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Perry Thurston

Perry Thurston: Frank Artiles’ resignation was ‘right action’

Sen. Perry Thurston “welcome(d) the news of Senator Frank Artiles’ resignation today from the Florida Senate,” he said in a Friday statement.

“On behalf of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, …we regret that this action was necessary, but we believe it was the right action to take,” said Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat.

“It was surely a difficult decision for the Senator to make, but we believe he followed his conscience and made the right choice,” he added. “The actions of this Senate, and those of the multitude of Floridians who stood up in objection to the events of this week are to be lauded. They underscored the critical lesson that words can be painful, they can be hurtful, and they can have consequences.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Thurston and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. He said earlier Friday he was withdrawing the complaint.

Frank Artiles resigns from Senate

Frank Artiles has resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion, according to a letter he sent to Senate President Joe Negron Friday.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, elected to the Senate last year after six years in the House, had initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, in a brief statement released by the Senate Democratic Office, “thank(ed) everyone for their outpouring of support.”

“This has been an ordeal that no one should have to endure,” said Gibson, who kept her back turned to Artiles when he delivered his apology. “I wish him well in all of his endeavors.”

In the resignation letter mentioning his Marine service and crediting his family’s support, he said it was “clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this, I am very sorry.

“I apologize to my family and friends, and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness.

“My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State. I am responsible, and I am accountable, and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

“It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth. I leave this office knowing that despite my shortcomings, I have fought hard to change the status quo while remaining true to myself. I’m grateful for those that have stood by my side, including my family, friends, and supporters.

“Serving my community in the Florida Legislature has been the honor of a lifetime, and I do not leave this process lightly. I will discover ways to continue to serve my community in the future.

“God bless the great state of Florida and our great country,” he concluded, signing off, “Sincerely, Senator Frank Artiles.”

In a separate statement, Negron said Artiles “made the right decision.”

“As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments,” Negron, a Stuart Republican. “Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United States Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror.

“Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

Negron added that Thurston will withdraw his complaint and he “directed the (Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts) to close her investigation. No further action by the Senate will be taken in regard to this matter.”

On Thursday, Gibson had told reporters Artiles’ tirade was “horrific.”

“No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life,” she said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Artiles could not be reached. A message was left with his attorney, Steve Andrews of Tallahassee, on Friday morning. Artiles reportedly told colleagues he feared he wouldn’t have the support he needed to avoid a vote of expulsion from the Senate, to which he was elected last year after serving six years in the House.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II “welcomed” Artiles’ decision to leave the Senate.

“It was not only the right decision, but the honorable one, for himself and the people of Florida,” said Braynon, of Miami Gardens. 

“I take no pleasure in these unfortunate events. But I urge that we learn from them. In our communities, our state, and our country, there should be a message of hope, of tolerance, of unity. We cannot afford the high cost (that) words of divisiveness and cruelty leave in their wake. 

“I wish Senator Artiles the best, and I hope that, upon reflection, he finds consolation in knowing that his actions, today, show the contrition demanded, and the Senate was owed.”

The full resignation is below:

Eric Draper: Florida making smart progress on solar

Eric Draper

On a sunny day in Florida, I watched the American flag rise and fly over hundreds of acres of solar cells. It was an amazing experience to think the million panels I was looking at in Manatee County were replacing energy from conventional fuel combustion plants. Yet this solar field feeding directly into the power grid was not using any water nor emitting pollution. I could not have been more excited.

In recent years, Florida has increasingly lived up to its name as the Sunshine State, with more and more solar panels dotting our landscape. Solar energy makes so much sense for Florida’s natural environment because every watt of solar electricity reduces energy produced by traditional generation.

Growth in Florida’s solar capacity is accelerating largely as a result of large solar power plants Florida Power & Light is building, just like the one I visited in February. On that day alone, six FPL solar plants generated 335 megawatts of electricity — the same capacity as a coal-fired power plant.

Along with saving water and reducing air pollution, solar plants have an additional benefit. The land used to build fields of solar panels can be used to enhance habitats for birds and other wildlife. Fallow land repurposed for solar can recharge groundwater by allowing rainfall to soak into the earth. With so much of natural Florida being gobbled up by development and agricultural uses, I’m for using every acre we can to restore some lost wildlife habitat.

Audubon Florida has long been a proponent of solar power. We were there nearly a decade ago promoting the policy that led FPL to build the state’s first solar plant in DeSoto County, the largest in the country at that time.

On the day I watched our flag fly over the new solar plant, FPL announced one of the largest expansions of solar power ever in the southeastern United States — eight new solar power plants with 2.5 million solar panels that will generate enough electricity to power 120,000 homes by early 2018. Shortly thereafter, FPL furthered its commitment with plans for an additional 1,500 megawatts of new solar under development across its Florida service area.

Each will feed electricity directly into the grid to serve all FPL customers at no net cost.

In support of our clean energy and water conservation goals, and in keeping with Audubon Florida’s commitment to community-based conservation, we are partnering with FPL to advance solar energy while improving the environmental values of the land where the solar plants are sited.

By recommending bird and pollinator-friendly vegetation for the solar plants, Audubon and its local chapters will make these facilities home to wildlife and nature. Audubon already has provided recommendations of native trees, shrubs, grasses and vines.

FPL’s solar energy advancement already aligns with Audubon’s goals. But it is the potential of partnership with local communities to protect and enhance wildlife that says more about FPL’s motivation. They are investing in making these sites friendly for butterflies, bees and birds.

Working together, we can harness solar energy and the power of Audubon’s grassroots community. We can ensure solar power plants not only advance zero-emissions and zero-water-use energy but also benefit the local communities where they are built.

That’s a partnership worth celebrating for Earth Day in the Sunshine State.

___

Eric Draper is executive director of Audubon Florida.

FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, a 74.5-megawatt solar power plant in Charlotte County, Fla., is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years.
The American flag flies over the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Fla. The 74.5-megawatt solar power plant is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years..

 

Audrey Gibson responds to Frank Artiles’ ‘horrific’ tirade

Sen. Audrey Gibson on Thursday publicly responded to fellow Sen. Frank Artiles‘ racially-charged invective aimed at her earlier this week, saying she’s unsure she can be “comfortable” continuing to serve with Artiles in the Senate.

Gibson appeared at a press conference with Sen. Perry Thurston and a group of Tallahassee-area pastors at the city’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

“It was horrific,” Gibson said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life. I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, who is represented by Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, has called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, 61, recalled an incident for the Democrat “when she was a young girl at a department store where African-Americans were allowed to shop.”

“There was a young girl with her mom and we were playing together and her mom yanked her away and said ‘you don’t play with those people,’ ” she said. “Such is life. Back then. But this is today and there is no earthly reason for using any N-words whether you’re referring to Perry and I or your own colleagues. There’s no place for that word.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts is investigating Thurston’s complaint and is scheduled to issue a report to the chamber’s Rules Committee next Tuesday.

