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After a fun, extended vacation, here are 5 tech recommendations to make travel easier

It’s not easy vacationing for twenty-six days.

Yes, that may be the bougiest sentence you read today, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

My wife, daughter and I recently returned from the vacation of a lifetime. We cruised across the Atlantic aboard the Disney Magic, stopping in The Azores, Portland and Dover, England, Amersterdam and, finally, Copenhagen. We then flew to Paris, took a train to Reims, and then another train to London. After nearly four weeks away from home, we flew back to Tampa.

Like I said, it was the vacation of a lifetime. The logistics involved were staggering. My wife had an accordion folder stuffed to the brim with boarding passes, itineraries, and tickets.

Because the first part of our vacation was a 16 day Disney cruise, we started off with a small army’s worth of bags and suitcases. After all, you can’t sail with Mickey if you’re not willing to dress up like your favorite Disney character or princess! Plus, you need extra room just for all the fun souvenirs you will bring home. Here’s what our luggage situation looked like on our last night of sailing.

One advantage of traveling by cruise — if you are fortunate enough to be able to drive to the port — is that you can pretty much bring as much luggage as you can carry. That’s not the case if you are flying.

Mind you, we did not haul of this luggage through Europe. We’re not the Griswolds! Instead, we sent half of our luggage home with Michelle’s dad, Papa Ben, who flew from Copenhagen to Tampa after disembarking.

The luggage we relied on while moving through Europe is the first of five (mostly tech-related) recommendations I want to share because they made our trip more enjoyable and fun.

Away Luggage qualifies as a tech-related rec because its a line of battery-equipped smart suitcases – offering a high-quality bag at an affordable price — starting at about $225. In addition to a relatively light carry-on bag (7.2 lbs), which can handle all the essentials, from clothing to personal items, the Away Carry-On has a built-in battery with two exterior USB ports to keep electronic items powered up during layovers. You can charge the Away with a standard micro-USB cord and charging block (included). A full charge can refuel an iPhone about five times. As for charging cycles, after testing the battery with hundreds of recharges, Away says there has been “no impact” on charging.

We also liked the Away line of bags because they’re unbreakable shell makes them strong enough to withstand a heavy travel load, but they’re also being flexible enough that they can be “jammed” them into tight spaces, like a EuroStar compartment.

One thing I like to do when I travel for an extended period of time is dedicate one carry-on bag to the fun tech toys I want to  experiment with while away from work. This past vacation afforded more than enough time to geek out. These are the four must-haves I enjoyed the most.

Because I had extra space in my luggage, I brought along the EvaPolar Personal Air Cooler.

This was a life-changer.

Cruise ships sailing through tropical locations and European hotels with their aversion to air conditioning can be uncomfortable to those of us whose idea of “room temperature” is somewhere below seventy degrees.

The EvaPolar uses natural evaporative cooling to create a “perfect micro-climate” while working or traveling. The device, which cools about 30-45 square feet of space, humidifies and filters air, reducing temperatures from 10-30 degrees. With a single water supply – in the supplied water tank and using Evabreeze material – EvaPolar cools up to 1200 BTU/hr for 4-6 hours with a USB power bank.

Evapolar allows you to create your own personal climate.

Each night before we went to bed, I would fill up the water tank in my Evapolar. This created the perfect cool-side-of-the-pillow temperature in our bedroom.

Since I still have to work while on vacation, I want to create an environment that is as close to the one I use in my office as possible. This means using multiple screens while writing and publishing.

Of course, it’s cumbersome to bring an extra monitor (or two) when traveling. And I’ve had bad luck with portable monitors. That why I use the Duet Display.

A true productivity booster, Duet Display is an app that turns a tethered iPad or iPhone into a second display for either a Mac or Windows PC, including split-screen multitasking support. Duet’s main selling point is speed and accessibility, with a virtually lag-free experience. Available at the Apple App store, version 1.2 also allows an iPad or iPhone as a dedicated second monitor. Two-thirds of the display can be used for Mac apps with an iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro, using the other third for your split-screen iOS apps.

Trust me, this is one of the best $9.99 you will ever spend.

Another issue related to trying to work while on vacation is solving the problem of getting online, especially when you are in remote locations. Traveling abroad can make staying connected challenging, with excessive roaming charges for using online data overseas. Skyroam is an affordable mobile hotspot for fast, safe and secure Wi-Fi while visiting 100+ countries in Europe, Africa, South Pacific, Middle East, Asia or the Americas.

