steve crisafulli Archives - Page 6 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Gambling, guns, tax cuts and more facing Florida lawmakers

The Legislature will begin its annual session early this year with the hopes of avoiding the chaos and dysfunction that marked the 2015 Session and three special sessions that followed.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner say the past is the past and there’s no lingering animosity after the two chambers found it difficult to agree on much last year.

“What you’re seeing is a real desire to get some things done. While a lot of people talk about what happened last session, as far as I’m concerned the relationship with the speaker and the governor have been good,” said Gardiner.

Crisafulli acknowledged there were “many challenges” this past year.

“Now it’s time to look ahead,” he said, adding that lawmakers will begin the upcoming session by addressing major issues that died last year when the House went home early, including a water protection bill and measures to help developmentally disabled residents.

Here’s a look at issues facing lawmakers when the 60-day session opens Tuesday.

GOV. RICK SCOTT’S AGENDA

Scott is pushing for $1 billion in tax cuts and a $250 million for business incentives. On Wednesday, he will start a three-day bus tour that hits most of Florida’s major media markets to promote both ideas. Scott’s proposed cuts are largely aimed at businesses, including the elimination of corporate income taxes for manufacturers and retailers. That alone would cost the state treasury an estimated $770 million a year. Scott also wants to cut sales taxes charged on commercial leases by 1 percent and permanently eliminate the sales tax charged on the sale of manufacturing equipment.

The governor is also calling for a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday as well as a nine-day sales tax holiday on supplies used for hurricane preparation. Scott also wants to permanently eliminate sales taxes on college textbooks.

While the Republican-led Legislature is open to the idea of tax cuts, leaders in both chambers have said $1 billion might be too much, especially if it’s largely revenue the state will permanently lose.

GUNS

Two bills are moving through committees that would give more rights to gun owners. Each has been passionately debated during legislative committees. One would allow concealed weapon permit holders to openly carry their handguns. A second would allow permit holders to carry guns on state university and college campuses.

If both become law, universities could go from gun-free places to having students in class openly displaying handguns. Gun-rights advocates say that will make universities safer. However, every state university president and police chief in Florida opposes the guns-on-campus bill.

ENVIRONMENT

Both chambers say a top priority is passing a bill designed to help protect springs and groundwater while cleaning Lake Okeechobee, the northern Everglades, rivers and other waterways. The idea is to limit pollutants entering waterways and to come up with long range plans to manage water resources. Environmentalists say the legislation doesn’t go far enough to address regulating sugar producers, cattle ranchers and farms that contribute to pollution.

Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to dedicate $200 million a year to restoring the Everglades.

Environmentalists are upset over a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with regulations for fracking, a form of drilling that uses chemicals and water to blast through rock to get to oil and gas underneath. Supporters say there is nothing to stop fracking now, so regulations would make sure it’s done safely. Opponents would prefer to see the practice banned because of fears groundwater will be contaminated.

GAMBLING

The Legislature will consider the gambling deal Scott signed with the Seminole Tribe. It would guarantee the state $3 billion in revenue in exchange for allowing blackjack to continue at the tribe’s seven casinos and letting them operate roulette and craps. The agreement as signed is guaranteed to go through changes as the lawmakers consider regional interests like slot machines at dog and horse tracks.

Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to allow lottery sales at gas pumps and self-checkout registers at grocery stores.

A bill would regulate the fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel while making it clear that they can legally operate in Florida.

AND MORE …

• Among other bills is a measure that will repeal an unenforced 19th-century law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together and have sex.

• Lawmakers are considering a measure that will ask voters to make the education commissioner an elected instead of an appointed position.

• A bill would ask for the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

• A bill would let terminally ill patients use marijuana.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Jim Rosica’s Top 10 stories of 2015 in state government

From palace intrigues to pot, 2015 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top 10 state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year:

No. 1: The “firing” of Gerald Bailey

Gov. Rick Scott actually forced out the state’s top cop in December 2014 but the repercussions of that move spilled well over into the new year.

Scott originally announced Bailey’s departure as voluntary at a Florida Cabinet meeting. As head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bailey was one of a handful of top state officials whose position required the governor to consult with the rest of Cabinet before a firing.

