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Blake Dowling: 2018 is coming, time to tighten up voter tech

Only in the world of politics can an election take place with both sides claiming they got the W.

In college football, it’s simple; you win or you lose — unless you are a Tennessee fan, then you get to be a “champion of life.”

I am sure Tennessee Coach Butch Jones meant well when he muttered those words last year, but come on man.

Back to politics. The special election (Karen Handel versus Jon Ossoff) in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District this week had everyone chattering.

Democrats say it was a close race in the heart of a deep-red district, meaning great things for 2018.

Republicans say they won even though they were outspent 5-1.

Regardless of your position, the Republican Party did “Handel” the competition. (Nice name, Karen; campaign slogans are endless.)

If I were her campaign manager, we would fire up crowds with the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle” blasted before every event.

However, one thing unheard (for once) is technology interfering with the election. Apparently, Russia doesn’t care about what goes on in Georgia.

A ZDNet headline this week said this: “198 million Americans hit by ‘largest ever’ voter records leak.”

Which is interesting because the potential exposure was discovered by a security expert and locked down before the information was leaked or stolen.

Was this a fake news headline, pure clickbait?

Here’s what went down. A company named Deep Root Analytics tracks voter information — not just names and addresses, but how the voter feels about issues — compiled using specific social engineering software (see my next column in INFLUENCE Magazine for a trip down that rabbit hole).

Deep Root had a terabyte of data sitting on an Amazon server that was potentially easy to breach. That was bad. On the bright side, it was good that the breach was discovered by a white-hat hacker before that info spilled.

Keep in mind, however, in states like Ohio you can already access every voter (names, addresses, etc.) in the state without needing to hack anything. So, another massive leak was avoided (maybe).

Our voter tech is behind, as is everything else we are plugging into the internet without giving it much thought.

This is called the “Internet of Things.”

For example, on the homefront: “Good news, Mrs. Wife! I can control our air conditioning through my iPhone!”

Is it password protected? No? FAIL.

You just created another vulnerability making both you and your data a big target. We, as Americans, regardless of political opinion or party affiliation, must band together to put a massive defensive strategy in place to keep the really bad guys out when 2018 rolls around.

Old voting machines … exposed servers in the cloud … external hard drives with unencrypted data … using free Wi-Fi without passwords … ransomware … threats are everywhere and we must “Handel” this situation with care.



Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His heroes are Bill Murray and Megan Fox and can be reached at

Medical marijuana implementation bill signed into law

As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.

Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.

With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.

On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.

Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.

The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.


Rick Scott signs bill changing how Florida Building Code is updated

Change is coming to the way the Florida Building Code is updated.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 1021) into law Friday that, among other things, changes the way the state’s building code is updated. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, requires the Florida Building Commission to review and determine which parts of international and national codes to adopt, instead of automatically adopting the national codes.

Florida currently uses the International Code — building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country — as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.

Under the bill signed into law Friday, the Florida Building Commission would be allowed to review international and national codes to determine which provisions need to be adopted, instead of adopting the entire code and making amendments. The commission would be required to adopt any provisions necessary to maintain eligibility for federal funding and discounts from the National Flood Insurance Program, the Federal Emergency Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The change was backed by the Florida Home Builders Association, which said streamlined future changes to the building code. However, building code officials had called on Scott to veto the measure saying that by signing it Scott would be abandoning “a process that has worked effectively since Hurricane Andrew.”

“The Florida Building Code is widely regarded as among the most effective set of building codes in the nation,” wrote Doug Wise, the president of the Building Officials Association, in a June 16 letter to Scott asking for a veto. “This is because the code development process established by the Florida Legislature ‘got it right’ when the decision was made to base Florida’s codes on the national model codes. These model codes are developed and updated through a consensus process and are the foundation documents which are modified to address Florida-specific conditions.”

Wise went on to say that signing the bill could lead to a weakened building code, which would “disconnect Florida’s building professionals from the ongoing updates of the national model codes and will lead to a stagnate, out-of-date, set of regulations, harming the citizens of Florida by creating a less safe built environment.”

Earlier this year, Jeremy Stewart with the Florida Home Builders Association told Florida Politics that suggestions that changing the way the code is updated would diminish home building safety are “flat out false, disappointing, and coming from vendors in the process who manufacture items installed in homes, not those who shake hands with the consumers at the end of the day.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

Andrew Gillum says he’s not “focus” of FBI investigation

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a Friday statement he is “not the focus” of the FBI’s investigation of the city Community Redevelopment Agency‘s business deals.