Wexford responds to DOC’s cancellation of health care contract

Wexford Health Sources is striking back at the Department of Corrections for canceling its contract to provide health care services at the state’s prisons.

In a lengthy press release, the Pittsburgh-based private health care provider took issue with the department’s criticism of its performance:

Wexford Health Sources disagrees with the assessment of the Correctional Medical Authority regarding the treatment provided to a small number of inmates at the South Florida Reception Center. More significantly, we take strong exception to the idea that this limited number of cases—involving patients who were already experiencing significant psychiatric challenges before they ever entered our care—should serve as the basis for termination of our contract with the State of Florida.

Privacy regulations limit how much Wexford Health can say to refute the CMA allegations without risking disclosure of the patients’ identities. However, there was nothing in the treatment of these inmates that should, or could, justify contract termination.

It is extremely disappointing that the Department of Corrections acted without consulting our psychiatric providers regarding the affected inmates. Had the DOC done so, it would have learned why our clinical personnel, relying on their professional judgment, pursued the chosen courses of treatment. Instead, the Department relied on the opinions of CMA’s non-psychiatric auditors, who—without being licensed psychiatrists—told the Department how they thought the patients should have been treated. These allegations led to the declaration of an emergency situation.

Wexford Health President CEO Dan Conn summed up the situation: “Wexford Health’s culture is one of transparency. We have always been open and direct with the Department about our performance. In fact, the Department has consistently complemented us on our performance and partnership.

“Our responsiveness; and our ownership of issues as they arise; have been exemplary. Again, the Department has acknowledged this. This could not be more apparent, since the Department recently asked us to extend our current contract for another year.

“But in this case, we were not even given the opportunity to respond to the Department’s allegations. Upon hearing them, Wexford Health’s psychiatric providers immediately responded to the situation and evaluated the patients’ cases. These psychiatric experts’ findings are considerably different than the ones given by CMA’s non-psychiatric personnel.”

The unfortunate reality is that prison inmates represent a particularly challenging patient population. This is especially so in the area of mental health. Wexford Health treats every patient under our care with respect and dignity, with the full hope that we can help restore their health. Isolated cases, involving inmates with long histories of mental problems, would not appear to be a sound basis for termination of an entire contract.

Out of tremendous concern for the safety and well-being of the inmates in our care, Wexford Health acted immediately to assess and evaluate the patients involved in the CMA report. We can now state that for each of the affected patients, psychiatric medications were discontinued after a clinical evaluation by a psychiatric provider; and the patients were observed in an inpatient unit after their medications were discontinued.

The patients were not at risk; and no life-threatening situations existed. The patients were being adequately and regularly monitored, supervised, and treated by psychiatric providers at clinically appropriate intervals. Please note that Wexford Health is not financially responsible for the cost of psychiatric medications and therefore has no financial incentive to withhold or discontinue them.

It is equally disappointing that the Department chose to terminate our contract rather than to exercise its option to offer Wexford Health an opportunity to cure the alleged issues (as allowed by the contract). In the past, if there was an issue, the Department and Wexford Health always sat down and worked it out. However, for some reason, in this situation the Department suddenly decided to terminate us with no warning.

The motivations that led to the Department’s decision are questionable—especially since within the past several weeks, the DOC and Wexford Health were looking for ways to fund Wexford Health’s ongoing contract.

Wexford Health has been an excellent partner for the Department since 2013, as reflected in the dramatic improvements in audit reports from the time we took over responsibility for providing services, until our current fourth year of service. This week’s actions by the Department have been as surprising as they are unnecessary. It is regrettable that we were not given a chance to provide the Department with crucial information that would clearly have refuted the CMA allegations.

Updated 1:55 p.m. — In response to Wexford, Ashley Cook, press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, released this statement:

“Secretary Julie Jones sent a letter to Wexford Health Sources, notifying it that the Department is exercising its contractual authority to terminate the contract with Wexford at will.

“Secretary Jones is absolutely outraged at Wexford’s lack of performance and delivery of services as detailed in the Correctional Medical Authority’s notification issued April 18, 2017. The Department has been committed to meaningful health care reforms and takes the issues detailed in the CMA’s notification extremely seriously.

“Following this medical emergency notification, the Department immediately deployed a Mental Health Ombudsman and Behavioral Health Risk Management Team to review all inmate mental health needs handled by Wexford at South Florida Reception Center.

“In regards to an extension of their contract, this was prior to the CMA’s emergency notification and under the pretense that their contracted services were improving after previously being placed on direct notice by the Department. Since their performance did not improve, the Department terminated the contract.

“Please also note, mental health services has been an ongoing issue with Wexford, and the Secretary has had extensive discussions regarding their performance. These discussions were never complimentary of their mental health services.”

 

The Delegation for 4.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

More “scared jackrabbits” running for re-election

This week another Democrat made a strong run at claiming a traditional GOP seat in Congress. After a near-miss in a deep-red district in Nebraska, Jon Ossoff nearly gained a majority against 17 other candidates in Georgia’s 6th District, where Republican candidates always win by double digits.

Ossoff will still be a slight underdog in the runoff against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in the June runoff, but he will have the support of the Democratic establishment combined with a political ATM.

More than $8 million poured into his campaign from all over the country. This race is a must-watch over the next nine weeks.

What does that mean for Florida? For Bill Nelson and members of the Florida delegation representing swing districts, it means aggressive fundraising because tons of money will be raining down on them in the not-too-distant future. While in Tallahassee this week, Nelson was quoted as saying he is running for his fourth term in the Senate like “a scared jackrabbit.” Coming just after Easter, rabbit references are always welcome.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across the nation, on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.
Sen. Bill Nelson says he assumes nothing when it comes to an election. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

The recent release of first quarter campaign finance reports reveals other anxious jackrabbits. Nelson raised over $2 million and now has $3.64 million cash on hand. He knows he will need a lot more than that to compete with likely opponent Gov. Rick Scott over the airwaves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting South Florida Republicans Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo and Mast were the top two GOP fundraisers with Curbelo leading the way with $615,000. Mast had $428,000 while Ros-Lehtinen hauled in $341,000 and Diaz-Balart $126,500.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will be going after freshmen Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. Crist pulled in a delegation-best $720,000; Murphy raised $286,000.

Former Rep. David Jolly went on “60 Minutes” in 2016 to lament the time members devoted to “dialing for dollars.” Before he decides whether to run again in 2018, he should know the situation is not getting any better.

The jackrabbits are multiplying.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Trump has spent more than 424 hours in Palm Beach since his inauguration — The president has spent one out of every five minutes of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf club, reports Philip Bump with the Washington Post.

