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Joe Henderson: If Rick Scott stands on principle, then he must use budget veto pen

Take your seats, folks. This is going to be good. We are about to find out who is the boss in Florida.

If Gov. Rick Scott wants to remind everyone in the Legislature who has the most stripes on their shoulder, then he has to follow through on his threat to start vetoing major — or all — parts of the $82.4 billion budget presented to him by the House and Senate.

Special session? Bring it on.

The budget eviscerates two of Scott’s most cherished programs — VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. It is a direct frontal assault on public education, laughingly in the name of “reform.” There are so many damaging aspects to this bill, picking it apart piece by piece could take days.

Educators are lining up, bullhorns at the ready, to plead with Scott to just veto the 278-page conforming bill they say will cut public schools to the marrow. House Speaker Richard Corcoran calls it “transformational” and released an explaining that all those “liberals” have it wrong. It’s going to be great.

Does he mean those well-known liberals from the Tea Party? Yes, even the Tea Party Network tweeted that the bill is a “monstrosity” and called for it to be vetoed.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association called it “a budget that will be devastating to public schools, our students.”

Hello!

Scott can score lots of points with educators if he turns thumbs-down on this budget (consider that alliance for a moment, will you). He also can make a potent argument about preserving the $100 million he wants for VISIT Florida. In a budget of nearly $83 billion, it’s not a great amount of money and, considering that Florida just had a record year for tourism, something must be working.

It’s tricky, though.

During Scott’s sparring with Corcoran during the Legislative Session, the Speaker won nearly every round. If Scott were to veto the budget, he would risk having the Legislature override that with a two-thirds vote (pretty good chance it could happen, too).

What’s it going to be — capitulation or principle?

We got here because Corcoran stood on his core principle of lower spending, no corporate welfare, and a move toward privatization of, well, everything — especially schools.

Scott should stand on his principles as well. If the Legislature overrides it, well, the governor can at least say he did all he could. It won’t be his fault if tourism falls off, and the blood from the mess this budget makes of education will be on the hands of the lawmakers who voted in favor of “transformational” change.

Fresh off Atlantic City deal, Seminole Tribe now adding Hard Rock in Canada

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which recently bought the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, is expanding its Hard Rock gambling and entertainment brand to Canada.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa
Hard Rock Casino Ottawa (rendering). (PRNewsfoto/Hard Rock International)

A Tribe spokesman on Tuesday said that the Seminoles had won a bidding process to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

The deal with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., pending final approval by Canadian authorities, includes an investment by Rideau Carleton Raceway Holdings Limited, a Canadian horse racing concern.

“This is a crucial first step towards a larger strategic vision of our world-class brand’s expansion efforts in Ontario and throughout Canada,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming CEO, in a statement.

The investment group will transform an “existing property with a complete remodel, rebrand and significant expansion, leading to an economic development boost,” according to a press release. “The multi-phase project is expected to potentially create 1,900 construction-related jobs and 2,000 direct and indirect ongoing jobs.”

Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, earlier this year bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, formerly owned by President Donald Trump, from billionaire Carl Icahn. That deal includes two New Jersey investors.

Allen also has said the Tribe wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City. He told The Associated Press that Hard Rock remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Despite lack of deal, Seminole Tribe still paying state millions

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has given the state of Florida another multi-million dollar payday.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation reported that the tribe paid $19.5 million in gambling revenue share on Monday. The department regulates gambling.

That money includes revenue share from banked card games, specifically blackjack. The tribe also offers slots.

It has Vegas-style and other gambling at seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but has blackjack only in Tampa and Hollywood.

Monday’s deposit brings the total amount paid by the Seminoles this year to $97.5 million, DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson said.

The cut of the money from blackjack, however, is being “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund until the Tribe and state come to agreement on renewed rights to offer blackjack in Florida.

A blackjack provision in a prior agreement from 2010, known as the Seminole Compact, expired in 2015. In December of that year, Gov. Rick Scott had negotiated a new blackjack deal in return for $3 billion to state coffers over seven years. Lawmakers did not approve it.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe.