“Last week the FBI approached me about several people and businesses here in Tallahassee,” said Gillum, also a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018. “I spoke with them, and told them they could expect both the City and my personal cooperation with their investigation.

“They assured me I was not the focus of an investigation, and that they would be moving quickly with their work.”

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida has issued subpoenas seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum was not named in the subpoenas.

As one person involved with the investigation, who asked not to be named, told Florida Politics on Thursday, “This is serious. Very serious. I’m sure that everyone named in those subpoenas has lawyered up. I won’t be surprised if charges are filed in the next few months.”

The agency’s goal “is to create and implement strategies that use a combination of public and private resources to facilitate redevelopment,” its website says. “To meet this goal, the Tallahassee CRA seeks projects that help reduce or eliminate the continuation and/or spread of blight.”

But the city has been criticized, for instance, for ponying up more than $2 million to fund restoration of its former power plant in Cascades Park, now the home of The Edison restaurant, which has several Tallahassee lobbyist investors.

Among the two-dozen people or companies named in the subpoenas is Adam Corey, the lobbyist/developer behind The Edison and a former mayoral campaign treasurer to Gillum.

“I take any allegation of corruption in the City of Tallahassee very seriously, and I am committed to rooting it out in its entirety,” said Gillum, who’s been mayor since 2014. “If corruption has taken place in our city, those parties must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate, enable, or turn a blind eye to corruption.

He added: “While no one likes the City being under the FBI’s scrutiny … we must aid them in their work. They have my full support and cooperation as the Mayor, and the full cooperation of the City of Tallahassee.”

Jorge Labarga names Council of Business Partners members

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Friday announced the first members of a panel to advise the Florida Supreme Court‘s commission on helping the state’s poor and working poor get legal help.

The Council of Business Partners will advise the Commission on Access to Civil Justice, created by Labarga in 2014.

“Employers, too, have a stake in this,” Labarga said in a statement. “Employees who have challenges accessing justice have higher absenteeism and reduced productivity.

“It is in all our interests to address access to justice,” he added.

Those appointed include:

— Tere Blanca, president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Miami, who will serve as liaison between the Council of Business Partners and the Commission on Access to Civil Justice.

— David Faulkenberry, president of FBMC Benefits Management, Inc., Tallahassee.

— Cathy Roth, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, Universal Parks & Resorts, Orlando.

— Byron Russell, chair and CEO, Cheney Brothers, Inc., West Palm Beach. 

— Lynne Wines, Harvard University, Advanced Leadership fellow, Fort Lauderdale.

The commission has been seeking solutions to the perennial problem of providing civil legal help to those who can’t afford it. That includes things like child custody and landlord-tenant cases.

DEP doles out nearly $3 million in water grants

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently awarded nearly $3 million for six stormwater projects to communities across Florida, it announced in a Friday news release.

“Funded through annual appropriations from the Florida Legislature, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) grants support projects designed to improve water quality in  impaired springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries, which need help meeting Florida’s stringent water-quality standards,” the release said.

“The department is eager to partner with communities to improve water quality in coastal estuaries,” said Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystems restoration, in a statement. “Healthy waterways are a top priority for Florida’s residents and visitors.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Specifically, the TMDL grant program provides funding assistance for communities to implement projects to better manage or treat stormwater. Stormwater runoff is generated when rain flows over land and other surfaces and does not seep into the ground. As this runoff flows over paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops, it accumulates debris, nutrients, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is left untreated and runs into nearby surface waters.

Recently awarded TMDL grants for stormwater infrastructure improvements include:

Cape Coral: Awarded $800,000 for replacement of nearly 600 existing stormwater catch basin inlets throughout the city with raised inlets designed to accept runoff from roadside grassy swales. This project will help with overflow and reduce pollutants into Charlotte Harbor during intense rainfall.

Fort Myers: Awarded $250,000 for new grassy swales, sedimentation boxes, closed drainage piping and back-flow preventers throughout 379 acres of residential and commercial areas of Fort Myers Beach and Estero Bay. This project will help decrease nutrients and sedimentation into Estero Bay, Florida’s first aquatic preserve.