The Post tallied the amount of time the part-time Florida man has spent in Palm Beach, rounded to the half-hour, since he was inaugurated through Monday. According to Bump, Trump has spent about 424.5 hours at the so-called “winter White House” and 1,663.5 hours everywhere else, “including Air Force One headed to Mar-a-Lago.”

“(T)here’s a real sense in which Trump is splitting his time between his two jobs: service as president of the United States and acting as owner/host of Mar-a-Lago. In some cases, those roles overlap, such as when he introduced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a couple having their wedding at the resort,” writes Bump.

He went on to say while it wasn’t clear whether Trump planned to travel back to Palm Beach this weekend, if “the existing pattern holds, he’ll go on any two of the next four days.”

Scott joins Trump for veterans bill signing — Gov. Rick Scott joined Trump at the White House on Wednesday for the formal signing of the Veteran’s Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act. Scott joined several other officials in the Roosevelt Room for the signing, including Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Glenn Sutphin.

As one way of addressing the backlog for care facing veterans, the bill allows for veterans to seek care from non-VA providers. Trump stated at the ceremony that it was now “it’s time that we now take care of them properly.”

“My father served in WWII, and I proudly served in the United States Navy, and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and veterans,” Scott said in a release. “I was proud to join him today as he signed this important bill for veterans.”

Scott later met with U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Tweet, tweet:

Rubio targets HUD oversight —The Miami Republican took a shot at lax oversight at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. In an op-ed for the Florida Times-Union, Rubio wrote of his tour of the Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“Crumbling staircases, dangerous gas leaks, exposed electrical wires” and other deficiencies are conditions that have “existed for too long” at Eureka Garden and other places around the country.

“In some cases, property owners like those who owned Eureka Garden pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars instead of putting them toward needed repairs,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, properties have been given passing HUD inspection scores despite terrible conditions.”

Rubio and Carson are pledging a more diligent HUD that will be in tune to the needs of residents and make property owners accountable for the conditions in which people live.

“These would be meaningful first steps toward fulfilling one of HUD’s core functions,” said Rubio.

Nelson presses Tom Price on Florida’s opioid crisis — In a letter to HHS Secretary Price, the Orlando Democrat declared the heroin and opioid crisis is “devastating Florida” encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”

Paulson’s Principles: Reapportionment Roulette

Reapportionment is like the family portrait. The only thing you care about is how you came out; the hell with everyone else.

Democrats and Republicans have held a variety of positions on reapportionment, depending on whether they were the majority or minority party. Democrats completely dominated Florida politics for 120 years, from the end of Reconstruction to the 1990’s. When Florida and other southern states started trending Republican after World War II, Democrats used gerrymandering and reapportionment to solidify their strength.

In the early 1990’s, Republicans proposed to change the process of drawing District lines. Their proposal would be similar to the Fair District plan offered by Democrats in 2014. Democrats quickly rejected the Republican plan, believing it was simply a device to help the Republicans.

Even though Democrats controlled both houses of the Florida legislature by a 60-40% margin in 1992 and drew the state legislative lines, the Republicans won control of the state senate in 1994 and the house in 1996.

The Democrats were not able to agree on drawing the congressional district lines in 1992. Blacks, who made up about 18 percent of Florida’s population but accounted for a third of the Democratic vote, wanted Democrats to create three majority-minority districts. The Democrats refused, arguing that in doing so the surrounding districts would become whiter and more Republican.

Unable to draw the congressional districts, the task was left to federal court judge Clyde Atkins and a special master. I was hired by both the Florida and national NAACP as an expert witness to discuss the history of black voter discrimination in Florida.

In the case of Florida NAACP, et al. v. Lawton Chiles, et al., my testimony helped to influence the court to create two majority-minority districts and one minority-influence district (at least 40% minority).

After 120 years with no black member of Congress, Florida elected three African-Americans to the congressional delegation. Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings were elected in the Miami area, and Corrine Brown was elected in Jacksonville.

I would not have voted for any of the three blacks who were elected to Congress with the possible exception of Meek, but that was not important. What was important was that the black electorate can vote for the candidates of their choice.

As the size of Florida’s congressional delegation grew due to its population growth, so did the Republican domination of the delegation. After the 2010 census, the Florida delegation grew from 25 to 27 members, and Republicans controlled 17 of the seats. Democrats were in full panic mode.

A bipartisan coalition made up of mostly Democrats and a few token Republicans, joined forces with the League of Women Voters (LWV) which has become increasingly dominated by the political left. The result was (in the spirit of Easter) the resurrection of the Republican reapportionment plan of the early 1990’s.

The Fair District Amendment was sold to eliminate politics from the reapportionment process. I always love it when reformers want to eliminate politics in the political process. It can’t be done. You simply replace one power broker with another.

The voters embraced the Fair District Amendment, and it passed. The Republicans had to redraw District lines, which the Florida courts threw out. On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Republican districts and substituted the plan of the LWV’s.

Twenty-four of the 27 districts were redrawn, and eight were substantially altered. The Democrats gained only one seat in the Florida delegation in the 2016 election, but the roulette process has only begun.

Open Gaetz Day starts early, ends late — Before leaving Washington for the nearly three-week Easter recess, the Republican from the First District did not believe Congress should adjourn before taking care of health care. That failure, according to Gaetz, meant he and his colleagues “don’t deserve recess” until they address health care.

But since the members are home in their districts, Gaetz feels they should spend quality time with constituents. He is having another Open Gaetz Day on Thursday. His schedule is a literal sunrise-to-sunset agenda.

He began the day at 6:30 a.m. with a “beach town hall” broadcast on live radio, followed by a beach cleanup.

As part of his #OpenGaetz Day, Rep. Gaetz took part in a beach clean-up. (Photo via Facebook)

The rest of the day included an education briefing, a military round table, a legislative update on live radio, two environmental cleanup public interactions, and a community legislative update.

The final event began at 6:30 p.m. when he joined a Constituent Info Booth at the Blue Wahoos baseball stadium.

Gaetz questions Navy’s lifting of training flight pause — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Navy instituted an operational pause on training flights for the T-45 aircraft at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Navy has lifted that pause much to the concern of the Republican from the First District. The issue was — and continues to be — the safety of the aircraft’s oxygen systems.

“I remain concerned with the decision to lift the operational pause for the T-45C absent sufficient data from the examination of On-board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS),” Gaetz wrote to Vice-Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander of the Naval Air Forces.

Gaetz expressed concern that the pause was lifted before “the root cause” of the problem was fully identified. He asked pointed questions of Admiral Shoemaker including whether the Navy can provide “more transparency” to their on-going process.

In addition to representing the district housing Pensacola Naval Air Station, Gaetz is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Gaetz puts Navarre Pass reopening on hold, temporarily – The first-year Republican congressman from Fort Walton Beach is pushing legislation to allow private ownership of land on Pensacola and Navarre Beaches.