Bailey himself soon contradicted Scott’s account, saying the governor’s staff had told him to “retire or resign.” He also said Scott’s staff asked him to state falsely that acting Orange County Clerk of Court Colleen Reilly was under investigation for a high-profile prison break that embarrassed the state’s corrections department.

News organizations and open government advocates soon filed a lawsuit, since settled, alleging that Scott staff members violated the state’s open meetings law by acting as back-channel “conduits.” That led to a weeks-long round robin of finger-pointing and question-raising as to whether Scott had orchestrated an end-run.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told The Tampa Tribune “what we were told and what happened were not the same” regarding Bailey’s leaving, adding that the governor’s staff “were not forthcoming about their timeline and intentions regarding Commissioner Bailey.” Finally, at a February Cabinet meeting in Tampa, Scott said, “I could have handled it better … The buck stops here.”

Scott, Putnam, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi then agreed to overhaul the way state agency heads are hired, evaluated and fired.

No. 2: Health care funding disputes sink session

The Florida Senate bet nearly all its political capital on Medicaid expansion during the 2015 Legislative Session, then lost big to the Florida House. The disagreement over taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid eventually contributed to a $5 billion budget divide between the two chambers.

The Senate wanted to help about 800,000 working poor Floridians, who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to take advantage of tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama. House leadership opposed the plan, saying the state would be on the hook should the feds fail to follow through.

Also at issue was how much to pay for hospitals’ charity care through a joint federal-state fund known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The disagreement at one point caused controversy when  House Republicans held a closed-door caucus meeting to rally their side against expansion. Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout pressed his ear against the meeting room door to overhear snippets of conversation, during which Speaker Steve Crisafulli told members to “stand like a rock” in opposing the Senate.

Finally, an exasperated House quit three days before the scheduled end of session and went home, forcing Senate Democrats to rush to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to coerce the other chamber back into session. Five justices, however, agreed that the House’s move was unconstitutional. The Legislature had to reconvene in Special Session in June to complete the state budget.

No. 3: Florida becomes last state to legalize growlers

Not all was lost that session, as lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing the half-gallon size of beer container known as a “growler.” Previous efforts to legalize that size had failed, making Florida the last state that outlawed such containers. Craft beer aficionados now can fill up 64-ounce growlers, the most favored size to take home tap-drawn beer.

No. 4: Court says online travel sites don’t have to charge tax

Ending a decade-long court case, the Florida Supreme Court in June ruled that Expedia and other travel websites don’t have to charge hotel tax on the fees they charge when customers use them to book rooms.

Alachua and 16 other Florida counties had argued that they were losing millions in tax money. The court said in a 5-2 decision that the tourism development tax counties get from hotel guests should apply only to the amount actually paid for the stay, not for the service used to book it. Furthermore, the majority opinion slammed state lawmakers for knowing about the taxing dispute for years and choosing to do nothing about it.

The issue isn’t unique to Florida: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank, estimated in a 2011 study that local and state governments were taking in $275 million to $400 million less in tax revenue yearly. Florida was losing out on $31 million to $45 million a year.

No. 5: Economic development czar starts war of words with lawmakers

It was the shot heard ’round the Capitol when Bill Johnson, CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, teed off during a conference call this summer.

Johnson was steamed that lawmakers had brushed off his request for $85 million more in business incentive funding during the Special Session for the budget. Senate President Andy Gardiner in particular said the organization was asking for more money than it was likely to dole out.

An audibly irate Johnson told his board members, “For the third most-populous state in the nation, and a leader in economic development, that’s shameful … There’s no need for (Enterprise Florida) to exist if we cannot garner the support of our Florida Legislature.”

Johnson told them to call legislators on their mobile phones, if necessary, to convince them of the need for funding. “This is not the time to back down,” he said.

The outburst stuck in the craw of key senators months later, and had Johnson eating crow: He apologized for the comments when he appeared before a Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting in September. Johnson may yet have the last laugh, though. His boss, Gov. Rick Scott, is pressing for a new $250 million incentive fund and may threaten his veto pen on members’ favored projects as leverage.

No. 6: Court redraws Florida’s congressional districts

The Florida Supreme Court in December finally OK’d a redrawn version of the state’s 27 congressional districts three years after a court challenge said they were unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued over the current congressional lines, redrawn after the 2010 census, saying the existing map violates a state constitutional prohibition against gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to favor a particular incumbent or party. Voters in 2010 had passed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments to prohibit such gerrymandering.