Village of Palmetto Bay: Awarded $550,000 for catch basin retrofits, installation of additional catch basins, sedimentation boxes, baffle boxes and exfiltration trenches throughout the village. This will help reduce pollutants flowing into Biscayne Bay, southeast Florida’s largest coastal estuary.

Pompano Beach: Awarded $300,000 for a retrofit project including grassy swales, water control structures, baffle boxes and exfiltration trenches in the Avondale community. This project will address flooding in low lying public right of way areas by intercepting stormwater runoff from those areas before it reaches three existing outfalls into the Pompano Canal, which flows into the South Fork New River, the Intracoastal Waterway and ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.

South Miami: Awarded $100,000 for drainage improvements including storm drain systems with catch basins and exfiltration trenches along a portion of Southwest 59th Avenue. This project will improve water quality in Snapper Creek Canal and ultimately, Biscayne Bay.

Volusia County: Awarded $935,618 for drainage improvements including connection and expansion of Riviera Oaks wet detention pond to a smaller adjacent pond. This project will reduce the force of extreme storm events and reduce pollutants flowing into the Halifax River and ultimately, the Indian River Lagoon.

Since 2002, the department has awarded approximately $120 million in TMDL funding, including $6.1 million to date in fiscal year 2016-17.

Visit the TMDL Water Quality Restoration Grant Program webpage for more information on the application process and qualification requirements.

Final rules set for House Speaker’s race voting

With just one week until freshman House Republicans are scheduled to vote for their leader, it appears lawmakers have agreed upon rules governing the election.

According to a copy of the rules obtained by, members will not be allowed to abstain from the vote; discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote will be prohibited; and “the vote count will not be disclosed under any circumstances prior to the final vote.”

The 27-member freshman Republican caucus is scheduled to hold a meeting on June 30 in Orlando to vote for the class leader, and likely House Speaker beginning in 2022. Four candidates — Byron Donalds, Erin Grall, Jamie Grant and Paul Renner — have announced their candidacy, with Grant and Renner believed to be the leading contenders.

Unlike traditional Speaker’s races, the class has agreed to hold a vote by secret ballot. The election is being coordinated by Rep. Larry Metz, the chairman of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.

Establishing the rules for the election has not been an easy process.

“I can’t believe we’re still going through this kind of stuff,” Rep. Sam Killebrew wrote this week in an email to his colleagues.”

According to the rules, all 27 members of the class shall participate in selecting the class leader and “shall vote in each round of the process.” The rules note that “abstentions are not permitted,” however they do not say what, if any, penalties there are for abstaining.

A majority of the class, or 14 members, is needed in order for any member to be selected as leader. Under the rules agreed to by the candidates, “should any member be absent and unable to call in his/her vote due to an emergency in which communication with the member is impossible, the candidates will agree to the terms of extending the time frame of the race prior to leaving the meeting and each candidate will commit to compliance with said terms.”

In order to preserve the procedures for a secret ballot, the candidates have agreed not to solicit or accept pledge cards prior to the secret ballot and, according to the rules, will discourage members from making “election day declarations through print, social media or at any time during the secret ballot process.”

“Failure to adhere to the prohibition on collecting pledge cards prior to the secret ballot vote,” according to the rules, “will result in the disqualification of the candidate for whom the pledge cards were collected.”

Under the rules, members who can’t attend the meeting should deliver their votes to Metz or Rodrigues between “8 a.m. and noon” on June 30. The rules encourage them to call Rodrigues or Metz directly and allow either to record their “preference for Speaker in ranked order.”

Members who can attend the meeting will be asked to turn off any electronic devices and deposit them in a “box to be secured” by Rodrigues or Metz. No outside communication is allowed during the entirety of the meeting.

The meeting is set to begin at noon, with 10 minute speeches from each candidate. Members will then have time for questions and answers, before candidates are given 5 minutes for closing statements. After closing statements, voting is set to begin.

The rules spell out a protocol that eliminates the lowest vote-getter until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

According to the protocol, Rodrigues and Metz will collect all of the ballots. The vote count, according to the rules, “will not be disclosed under any circumstances prior to the final vote.” The rules also state that “there will be no discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote and members will be asked to remain in his/her seat during this time between voting rounds.”