But Gaetz told leaders in Navarre that it will not include reopening Navarre Pass, reports the Pensacola News-Journal. The pass, which allows boating between Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, has been closed since 1965 after Hurricane Betsy clogged the waterway with debris.

Gaetz, who said reopening the Pass would bring up to $1 billion in economic impact through tourism and fishing, believes the two issues should not be linked. That is why he dropped the issue from his proposed bill, which has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rutherford, Tom Rooney herald new VA transparency — The Jacksonville freshman Republican was enthused with a new tool to promote transparency at the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA’s new Access and Quality system allow veterans to access information on wait times and the quality of care provided by the hospitals compared to private facilities.

Rutherford, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was “proud of the work we’ve done.” Quoted in the Sunshine State News, Rutherford gave kudos to the VA “for increasing the transparency by making patient wait times and care data available online.”

“No other health care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin in a news release. “This allows veterans to see how the VA is performing.”

Also weighing in was 17th District Republican Rooney, who praised Shulkin’s leadership in making the new system a reality, adding that it indicates a “new era of transparency.”

“Veterans across the nation are justifiably tired of inexcusable wait times and their lack of trust in the government to provide the basic services we promised in exchange for their service is unacceptable,” he said.

Dunn files legislation to protect rights of seated airline passengers — The Panama City freshman is filing legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the United Airlines fiasco, where a properly seated passenger was forcibly removed from his seat. Dunn has introduced the Secure Equity in Airline Transportation (SEAT) Act, which would prohibit airlines from removing a seated passenger on over-booked flights.

“Passengers should have the peace of mind to know they will not be dragged off a plane once they’re in their seat,” said Dunn in a release. “The SEAT Act will require airlines to sort out overbooking before allowing passengers to board the airplane.”

Dunn’s bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to revise rules making it clear that not even airline employees have priority over a seated passenger. According to Dunn, the legislation makes an exception for a seated passenger who “is a threat to the safety of others.”

Lawson meets constituents with during Tallahassee town hall — About 60 people attended the freshman Democrat’s town hall meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee.

While there were some complaints — constituents complained about not being able to get through to his office, something Lawson apologized for — there was none was none of the acrimonies that has greeted Republican members of Congress from constituents angry about the GOP plan to scuttle the Affordable Care Act and federal spending. Instead, Lawson told the crowd he went to Washington to improve the Affordable Care Act, not to repeal or replace it.

Lawson said he believes in working with Republican colleagues when possible. He has to, within the Florida delegation — as he noted, he’s the only Democratic congressman between Pensacola and Orlando. His District 5 comprises eight counties between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

“I have no choice, ladies and gentlemen. I’m like the Lone Ranger on some of those issues,” he said. “When you talk about North Florida, who you talking about? I stand alone out there, waving a flag.”

He continued: “I work with a lot of my Republican colleagues because nothing was done by one particular party. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was a joint effort. To do things in America, it’s always going to be a joint effort. We have to get over the campaign and do what’s best for you, the citizens in this country.”

Buchanan seeks funds to fight red tide — Noting the dangerous threat toxic algae poses to humans, marine life and the economy, the six-term congressman announced he is requesting increased federal funding to combat red tide.

Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis algae, has lingered along Suncoast shores on and off for several months now, killing thousands of fish and discouraging potential visitors from taking in some of the country’s best beaches. Karenia brevis algae produce a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. In fact, the toxins from red tide blooms killed nearly 300 Florida manatees in 2013.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote to the leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

Spotted: Rep. Vern Buchanan writing about the bipartisan approach to animal protection issues in USA Today.

Buchanan to Interior: Restore manatee protections — The Sarasota Republican and several colleagues wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking for restoration of protective status for Florida’s manatees. Buchanan is leading the effort three weeks after blasting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for downgrading manatee protections.

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” the letter said. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

Buchanan had statistics to back up his claims. While the rule was under consideration, “nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support.”

“As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction,” the letter said. “We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.”

Also signing the letter: Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. Republican Daniel Webster also signed.

Pro-Trump group airing ads backing Mast advocating repeal, replace Obamacare — An advocacy group formed by six of Trump‘s top campaign aides launched a $3 million advertising campaign to praise Congress members working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The list of 12 select members from America First Policies includes Republican Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Obamacare is collapsing and bringing our health care system down with it, harming millions of American families,” said Nick Ayers, Chairman of the Board of America First Policies. “The time is now to repeal and replace this terrible law, but we need citizens to engage.”

The issue advocacy campaign will be on broadcast or cable, the internet and through phone calls in twelve districts, including CD 18, which stretches from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach in Southeast Florida.

Mast was lobbied personally by Trump to support the GOP’s health care bill that never came up for a vote last month, and he reportedly called on his colleagues to unite behind the bill in an emotionally charged address, according to The Washington Post.

Mast flipped the seat from blue to red last November when he defeated Democrat Randy Perkins. The seat had been held for the previous four years by Patrick Murphy, who opted to run for U.S. Senate last year.

Frankel returns from trip to Korea, Japan — The Palm Beach Democrat picked the right time to go on an Asian-Pacific fact-finding trip. She and some of her colleagues made stops in South Korea and Japan just as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began raising tensions in the region.

The focus was the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and their effects on the entire region. She visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and American military facilities in Japan. On the itinerary were meetings with South Korean Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The trip wrapped up with a meeting between the lawmakers and a North Korean defector.

“A strong, unwavering relationship between the U.S. and its allies Japan and South Korea is necessary for the national and economic security of all three countries,” she said in a statement. “In this regard, the United States, in consultation with Japan and South Korea, must explore all reasonable economic, diplomatic, and defensive actions such as cyber that would prevent North Korea from developing such a (nuclear) capability.”

Right on cue, some are saying the U.S. indeed may have played a role in the failed North Korean missile launch earlier this week. Frankel serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Deutch, Curbelo urge Trump Administration to stay in Paris climate change accord — The two Floridians, co-chairs and co-founders of the bipartisan House Climate Change Caucus, are jointly urging the Trump Administration to remain in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With the administration rumored to be ready to pull out of the accord, Deutch and Curbelo argued strongly against the move.

“It is imperative that we maintain our seat at the table in global discussions on how to address the threats posed by climate change,” they said in a joint statement. “It is our hope the administration will take a responsible approach on this issue.”

The agreement, which was completed in 2016, calls for signees to undertake “ambitious efforts to combat climate change,” Of the 197 nations attending the conference, 143 countries have signed on.

In March, Curbelo, a Miami Republican, and Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, signed a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

“Stepping away from the agreement would mean stepping away from the immense opportunities that these international investments afford American businesses and research institutions,” they wrote.

Diaz-Balart delivers keynote at affordable housing dedication ceremony — The Miami Republican was on hand Monday as Collier County official dedicated Hatchers Preserve, an 18-unit, single-family rental community in Immokalee.

