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

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

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

TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Smart employers know an inclusive workforce makes good business sense and helps secure Florida’s future. Only 30% of Floridians with disabilities are working. Explore the talent in the untapped 70%. Find out how at AbleTrust.org***

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

HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND:

HAPPENING NEXT WEEK:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Wexford Health Sources

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

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

Lane Stephens, SCG Governmental Affairs: Florida Airboat Association

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

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

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Rick Scott joining with other governors in D.C.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is joining with the nation’s governors who are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Scott is leaving Thursday for Washington D.C. where he will attend events connected to the winter meetings of the National Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association. Reports indicate Scott is the favorite to become Vice Chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to the lead the organization in 2018.

This includes a Friday luncheon with Pence and a visit to the White House on Sunday.

Scott is also scheduled to take part in the “State Solutions Conference” hosted Friday by POLITICO.

The GOP governor, who constantly criticized former President Barack Obama, is friends with Trump and backed his bid for president right after he won Florida’s presidential primary.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Patrick La Pine: Make 2017 the year for depository choice

As private citizens, most of us are trying to make the best financial decisions for our family, which starts with where we bank and who we trust with our money.  And, it stands to reason that, as taxpayers, we would want our local government entities to do the same.

Yet, Florida law does not allow for credit unions to accept deposits from local government entities and, instead, only allows for local governments to bank with commercial, for-profit banks. This means school boards, universities and colleges and local governments, to name a few, cannot take advantage of, and bank at, their local credit unions.

While it seems like common sense that our local government entities should have the same freedom we do as private citizens to bank where our needs will be best met, year after year the banking lobby protects the interest of banks and their shareholders, and blocks all attempts to grant public offices and municipalities depository choice. As the 2017 Legislative Session quickly approaches, we urge lawmakers to allow municipalities and public offices the freedom to bank where they want.

Credit unions return all of their profits back to their members, and in turn, the community. Credit unions are also 100 percent member-owned, whereas banks are usually shareholder-owned, management and board driven, for-profit establishments that transfer their earnings back to shareholders.

As current law only permits commercial, for-profit banks to receive deposit requests from local government entities, credit unions are forced to turn them down, limiting municipalities from seeking more competitive return rates for their investments with financial institutions. Credit unions are not asking for special treatment when it comes to the public funds market, rather the opportunity to provide depository choice for such entities, which many can provide lower rates and bigger savings to, and would allow universities, local governments and school boards, to keep their funds within local communities.

While opponents may argue that credit unions should not serve local governments because “they do not pay taxes,” this is simply a self-serving and disingenuous argument. It is strictly a claim so that for-profit banks may maintain their monopoly to conduct business with municipalities and public offices, and keep credit unions — accessible, competent and deserving institutions — from widening the marketplace and spurring competition for public deposits.

Because their mission is to serve the community and their not-for-profit structure, credit unions are exempt from paying federal income taxes. However, credit unions pay tangible personal property taxes and property taxes, and as employers, pay all employment taxes, as would any other bank. Credit unions essentially pay the same taxes as a Sub S corporation, of which there are currently 29 in Florida — 20 of which are qualified public depositories.

Just as many Florida’s families are under economic pressure, so too are our local government entities and it’s imperative that they are granted freedom in banking, in order to make the best financial decisions for their respective entity and maximize their returns.

Let’s make this the year fairness prevails for depository choice. This legislation is good for the community, as well as those public entities that could achieve financial savings from this move.

___

Patrick La Pine is president and CEO of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates.

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Tampa Bay Bucs release highly paid cornerback Alteraunn Verner

Alteraunn Verner was still getting paid like star.

His performance, however, was that of a backup.

The two could not be reconciled, and so Verner was released by the Tampa Bay Bucs on Thursday.

Verner, 28, signed a four-year, $25.5 million contract in 2014, but his play didn’t measure up. The last two seasons, Verner started only nine games, including three in 2016. However, he was due to make $6.5 million in the coming year, even though he had been essentially replaced by free agent Brent Grimes and No. 1 draft pick Vernon Hargreaves. Verner was scheduled to be the fifth-highest paid Buc on the team’s salary cap list.

