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Jessica Vaughn files to run for Hillsborough County School Board

Jessica Vaughn, a Tampa Palms resident who grew up attending Hillsborough County schools and now teaches in them,  filed to run for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County School Board currently held by April Griffin.

The 39-year-old Tampa native says she thought about entering the  District 7 countywide primary last summer, but realized it was too late in the process to make an impact. Her declaration for ’18 comes a full year and a half before Hillsborough voters will go the polls.

“I’m a certified teacher, and I’ve actually been subbing for the last couple of years because my son is in pre-school, so I’ve experienced what it’s like to being in the classroom as a certified teacher,” she says. “And as a substitute teacher I’ve seen all the types of special classes, and I hear a lot of conversations from the break room from frustrated teachers.”

Vaughn does have electoral experience, having won a spot on the Tampa Palms Community Development District last November, where she says she’s learned to work with others while managing a million dollar budget.

A graduate of Gaither High School in Tampa, she earned her degree in Elementary Education from USF in 2010 and began teaching in Hillsborough County schools immediately afterwards, mostly in Title 1 and Renaissance schools. After taking time off in 2013 for her pregnancy, she’s returned to teaching as a substitute.

Vaughn says that having attended a lot of school board meetings, she feels there’s a “disconnect” between the public concerns and the board’s agenda.

Regarding the board’s budget crisis, she says from afar it’s difficult to understand where that began, noting the criticisms of a lack of transparency on the part of former superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

“This is not an attack on anyone, but when there are classrooms that don’t have air conditioning, and there are school bus routes being cut and parents are being inconvenienced by having to take their kids to school, it just seems to me that an almost half a million dollar renovation on the school board offices might have been something that may be looked at again to see if that’s a priority, ” she says, also questioning the hiring of of Gibson Consulting Group, which is being paid $818,000 to help get the board’s finances under control.

“It just seems to me, that money could have been managed a little bit better,” she says.

Vaughn is politically active, having attended last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate for Bernie Sanders. Like the Vermont independent senator, she she says she wants to run a grassroots campaign and get in touch with as many people as possible.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to meet and talk witih people, and really listen to what their concerns are, not only just listen but hopefully be able to elicit some solutions as well,” she says.”I feel like a lot of people are really disconnected and they really don’t understand what a school board does and how it affects their children’s education.”

Vaughn is the third candidate to file for the District 6 seat, following William Person and Randy Toler, who have both been unsuccessful in previous bids for the board.

And then there is Griffin, perhaps the best known member of the board, now in her third term in office.

Griffin was one of the four members of the board who voted to oust Elia in 2015, a move that offended much of the Tampa/Hillsborough political and business establishment. Yet despite the warnings that the Elia affair would hurt those board members, two of the four board members who voted to oust Elia – Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes – won reelection in 2016

“I told Jessica it was my intention to run,” Griffin told SPB on Wednesday night. “She had decided to run against an incumbent.”

Vaughn acknowledges that running countywide won’t be easy.

“I have full confidence that we would run a really good campaign, but  even if we just help shape the narrative and the discussion of what should be imporrant when we’re talking about eduction and somehow shift it away from the drama that seems to follow political campaigns, and stay focused on what people want…I’ll feel successful,” she says.

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Sunburn for 2.23.17 – Scott’s sky-high approval ratings; Corcoran says ‘hell no’; Bill Nelson targeted

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

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

STORY MORE IMPORTANT THAN POLITICS: 7 EARTH-SIZE WORLDS FOUND ORBITING STAR; COULD HOLD LIFE

For the first time ever, astronomers have discovered seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star — and these new worlds could hold life.

This cluster of planets is less than 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, according to NASA and the Belgian-led research team who announced the discovery Wednesday.

The planets circle tightly around a dim dwarf star called Trappist-1, barely the size of Jupiter. Three are in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water and, possibly life, might exist. The others are right on the doorstep.

Scientists said they need to study the atmospheres before determining whether these rocky, terrestrial planets could support some sort of life. But it already shows just how many Earth-size planets could be out there — especially in a star’s sweet spot, ripe for extraterrestrial life.

The takeaway from all this is, “we’ve made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said the University of Cambridge’s Amaury Triaud, one of the researchers. The potential for more Earth-size planets in our Milky Way galaxy is mind-boggling.

Now, back to politics on Planet Earth…

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN HAVE A GREAT FEELING ABOUT THE HOME TEAM

Gov. Scott is enjoying sky-high approval ratings, while Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to be a rock star. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam may have a future in this business.

With just a few weeks until the start of the 2017 Legislative Session, Associated Industries of Florida surveyed 800 likely Republican primary voters. The survey looked the direction of the state, the approval ratings of statewide elected officials, and took at stab at gauging public consensus on a couple of key policy debates.

And of course, no survey would be complete without mulling a hypothetical 2018 gubernatorial match-up.

So, what did AIF find? Here’s five takeaways from the February 2017 report:

Scott’s approval rating soars

Being the middle of a high-profile feud with the Florida House might suit Scott. The survey, conducted by phone from Feb. 14 through Feb. 17, showed 81 percent of likely Republican primary voters polled said they approved of the job the Governor was doing.

According to the polling memo, 41 percent of those surveyed said they strongly approved of the job he was doing. “In essence,” the memo reads, “the Governor enters his second to last session with the highest marks from Republicans that we have tracked during his term.”

Bondi is a rock star

As Attorney General, Bondi has received top marks for most of her time in office. And, according to the polling memo, that makes total sense, considering the “among of earned media she has received over her time on the Cabinet.