Skyroam’s exclusive virtual SIM automatically connects up to five devices at a time to local carrier data while moving between countries. Users simply pay a single flat daily rate ($8 with purchase) to access unlimited online access – only paying for the days used, with no roaming charges.

We used Skyroam extensively when we were traveling in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and France, where there is plenty of WiFi, but not all of it is free or safe.

Skyroam is available for purchase ($79.99, with $8 daily user fee) or short-term rental ($9.95 per day).

The last item I want to recommend is a totally gratuitous purchase. After all, you probably don’t need to print photos of your vacation, while you are on vacation. And sharing photos is why Facebook and Instagram were created.

But something I like to do, especially when you will be in a stateroom or a hotel room for an extended period is try to make it feel like home. And few things can make a space more personal than personalized photography.

That’s where the HP Sprocket Photo Printer comes in. The sprocket — a social on-the-go portable photo printer — allows users to share the best images quickly and easily. Small and compact, at about 6 ounces, Sprocket fits into a bag or purse, offering minimal controls for simplicity (USB charging port, power button, and battery indication light).

Set up is a snap; charge the Sprocket, connect it to your phone (Bluetooth and NFC are supported) and download the free Sprocket app (iOS and Android). Then, just print your photos from your camera’s gallery, or connect it to Facebook or Instagram.

What I would do is print one great photo from each day’s adventures and put them up in our room. It was a great way to remember what an amazing trip we were on. I’m sure there are all sorts of commercial- and business-related functions for a pocket printer, too.

The app allows editing and filters, and produces good, wallet-sized photos printed through HP’s Zink “Zero Ink” technology.

Starts at $118, HP Zink Photo Paper starts at $9.99 per pack of 20 sheets.

Believe it or not, we’re still unpacking from our vacation. If I come upon any other recommendations, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Victor Torres jumps on Gwen Graham bandwagon

Orlando’s Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres has thrown his support behind former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for governor.

Torres is a first-term senator who spent two terms in the Florida House of Representatives.

“As someone who has lived a full life full of hard work, I can tell you nothing provides more insight into what Floridians need than real life experiences. Raising three children, volunteering in the PTA and working for her local school district, Gwen Graham has the knowledge and common sense solutions to renew Florida’s public schools,” Torres stated in a news release.

Torres’s daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado, who succeeded him in his house seat, already has endorsed Graham.

“She’s fighting to make sure our children and grandchildren have more opportunities to succeed and that when they graduate — whether it’s from high school or college — they have good paying jobs available right here in Florida. Gwen understands how important education is to our community and to all Floridians,” Torres continued. “This is why I’m proud to enthusiastically endorse Gwen Graham for Florida’s next governor.”

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2018 race.

“For too long Tallahassee politicians have had the wrong priorities for the wrong people. Too many Floridians in our growing state have been ignored. We must put an end to businesses as usual and extinguish the status quo,” Graham stated in the release. “When I’m elected governor, our state will support every community as we renew our promise to public education, expand health care and create good-paying jobs, right here in Florida.”

According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s Hispanic population is growing fastest in Central Florida and the suburbs of Tampa.

“The I-4 Hispanic community is the fastest-growing population in the state. We’re making our voices heard — and Gwen is taking the time to listen,” Torres said. “She’s working on the issues we care about, from protecting public education to building an economy that works for all Floridians. As governor, she will work to raise the minimum wage and institute paid sick leave, invest in technical training and infrastructure, and diversify our economy.”

5G wireless

Rick Scott approves 5G wireless bill over League of Cities’ opposition

A 5G wireless technology bill that was vigorously opposed by the Florida League of Cities was nonetheless signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott. 

The bill (HB 687), sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa in the House, pre-empts to the state the regulation of telecommunications companies putting “small wireless facilities in rights of way.”

The League asked Scott to veto the measure, saying it will “deprive cities of their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way.” Such equipment, including antennas and related equipment, can be as big as a kitchen refrigerator.

“The G in 5G means it’s a generation of wireless technology,” explained in May. “While most generations have technically been defined by their data transmission speeds, each has also been marked by a break in encoding methods, or ‘air interfaces,’ which make it incompatible with the previous generation.”