Verner’s most memorable moment of the last year came in the Seattle game, two days after his father died. Verner had a key interception in the Bucs’ victory.

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Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

Surprise (or not): Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joins the Republican Party

As long expected, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is pulling a reverse Charlie Crist.

The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee Thursday night.

“We are excited to welcome (her) into the Republican Party,” Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power said. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

One person who predicted the move is state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who last year tweeted: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”

She follows the reverse footsteps of former Gov. Crist, who left the Republicans to become an independent, then joined the Democrats.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is the newest addition to join the GOP under the state party’s “Project Majority Red” initiative, “which seeks to increase the number of Republican registered voters throughout our state, in order to overtake the Democrats in voter registration,” Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement.

“Michelle has honorably served her constituents for the past eight years and has a history of siding with Republicans on several issues,” he added. “I believe she has been a great public servant for the State of Florida and led efforts for a more robust economy, lower taxes and an increase in job creation.  We welcome Michelle to the Republican Party and we look forward to working with her.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represented the House District 9 seat now held by Democrat Loranne Ausley, told FloridaPolitics.com last year she had “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.” She once called President Donald Trump “fascinating,” but said she did not vote in the Presidential Preference Primary.

“I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.”

Yet she also has followed her own beat, on one hand supporting a bill to allow guns on college campuses, saying she had used a handgun to defend against an attacker when she was a college student, but on the other filing legislation to get rid of Florida’s death penalty.

“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said in an interview last year.

And current House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, also in an interview last year, surmised that Rehwinkel Vasilinda “has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a New York native who got her undergraduate and law degrees in Florida. She’s now a professor of Legal Studies and Applied Ethics at Tallahassee Community College, and married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.

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Rick Scott’s newest title – lame duck

Gov. Rick Scott has added a new title to his resume in the last few weeks – lame duck.

Sure, he officially retains the job of Florida governor until a successor takes over in 2019, but for all intents, it appears a majority of state House members aren’t waiting until then to stop listening to him.

The House Appropriations Committee euphemistically threw a pie in the governor’s face Tuesday by voting to eliminate Enterprise Florida and eviscerate Visit Florida, the state agency that markets the glory of the Sunshine State to people in the cold, frozen north.

This happened despite perhaps the most aggressive public pitch by Scott in his six years as governor to preserve both entities. It was a stinging rebuke by his own party, and what we can conclude is that it almost certainly is the shape of things to come.

Scott went down swinging.

“(Tuesday’s) vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer. I know some politicians who have voted for this job killing bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’ This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” Scott said in a statement that wound up in my mailbox and no doubt hundreds of others.

“Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

That’s feisty talk, but the truth is undeniable. The governor has been powerless though in the face of opposition by House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran sees both programs as revenue-sucking wastes of taxpayer money. He has called Enterprise Florida and its job-creation incentives “corporate welfare” and basically a colossal failure.

All Scott has been able to do is complain. He has been unable to summon the political clout to combat this insurgency within his own party, so what does that tell you?

Well, a couple of things.

Most important for the moment is that it says House Republicans have tuned out their Republican governor on an issue he cares passionately about. Once that happens, the disconnect only gets worse.

It also further stamps Corcoran as a legitimate contender to succeed Scott in the governor’s mansion, if future political ambitions take him in that direction. That makes the relative silence lately by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam even more interesting. Putnam is widely considered to be the likely Republican nominee for governor next time around.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t expect Corcoran to give an inch going forward. When it comes to issues like these, compromise doesn’t seem to be in his playbook.

That’s not good news for Rick Scott after all the effort he has put in to save these programs, but as a lame duck, there’s not much he can do about it.

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Randy Fine: Bill bolsters local businesses, not victimize LGBT community; detractors not buying it

Rep. Randy Fine introduced HB 17 simply as a measure to keep commerce moving on an upward trajectory under the leadership of local governments, flourishing enough to bring prosperity to their respective communities.