But after a few months of bad headlines, the news that 54 percent of the Republican base approve of the job she’s doing as Florida’s attorney general must have come as a relief. In fact, Bondi had the third highest job approval rating, behind only Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Speaking of Cabinet members, 38 percent of GOP primary voters said they approved of the job Putnam was doing as agriculture commissioner. AIF didn’t include CFO Jeff Atwater in image testing, since he’s leaving his post at the end of session.

Too early for 2018

We may love covering the horserace, but Republican voters don’t appear ready to start thinking about 2018.

Associated Industries of Florida tested hypothetical ballot tests for Governor and the Cabinet and, according to the polling memo, “low name ID’s are obviously forcing ballots that are largely undecided.”

In a hypothetical four-way race between Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala and businessman (and alligator ‘wrassler’Ron Bergerson, 71 percent said they would be undecided. Putnam, however, had an 18-point lead over Corcoran, 22 percent to 4 percent.

No love for land buy 

GOP voters aren’t thrilled about the idea of the state buying private land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

Sixty-four present of respondents said they disagreed with the statement “The state should continue to buy private farmland for environmental purposes and take it out of production, even if that means the state must borrow the money to purchase bonds.”

The poll found 65 percent did not believe the state should use eminent domain to buy privately owned lands for environmental uses.

Under a bill (SB 10) moving through the Senate, the South Florida Water Management District would have until the end of 2017 to find a willing seller of 60,000 acres of land, upon which the state could build one or more water storage reservoirs.

If the water management district can’t find a willing center, the state can decide to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar, under an existing option in a contract signed by the state and company in 2010. The bill, however, does not propose use eminent domain to acquire land.

Incentive debate just too darn complicated

AIF tried to ask voters about the ongoing debate over whether to dismantle economic incentive programs and tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, but concluded the issue was too complicated for voters to comprehend.

“Overall awareness on these debates is low in this survey, regardless of how the question is tested,” said Ryan Tyson, AIF’s Vice President of Political Operations. “Furthermore, the nuances of the policy points used to better describe ‘incentives for job growth’ vs. ‘corporate welfare’ are far too complex for decisive support for either position in this survey.”

AIF said no matter the phrasing, the results for the incentives debate were contradictory “and talking points can easily get a voter to one side of the argument or the other.

RICK SCOTT’S PAC SLAMS HOUSE SPEAKER RICHARD CORCORAN AS “CAREER POLITICIAN” IN NEW VIDEO via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – It’s the latest in the back and forth policy battle between the two Republican leaders over the future of state job incentive programs and the state’s tourism marketing agency. Last week, Corcoran used a closed-door meeting with Republicans to release a video slamming Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as agencies that waste tax dollars. That video specifically highlight two job incentive projects – Sanford Burnham and Digital Domain – approved by previous governors that have since failed, but the ad did not explain that they came before Scott took office in 2011. The Let’s Get to Work video specifically takes on that point, criticizing the video as misleading and saying both projects occurred under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But that also isn’t accurate. The Sanford Burnham project was approved when Gov. Jeb Bush was still in office in 2006.

ON SCHOOL SPENDING, RICHARD CORCORAN HAS TWO WORDS FOR RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA SENATE: ‘HELL NO’ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Corcoran says he won’t compromise on the question of whether the Legislature should write a budget that includes nearly $500 million more in local property taxes from Florida homeowners to hit Scott‘s target of a K-12 spending increase, under a program known as required local effort. Scott and Senate President Negron don’t consider that a tax increase because the property tax rate would stay the same. The extra money would come from rising property values paid by homeowners and businesses. “The governor has in his budget a $450-plus million property tax increase,” Corcoran [said]. “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste. We’re not raising taxes on property owners to give it to business owners. It’s a non-starter. It’s nonsensical.”

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BILL WOULD EXTEND TIME TO SUE ABORTION DOCTORS via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Women who have abortions in Florida would find it easier to sue the doctors who performed the procedure, under a contentious bill now moving through the House. But it’s unclear if the legislation … opposed by some Republicans … will become law since there’s no companion measure moving through the Senate. A House panel narrowly approved a bill that would give women more time to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions. Most legal claims arising from medical procedures must be filed within four years, but the bill would allow lawsuits to be filed for up to 10 years following the abortion. But the legislation is opposed by those who support abortion rights as well as groups that represent Florida doctors.

STAND YOUR GROUND BILL PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Even before the House took a single vote on the bill, which would put the burden of proof on prosecutors to refute defendants’ self-defense claims, 42 members had signed on as primary or co-sponsors. That represents more than two-thirds of the votes needed to pass a bill in that chamber. “The bill places the burden of proof where it belongs, on the prosecution, and is consistent with the foundation of our criminal law that a person is innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Rep. Bobby Payne … one of a trio of Northeast Florida lawmakers serving as the main sponsors of this legislation.

SENATE FINANCE & TAX APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE OK’S ‘TAMPON TAX’ EXEMPTION via Florida Politics — The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee. … If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

BILL WOULD STRIP TRI-RAIL OF FUNDING, CONTRACTING AUTHORITY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118 … would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year. The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

CRAFT BEER DEBATE INCLUDES … CHANCE THE RAPPER? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Senate Regulated Industries Committee cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing. [OscarBraynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.” The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So, I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

HOME RULE FIGHT BREAKS OUT AS PANEL APPROVES REGULATION REFORM BILL via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The bill, HB 17, is sponsored by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, and would not allow local governments to regulate issues that are not already allowed under state statute … He says it comes down to a philosophical approach: increased regulations hurt businesses and job creation. “Regulations, which smother businesses, should be hard to create,” he said. Democrats on the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee were joined by Rep. Shawn Harrison … in opposing the bill. They argued it took too much control away from the elected officials closest to the people and would require any regulatory change to go before the Legislature, which meets far less than local governments. “I think this is simply a bridge too far,” said Harrison, who represents a Democratic-leaning seat.