The community was built by Rural Neighborhoods in partnership with the Big Cypress Housing Corp. and was funded, in part, through by the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

“This new community will provide a safe roof over the heads of 18 deserving families,” said Diaz-Balart, who serves as the chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement Monday. “(This) dedication ceremony is a prime example of the federal government and local leaders coming together to advance solutions. I especially want to commend the great work of Rural Neighborhoods, including Steve Kirk, for their vision and determination to see this project to its completion. I look forward to continue working with the Southwest Florida community to protect and preserve affordable housing.”

The homes will be rented for $650 a month to families earning 50 percent of the area median income, and $725 a month to families earning 80 percent AMI.

Now serving his eighth term in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has become a powerful voice in Florida’s congressional delegation. As chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Diaz-Balart will play a fundamental role during budget discussions and any negotiations about infrastructure improvements. And he’s spent years pushing lawmakers to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something he says is still working on. We caught up with Diaz-Balart during his visit to Immokalee, located in the western part of his sprawling district, to talk about housing, transportation and 2018.

AP Photo

FP: You were in Miami last week with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, tell me about the trip, what you learned and what he learned about affordable housing and the needs in South Florida.

MDB: I’m very grateful that he’s actually traveling and he’s trying to figure out what’s out there, what’s working and what’s not working, which is wonderful to see. Here’s a man who is doing it for the right reason, and he’s trying to learn. These are very complicated areas. It’s a huge agency, and it’s an agency that has major problems, fiscal accountability problems. … I think it was very helpful for him to see just different things that are working and not working that well, and why. I’ve met with him, I had the opportunity to meet with him again, and had the opportunity to ride in the car with him, which was a really good time. I feel really, really optimistic about the fact that he’s a person who wants to do the right thing. And I am really looking forward to working with him in a very, very close way to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent, and that also some of the key programs are working continue to receive help.

FP: This Immokalee project was a partnership — federal, state and local. When you talk about housing, especially affordable workforce housing, in Florida and beyond how important is that local, state and federal role?

MDB: I think it’s crucial. One of the ways you get more accountability is by having a local community be part of it. There’s so many instances where the federal government, HUD and others decide this is what you’re going to do; this is where you’re going to do it. And frankly, that doesn’t work too well. This is one of the best examples. Rural Neighborhoods is this group that builds; they rehabilitate, they manage, they do incredible work. They receive funding from different sources; they leverage public funding with private funding. This is not one of the traditional things (people think of when) they think of HUD — these high rise buildings … This is a local community, having a need and going to them and saying “what can we do here?” And what you’re going to see, if you come here in five years, is these homes in pristine shape, because that’s the kind of work (Rural Neighborhoods does) around the state.

FP: President Trump, when he was on the campaign trail, talked so much about infrastructure improvements to transportation. What, if any, impact do you think the inability to get health care reform through Congress is going to have on getting those massive infrastructure improvements through?

MDB: I think the potential is for it to have a serious impact. … If we can’t — controlling the House, Senate and the White House — get together and pass legislation and do what we’ve been saying forever, which is repeal Obamacare and replace it with more a patient-centered centered system of accountability and choice, if we can’t even do that, then it begs the question of can we do the even more complicated issues like tax reform.

Why do I mention tax reform, even though you mentioned infrastructure, which is key to my heart? If you can’t do health care, it’s going to be very difficult to do tax reform. If you can’t do tax reform, then the question is, where are the funds coming from to do infrastructure? I wish I could tell you I’m not concerned, but I don’t know how you do things that are more complicated if we can’t even do health care.

FP: You’ve been a huge proponent of immigration reform for many, many years. What’s the status right now?

MDB: I’m not giving up on it. I think we have a greater opportunity, a greater chance. I think it’s obviously a problem and it’s not going to fix itself, you’ve heard me say that a million times. I’m still working, and I think we have a better shot than if Hillary (Clinton) had gotten elected. I wish I could tell you right now things are great; they’re not. But I’m optimistic. We’re still working, we’re still talking, and I think it may be one of those things that surprises folks. I think this is a president who wants to solve problems, and I think once … they all see this is broken from A-to-Z, I don’t think this president is going to sit back and let it stay broken. So, I’m optimistic.

FP: As you start looking toward 2018, are you concerned at all about re-election?

MDB: I’m a firm believe you do good things, and good things happen. I don’t worry about that. I just work, and good things happen.

Ros-Lehtinen draws another Democratic opponent for 2018 – First term Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez filed to challenge the longtime Republican incumbent in the redrawn Florida 27th Congressional District, which now leans Democrat.

“We deserve a member of Congress who will hold President Trump accountable,” Rosen Gonzalez, a single mother of three, told the Miami Herald. “Instead of the president’s lapdog, I’ll be a watchdog who stands up for science against climate change deniers, stands up for immigrants against persecution, and fights back against partisan attacks on women’s health care.”

Others looking to enter the CD 27 race include Scott Fuhrman, a Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, and University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn. Rosen Gonzalez would have one more year on the commission in the 2018 election cycle, but does not have to resign to run.

Crenshaw shines light on ‘scary’ disease affecting daughter – The former Jacksonville congressman is looking to raise public awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and help raise money for research. The Florida Times-Union reports that Crenshaw’s daughter, Alex, is one of the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease, with no known cure, affects the digestive system.

The Crenshaw family — wife Kitty, another daughter, and two grandchildren – have become advocates for the Crohn’s &Colitis Foundation, and raised about $100,000 since 2009. They regularly take part in the organization’s annual Take Steps fundraising marches. Crenshaw sits on the foundation’s national board. On April 22, the Central and Northeast Florida Chapter in Jacksonville Beach will name him an honorary chair and feature Alex as an “honored hero.”

“It’s kind of a family affair,” Crenshaw told the Times-Union.

Ballard Partners adds another foreign client to D.C. rosterThe Florida-based firm has been retained by the Socialist Party of Albania to “provide consulting and advocacy services in a bid to improve U.S.-Albanian bilateral relations” at a rate of $20,000 a month.

Ballard Partners work for the Socialist Party of Albania will include advising, counseling and assisting the party in its communications with the U.S. government, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents filed in April.

The year-long deal continues until the end of March 2018 and fetches the agency $20,000 per month. Earlier this month, the firm, led by Brian Ballard, signed a similar year-long contract to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

The Socialist Party of Albania rose to power following its majority win in Albania’s 2013 parliamentary elections. Leading the left-leaning political party is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who’s up for re-election in Albania’s upcoming June elections.

The Democratic Party of Albania last year hired Podesta Group in a similar bid to advance U.S. relations. That political group, which was formerly Albania’s leading political party, hired Podesta for counsel on relevant U.S. policies and Congressional activities, as well as to arrange meetings with U.S. executive branch officials and members of Congress.

In January, a third Albanian political group fighting for seats in the June elections, the Socialist Movement for Integration, retained The McKeon Group to facilitate a dialogue between members of that party and the Trump administration.

Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joins TechNet as VP — TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Before working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

Personnel Note: The National Association of Counties (NACo) added a bit more of a Florida flavor recently with the hire of Kevan Stone as Associate Legislative Director for Transportation and Infrastructure. Stone was previously a policy advisor for former Rep. John Mica. Stone holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida.

NACo’s current president is Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. The Tallahassee native’s term runs through 2017. The organization advocates on Capitol Hill for 3,069 county governments.

Sunburn for 4.21.17 – Artiles, Artiles, Artiles, bills are dying, Artiles

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

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

IN NON-FRANK ARTILES NEWS …

Yes, scientists feel they’re under attack by politics too, and like minority groups, women, gun advocates, gun opponents, social activists, and others, they’re taking it to the streets.

Twenty-one “Marches for Science” are set to take place in Florida Saturday, Earth Day, all declared as satellite marches to the main one that will take place in Washington D.C. Organizers say they’ll have more than 400 such marches worldwide this weekend.

March for Science organizers are declaring their mission as to champion “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

Organized through scientists and supporters discussing the prospect through social media, on their website they declare that, yes, their effort “is explicitly a political movement, aimed at holding leaders in politics and science accountable. When institutions of any affiliation skew, ignore, misuse or interfere with science, we have to speak out.”

In Florida marches are planned Saturday for Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, Hudson, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Naples, New Smyrna Beach, Orlando, Palm Beach County, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Titusville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach.

The dozens of partners sponsoring the event range from environmental groups such as the Earth Day Coalition and The Nature Conservancy, to science specialty groups as the American Society for Cell Biology and the Planetary Society, to broad groups such as the National Center for Science Education and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as several universities.

They’re maintaining the marches are non-partisan.

“Science is nonpartisan,” said Blake Williams, spokesman for For Our Future spokesman, which is co-organizing the Florida marches. “Advocating for evidence-based policies and solutions serves everyone’s best interests, and Saturday’s march is about speaking out in support of science together.”

OTHER NON-ARTILES NEWSSUPREME COURT OKS GAMBLING CONTROL, FELON VOTING RIGHTS AMENDMENTS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The state’s highest court gave its approval for proposed state constitutional amendments on voter approval of new gambling and restoring voting rights to ex-cons. But there’s a big ‘if’ before either can be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot—both amendments still need hundreds of thousands of signatures. Moreover, Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissented on the gambling amendment, saying “the ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by countywide (referendums).” The Florida Supreme Court does not pass judgment on subject matter, but reviews proposed amendments only to make sure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 6; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 14; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 14; MLB All-Star Game – 80; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 133; Election Day 2017 – 199; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 237; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 261.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce March job numbers at 10 a.m. at Pelican Wire, 3650 Shaw Blvd. in Naples.

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#FRANKGATE

LAWYER: FRANK ARTILES RACIAL SLURS OFFENSIVE, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FREE SPEECH via The Associated Press – A lawyer representing [Artiles] who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities says he’ll present evidence that other senators have used similar language. Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case and said the complaint shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles’ statements — as offensive as they were — are protected under his constitutional rights to free speech. He also said the Senate lawyer, Dawn Roberts, shouldn’t handle the case because she’s also represented Artiles and witnesses who would be called to testify.

A FOUR-NAME BYLINE STORY HERE: “Artiles controversy engulfs Florida Senate with two weeks left of Session” by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald

PAM BONDI: ARTILES SHOULD CONSIDER RESIGNING OVER RACIAL SLUR via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Bondi became the first state Republican leader to suggest Artiles should leave office for using a slang version of the N-word and other derogatory language during a heated discussion with colleagues. “There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi [said]. “I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues.” Bondi stopped short of definitively calling for Artiles’ expulsion from the Florida Senate.

LEGISLATIVE JEWISH CAUCUS URGES SENATE TO EXPEL ARTILES via Florida PoliticsThe Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus “denounced” Artiles Thursday, urging his Senate colleagues to toss him out of the Legislature. “(We) denounce Senator Frank Artiles for his racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory comments directed at some of his Senate colleagues,” they said in a statement. The statement was signed by Rep. Richard Stark, chair, and Reps. Lori Berman, Ben Diamond, Joe Geller and Emily Slosberg, and Sen. Kevin Rader. All are Democrats.

FLORIDA’S NAACP JOINS THOSE CALLING FOR ARTILES’ RESIGNATION via Florida PoliticsThe head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Artiles to step down. The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People … “A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.

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OSCAR BRAYNON, FOUR OTHER DEMOCRATS, SET TO FILE IN SUPPORT OF ARAMIS AYALA via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Five Democratic lawmakers led by Senate Minority Leader Braynon are preparing to file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Orlando’s State Attorney Ayala in her effort to challenge Gov. Scott‘s power to take cases away from her. Braynon, state Sens. Jeff Clemens, Perry Thurston and Gary Farmer and state Rep. Sean Shaw all filed a request with the Supreme Court to enter an amicus brief supporting Ayala and opposing Scott. The court quickly approved it. They explicitly stated in their friend-of-the-court brief would “provide an alternative perspective to that of amici Florida House of Representatives.”

BUDGET CHIEFS SOUND HOPEFUL AS CLOCK TICKS ON STATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS via Florida Politics – With two weeks and change remaining in the 2017 Legislative Session, House and Senate budget leaders are professing optimism that they can resolve their differences and adjourn on time May 5. House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo — and Jack Latvala, his Senate counterpart — both said Thursday they hope to begin formal budget conference negotiations soon. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” Trujillo told reporters.  The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die May 5,” he said. …  “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” Latvala said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

— “How the Legislature could $1.5 billion in extra Medicaid money for something other than hospitals” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE SPEAKER: THERE’S TIME TO ADDRESS SCHOOL RECESS, BUT NO PROMISES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When asked if the House would take up a parent-supported bill (SB 78), which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago, Corcoran said: “What I’d say on that is: We have two weeks left. There’s a lot of activity on the recess bill that’s still happening, and anything is possible.” The House version of the recess bill — which was significantly watered down and is no longer supported by parents, health and physical education experts or the lawmaker sponsoring it — is stalled in a committee that’s not scheduled to meet again. There is no visible action by House members that indicates that status would change. Senators, meanwhile, are trying another route to force the House to consider the proposal they passed, which would require elementary schools to offer 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, separate from physical education classes.

GAMBLING CONFERENCE WON’T MEET TILL NEXT WEEK via Florida Politics – Conference members had planned to meet Thursday, then a notice went out: “The Conference Committee on Gaming will NOT meet today and will not meet before Monday, April 24.” Blame it on the Supreme Court’s decision that same day to approve the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot, vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said. Chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano wanted to make sure over the weekend that the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer,” Diaz said in a phone interview. Galvano didn’t respond to a phone message. Also, committee members Jared Moskowitz and Joe Geller had personal matters requiring their attention in South Florida and had to leave Tallahassee, Diaz added.