“Its intent is to help businesses thrive and grow – that’s its purpose,” Fine told FloridaPolitics.com by telephone on Thursday from Tallahassee. “There are folks that think business should be left up to local government and then there are folks like me who think the nexus of business runs through the state.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Gina Duncan, transgender inclusion director for the Equality Florida Institute, a partnership between advocacy and charity nonprofits that form the largest civil rights group dedicated to the civil rights of Florida’s LGBT community.

“HB 17 basically reverses the work that has been done in the last two decades to provide protection to LGBT people in employment, housing and accommodations,” Duncan said by phone. “HB 17 is basically a watered-down version of the North Carolina House Bill 2. … We find it especially alarming and dangerous because we’ve been unable to get Tallahassee to move off this conservative track they’ve been on.”

Fine refuted the claim by LGBT advocacy groups that his bill was backdoor legislation to legal discrimination of minority groups.

“That’s not what the bill is going to do,” Fine said, at first not understanding a reporter’s question about criticism of what he strictly views as a pro-commerce measure. “There are all kinds of groups that feel their local governments have gone outside state lines.”

And he doesn’t get how it would affect the LGBT community, for example, either.

Barely a full day has passed since President Donald Trump’s administration put directives to public school’s reversing the previous policy outlined in 2015 and 2016, granting transgender students certain rights when it came to the equal use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on what gender they identify.

With the sweeping Trump action, the greater LGBT community as a whole across Florida – and the nation – is worried that it’s a slippery slope to further repeals gained in recent years, like gay marriage and the right for gay couples to adopt children.

Transgender students at the University of South Florida in Tampa were anxious to speak about what was happening in Florida and across the U.S., beginning with President Trump.

“Seeing him promise ‘protection’ for the LGBT community during his inauguration speech didn’t really convince me, so I’m not really surprised he would do this kind of thing,” said Max Morinelli, who serves as the president of the campus organization USF Trans+ Student Union and as historian of USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance. “I still can’t believe an issue like bathroom is so controversial – still beyond me really. I know, in the end – but who knows how long that will be – some equal rights bill will be passed protecting our rights.”

Though it might seem like everyone was ganging up on Fine, the wave of voices coming from the LGBT community was overwhelming, something Duncan also noted.

When asked why she thought Fine didn’t understand their point of view on the bill, she answered curtly.

“This façade of ignorance is wrapped around a smokescreen of religion,” she said. “And it’s usually veiled in the dialogue of running their businesses as they see fit when they actually don’t but into what they view as the LGBT agenda.”

 

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Dismayed, DCF head Mike Carroll explains fragments of Facebook Live suicide case

Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009.

Since April alone, she had been in 10 foster homes alone that included a hotel and a child welfare office building, according to one report by the Miami Herald, citing the girl’s attorney.

But Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature.

“Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.”

Committee members wanted to know more, but aspects of child deaths while in state custody are often kept confidential, Carroll said, until a judge authorized the release of any information. The investigation is still open and, typically, DCF has 30 days to close out a child death investigation.

But Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

“I think it’s important we get that as soon as possible,” Harrell said. “It is essential to what we do to try and make improvements. … We would like to get as much information as possible – what went wrong?”

McGhee asked a second time, as if to reiterate the seriousness of the report following a wave of negative public relations continuing since the holiday season, involving the deaths of several children in the custody of the state and DCF child protection workers fired and arrested for crimes involving drugs and lying in investigations.

“My question to you is, sir, can we expect the report?” McGhee pressed the agency chief.

Carroll was forced to give vague snippets of peripheral facts surrounding the Naika case:  she and her mother had been through lots of assessments, several rounds of therapists, batterers’ courses, but nothing seemed to work.

He also noted that, historically, fully one-third of cases involving child deaths have involved DCF with that child and family in the previous five years. Another interesting statistic he cited in the agency’s defense was the fact more children were reported through Florida’s hotline than in any other state.

Naika fit into all the red-flag categories, he said, saying the agency was reviewing everything related to her case, but he was as distraught as anyone else with the teen’s death.

“This is a case where there were lots of services … but all of that wasn’t effective,” Carroll capitulated.

 

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Jeff Sessions: U.S. to continue use of privately run prisons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled Thursday his strong support for the federal government’s continued use of private prisons, reversing an Obama administration directive to phase out their use. Stocks of major private prison companies rose at the news.