HOUSE TRANSPORTATION AND TOURISM PANEL BEGINS VETTING MEMBER PROJECTS via Florida Politics – The House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee began voting on nearly $500 million in member project bills Wednesday, as its chairman warned that the panel’s approval does not guarantee a project will make it into the final House budget bill. “Our point here is to try to vet these to the extent we can in the time that we have,” Rep. Clay Ingram told committee members. … Ingram said he had sidelined some projects that he knew just wouldn’t fly.

HOUSE WON’T CHANGE NURSING HOME REIMBURSEMENT FORMULA THIS YEAR via Florida Politics – The House won’t pursue a proposal to change the way the state reimburses nursing homes caring for Medicaid patients — at least, not this year. … “Although we like the idea of a prospective payment system … perhaps the calculations that were done in that study don’t meet all the needs,” Jason Brodeur, chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, told members Wednesday. A plan by Navigant Consulting Inc. … would pay nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components. “One of the things I think we could probably do as a committee is maybe commit ourselves to a more intellectually disciplined approach,” Brodeur said.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUDGET CHAIR FAVORS VOCATIONAL TRAINING AS VOTING BEGINS via Florida Politics – The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d eight member requests for state funds Wednesday, including programs boosting technical training … and a veterinary lab at the University of Florida. … Chairman Larry Ahern is particularly interested in vocational projects — apprenticeships, internships, other forms of nonacademic training. … For example, the panel approved $200,000 for a partnership with car dealers to train young people for relatively high-paying jobs in auto shops. … “There is a demand for those jobs, but they’re not able to train enough young adults to fill these jobs,” Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said.

JURY UNANIMITY BILL PASSES HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – Bills that would require juries to be unanimous in recommending the death penalty [come] on the heels of a Florida Supreme Court decision came in that lifted a hold on current death penalty cases. HB 527 by Rep. Chris Sprowls passed the House Judiciary Committee 17-1 and will be discussed on the House floor. Sen. Randolph Bracy’s SB 280 was unanimously vetted by the Senate Rules Committee and is now ready to be heard by the full Senate.

LAWMAKERS TARGET CRIMINAL UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, DESPITE CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald –  A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee … but it’s unlikely to advance much further without buy-in from the House. The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses. “What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens … “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

PROPERTY TAX CAP SAILS THROUGH FIRST COMMITTEES via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –HJR 21, put forth by Rep. Colleen Burton … would permanently instate a 10 percent cap on non-homestead property assessment increases, a constitutional regulation set to expire in 2019. The bill passed the House Ways & Means Committee 16-1 and has one more committee stop. A similar Senate version (SJR 76) by Sen. Tom Lee … passed unanimously Wednesday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax. The cap would not apply to property taxes levied by school districts under the two bills.

STADIUM FUNDING BILL PASSES FIRST HOUSE COMMITTEE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – HB 77, which would prevent sports teams from building or renovating stadiums on public land, passed the House Government Accountability Committee 14-5 … The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila, said the bill “protects taxpayer funds from being used to subsidize already successful businesses.” The bill would also require a stipulation in future contracts between sports franchises and state and local governments that compels franchises to pay any outstanding debt the state acquired for construction on sports facilities if the franchise permanently leaves the facility. Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, who voted against the bill, questioned whether the bill would impede the overall economic boost sports teams create.

— “Senate moves ahead with changes to ‘estoppel’ certificate standards” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida

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ANITERE FLORES PROPOSES COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP FOR 50 CHILDREN OF FARMWORKERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The amendment to SB 2, the Senate’s higher education reform bill which will be up for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, authorizes children of migrant workers who meet the criteria of the award, including meeting the state’s residency requirements, to receive the scholarship annually. The scholarship would be administered by the Florida Department of Education and students would be required to have a 3.5 weighted grade-point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete at least 30 hours of community service. Flores, who as a House member helped establish the First-Generation Matching Grant program a decade ago, expects the annual cost will be about $1 million.

SENATE ADDS BINGO, DOPING, ADW TO ITS 2017 GAMBLING BILL via Florida Politics – On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are: A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races. Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound. In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

SHOULD LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE LESS POWER? SOME STATE LAWMAKERS THINK SO via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Lawmakers are pushing a bill (HB 17) that would prohibit cities, counties and other arms of local government from passing any regulations on businesses unless they have been given specific permission from the state Legislature. The same proposal would repeal existing rules governing businesses in 2020. The stated goal: eliminating confusion for people trying to start a business in multiple cities or counties. “Imagine being someone who wants to try to build their business and doesn’t want to hire lawyers and doesn’t want to hire lobbyists,” said Rep. Randy Fine. “The intention of this bill is to try to make it easier for those folks to do that.” But local elected officials, Republican and Democrat alike, see it as an attack that would limit their power and harm their residents. “Why don’t they just abolish local government?” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn … “This is by a group of allegedly conservative people who during campaigns will say less government is better and the government closest to the people governs best, and that’s local government.”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee will consider its proposed committee bill when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 212 Knott. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee will discuss a bill that revises the list of documents lenders can use as an admission of bankruptcy by defendants in mortgage foreclosures when it meets at 9:30 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee will get a presentation about free speech on college campuses when it meets at 10 a.m. in 306 House Office Building. The House won’t be the only chamber rolling the dice on gambling Thursday. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to discuss its wide-sweeping gambling bill during its meeting at 9 a.m. in 412 Knott. In addition to the gambling bill, the committee is also scheduled to hear his “Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Rene Plasencia will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. outside the Senate Chamber on the 4th floor of the Capitol to discuss the public school recess bills. They will be joined by representatives of the Florida PTA and “recess moms.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The James Madison Institute will hold a press call to release its study regarding current proposals being considered by the Florida legislature surrounding the Everglades Agricultural Area. Call is 9:30 a.m., 800-371-9219/PIN: 9714346.