TWEET, TWEET: @MearKat00: If you put a legislative calendar up to your ear and listen very closely you can hear the sound of bills dying.

BILLS ARE DYING, BUT CHILDREN ARE DYING: “Foster care agency leaders quit amid teen suicides, other turmoil” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald

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‘EYEBALL WARS’ BILL, SLATED FOR HOUSE COMMITTEE, GOES UNHEARD via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – A bill seeking to expand what optometrists could do — namely, performing surgery and prescribing opiates — was an agenda item in the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee … However, the bill at the center of Florida’s Eyeball Wars went unheard. HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, barely cleared Health and Human Services Health Quality Subcommittee last month, on an 8-7 vote … A similar controversy was expected in the full committee, but it didn’t manifest.

HOUSE MOVES CLOSER TO SENATE ON CHANGES TO STATE TESTING SYSTEM via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Rep. Manny Diaz, sponsor of the “Fewer Better Tests Act,” tied several of the ideas from that bill into a separate effort to allow parents and others to see certain state tests after students take them. The Diaz amendment would, among other things … Eliminate the state Algebra II end-of-course exam … Require paper-based state language arts and math tests for third- through sixth-grade … Move the state testing window to later in the spring, and shrink it to a shorter time frame … Change the value-added model of evaluating teachers.

FLORIDA MAY MAKE IT EASIER TO GET RID OF SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS via The Associated Press – The House voted 94-25 for a bill that would allow parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer. A similar bill is also moving in the Florida Senate. Critics of the bill contend that it could lead to schools removing books that discuss topics such as climate change or evolution. But Rep. Byron Donalds, sponsoring the bill, maintains that the legislation is about giving people an opportunity to raise questions about textbooks. He noted that local school districts would still have the final say on whether the materials should still be used.

HOUSE ADVANCES JUVENILE JUSTICE BILL, ADDING ADULT DIVERSION PROGRAM via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – The House version (HB 205), sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, changed again in the House Judiciary Committee … would expunge the arrests of juveniles for certain first-time misdemeanor crimes. That differs significantly from its Senate companion. Miami Republican Anitere Flores‘ bill (SB 196) would mandate civil citations to juveniles for a number of first-time misdemeanors. Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s amendment to HB 205 would allow adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program. That insertion upset Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez, who for more than a year had been working on the legislation to address juveniles. He said a number of issues regarding the juvenile component of the bill remain unresolved. Those issues were now “tainted” by the discussion over adults, Gonzalez argued.

LAWMAKERS APPROVE ATTORNEY FEE TWEAK TO PUBLIC RECORD LAW via Florida PoliticsLawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Scott. The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote. The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit. Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

— “House financial literacy bill passes final committee” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE VOTE SENDS SOLAR TAX BREAK BILL TO THE SENATE FLOOR via Florida Politics – Senate implementing legislation for last year’s solar energy referendum passed its final committee test … when the Appropriations Committee voted its unanimous approval. The bill by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes would implement $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes, approved by Florida voters via Amendment 4 in August. SB 90, supported by environmental groups and solar panel installers, lacks the same safety standards and disclosure requirements found in the House version, HB 1351. Brandes said the House is moving toward the Senate’s position. “We’re going to continue to work with them. The landing site in in sight on this bill,” Brandes said.

WELFARE CHANGES IN FLORIDA INCLUDE TOUGHER PENALTIES FOR RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Welfare recipients in Florida would face tougher penalties for failing to meet work requirements and some food stamp recipients could become ineligible if lawmakers in the Florida House have their way. The chamber passed a set of changes to Florida’s welfare laws by an 82-38 vote with three Democrats joining Republicans in support. It’s a move supporters say is supposed to help people who receive cash assistance from the state to find good jobs and discourage reliance on government. “We’re trying to help individuals, we’re trying to curb fraud and abuse and get rid of this system of dependency,” said Rep. Dane Eagle the bill sponsor. “We don’t want people to be dependent on the state. We want them to be gainfully employed.” But opponents say Eagle’s legislation (HB 23) — also a priority of House Speaker Corcoran — is an attack on the poor.

BILL BANNING STEROID USE ON GREYHOUNDS PASSES HOUSE via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – HB 743 would prohibit the use of anabolic steroids at any point in the Greyhounds career. Any licensees caught in violation of the law could lose their license and be subject to a fine of up to $10,000. While the bill had broad bipartisan support and Republican Alex Miller as a co-sponsor, there was still some debate opposing the legislation “My concern is that we’re making an emotional argument and not a factual one” said Rick Roth, a Republican from Palm Beach, citing an underlying motive to ban dog racing altogether. “My concern is that we’re jumping off the cliff too fast.” Other opponents argue that steroids are given to female dogs in heat to simply keep male greyhounds away. In closing, Smith thanked the House Speaker for letting the facts drive the discussion on the legislation instead of partisan politics. The bill passed with 84 votes in favor and 32 votes in opposition.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – NEWEST DRAFT RULES GOVERNING 2022 SPEAKERS RACE: MEMBERS NOT ELIGIBLE FOR NOMINATION IF THEY VIOLATE GOP CONFERENCE RULES via Florida Politics — An updated draft of rules governing the election of the Republican’s freshman caucus leader — and eventual Speaker of the House — moves up the organizational meeting and stipulates a member found in violation of Republican conference rules would be ineligible for consideration. Reps. Ralph Massullo and Michael Grant have been tasked with writing draft rules to help guide the freshman class’s decision-making process. While new rules approved by members this year banned any active speaker’s races until June 30, the draft election rules are meant to spell out how the freshman class would ultimately pick its leader. But, perhaps the most notable change is the provision that outlines exactly who is eligible to become leader. When it came to nominations, the earlier draft of rules only noted that nominations “shall be from the floor and must receive a first and a second to be a valid nomination. Members may be the first or second for their own nomination.” New draft rules, however, go a step further. According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules.

HOUSE APPROVES SIX-YEAR LOBBYING BAN FOR FORMER LAWMAKERS, ELECTED OFFICIALS via Florida Politics – The House approved tough new ethics legislation Thursday barring members of the Legislature and statewide elected officials from lobbying their former colleagues for six years after leaving office. The measure also would prevent officials from leveraging their authority to seek jobs from or going into business with lobbyists. CS/SB 7083 passed on a vote of 118-0, even though Speaker Corcoran has conceded the Senate has little interest in boosting ethics laws this year, and with the scheduled end of session a little more than two weeks away. … Existing law restricts lobbying by former lawmakers and elected officials for two years.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Gregory BlackJames DaughtonWarren HusbandAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: American Association of Payers, Administrators and Networks

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting: AMOAF

Mike Haridopolos: I.O. Inc

Marc Reichelderfer, Landmarc Strategies: Bombardier Transportation

TAMELA PERDUE WILL JOIN VOLUNTEER FLORIDA FOUNDATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Perdue was unanimously approved by the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board of Directors and the Volunteer Florida Commission. Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman said, “We are thrilled to have Tammy join the Volunteer Florida Foundation Board. She brings an extraordinary amount of executive leadership and private-sector insight to the Board and we look forward to serving with her.” Perdue serves as Senior Vice President of Legislative and Government Affairs for Sunshine Health, one of Florida’s largest health plans.