The bill “may leave local governments minimal ability to control the aesthetics of their public rights of way, but it effectively hands significant control to the wireless industry,” League Executive Director Mike Sittig had said in a press release.

“Florida cities embrace the deployment of 5G (wireless) technology in their communities (but) this bill offers deep discounts to multi-billion dollar telecommunications companies at the taxpayers’ expense,” he added.

By setting this “arbitrary and artificially low cap on the fee,” Sittig wrote, “cities could lose $50 million to $100 million a year in revenues they would otherwise receive if free-market rates were allowed to apply.”

Sittig also noted in the release that “the telecommunications industry has acknowledged that the technology to enable 5G communications will not be ready to be deployed until 2022, and asked, ‘Why rush and pass legislation that creates and undercuts city police powers? Rather, Florida should protect the free market.’ ”

Rick Scott signs drone regulation bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved the Legislature’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act,” which gives the state authority to regulate “personal delivery devices (PDDs) and unmanned aircraft systems.”

A “personal delivery device” is a machine for use on sidewalks, usually not traveling more than 10 miles per hour.

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies, for instance, makes a six-wheeled “self-driving delivery robot” that was starting to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of this year.

“The bill authorizes, subject to local government regulation, the operation of PDDs on sidewalks, but prohibits them on certain state-owned trails,” a staff analysis explained.

It also “prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (or drones),”  but they can “enact ordinances regarding illegal acts arising from the use of unmanned aircraft systems if the ordinances are not specific to unmanned aircraft systems.”

Limiting the operation of a drone means applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The bill was backed by Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville in the House.

All Children’s Hospital Pediatric Residency Program graduates inaugural class in St. Pete

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg is graduating its first class of its pediatric residency program, the first new program of its type in the United States since the 1970s.

Last week, 10 pediatricians-in-training completed their journey through the three-year training program, which launched in 2014 at the 259-bed teaching hospital in downtown St. Petersburg. These new medical professionals learned to diagnose, prevent and treat childhood diseases, and will become the next leaders in children’s health.

The residency programs offered graduates a mix of clinical rotations and coursework focusing on patients and family-centered care, the business of medicine, ethics of care, research, patient safety and quality care.

As the nation faces growing shortage in pediatrics and other specialties, Johns Hopkins All Children’s along with other teaching hospitals, play a key role in training physicians of the future.

“This educational milestone pushes us to the next level, as we continue our transformation to become a leading academic health system in Florida,” said Jonathan Ellen, M.D., president and vice dean of All Children’s. “This next generation of pediatricians will now make their mark in children’s health as they go on to practice medicine at the bedside, expand their skills through fellowship opportunities and continue their focus on researching childhood disease.”

The inaugural class will now move on to complete their training and begin careers through a variety of institutions, with several staying in Florida and at All Children’s:

Brianna Conforti — Vanderbilt University, hematology/oncology fellow.

Jacqueline Crews — Johns Hopkins All Children’s, chief resident and hospitalist fellow.

Paul Gilbert — Primary Care Pediatrics, Boca Raton.

Mirinda Gillespie — John’s Hopkins All Children’s, hematology/oncology hospitalist.

Nicholas Jabre — The Johns Hopkins Hospital, pulmonology fellow.

Racha Khalaf — University of Colorado, pediatric gastroenterology fellow.

Alexander Kim — The Johns Hopkins Hospital, genetics fellow.

John Morrison — Johns Hopkins All Children’s, chief resident and hospitalist fellow.

Nina Replete — University of Ottawa, pediatric intensive care fellow.

Elena Rueda-de-Leon — Vanderbilt University, cardiology fellow.

 “Our inaugural graduation symbolizes the culmination of the efforts our graduates, our faculty and our institution toward getting these trainees to their next career steps and to completing our goal of training the next generation of leaders,” says Raquel Hernandez, M.D., director of medical education at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.

As an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Hernandez was helped design the residency program launched in 2014, and worked closely with both current students and the recruitment of new pediatric residents.

As this class graduates, the fourth class at Johns Hopkins All Children’s begin training in July.