A year later, a federal judge ruled that the state—in allowing other card games that played too much like blackjack at pari-mutuel cardrooms—broke the original deal and let the Tribe have blackjack till 2030.

The tribe is no longer obligated to pay revenue share from blackjack games but has been doing so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a deal. Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment when reached Tuesday.

This Legislative Session, lawmakers couldn’t pass a comprehensive gambling bill after failing to agree on whether to expand slot machines in the state. What also died, once again, was the renewed agreement with the Tribe, which had been rolled into the legislation.

Stalking pythons: Carlos Lopez-Cantera joins Everglades hunt

Florida’s lieutenant governor joined hunters paid by the state to stalk and shoot invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades.

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith says Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera went hunting Monday night with one of 25 hunters hired to kill pythons on district property.

Smith says Tom Rahill and Lopez-Cantera brought in a 15-foot-4-inch (5-meter) python. It was the 96th python caught by the district’s hunters since March 25.

Rahill leads the “Swamp Apes” program taking veterans on hunts to remove invasive animals from the Everglades. He took Lopez-Cantera hunting along a canal in western Miami-Dade County.

The district is paying $8.10 an hour in a python-killing pilot program ending June 1. Florida’s wildlife agency also is hiring contractors to remove pythons from specific areas.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

2,100 wildfires have burned in Florida since start of year

State officials say 170,000 acres in Florida have burned from wildfires since the start of the year.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said that more than 127 active fires were burning in Florida as of Monday.

Since the start of 2017, there have been more than 2,100 wildfires in Florida.

Putnam says drought conditions and high wildfire danger will continue for some time since May is traditionally one of the driest months of the year in Florida.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott announces seven state board appointments

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced seven appointments and reappointments to a variety of state boards.

Florida Real Estate Commission

Scott began by naming Randy Schwartz to the Florida Real Estate Commission, a seven-member board that administers and enforces real estate license law.

Schwartz, 67, of Winter Springs, is a private practice attorney. He fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Florida Citrus Commission

Scott then reappointed Francisco Pines to the Florida Citrus Commission, a nine-member panel to represent citrus growers, processors and backers.

Pines, 41, of Miami, is the co-owner of Pines Ranch, Inc. and a managing partner at Francisco J. Pines, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from St. Thomas School of Law. Pines is reappointed for a term beginning ending May 31, 2019.

District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College

Scott next appointed Samuel Garrison to the District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College.

Garrison, 40, of Fleming Island, is an attorney at Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison, P.A., and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney of the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University and his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Garrison succeeds Cranford Coleman for a term ending May 31, 2018.

District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville

Scott announced one appointment and one reappointment to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville, a nine-member board of appointees.

David “Hunt” Hawkins, 58, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stein Mart, Inc., and previously served as a member of the program advisory council to DECA, Inc. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and his master’s degree from the University of West Florida. Hawkins succeeds Thomas Bryan for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Thomas “Mac” McGehee, Jr., 57, of Jacksonville, is the executive vice president at Mac Papers, Inc., and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He is reappointed for a term also ending May 31, 2019.

All the above appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

finally, Scott reappointed Dr. Peter A. Wish and John Stafford to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, the public agency that operates and manages the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Wish, of Sarasota, is the president of Gulfcoast Healthstyle Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in psychology from Boston College. Wish is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Stafford, of Sarasota, is a former chairman of the board for FCCI Mutual Insurance Company and previously served on the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children. He is reappointed for a term also ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Ron DeSantis for Governor? Don’t rule it out

Adam Putnam may have some competition for the Republican nomination for Florida Governor after all.

Sources very familiar with the thinking of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis note that he is looking at a run for the state’s top job, with a decision to be made late in the summer.

Were he to run, he would be a very serious candidate for the job — posing an existential threat to Putnam, as DeSantis could very quickly own the space to Putnam’s right.

DeSantis, who was far and away the strongest fundraiser in the GOP primary race for Senate in 2016 (ended when Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election), has some advantages that others lack.