Under the rules, if any candidate receives a majority of votes at any time, “no further ballots will be required.” Once that occurs, everyone in the room will be informed that a candidate appears to have a majority of the votes. The remaining candidates, according to the rules, “will verify the results of the count under the supervision of the Majority Leader and the Public Ethics and Integrity Chair.” Once the vote count is verified by the presiding officers and candidates, the rules state “the winner will be declared.”


Rick Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors

Gov. Rick Scott Thursday announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session.

Kitson, 58, CEO of Kitson & Partners, “had a notable career in the National Football League, playing offensive guard for both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Scott’s statement said.

Kitson’s term begins June 22 and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Jordan, 50, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, also is a member of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Oxbridge Academy Board of Trustees, the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She was previously an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. Jordan’s term also begins June 22 and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Scott also appointed Alan Levine, 49, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and formerly Secretary of Health for Louisiana and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan.

The Board of Governors is a 17-member board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state of Florida.
Amy Zubaly

Personnel note: Amy Zubaly named new head of FMEA

Amy Zubaly has now gone from interim to permanent executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), and the first women to head the organization, according to a Thursday press release.

The board of directors in January had tapped Zubaly, then deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looked for a new leader. She’d been with the organization for 17 years.

Longtime FMEA executive director Barry Moline resigned last year to lead the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) in Sacramento.

Now, Zubaly will continue “to manage the day-to-day operations of the association, handle member and board relations, oversee the association’s government affairs, communications and education functions and provide strategic planning.”

“As we celebrate our 75th anniversary and rich history, it’s fitting that Amy—the first woman to serve as the association’s executive director—lead us into the future,” said Clay Lindstrom, FMEA President and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority General Manager.

“Amy’s long record of service to the organization and her deep understanding of the issues important to our members make her ideal for this role,” he said. “We look forward to taking the association in new directions under her leadership.”

Zubaly added: “It is a great honor to continue serving FMEA in this capacity and I deeply appreciate the board’s confidence in me. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead FMEA as we provide support and advocacy for our members today and into the future.”

Here’s more from the release: 

Originally called the Florida Municipal Utilities Association, FMEA was established in 1942 in response to World War II fuel shortages. Today, the association actively represents and advocates for member cities’ interests on a wide variety of state and federal issues, provides education and training for members and serves as a clearinghouse for industry news and information.

Municipal electric utilities provide affordable, reliable electric service, and have been doing so for more than a century. As community-owned and locally managed organizations, these utilities are focused on serving local needs and interests while reinvesting back into the community for services, such as police and fire protection.

Absent any takers, Senate mural in limbo

You can’t give away some art these days.

At least 10 museums or other institutions have declined an offer from the Florida Senate to donate its “Five Flags Mural“—now in storage—that formerly adorned the wall outside the chamber’s 5th floor public and press galleries in the Capitol.

“Most cited the size of the mural and their limited capacity for storage as the reason why they could not accept it,” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Thursday.

The nearly 40-year-old mural, installed during construction of the current 1978 Capitol building, is 10 feet by 16 feet.

But it may not help that it also depicts a Confederate general and flag. Contention has been stoked recently across Florida, including Tampa and Orlando, and the South as cities debate and have begun removing Confederate statues and other memorials.

This week, an effort to rename several roads in Hollywood bearing the names of Confederate generals led to angry confrontation. One black state legislator, Democrat Shevrin Jones, told the Miami Herald he was called the N-word and a “monkey.”

According to Betta, institutions that have turned down the mural include:

— Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala.

— Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.

— FSU Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee.

— Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

— Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

— West Florida Trust in Pensacola.

— Jacksonville Historical Society.

— Jacksonville Museum of Science and History.

— Florida Park Service.

— Tallahassee Museum.

The mural, painted by artist Renee Faure of Jacksonville, includes a Confederate general and flag. The Senate voted to remove a Confederate flag from its official seal and insignia in 2015.

Then-Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa had explained that the flag is a “painful symbol of oppression.”

The flag is over the shoulder of Gen. Joseph Finnegan, commander of the Confederate forces at the February 1864 Battle of Olustee in north Florida, the largest Civil War battle fought in the state.

But Betta previously said the mural was taken down during the Senate chamber’s renovation last year because it was showing signs of age, including fading and peeling.

Since then, it “has been properly cared for and stored by the Historic Capitol,” she added Thursday.

“The Senate plans to keep the mural stored in its current location for the time being,” Betta said. “The Senate remains open to the possibility of transferring ownership, if an institution comes forward with the capacity to display the mural.”

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