Inaugural class of resident physicians’ graduation for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Saturday, June 10th, 2017. The graduation was held at the Trade Winds Island Grand Resort, 5500 Gulf Blvd, St Pete Beach, FL. The graduates include (Left to right): John Morrison, M.D., PhD, Alexander Kim, M.D., Mirinda Gillespie, M.D., ScM, Nicholas Jabre, M.D., M.S., Brianna Conforti, M.D., M.S., Paul Gilbert, M.D., Racha Khalaf, M.D., Jacquelyn Crews, M.D., Nina Replete, M.D., Elena Rueda-de-Leon, M.D.



craft distilleries

Craft distillers to get fee break under new law

Craft distillers got another win in legislation approved by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

The governor signed into law a wide-ranging bill (HB 689) that changes the state’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Among the changes taking effect Saturday, the first day of the new budget year, it cuts the “annual license fee for a craft distillery from $4,000 to $1,000.”

“Craft distilleries that qualify for the craft distillery designation will see a 75 percent reduction in the annual license fee for a distillery license, or a savings of $3,000 per license each year,” according to a staff analysis.

“We’re grateful for the legislation and to Rep. Colleen Burton and Sen. Keith Perry,” who sponsored the bills in the House and Senate respectively, said Philip McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of St. Augustine Distillery. “This will allow more start-up distilleries to compete and become more profitable, more quickly.”

The bill also defines sake, the Japanese fermented-rice beverage, as “wine” under state law.

Florida law had defined wine as being made from fruit so sake was technically not wine. Theoretically, restaurants could have been forced to stop serving sake, and the language fixes the potential issue.

Moreover, the bill eases regulations on “caterers licensed to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits,” the analysis said.

And the measure expressly allows minors to work in stores selling beer, wine or liquor so long as someone over 18 is supervising them.

Leon County GOP head calls Andrew Gillum ’embarrassing’

The chair of the capital area’s Republican Party is firing back after Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum ignited a partisan firestorm this weekend over recent subpoenas into city-backed redevelopment deals.

Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times’ Windy March on Saturday weekend, “ ‘I just know that based on the way they have come after me ever since — prior to my jumping into this race, back during Hurricane Hermine … all I can tell you there’s enough on the record” to suggest Republicans would like to sabotage his campaign.”

March, formerly The Tampa Tribune’s longtime political writer, noted Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s criticism of the city’s response after last year’s Hurricane Hermine, claims that Gillum quickly rejected at the time.

“I think I would say the Republicans are terrified,” Gillum told March. “And I believe that they are as intent on … trying to put as much dirt on me as they can.”

March wrote: “But asked directly whether there could be political motives behind the probe, Gillum said, ‘I don’t want to make any leaps of assumptions here … I cannot ascribe that to the FBI.’ ”

Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power, in a Monday statement, called it “embarrassing that Mayor Gillum would try to point to me and my fellow Republicans as the source of the problems in his campaign.”

“We did not tell him to turn down help during Hurricane Hermine, to create a political email system with tax dollars, or generate the FBI probe of Tallahassee,” Power said.

Gillum has previously denied charges he turned down the state’s hurricane response help: “Our people were practically working side-by-side in the field,” he said in September.

The mayor now is under a separate Leon County sheriff’s investigation into whether he violated the law by using a taxpayer-funded software program to send political emails to supporters.

And the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida are looking at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum, who was not named in the subpoenas, has said FBI agents assured him he was “not the focus” of the investigation.

“It is sad that when people start hearing the real record of Mayor Gillum he has to grasp at such fantastical straws,” Power added. “Tallahassee and the State of Florida deserve much better than the failed leadership of Mayor Andrew Gillum.”

Kelso Tanner reacts to ‘outrageous’ comments made by Ione Townsend regarding Confederate monument vote

Days after four of the five Republican members of the Hillsborough County Commission voted to keep a Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse, the controversy isn’t dissipating.

Last Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend issued a blistering statement against the Republican commissioners for their vote, calling it “a continuation of white supremacy and white privilege policies.”

Those remarks are now being rebuked by Kelso Tanner, a Hillsborough GOP political consultant and school board candidate, who calls her remarks “incredibly misleading, outrageous, and divisive.”

“The truth is the Ione Townsends of the world don’t care about the elimination of public images or groups that once stood for slavery, oppression, and Jim Crow,” Tanner said in a statement. “If they did, they would not be a member of the very party that encompassed all those things when it mattered most. Clearly, they have forgiven the Democratic party for committing the atrocities that they now claim to care so much about. Don’t be fooled by this latest round of crocodile tears over confederate statues. The real reason for this feigned outrage is increasing turnout in next year’s election. “

The monument, called “Memoria In Aeterna,” depicts two Civil War soldiers next to an obelisk and was built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, where it has stood in front of the county courthouse since 1911.

