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice to provide us with the freedoms we have as Americans. Almost one million servicemen and women have given their lives since the Revolutionary war to safeguard the rights we sometimes take for granted.

“Freedom is not free and we honor those who were willing to pay the price for our safety and existence as the greatest country in the world. Please remember to pray for their families.”

State Rep. Ross Spano, via Facebook:

“Thank you! Thank you to the men and women who gave their lives to guarantee our freedom and perpetuate our democracy. Thank you to the families that shared these guardians with us. Thank you!”

State Rep. Dana Young:

“As we enjoy the Memorial Day holiday, we must never forget those who fought for our freedom and made the ultimate sacrifice. These courageous men and women have truly made America the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“I’m proud to call Tampa Bay home, and we’re honored to live alongside the brave service members at MacDill Air Force Base that play such a critical role in keeping our community and country safe.

“From my family to yours, I wish you a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend.”

State House candidate Alex Barrio:

“This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, a long weekend where many of us will spend time with our families, friends, and loved ones. While celebrating the three-day weekend, we should take a moment to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country and the values we all hold dear: life, liberty, and the American dream. We should also keep in our thoughts and prayers those currently serving our country in Afghanistan and around the world.”

State House candidate Jim Messer:

“I hope you have plans for a weekend filled with family and friends. I will be walking neighborhoods, and if you are home, I look forward to talking with you.

“As we approach Memorial Day, I am reminded of my service in the Army.  The majority of my time in the military was in what was West Germany preparing for the great Soviet invasion that, thankfully, never occurred.  I was lucky.  Many others have not been so fortunate.

“Each generation of our military stands ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. This weekend we honor those who did.”

State House candidate Sean Shaw:

“From the Shaw family to yours, we hope you’re enjoying a safe holiday weekend.  Please take a moment of reflection to consider all of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the rights we enjoy every day.  We can never repay the debt, but we can give our sincere gratitude to those who’ve paid the cost for the defense of our nation and our freedoms. Thank you for your service.”

St. Petersburg City Councilman Ed Montanari:

“On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those that gave the last full measure of devotion to our nation. I will never forget my friends and fellow F-16 pilots that were killed in service to our country and that remind me that freedom is never free. May God bless them all and their families: Lt Col Bill George, Lt Col Roy Neisz, Lt Col Dick Anderson, Lt Col Dick Allain, Capt Chris Barber, Capt Larry Lee, Capt Ron Speidel,, Capt Arnie Clark, and Major Sam D’Angelo.”

Duval County GOP Chair Cindy Graves:

“As Republicans, we continue to pray for the families of our heroes deployed from Jacksonville and throughout our nation. We pray that our patriotic efforts honor those who sacrificed all for the freedoms we enjoy. We celebrate the strong military presence in our community. We continue to work in 2016 to elect a commander-in-chief who will put our national security and our military first. We long for a US president who will be worthy of the sacrifices of so many and who will honor our veterans.”

Memorial Day is brought to you by these lobbyists, associations and, of course, Publix

Summertime is here — well, unofficially.

While Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, the holiday also marks the unofficial start of summer. That means baseball games and cookouts; road trips to the state’s theme parks; and a plethora of tourists visiting restaurants, beaches and hotels.

More than 38 million travelers were expected to travel this holiday weekend, according to the AAA 2016 Memorial Day travel forecast. The motor group estimated that 33.9 million travelers would hit the road, a 2.1 percent increase in auto travel.

But AAA is more than just about providing roadside assistance. The national organization has a huge advocacy program, reaching out to lawmakers across the country to make sure the roads are safe for travelers everywhere. In Florida, that means enlisting the help of former Speaker of the House H. Lee Moffitt at Adams and Reese LLP. In the first quarter of 2016, AAA Auto Club South paid between $20,000 and $29,999 for legislative lobbying, and between $1 an $9,999 for executive branch services.

Think flying is a better option? We’re right there with you.

With millions of people flying into the Sunshine State, Airlines for America, the trade organization representing the principle U.S. airlines, has tapped Fred BaggettGus CorbellaHayden Dempsey, and others at Greenberg Traurig to work on their behalf in Florida. The organization paid Greenberg Traurig between $10,000 and $19,999 in the first quarter for legislative branch lobbying.

Once you’ve arrived at your location, you have to have a place to lay your head and grab a bite to eat. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association — which represents more than 10,000 members, suppliers and theme parks — might just have a few suggestions for you.

Florida has an $82 billion hospitality industry, which represents 23 percent of the state’s economy. With 1.1 million people employed in the industry, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association pays close attention to the politics and policy in the Sunshine State.

The association has tapped Metz Husband & Daughton, and Smith Bryan & Myers help do just that. In the first quarter of 2016, the association paid between $10,000 and $19,999 to Smith Bryan & Myers, and between $20,000 to $29,999 to Metz Husband & Daughton for legislative lobbying.

If the holiday is just an excuse to visit a theme park, have no fear. There’s plenty of those in Florida. According to a report by AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association, seven of the Top 25 amusement and theme parks in the world are located in Florida.

Tops on the list? Disney World’s Magic Kingdom with 20.5 million visitors in 2015.