Among them: name identification, as Team DeSantis asserts that the nationally-known Northeast Florida Congressman has better name id than either Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran or State Sen. Jack Latvala.

As well, DeSantis has $3M at his disposal already; were he to enter the race, that war chest would grow quickly.

However, no decision is imminent — yet. DeSantis is still working on the federal level, with a number of issues he wants to push forward ahead of the August recess.

DeSantis, unlike presumptive GOP Senate nominee Rick Scott, has not secured or even asked for the blessing of President Donald Trump. However, given DeSantis’ national profile, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Trump does not support the nationally-known conservative.

Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state, and national figures.

Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Putnam,” we are told.

Meanwhile, any support that Corcoran may be interested in securing from Americans for Prosperity may be blunted, effectively, by the vast majority of members of the board of directors having given to DeSantis for Senate already.

DeSantis is going to be worth watching in the next few months, as he has the biggest national profile of any potential gubernatorial candidate, with hits on Fox News Channel a few times a week.

While Attorney General may be another option, the reality is that for DeSantis, the time to make a move for the top job in the state is likely now.

For Northeast Florida conservatives, meanwhile, DeSantis may be the best shot in decades to take the governor’s office.

How religious mania changed the Corrine Brown jury

Speculation about what a discharged juror (“Juror 13”) said last week in a closed-court session in the trial of Corrine Brown can now end, as a transcript of the session was released Monday afternoon. [Transcript of Juror 13]

Juror 8, the juror who complained about the comments — relating that the discharged juror spoke of “higher beings” saying that Brown was guilty — kicked off proceedings in closed court by registering concerns.

The discharged juror had made such comments on the first day of deliberations and did not reiterate such comments, according to Juror 8.

However, “Some of the jurors are concerned that that’s affecting his — his decision,” Juror 8 said.

Federal prosecutor A. Tysen Duva was unmollified: “A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges and that he trusted the Holy Ghost. That does not resonate whatsoever with the court’s instructions to apply the law to the facts and make a decision,” he said regarding the juror’s mental state and ability to discern guilt from innocence in an evidentiary framework.

The discharged juror, for his part, didn’t reassure the feds.

“I told them that in all of this, in listening to all the information, taking it all down, I listen for the truth, and I know the truth when the truth is spoken. So I expressed that to them, and how I came to that conclusion …. I told — I told them that — that I prayed about this, I have looked at the information, and that I received information as to what I was told to do in relation to what I heard here today — or this past two weeks.”

The juror’s tipster? “My Father in Heaven.”

“My religious beliefs are going by the testimonies of people given here, which I believe that’s what we’re supposed to do, and then render a decision on those testimonies, and the evidence presented in the room,” the juror said.

Brown’s attorney attempted to defend this position: “I think the juror has simply said the Holy Spirit told him something. I think based upon what he said — however, he did say that he considered and has looked at the evidence that was presented, and did respond to the court’s questions concerning, first, his ability to follow the instructions given by Judge Klindt during jury selection, whether or not there was any moral or religious belief that would prevent him from serving as a juror.”

Richard Corcoran: Federal government needs to act now; mosquito season is here

As we celebrated Mother’s Day with our families this weekend, I could not help but think of all the moms in the U.S., and all over the world, who have been affected by Zika in the last year.

As a father of six, I know that all children bring challenges.  But a child born with microcephaly will present his or her parents with unique struggles.

As we enter into the warm summer months, the threat of another outbreak is looming. That is why I have and will continue to urge the federal government to quickly authorize new strategies that can be used to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.

 I believe we should be taking a multi-faceted approach to put an end to the threat of Zika. This must include spraying programs, education awareness efforts, and the search for a vaccine. But more importantly, we must also look at new and science-based solutions that can control the growing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in Florida.

The mosquitoes that spread Zika are called Aedes aegypti. It is an invasive species in the U.S. and uniquely built to spread disease because it loves living in and around our homes and it loves to feed off humans rather than other mammals.