Before last week’s vote, County Commissioner Pat Kemp read aloud a portion of State Attorney Herbert S. Phillips’ keynote speech when the monument was dedicated, in which Phillips said that, “The South stands ready to welcome all good citizens who seek to make their homes within her borders. But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race.”

Tanner’s argument that the Democrats were the party of white southerners during the Civil War era who supported slavery is something that other Hillsborough Republicans are in response to the criticism.

“They need to go back and take a look at themselves, take a look at their failed policy, take a look at their failed politicians who were the ones who actually uttered the racist comments to begin with, and reconsider these comments,” Victor Crist said on Friday. Crist was one of the four Republicans who voted to maintain the monument.

In voting to keep the monument in place, the BOCC also voted to support a proposal offered by Crist to have a 75 foot long wall built behind the monument that will showcase the diversity of America, to be called “United We Stand.”

Tanner also takes exception to Townsend’s referral to white privilege, calling it a “slap in the face to millions of hard working Americans in this country.”

“No one is handed success on a silver platter. America is the land of equal opportunity for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever group Ione chooses to marginalize tomorrow,” he says, adding that “(w)e can’t control how we start the circle of life but we can certainly control how we live and end it regardless of who we are or what our background is. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Townsend was not immediately available for comment.

The current composition of the Hillsborough County Commission is made up of 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. All four who voted to keep the monument are on the ballot in 2018, while the fifth Republican, Al Higginbotham, is not running next year. He joined Democrats Kemp and Les Miller  in supporting the idea of moving the monument.

Tanner recently announced his candidacy for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County School board next year, a seat currently held by April Griffin. Three other candidates have also entered that race: Jessica Vaughn, William Person and Randy Toler.

Griffin has said she won’t decide on whether or not she’ll run for reelection until next January.

Another state lawmaker, Patrick Henry, backs Andrew Gillum

Democratic state Rep. Patrick Henry of Daytona Beach has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.

Henry is a first-term representative.

“Mayor Gillum will bring bold and needed leadership to our state’s most pressing issues including a stagnant economy that produces too many low-wage jobs, a health care system that leaves too many behind and a chronically underfunded education system,” Henry stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination.

“Representative Henry’s support means the world to me,” Gillum stated in the release. “He has quickly made a name for himself in the legislature by serving the people of Volusia County with integrity and passion, and I’m proud to have his endorsement. Floridians are facing many imposing challenges, but with the help of leaders like Representative Henry, we can have the courage to finally lean in and address them.”

On open records, half Florida’s legislators rate F or D

Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation — which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions — the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Weeka nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

Several lawmakers contacted about their grades questioned the concept of fairly and accurately scoring how they addressed and decided on open records bills.

“It’s a little simplistic to think you can reduce this to a mathematical formula. It’s a little more complicated,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Wellington, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emory University,

Roth, who was graded a D-minus, added, “The Sunshine Law is great in principle, but what it actually assumes is everybody is a crook. I just think it needs a little bit of tweaking.”

Florida’s Legislature established public records laws as early as the early 20th century, created the Government in the Sunshine Law in the late 1960s, and in 1992 established a “constitutional right of access.” Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the state’s records and meetings are more accessible than in most states. But the Legislature has, year in and year out, instituted, or considered instituting, numerous exemptions. The body, on average, imposes up to a dozen a year.

Petersen said the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created, but we see few bills that actually would improve access to either meetings or records.”

The 2017 Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Should Gov. Rick Scott approve all the 28 new exemptions, the grand total over the years would be 1,150.

Where does your legislator rank? See the scorecard

The three legislative Fs — actually F-minuses — were assigned to two representatives from southwest Florida and one from the Jacksonville area.

The single lowest score went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored House Bill 351, which would have made secret records of public college president searches; and House Bill 843, which would have allowed two members of a government board to meet privately. Both bills failed. Rommel also voted on the House floor against government openness in five of seven cases.

Rommel was joined in drawing an F by Rep. Byron Donalds, another Naples Republican; and Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Daniels did not personally return a reporter’s call, instead providing a prepared statement that doesn’t directly address her grade but says that getting the two public records exemptions passed, as well as four others, as a freshman legislator, “exceeds more than I could have imagined accomplishing.”