Being the top destination in the state, nay the world, means there’s a need for top representation. Paying between $20,000 and $29,999 in the first quarter of 2016, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts enlisted Gregory BlackJames Daughton and others at Metz Husband & Daughton for legislative lobbying.

The company also enlisted Paul BradshawChris DudleyClark Smith and others at Southern Strategy Group for legislative lobbying, paying between $10,000 and $19,999 in the first quarter of 2016 for their services

In that same time frame, the company also paid between $10,000 and $19,999 to Dean CannonLarry Cretul and others at Capitol Insight (now GrayRobinson) for legislative lobbying; between $10,000 and $19,999 to Katie Webb and others at Colodny Fass.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is also a major contributor to campaigns and committees across the state. In 2014, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts gave more than $408,000 to legislative campaigns and committees. That year the company gave at least $365,000 to Florida Jobs PAC; and $28,000 to the Florida Chamber of Commerce Alliance.

If you don’t want to fight the crowds, then maybe a cookout is more your style. And if you’re cooking out, then odds are you’re heading to Publix. And why wouldn’t you? It’s one of the largest brands associated with the state, and as the company likes to point out it’s the place “where shopping is a pleasure.”

And when it comes to paying attention to politics and public policy, Publix looks to Charlie DudleyTeye ReevesJorge Chamizo and others at Floridian Partners. The grocery store giant pays the firm between $10,000 and $19,999 a quarter.

Publix also contributes big-time to political interests in the Sunshine State. In the last election cycle, the supermarket gave more than $2.8 million to Florida legislative and statewide campaigns, and political committees.

Some of the biggest contributions that election cycle included at least $185,000 to the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC; at least $250,000 to Florida Jobs PAC; and at least $560,000 to the FRF Grocery Council Political Committee.

And lest we forget the real reason behind Memorial Day; how about a shout out to Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion? Bill Helmich with Helmich Consulting represents the Florida departments of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Make sure to a moment to head over to your local Legion and VFW hall this weekend to grab a beer and say thank you.

Vern Buchanan condemns “gross injustice” against Vietnam vets

As the nation prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, Congressman Vern Buchanan called for swift passage of legislation restoring health coverage for 90,000 Navy veterans who were potentially exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

In a letter to U.S. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Buchanan urged the committee to take up the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act restoring VA health benefits for Navy veterans who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam.

Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Navy veterans who served in Vietnam, commonly referred to as “Blue Water” veterans, were eligible to receive benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but their eligibility was discontinued in 2002 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA decided at the time that only veterans who served on land in Vietnam would be granted full health coverage for exposure to Agent Orange.

“This is unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “They fought and sacrificed just like their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam. Denying them health coverage is a gross injustice.”

Veterans from the 16th congressional district are among those who have been exposed to Agent Orange-contaminated water. “We drank it, we bathed in it, we cooked in it and we climbed all over the planes that flew through it,” said Ronald Babcock in a recent news report.

The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate jungles and remove cover used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.

Exposure to the toxic herbicide has been linked to prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, respiratory cancers, ischemic heart disease and more.

Despite the VA’s decision to terminate coverage, a 2005 study by the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs found that Australian Navy veterans who served in Vietnam had approximately twice the rate of cancer than Army veterans.

Buchanan said the arbitrary distinction between serving on land or on sea shouldn’t be a factor in any veteran’s access to VA health care. Regardless of where they were exposed to this deadly chemical, all veterans should be treated equally in their access to health care.

“The VA made a sacred promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle,” Buchanan said. “In order to live up to that promise, Congress and the VA need to step up for Blue Water veterans.”

The legislation is supported by several of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Veterans Advocacy, Fleet Reserve Association, and Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association. A companion bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Brown:

More than four decades ago, hundreds of thousands of our nation’s finest men and women in the Armed Forces returned home to their families and friends from Vietnam. But for 90,000 American sailors who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam, commonly referred to as “Blue Water” Navy veterans, the war never really ended.

That’s because these veterans are being denied health care coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for deadly diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that was used to kill vegetation and eliminate cover for enemy troops during the Vietnam War.

Tragically, these Vietnam servicemen and women have been told by the VA that they are ineligible for much-needed benefits. Currently, only veterans who served on land in Vietnam are eligible for benefits for illnesses tied to Agent Orange.

The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of the toxic chemical in Vietnam. Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to devastating illnesses including prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, respiratory cancers, ischemic heart disease and more.

And while Blue Water veterans have experienced identical diseases to their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam just miles away from them – they don’t have identical coverage.

This situation is particularly frustrating because these veterans were previously covered under the original Agent Orange Act of 1991. This law made it clear that anyone who served in the war – whether on land or in Vietnam’s territorial waters – was presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and should receive VA benefits for illnesses caused by it.

However, in 2002 the VA decided to strip benefits by limiting coverage to veterans who served on land in Vietnam.

This is unacceptable. They fought and sacrificed just like their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam. Denying them health coverage is a gross injustice. This arbitrary distinction should not be the deciding factor in any veteran’s access to VA health care.

As Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I’m urging you to immediately act on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation for these veterans who are suffering from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Since its creation nearly a century ago, the VA made a sacred promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.” In order to live up to that promise, Congress and the VA need to step up for Blue Water veterans.

Sincerely,

Vern Buchanan

Member of Congress