Sessions issued a memo replacing one issued last August by Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general at the time. That memo directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin reducing and ultimately end its reliance on privately run prisons.

It followed a Justice Department audit that said private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones. Yates, in her announcement, said they were less necessary given declines in the overall federal prison population.

But Sessions, in his memo, said Yates’ directive went against longstanding Justice Department policy and practice and “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” He said he was directing the BOP to “return to its previous approach.”

The federal prison population — now just under 190,000 — has been dropping due in part to changes in federal sentencing policies over the past three years. Private prisons hold about 22,100 of these inmates, or 12 percent of the total population, the Justice Department has said.

The federal government started to rely on private prisons in the late 1990s because of overcrowding. Many of the federal prison inmates in private facilities are foreign nationals who are being held on immigration offenses. The Yates policy did not extend to prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold tens of thousands of immigrants awaiting deportation.

Immigration and human rights advocates have long complained about conditions in privately run prisons. An inspector general audit from last August said problems at private prisons in recent years included property damage, injuries and the death of a corrections officer.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida to legislate free speech on college campuses?

The issue of free speech on college campuses reached its nadir earlier this month when protests regarding the appearance of far-right writer and speaker Milo Yiannopoulos caused more than $100,000 damage to the University of Berkeley campus.

Yiannapoulos speech was ultimately canceled, just as it was two weeks after protests erupted before his appearance at the University of California at Davis.

The day after the Berkeley cancellation, President Trump threatened to pull federal funds from the university for canceling the event.

On Thursday, the Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education heard from conservative academic Stanley Kurtz Thursday about the Campus Free Speech Act, a piece of proposed legislation that he says would defend free speech in Florida universities.

“When protesters disrupt speakers or break in on meetings and take them over to list demands, administrators tend to look the other way,” Kurtz told committee members as he began his 16-minute address. “Students have come to take it for granted that they will face no discipline for such disruptions, administrators themselves often disinvite controversial speakers and limit the exercise of liberty to narrow and highly regulated so-called free speech zones. University boards and trustees rarely act to curb these administrative abuses.”

The remedy to address these issues on college campuses is what Kurtz calls the Campus Free Speech Act, a proposal he calls “the most comprehensive legislative proposal ever offered to restore and protect campus free speech.”

Kurtz, who is with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, co-wrote the report with James Manley and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute last month. It calls to:

– Create an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.

– It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.

– It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.

– It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.

– It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.

– It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.

– It authorizes a special subcommittee of the University board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.

Kurtz received pushback from Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who said he was concerned about activists who are using hate speech and calling it free speech. Referring to an incident on the University of Central Florida where groups posted anti-Semitic stickers and fliers around dormitories, Smith asked Kurtz if that was speech was protected under his legislation?

Kurtz said it was.

“I would condemn swastikas, and I would hope that others would openly condemn that, but I would not take away their right to do it, because that’s what actually takes us down a dangerous path to civil strife and potential authoritarianism,” Kurtz replied, adding that he lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Smith said the unintended consequences of Kurtz’ free speech proposal would be “increased hostilities toward minority students and minority faiths.” He asked him if there was any part of his plan that would promote “cultural awareness” for students to counteract those unintended consequences?

“Freedom of speech are the greatest way to increase tolerance,” Kurtz responded.

John K. Wilson, who writes a blog for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has criticized the proposal.

“The Goldwater Institute proposal should be rejected and opposed in every state legislature,” he wrote earlier this month. “It includes some worthy ideas for colleges to adopt to protect free expression on campus, but they are outweighed by the flawed provisions and the use of legislative repression to achieve these goals.

In the three weeks since the proposal was published, lawmakers in Illinois and Virginia have filed bills in their respective state houses, and a third bill may soon be filed in North Carolina.

In his proposed budget released last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker included a proposed law to require University of Wisconsin officials to protect offensive speech.

In his 2017-2019 executive budget, Walker recommends “codifying the state’s commitment to academic freedom,” and providing $10,000 in funding for the UW System to review and revise “policies related to academic freedom.”

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