***The quality of nursing home care is better in states like Florida that use a certificate of need process. You can help protect Florida’s most frail seniors by urging legislators to keep CON for Florida’s outstanding skilled nursing centers. Learn more from the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) at cqrcengage.com/ahcafl/CONProcess.***

HAPPENING TODAY – LAWMAKERS HOST FUNDRAISERS ACROSS TALLAHASSEE — House Majority, the fundraising arm of the House Republicans, will hold a fundraiser for Reps. Danny Burgess and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen at 11:30 a.m. at Clyde’s and Costello’s, 210 South Adams Street. Members of the Senate are also getting in on the fundraising action: Sen. Debbie Mayfield will hold a fundraiser for her Senate District 17 re-election campaign at the Governors Club Boardroom, 202 ½ S. Adams Street; while Sen. Travis Hutson will hold a fundraiser at 5 p.m. at the Governors Club Library. Both fundraisers are scheduled for 5 p.m.

HAPPENING TONIGHT:

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AGENCY FOR STATE TECHNOLOGY AUDIT SCRUTINIZED BY HOUSE PANEL via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee discussed a January Auditor General report about the Agency for State Technology and State Data Center operations. Despite the findings of that report, which included issues with user access privileges, accounts kept active despite being unused, and other such seemingly-exploitable security glitches, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee showed little interest in the kind of specific, drill-down inquiry about remedies for these issues one might have expected … in the House was a different matter. Arthur Hart, audit manager for Information Technology Audits in the Office of Auditor General, addressed the audit. “I think there is reason for some concern about some findings in the audit,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said by way of introducing Hart.

— “DCF files roundup: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids” via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics

HOW FLORIDA’S WELL-CONNECTED MEDICAL MARIJUANA CHIEF GOT HIS JOB, DESPITE LITTLE EXPERIENCE via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – In July 2015, former Surgeon General John Armstrong signed off on a memo from current Surgeon General (then deputy health secretary) Celeste Philip asking that the department not advertise the open job for director of the Office of Compassionate Use on the basis that Christian Bax was “the best candidate for the position,” making the assertion that he had “several years of experience in navigating medical marijuana regulations.” But it turns out Bax was the only candidate who applied for the position, and on his job application he claimed to have only about 15 months experience working part-time as a consultant in Boston doing application work for medical cannabis firms in Washington and Nevada. Department spokeswoman Mara Gambinerirefused to address the contradiction. She insists that “based on Mr. Bax’s policy and rulemaking knowledge and experience, the department determined he was the best candidate for the position” — even though Bax was the sole candidate to apply. Soon after Bax was hired in July 2015 as the director of OCU, his office was beset by legal disputes alleging the method for awarding medical marijuana licenses was arbitrary. Now the office is plagued by a growing pile of legal bills.

VISIT FLORIDA’S BREAKUP WITH PITBULL ALMOST COMPLETE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – But when new Visit Florida leader Ken Lawson stood before a Florida Senate committee earlier this week there was a strong acknowledgement that the highly controversial (and for the longest time secret) $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote state beaches will never happen again on his watch. “A great Floridian who’s made his way,” Lawson said of Miami music start Pitbull. “But anytime we use a celebrity or any person, we need to make sure it fits the brand.” Lawson said in the future any use of celebrities would have to “fit our program” and require “commonsense.”

WE TOLD YOU SO; EYEBALL WARS SET TO BEGIN ANEW via Florida Politics – Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists … that fragile peace seems all but finished. Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery … the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of Speaker Corcoran. And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call. “Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time … I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

***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***

ONE NATION LAUNCHES AD CALLING FOR REPEAL OF OBAMACARE — The political organization launched 30-second spots in nine states, including Florida, Wednesday calling on federal lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The advertisements are part of a $3 million ad campaign to take place over three weeks in 11 states, and will be followed by radio, digital, print and mail campaigns. In Florida, the ad calls Obamacare a “failed mess created by Sen. Bill Nelson’s vote” and urges Floridians to “tell Sen. Bill Nelson he was wrong to vote for Obamacare.”


NRSC OUT WITH DIGITAL AD COMPARING BILL NELSON TO ELIZABETH WARREN — The National Republican Senatorial Committee debuted a new digital ad campaign Wednesday to “inform Florida voters of Nelson’s liberal record in Washington to that of the new face of the far left, Elizabeth Warren.” The ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats in states won by President Donald Trump. “Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92% of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

STORY YOU WON’T READ IN SUNBURN – “With N-word sign, Florida man tries to scuttle Tampa mayor’s gubernatorial hopes — but there’s a twist” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida. It’s not that this isn’t a story sure to drive clicks and it’s one that Caputo tells well, but anyone who has been to downtown Tampa has seen these ridiculous, offensive signs. Local media has rightly chosen to ignore this gadfly. Unfortunately, with Caputo’s article, he now has a national platform.