The case worked its way to the high court, which ruled that the current map was “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents” and ordered a do-over. The Legislature tried but failed to agree on a redrawn congressional map in a Special Session this summer, and the matter bounced back to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis was charged to take evidence and figure out a new map. He recommended the plaintiffs’ plan. The justices agreed with Lewis in a 5-2 decision.

Among the big changes, the court agreed with shifting Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown‘s current Jacksonville-to-Sanford district “in an east-west manner,” stretching it into what is now Gwen Graham’s territory in the Big Bend and Panhandle. That eviscerates Graham’s Democratic base in Gadsden and Leon counties. Brown reportedly had been mulling a move to Orlando to run for Republican icon Daniel Webster’s district, redrawn to become a virtual Democratic lock. She’s since decided to make a stand in her own redrawn district. 

No. 7: Judge to recommend State Senate redistricting

Later in December, Circuit Judge George Reynolds began a week-long trial to work out the makeup of the state’s 40 senatorial districts.

Similar to the congressional case, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others had sued the Legislature, alleging the current Senate district map was rigged to favor Republicans and incumbents. The Senate settled the case by admitting fault – a rarity – and agreeing to redraw the lines with the House. Both chambers, however, came to an impasse over the best way to do that during a recent Special Session, ensuring that the courts would have to figure it out.

Reynolds now must figure out a configuration that also abides by the state constitution’s Fair Districts amendments. He has said he will likely pick one of five suggested maps, one submitted by the Senate and four from the plaintiffs, rather than combine elements or try to draw his own. Whatever Reynolds picks, it will have to go back to the Florida Supreme Court for final approval.

The judge also allowed the state’s elections supervisors to intervene in the case. Their attorney told him elections officials need to know the new Senate district map by mid-March 2016: Qualifying for state Senate seats begins June 20, and candidates have to know what district they’re in to run.

No. 8: Negron overcomes Latvala for Senate presidency

In November, the long, bitter race between Jack Latvala and Joe Negron for the 2016-18 Florida Senate presidency came to an end. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, withdrew his name from consideration, deferring to Negron, a Stuart Republican.

Republicans control the 40-member chamber by 26-14. Latvala’s consolation prize was a promise that Negron would name him the Senate Appropriations committee chair. Negron had said in August that he had captured a majority of votes from the Senate’s Republican caucus to become head of his chamber for 2016-18, succeeding current President Andy Gardiner of Orlando. Latvala’s move, though, finally put a definitive end to the neck-and-neck and often contentious race.

No. 9: Scott clinches $3 billion blackjack deal with Seminole Tribe

After months of back and forth, Gov. Rick Scott announced in December a new deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow it to continue offering blackjack at its casinos in return for a $3 billion cut of the take over seven years. Scott called the agreement the “largest revenue share guarantee in history.”

However, the new Seminole Compact must be reviewed and approved by federal officials and state lawmakers, some of whom blanched at the gambling expansion provisions tucked inside. The agreement would let the Seminoles add roulette and craps tables, as well as permit the Legislature to OK slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club and allow blackjack at some South Florida racetracks “with some limitations.”

House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa tried pushing her own gambling overhaul legislation last Session that would have, among other things, allowed two destination resort casinos in South Florida. The legislation failed.

Young and other lawmakers soon gave mixed reviews on the compact’s chance of passage: “Any time you pick winners and losers, it is a very heavy lift in the Legislature,” she said.

No. 10: Medical marijuana finally gets moving in Florida

The state last year approved a mild strain of marijuana last year for children with severe epilepsy and patients with advanced  cancers. But bureaucratic and legal delays have held up the process of getting the drug to those who need it.

For instance, the awarding of licenses to nurseries that will grow the medicinal pot was challenged. Officials with the Department of Health first proposed awarding the licenses through a lottery. That was struck down by a judge.

A three-person committee was then established to screen applications and select the nurseries. But another hiccup struck that panel when one of its members picked for her financial background stepped down because her certified public accountant license was inactive. That board finally named the five nurseries on Nov. 23.