Besides Zika, it spreads a number of other diseases – yellow fever and dengue, just to name two. International travel and warm weather only increase the chance that these diseases are not only here to stay, but that we will continue to see more outbreaks. Because of the way it lives and breeds, the diseases the Aedes aegypti spreads are hard to control. It’s like a dry field of grass – just one spark can cause an out-of-control fire.

While ongoing research for a vaccine is imperative, we can’t only focus on a solution that will cost billions of dollars and that won’t be ready for years to come. I think we should be focused on the root of the problem – identifying new, innovative solutions to cut down on the population of Aedes aegypti. Some of those solutions already exist today.

One example of the technology I’ve advocated for is the Oxitec genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquito. When it is released into the wild, it doesn’t bite, it doesn’t transmit disease, but does transmit a self-limiting gene that makes its offspring die before reaching adulthood.

This technology is being used successfully in some countries already. If we had it available in the U.S., many expectant mothers might have one less thing to be anxious about.

Last year during a CDC briefing about the Zika outbreak in South Florida, former Director Thomas Frieden cautioned, “We also don’t yet have ideal ways to control the particular mosquitoes that spread Zika, and we need better methods and tools for mosquito control.” He added, “… aggressive mosquito control measures don’t seem to be working as well as we would have liked.”

What he means is that the insecticides that most cities use today to control mosquitoes do not work well for a variety of reasons, including the mosquitoes’ ability to be insecticide resistance. Even mosquito control officials have cautioned that insecticides are becoming less and less effective. This combined with the unseasonably warm winter we experienced has officials concerned

So as we enter into the summer months, I urge moms everywhere to take a few minutes to learn how to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases by going to the websites of the CDC or the Florida Department of Health.

Your health, and the health of your family, may depend on it.

___

Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Kim McDougal to depart as Rick Scott’s chief of staff

Kim McDougal is leaving as Gov. Rick Scott‘s chief of staff effective July 1, according to a Monday press release.

McDougal

McDougal, who’s been in the position since April 2016, “will be pursuing opportunities in the private sector,” the release said.

“Over the last year, Florida had its fair share of tragic events including two hurricanes, the terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub, and the shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport,” Scott said in a statement. “During these tough events, Kim has led my team through crisis and helped ensure we did all we could to help Florida families during these dark hours.

“Despite these challenges, we have also had great success this year, and she has worked every day to make sure Florida remains the top place for families to succeed and live their dreams,” he said. “Kim is a statewide leader in education policy and has played a tremendous role in guiding the education policies I have fought for while in office, including providing record funding for our students, keeping higher education affordable and expanding school choice options.

“Kim has proudly served Florida families for nearly three decades and her years of experience will be missed in my office. I know she will continue to do great things for our state.”

In the same statement, McDougal said, “It has been my absolute pleasure serving Florida families for almost three decades. It truly has been an honor to wake up every day and fight for policies that will make a difference in our families’ lives.

“Governor Scott is focused on making Florida the top place to get a great job and education, and I was honored to help work on policies to make Florida number one in the nation for families.”

McDougal was Scott’s fifth chief of staff since he took office in 2011, following, in order: Mike Prendergast, Steve MacNamaraAdam Hollingsworth, and Melissa Sellers (now Stone).

Our story from March 2016 when McDougal was hired is here.

Here’s more from the release:

McDougal, 54, began her public service with the State of Florida in 1989 and served in each role as an at-will state employee. McDougal has served as Chief of Staff since April 2016 and prior to that, she served as Governor Scott’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Legislative Affairs Director and Education Policy Coordinator. McDougal also served on his successful reelection campaign as a policy advisor.

McDougal has previously served in numerous leadership roles at the Department of Education, including Governmental Relations Director and Senior Policy Advisor for several Commissioners of Education. McDougal also served Governor Jeb Bush and in the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability in the Florida Legislature.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Florida State University College of Education. She graduated from the Louise S. McGehee High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has resided in Tallahassee since 1984.

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