TOM GRADY EYES AG, CFO NOW THAT FGCU PRESIDENT IS OUT via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – No longer in the running to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s president, former Naples’ state representative Grady is eyeing state Attorney General and maybe even the state’s chief financial officer position. And to get either office, he might rely on the help of a friend, his neighbor and former constituent Gov. Scott, who could find himself appointing interim officials to both positions soon. “I speak with the governor often about many things, especially where I have some expertise and can be helpful,” Grady said. He declined to disclose his private conversations with the governor. Grady was not among the finalists announced last week for the FGCU position. The university’s board is in the process of selecting a new president from four finalists.

***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.***

FIRMS RANDOMLY PICKED FOR LOBBYING COMPENSATION AUDITS via Florida Politics  Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports. The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are: Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Buigas & Associates, David R. Custin & Associates, Ericks Consultants, Hopping Green & Sams, Lewis Longman & Walker, Lisa Aaron Consulting, Luis E. Rojas, McGee & Mason, Redfish Consulting, Ronald R. Richmond, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, Smith & Smith, The Labrador Co. The ones picked for executive lobbying are: Andrew J. Liles, Calhoun Management & Consulting, Capitol Insight, Carr Allison, Champion Consultants, Janet Llewellyn, Lester Abberger, Lindstrom Consulting, Pruitt & Associates, T.B. Consultants, TC Wolfe, Wilson & Associates. 

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: National Council of La Raza

Douglas Bell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Preserve Vision Florida

Wayne Bertsch Jr., Civility Management LLC: Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors

Charles Cliburn, New Capitol IT LLC: Gentis Solutions DBA Interlink

Jon Costello, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, Inc.; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Miami Children’s Health System

Jim Horne, Strategos Public Affairs LLC: Academica

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting LLC: Sebastian Ferrero Foundation

Gary Rutledge, Rutledge Ecenia: Citizens for Judicial Process; Pinnacle Housing Group, LLC

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Association of Health Plans; Florida East Coast Industries LLC; Florida East Coast Railway, LLC

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Southern Company Gas

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of our besties, Amanda Taylor.

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Conservatives welcome Donald Trump with delight – and wariness

For the past eight years, thousands of conservative activists have descended on Washington each spring with dreams of putting a Republican in the White House.

This year, they’re learning reality can be complicated.

With Donald Trump‘s presidential victory, the future of the conservative movement has become entwined with an unconventional New York businessman better known for his deal-making than any ideological principles.

It’s an uneasy marriage of political convenience at best. Some conservatives worry whether they can trust their new president to follow decades of orthodoxy on issues like international affairs, small government, abortion and opposition to expanded legal protections for LGBT Americans — and what it means for their movement if he doesn’t.

“Donald Trump may have come to the Republican Party in an unconventional and circuitous route, but the fact is that we now need him to succeed lest the larger conservative project fails,” said evangelical leader Ralph Reed, who mobilized his organization to campaign for Trump during the campaign. “Our success is inextricably tied to his success.”

As conservatives filtered into their convention hall Wednesday for their annual gathering, many said they still have nagging doubts about Trump even as they cheer his early actions. A Wednesday night decision to reverse an Obama-era directive that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity has thrilled social conservatives.

“He’s said that on multiple occasions that he’s not a conservative, especially socially,” said Zach Weidlich, a junior at the University of South Alabama, “but my mind-set was, give him a chance, especially now that he’s elected.'”

“He was the better of two evils given the choice,” added Timmy Finn. “I agree with his policies, however, I think he’s moving a little too fast.”

Trump has a somewhat tortured history with the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual convention that’s part ideological pep talk, part political boot camp for activists. Over the past six years, he’s been both booed and cheered. He’s rejected speaking slots and galvanized attendees with big promises of economic growth and electoral victory.

At times, he has seemed to delight in taunting them.

“I’m a conservative, but don’t forget: This is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party,” he said in a May interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, said Trump’s aggressive style is more important than ideological purity.

“Conservatives weren’t looking for somebody who knew how to explain all the philosophies. They were actually looking for somebody who would just fight,” he said. “Can you think of anybody in America who fits that bill more than Donald Trump?”

Trump is to address the group Friday morning. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak Thursday as are White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior advisers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

The tensions between Trump’s brand of populist politics and conservative ideology will be on full display at the three-day conference, which features panels like: “Conservatives: Where we come from, where we are and where we are going” and “The Alt-Right Ain’t Right At All.”

Along with Trump come his supporters, including the populists, party newcomers and nationalists that have long existed on the fringes of conservativism and have gotten new voice during the early days of his administration.

Pro-Brexit British politician Nigel Farage will speak a few hours after Trump.

Organizers invited provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters at the University of California at Berkeley protested to stop his appearance on campus. But the former editor at Breitbart News, the website previously run by Bannon, was disinvited this week after video clips surfaced in which he appeared to defend sexual relationships between men and boys as young as 13.

Trump “is giving rise to a conservative voice that for the first time in a long time unabashedly, unapologetically puts America first,” said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley. “That ‘America First’ moniker can very well shape this country, but also the electorate and the Republican Party and conservative movement for decades.”

Trump’s early moves — including a flurry of executive orders and his nomination of federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — have cheered conservatives. They’ve also applauded his Cabinet picks, which include some of the most conservative members of Congress. The ACU awarded his team a 91.52 percent conservative rating — 28 points higher than Ronald Reagan and well above George H.W. Bush who received a 78.15 rating.