And all five voted for HB 111, which hides the identification of murder witnesses — Harrell co-sponsored it — as well as SB 118, which hides criminal histories. Those two bills passed and were signed by Scott.

No legislator earned an A in the same way the others got the Fs. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, voted for government openness in six of seven floor votes and earned a B-plus, the same grade given to Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.

Despite his favorable score, Geller is bucking for “at least an A-minus,” pointing out that he so frequently asks about the First Amendment Foundation’s position on open government bills that he said he “got a pretty bad ribbing about it on the floor from other legislators.”

Just six Democrats and three Republicans earned a score of B-minus or better. And 17 Democrats and 63 Republicans drew grades of D-plus or worse.

For Democrats, the most common grade was a C-minus. Dozens of Republicans drew C-minus grades, but more got a D-plus.

Scores in the House were much more likely to be lower than those in the Senate. Some of that may be because of HB 111, which drew nearly two dozen sponsors and co-sponsors in the House. The bill, which hides information about witnesses to murders, was signed by Scott in May.

Roth, of Wellington, defended his position on secrecy for the process of hiring public college presidents, explaining that while he’d be OK with making candidates public once there’s a “short list” of finalists, he feared scaring away top-flight candidates who don’t want their respective college leadership to know they’re shopping for a new position.

On HB 843, dealing with talks between two officials, Roth said he voted for it — in fact he was a co-sponsor — but said it probably went too far and “I’m glad it failed.” He said he’d like to see a new bill with conditions that would satisfy opponents — such as requiring staff be present and notes be taken to be made public later. He said he supports trying to head off “skullduggery” but he said many elected bodies now are dominated by staffers who “pretty much drive the bus,” and since officials can’t talk in advance, “they don’t come to the board meeting fully informed.”

Roth also noted the bill to protect crime witnesses does require they’re eventually identified, and while he didn’t remember much of SB 118, he saw a desire to protect the privacy of people who had committed crimes in the past.

The First Amendment Foundation’s Petersen did note that, because the scorecard reflects only votes and sponsorship, it might skew perception of legislators’ attitudes toward open government.

For example, she said, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who is in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, “always has something to say about open government when something comes up on the (Senate) floor.”

But, she said, “what we would like to see is more awareness from some legislators, and we’re hoping that’s what this project will do.”

She said the last bill that improved access to meetings was pushed three years ago by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now Senate President. And, she said, “We haven’t seen anything passed by the Legislature to enhance the right of access to public records since 1995. We did see a couple of bills that would improve access, but they didn’t even get a committee hearing.”

Some South Florida lawmakers also argued the scorecard’s narrow focus on open government doesn’t leave room for considering good policy.

On HB 111, for example, “It’s not that hard of a reach to say this law will keep others from being murdered,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who earned a C-minus. ” I realize they (the First Amendment Foundation) are a one-issue, one-note organization. But at a certain point, reality comes crashing in to any philosophy.”

And Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who also earned a C-minus, said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the First Amendment Foundation. It’s that I’m going to do whatever I can do as a legislator to begin to bring justice to individuals who are being murdered senselessly.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and another of those who earned a C-minus, said, “People are trying to get good grades from these organizations, instead of looking at whether it’s fair policy. The only grade that matters is the one that my residents give me when they decide to re-elect me into office.”

Two of the top four grades went to Republican senators from Tampa Bay: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Bill Galvano of Bradenton.

“Our goal is that there be a completely transparent and open government,” Brandes said. He, along with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg — who received a B-minus — sponsored legislation that protects court clerks from being sued if they release confidential information due to an error committed by a lawyer involved in a case. Current law isn’t clear on the issue.

Diamond called HB 843, the proposal to let two elected officials meet, an “existential threat” to open government in Florida.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who earned a D-plus, supported HB 843.

“In the Legislature, we can meet with another legislator one-on-one, so I thought that the state government shouldn’t be treated any differently than the local government,” he said.

Thirteen Tampa Bay area lawmakers scored below a C.

“This ‘scorecard’ was created by a special interest group that thinks legislators should cater to the group’s own political agenda rather than do what is in the best interest of the people of Florida,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who scored a D-plus.

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz — who scored a D-plus — called inclusion of HB 111, the witness-identity bill, in the scorecard, “just plain silly.” And Latvala said, “If I have to vote on that bill 100 more times, I will vote 100 more times for that bill.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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