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Cruise Missiles over Syria. Bombs over Afghanistan, Aircraft Carriers off the Korean Peninsula, Russian Nuclear Bombers flying 36 miles off the coast of Alaska – are we headed for war? Dr. James discusses the recent shows of force with political analyst Dr. Lawrence Miller.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: The Sunday morning show will kick off with a segment on what everyone in Tallahassee is talking about: Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles’ slur-filled rant at the Governor’s Club. The PolitiFact Trump-O-Meter rates the current status of the president’s campaign promise to dramatically scale back the EPA. On the Common Grounds segment, guests Kevin Doyle of the Consumer Energy Alliance and former Rep. Dick Batchelor look at the EPA regulations rollback and discuss how it could affect the environmental climate and the business climate moving forward.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Congressmen John Rutherford and Ron DeSantis will make an appearance, while the panel will consist of Carlton Robinson of the Jax Chamber, Ellen Sullivan of BairFind, Jeannie Fredrick of Women Business Owners of NE Florida, and Iris Simmons of The Genesi Group.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Steve VancoreGary Yordon and Sean Pittman will be joined by none other than some guy named Peter Schorsch.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lloyd Dunkelberger, Andrew Hall, and a true Florida gentleman who doesn’t even read Sunburn, Erik Suskey.

Lawyer: Frank Artiles racial slurs offensive, but they’re also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities says he’ll present evidence that other senators have used similar language.

The Senate is reviewing a complaint that Republican Sen. Frank Artiles used the “n-word” and other obscenities in a conversation with two African-American senators at a private club near the Capitol.

Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case and said the complaint shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles’ statements — as offensive as they were — are protected under his constitutional rights to free speech.

He also said the Senate lawyer, Dawn Roberts, shouldn’t handle the case because she’s also represented Artiles and witnesses who would be called to testify.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Another Clearwater competitive bid error proves devil is truly in details

After awarding more than $16 million in the past decade to consultants without going through competitive bidding, the city of Clearwater had finally corrected a gross misunderstanding of Florida law governing the process.

While that may be indeed admirable, another potential problem could be on the horizon, as small print in a recent Request for Qualifications for Clearwater consulting services could lead to big headaches for the city.

Florida law has allowed governments to hire professional services — such as architects and engineers — without competition, but only if total project construction costs are less than $2 million.

Last year, officials in Clearwater corrected a misinterpretation of the law had continued for more two decades. Previously, as the Tampa Bay Times noted, Clearwater city leaders believed that if design contracts met another requirement in the statute — an agreement for particular work that has a fixed end date — design companies chosen with no bids, even for construction projects over $2 million.

“We weren’t trying to do anything wrong,” Director of Engineering Michael Quillen told the Times. “It’s confusing language in the Florida statute.”

Citing a confusion in the language of the law, Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “an apparent ambiguity exists” for when governments can use a firm on a continuing contract. It all rested on the word “or.”

According to the law, governments can give contracts to a company when construction costs are under $2 million; if design fees are less than $200,000; or for specific work that has an end date.

The word “or” implies a choice, Bondi asserted. It led to governments “circumventing the selection process,” when the $2 million limit should apply in all cases.

Good catch, but that might not be all.

In the Florida Statutes, there is the Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act (CCNA), a law that applies to the procurement of certain professional services, such as architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and the like.

CCNA instructs agencies to use a multistep process to select professional services — more than a simple dollar figure — where the qualifications of those who will provide the service are as important (or more) than just the costs.

Among the factors to be reviewed in qualifying firms, the agency has to consider the capabilities, adequacy of personnel, past record, and experience.

In these cases, the lowest bid is not necessarily the best way to go. Assigning a dollar figure to intangibles like experience and qualifications works against the intent of the CCNA.

It is for that reason a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from the City of Clearwater raises more than a few red flags.

On March 30, the city issued an RFQ for an engineering firm to offer consulting services for its Wastewater Collection System Master Plan.

The company selected would help update the Clearwater’s plans for the wastewater collection system, which currently includes approximately 8,287 manholes and 389 cleanouts; 1,951,179 feet (370 miles) of gravity sewers; 199,811 ft. (about 38 miles) of primary force lines and 73 pump stations. The system has three service areas associated with the city’s three water reclamation facilities.

The proposal format gives very detailed instructions for interested firms, on the format, experience, qualifications and technical expertise.

Buried on Page 16, however, are specific criteria:

— “Schedule to complete the Master Plan including estimated number of hours per task, by personnel/position.”

— “Project Methodology. Demonstrate project understanding and ability of proposed approach to meet the needs of the City. Provide a detailed work plan, including a tentative schedule to complete the Master Plan including estimated number of hours per task, by personnel/position.”

Each notation attempts to put a number on something subjective, which is forbidden by the CCNA — and Florida law.

Companies under consideration could manipulate such by-task estimates, handing the city a shortcut in the bidding process by enumerating what is not supposed to be quantifiable.

All it takes is for the Clearwater screening committee to use that number, which is only an estimate and can be lowballed, to give an unfair advantage to the “lowest” bidder.

That was exactly what lawmakers sought to prevent when passing the CCNA in 1984, to keep from throwing good taxpayer money after bad when a winning bid turns out to have unreliable qualifications or expectations.

It should be noted the criteria with theses phrases appear in a single Clearwater RFQ (so far), and it only pertains to a section of the request worth 20 points out of a possible 100. But even a slight, intentional change in that number could prove just enough to tip the scales for one company over another.

And for Clearwater, after 20 years circumventing the legally required competitive bidding process for certain city projects, the devil is truly in the details.

Document: Tampa man accused of plot to kill federal judge

Federal authorities say a jail inmate who supports the Islamic State group is accused of plotting to kill an 80-year-old federal judge in Florida.

A grand jury on Wednesday indicted 39-year-old Jason Jerome Springer on a charge of threatening to assault or kill U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich.

The Tampa Bay Times reports Springer was awaiting trial on a gun violation when he told other inmates he wanted to kill Kovachevich, and would do so if released.

Court documents say Springer mentioned flying an “explosive-packed drone” into her office and tried to learn her home address.

An inquiry began in February when an inmate reported Springer had prayed for Kovachevich’s death.

Prosecutors say social media postings indicate he’s sympathetic to the terrorist group.

An attorney for Springer isn’t listed.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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