But key items on the conservative wish list remain shrouded in uncertainty. The effort to repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law is not moving as quickly as many hoped, and Republicans also have yet to coalesce around revamping the nation’s tax code.

No proposals have surfaced to pursue Trump’s campaign promises to build a border wall with Mexico that could cost $15 billion or more or to buttress the nation’s infrastructure with a $1 trillion plan. Conservatives fear that those plans could result in massive amounts of new spending and that Trump’s penchant for deal-making could leave them on the wrong side of the transaction.

“There is wariness,” said Tim Phillips, president of Koch-brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress, others believe there’s no way to lose.

“He sits in a room with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Is there a bad a deal to made with those three in the room?” asked veteran anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. “A deal between those three will, I think, always make me happy.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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DCF files: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids

It’s another interesting day in the Florida child welfare business and not a bit has anything to do with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) child protection investigator being arrested. That’s good news.

Starting with the positive, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Tony Dungy was in the state capital to speak at a DCF Black History Month Celebration, giving a 15-minute talk to those in attendance. He serves as a spokesman for the Tampa-based nonprofit, All-Pro Dad.

“I think that’s what this month is all about,” he said, the Democrat wrote. “Black history month, celebrating children and families. One child at a time. One family at a time. One step at a time. You never know what that step is going to be, where it can go, what it’s going to lead to.”

Moving on, we have another positive story out of Tallahassee by ABC affiliate WTXL, which reported Tuesday that two foster children are going through the adoption process out of 32 foster children they reported in a special series.

Three-year-old Tenley and her sister 5-year-old Taylyn are set to be adopted by Greg and Nancy Brannen, says WTXL. Though the process is taking time, the children are in their care right now.

“Every day I come home, I open the door and they’re like, ‘Daddy, daddy,’” the prospective father told the station. “They’re such a joy.”

Next, things get weird.

A woman – Jessica Elizabeth Combee, from Westville, near the border with Alabama – appeared in court last week on a violation of probation charge in connection to a 2014 arrest in which she filed a whopping 28 false reports to the state’s abuse registry website, according to the Chipley Paper.

At the time, the newspaper reported Tuesday, Combee told investigators she did it to “create havoc.”

Filing of a false report of abuse is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison with DCF reserving the right to impose a fine not exceeding $10,000 for each violation.

Getting worse …

In Sarasota County, a woman pulled up to a Venice gas station with a one-year-old child in the backseat and fell asleep, reported the Bradenton Herald Wednesday. Kathryn Miller, 30, then woke up, went into the store – leaving the child in the car, which was parked at pump No. 16, and it was around that time someone had called law enforcement.

When the cops showed up on the scene, she was asked to show them where the child was and they looked in the car, finding a Mason jar in the back with a marijuana bud in it. When later searched, Miller was found to have another three small baggies of pot in her purse, too.

The child was taken into custody by DCF authorities.

She was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of child neglect, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia, writes the Herald. She was released Sunday on a $6,000 bond.

And last, but not least, we bring you the case of Matthew McRee, 36, and Christina Mattessino, 30, were sleeping in a silver Cadillac with a child in a soaked diaper in the backseat of the car, according to the Spanish version of the Bradenton Herald (hit translate at the top right of your computer screen when the option box appears).

Typically, as is the case in these situations, McRee seemed disoriented and didn’t have a driver’s license, the newspaper reported Tuesday. But that wasn’t the end of it for McRee, who has a lengthy arrest history, per public records.

According to the Herald, “McRee was taken to Sarasota County jail on several counts, including child negligence, drunken driving, possession of heroin and marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under suspended license. Mattessino, meanwhile, was taken to jail on $ 17,000 bond, facing child malpractice charges and possessing drug paraphernalia.”

The toddler was handed over to close relatives and the incident was reported to DCF, the Herald said.

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Dolphins re-sign six of their greats, includng quarterback Dan Marino

Good news for Miami fans.

The Miami Dolphins have signed Dan Marino all over again.

And if that isn’t enough, the Dolphins signed Bob Griese. And Larry Little. And Nat Moore and Kim Bokamper and Sam Madison.

The Dolphins re-signed six of their former icons, in fact, who promptly retired as Dolphins. They did it, they said, to emphasize the bond between the organization and the team’s alumni. The six combined for 25 Pro Bowls, three Hall of Fame selections and two MVPs.

The team did not explain why it didn’t re-sign and retire Larry Csonka, Mercury MorrisMark Duper, Mark Clayton, Nick Buoniconti, JackeScott or A.J. Duhe, among others.

“I’m enthusiastic about being a part of this team and trying to help create something special,” Marino said. “I love being a Miami Dolphins even if it’s for one more day. I’m proud to be a part of the franchise.”

Marino joked that he had been a free agent for 16 years and no team had called.

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Firms randomly picked for lobbying compensation audits

Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports.

The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are:

— Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney

— Buigas & Associates

— David R. Custin & Associates

— Ericks Consultants

— Hopping Green & Sams

— Lewis Longman & Walker

— Lisa Aaron Consulting

— Luis E. Rojas

— McGee & Mason

— Redfish Consulting

— Ronald R. Richmond

— Shumaker Loop & Kendrick

— Smith & Smith

— The Labrador Co.

The alternates are:

— Barlow Consulting

— Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig

— Capitol Hill Group

— Damon Smith Consulting

— Dixie Sansom Consulting

— Littlejohn Mann & Associates

— Pruitt & Associates

— Quintairos Prieto Wood & Boyer

— R. Dale Patchett Managemen

— Shutts & Bowen

— Southern Campaign Resources

— Strategos Public Affairs

— Sunrise Consulting Group

— Uhlfelder and Associates

The firms picked for executive-branch lobbying audits are:

— Andrew J. Liles

— Calhoun Management & Consulting

— Capitol Insight

— Carr Allison

— Champion Consultants

— Janet Llewellyn

— Lester Abberger

— Lindstrom Consulting

— Pruitt & Associates

— T.B. Consultants

— TC Wolfe

— Wilson & Associates

The alternates are:

— Capitol Energy Florida

— Foley & Lardner

— Horton & Associates

— Impact GR

— Jordan Connors Group

— Law Office of Cynthia G. Angelos

— Cusick and Associates

— Punyko Associates

— R. Bruce Kershner Co.

— Rachael Ondrus

— Richard S. Kip

— The Peeples Group

The last round of audits, required under a 2005 state law and released in September 2015, found discrepancies big and small after staff randomly picked 26 lobbying firms to be audited.

Auditors discovered a number of firms either underreporting or overreporting the money they made in 2014. In another case, auditors couldn’t tell who had paid a particular bill.

But generally, lobbying firms were annoyed at having to undergo auditing and lawmakers were underwhelmed.

“I don’t understand how the public’s interest is advanced by this exercise,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who formerly sat on the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

“I just don’t see how this information is relevant” other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms,” Bradley said in late 2015.

Legislation was actually filed for the 2016 Legislative Session that would have repealed the audit requirement, but it died in both chambers.

The latest audits are scheduled to begin May.

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Tampa developer sues Housing Authority over public records for ‘Encore’ renewal project

A Tampa developer is suing the Tampa Housing Authority, claiming officials are holding back documents related to a sprawling urban renewal in the neighborhood between downtown and Ybor City.

Pinnacle Holdings Group is accusing the THA of withholding key documents from public records for the “controversial handling” of Encore, the ambitious mixed-use project to replace Central Park Village. Frank Donald DeBose is president of Pinnacle Group, located at 4830 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 600 in Tampa.

Encore is the name of the plan that combines public housing, retail and commercial buildings with market-value condominiums.

In March 2016, the Tampa Tribune reported that Pinnacle Group was interested in purchasing to downtown parcels for $7.4-million as part of the Encore project.

Among Pinnacle’s tentative plans were a 20-story hotel and a 28-story residential tower. Other community features include an urban farm, museum, middle school, solar park and a renovated Perry Harvey Park, with an amphitheater and displays to honor Central Avenue’s history.

In November 2016, Pinnacle Group submitted a public records request to the THA, asking for “all documents pertaining or relating to the planning and development of Encore since November 2, 2010.”

The request specified documents and correspondence concerning developer Related Group – the private Miami-based developer also involved with the Encore project – as well as those involving Pinnacle Group itself.

Pinnacle claims documents received in December from the Authority were “insufficient,” and a subsequent request for “missing” items made January 10 provided not much more.

In a lawsuit filed February 17 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Pinnacle is suing under Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes (otherwise known as the “Public Records Act”). The company asks the court to set an immediate hearing and order the THA to “allow the inspection and copying of the requested public records.”

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Jeff Brandes bills keep Enterprise Florida, but with tight leash

State Sen. Jeff Brandes‘s new economic development proposal would continue operations of the embattled Enterprise Florida and state Department of Economic Opportunity, but on tight leashes.

Senate Bills 1110 and 1112 spell out a new way of doing business for two of Florida’s major economic development programs that have been under fire for accountability, particularly through their spending and penchants for luring out-of-state business with incentives in cases that go awry.

Brandes’s bills focus more on fostering small businesses and startups already in Florida, with tighter controls on EFI’s spending and salaries. That includes creating a grant program for new business incubators and accelerators.

The plan behind the bills calls for full funding for Gov. Rick Scott‘s budget recommendations for Enterprise Florida and protection for current incentive programs. After that, though the rules will change.

Brandes’s bills could become the counter offer to what may come out of the House of Representatives, where Speaker Richard Corcoran is targeting Enterprise Florida for elimination due to concerns over its lack of accountability. House Bill 7005, introduced Tuesday, would abolish Enterprise Florida and strip to bare-bones another state-chartered economic development corporation, VISIT Florida.

Brandes is calling for redirection for Enterprise Florida. It does not address VISIT Florida.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes stated in a news release. “Fostering a startup culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive. This legislation provides greater oversight and safeguards over our current economic development programs. This bill recasts our focus on new businesses that breathe the entrepreneurial spirit and diversify Florida’s economy.”

Among the proposals, Brandes’s bills would:

— Require the return of $117 million currently held in escrow for the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund to the State Economic Enhancement and Development (SEED) to increase the rate of return on those funds.

— Sanction businesses that relocate from the state within three years of receiving final incentive payments, and prohibit the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) from making material amendments to incentive contracts.

— Restructure Enterprise Florida Inc.’s board to be broader based, including reserving seats for the president of CareerSource Florida and someone from the Small Business Development Network, and requiring it to include at least one member with expertise in rural economic development.

— Prohibit any employees at Enterprise Florida from being paid more than the governor, and restricting bonuses, while requiring Senate confirmation for the president of Enterprise Florida.

— Establish a “Startup Florida Grant Program” within DEO, providing $50 million per year for the development and operation of small business incubators and accelerators throughout the state. The grants would be limited to $5 million a year.

— Establish the Small Business Information Center (SBIC) within the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network Lead Center of the University of West Florida. It would serve as a clearinghouse for small businesses seeking help from DEO.

— Require the DOE to provide, to the governor and the Florida Legislature, annual reports on the estimated contractual obligations of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

— Require two-thirds board votes for any contracts involving any board members who might have conflicts of interest with the companies involved.

— Limiting new incentive contracts to ten years.

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Wistful memories of Tampa Trib that no wrecking ball can change

The final demolition of the venerable Tampa Tribune building has begun. Workers began taking down the grand old downtown structure on Parker Street along the Hillsborough River, with plans to replace it with an eight-story apartment building.

Forgive, please, my momentary wistful pause.

The Trib was my work home for nearly 42 years until the company was bought and immediately shuttered by our blood rival, the Tampa Bay Times.

I was in that building on the day it opened, Oct. 18, 1975.

I was in that building on the day it closed, May 3, 2016.

You know, it’s just a building – brick, mortar, desks, carpet and so on. Buildings get demolished all the time in the name of progress. Memories last forever.

The old lady has a lot of stories to tell, too, starting with the day we moved in. I was a member of the Trib’s sports department then, and it was in the middle of football season. On Friday night, with dozens of prep football games to cover, we produced the last paper in the smoky old building in another part of downtown.

Moving in on the weekend was supposed to help the newsroom ease into its new home, but that didn’t matter to the sports department. The day our bosses chose to move us in coincided with the Florida-Florida State football game, which is kind of a big deal every year.

The Gators won, by the way, 34-8. We barely had time to notice our new home.

Eventually, it became a place that was much more than just an office to work. It is where we gathered to celebrate our wins, complain about our bosses, suffer our losses, and mourn for members of our family who left us too soon. There were far too many of those.

It’s where we learned an enthusiastic and gifted young reporter named Todd C. Smith had been murdered while researching a story about drug trafficking in Peru.

It’s the place where senators, governors, mayors and too many other local and state officials to count came to visit and try to curry favor. It’s where I would pick up the phone in the Trib’s sports department and hear George Steinbrenner bellow, “Get me McEwen!” He meant Tom McEwen, the legendary sports columnist.

It’s the place where I was working the night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first game ever, and we were going crazy. A guy called over from the Metro desk, “Hey, sports … any of you guys expecting a call from the White House?”

I was. I had called the press room so we could get official White House reaction to the historic occasion. I was stunned that they actually called back.

It’s the place where a former sports editor, after overseeing coverage of the first Super Bowl played in Tampa, had his car break down on the way home and had to hitch a ride with – wait for it – a circulation truck from the St. Pete Times.

I know of at least one fistfight that happened between a reporter and his editor over a story. It wasn’t me, by the way.

It’s where a former publisher, who was noted for frugality, invited all employees to celebrate coverage of one of the Super Bowls in Tampa. Unfortunately, he told us after a week of producing extra-large papers that were crammed full of expensive ads, we had to pay 50 cents for each hot dog.

It’s the place where a couple of mischievous editors took a portable swimming pool into the office of another editor who was on vacation and filled it with water. When that traveling editor returned, well … ever try to move a filled pool in the middle of an office while maintaining your dignity?

It’s the place where former publisher Doyle Harvill used to wander through the newsroom and put out his ever-present cigarettes in potted plants on various reporters’ desks.

In later years, it was a place where we huddled together as our numbers shrank because of layoffs. We hugged colleagues who had gotten the news. We were sometimes secretly jealous of others who got out while the getting was good.

And, yeah, it’s the place where the owners of Revolution Capital told us they had purchased the Trib from Media General and promised us they were in for the long haul. I think we all knew better. Those guys didn’t know much about running a newspaper and didn’t appear too interested in learning.

They got what they wanted when they sold our building to the group that had plans for the site that didn’t include a daily newspaper. We’re seeing the fruits of that now.

You know what, though? You can knock the building down, and you can even close the Trib, and life goes on. But a bunch of us know what we did, how much fun we had, what we meant to each other, and that we made a difference.

We were the Trib.

We were Tampa.

No wrecking ball can change that.

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Bill Nelson now targeted by group calling for his vote to repeal, replace ACA

Being a Democratic Senator up for re-election in 2018 and living in a state won by Donald Trump last fall means that Bill Nelson is going to be getting a lot of attention over the next year and a half from groups supporting Republican causes.

On Wednesday, TV ads began running on cable news networks in Florida targeting Nelson for supporting the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The ads will continue to air over the next couple of weeks.

One Nation, a 501(c)4 linked to the Karl-Rove-backed American Crossroads, has begun airing television ads in nine states calling on Senate Democrats who supported the ACA to support GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

“Last fall Americans sent Washington a clear message: clean up the Obamacare mess,” said Steven Law, president and chief executive officer of One Nation. “We’re going to make sure Washington follows through.”

Florida is in the first batch of nine states that will be seeing the ads which challenges Senate Democrats. They’re part of a $3 million ad campaign to take place over the next three weeks in 11 states. The TV ads will be followed by radio, digital, print and mail.

Michigan and Tennessee will be part of the second ten-day wave of radio and digital ads.

The ads are being unveiled on the same day that a new poll shows that the ACA is becoming more popular, now that the reality that it could be completely repealed is at stake.

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows voters are now split evenly on the law. Forty-five percent of registered voters approve of the law, the poll shows, and 45 percent disapprove. That’s an improvement from just a month ago, when only 41 percent of voters approved of the health care law, compared with 52 percent who disapproved.

The ads have begun airing on the same day that the National Republican Senate Committee unveiled a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s” liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

 

 

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