But by a December filing deadline, 13 challenges to the license awards had been lodged with the state Department of Health. Undeterred, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is trying again for a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. Also, bills have been filed for next Legislative Session that would allow stronger varieties of prescribed marijuana than the “Charlotte’s Web” strain.

Steve Crisafulli says Governor may get his $1billion in tax cuts

Florida House of Representatives Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Friday said lawmakers may well give Gov. Rick Scott his requested $1 billion tax cut in next year’s state budget.

Don’t expect that as the gift that keeps on giving, though.

“The reality of a billion dollars (in tax cuts) recurring is not off the table so much as it’s just not possible,” especially in the context of increased funding for education every year, Crisafulli said.

The Merritt Island Republican held a pre-legislative session media availability in the Capitol. Scott turned in a proposed $79 billion budget for 2016-17 last month.

“That would all take away from a billion dollars in recurring tax cuts,” he said. “We have to sit down and do the math on the proposed budget and find out where we’re going to land.

“We want to focus on the manufacturing tax cut, we want to focus on the commercial lease (tax cut), we want to focus on the corporate tax breaks. Those are all recurring dollars. So if we have a bunch of sale tax holidays, it doesn’t do us a lot of good.”

Scott has consistently called for tax cuts since he was first elected five years ago, but he has been blocked by a recalcitrant Legislature.

That’s because the size of Scott’s tax cuts have either required sizable spending budget cuts or been aimed at businesses instead of consumers. Earlier this year, lawmakers did agree to more than $400 million in tax cuts.

Legislators will consider Scott’s tax cut package during the regular Legislative Session that starts Jan. 12.

Crisafulli also noted that neither the governor’s budget nor lawmakers’ initial work on the 2016-17 spending plan assumes any money from Indian gambling.

Scott submitted a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them exclusive rights to offer blackjack at their casinos in return for $3 billion over seven years.

That agreement also contains gambling expansion provisions that many legislators have trouble with, partly because they favor some counties over others.

The deal would allow slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, for instance, but not at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Lee County – which happens to be about 35 miles from the Seminoles’ competing casino in Immokalee.

“There’s a lot of players on this issue,” Crisafulli said. “The governor signed what he obviously feels is a reasonable proposal. Now it’s up to the Legislature to sit down and see whether we think we can get somewhere.”

Crisafulli said it was “very unlikely” the Legislature would approve the new gambling agreement as is.

“There are regional interests … because you have votes that are tied up in blocs,” he said. “Fairness and equity is an important part of us looking at this.”

Information from The Associated Press was included in this post. 

Richard Corcoran promises blue skies with Joe Negron

Richard Corcoran, who will be speaker of the Florida House of Representatives at the same time Joe Negron is Senate president, called him a “good friend” and “an intelligent and principled leader.”

Corcoran sat in the front row at Negron’s designation ceremony Wednesday. The Land O’ Lakes Republican had his own designation ceremony in September.

“I know that, together, we can bring a new spirit of partnership to the Florida Legislature,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement.

Relations between the two chambers, both controlled by Republicans, have been following a sine-wave pattern in recent years.

For example, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, in charge during 2010-12, presided over the 2011 “midnight meltdown.”

Both chambers were virtually at each other’s throats over a potpourri of priorities, such as claims bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop” that marks the end of session.

Next were Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who, as The Tampa Tribune put it, “presented a united policy front for the two sessions over which they presided.

Lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law overhauls of campaign finance, ethics and elections law, and expanded access to school vouchers.

“With most presidents and most speakers, when their two years are up, you’re lucky if they’re still talking to each other,” Weatherford told the Tribune. “Don Gaetz and I are better friends now than when we started two years ago.”

The pendulum swung back this past session, the first under Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a special session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

Subsequent Special Sessions for congressional and state Senate district redistricting similarly ended in failure and acrimony, with lawmakers unable to agree on remedial maps, leaving it to the courts to decide.

At one point during the congressional redistricting Session, the Senate’s lead negotiator, Bill Galvano of Bradenton, even stormed out of a public meeting with his House counterpart, Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, saying the Senate wasn’t going to budge.

Environmental community scores big in Florida House on Tuesday

The Everglades FoundationAudubon Florida, the Nature Conservancy, and the H2O Coalition of the Associated Industries of Florida.

What do all of these political players have in common?

They scored a massive victory Tuesday all thanks to the Florida House of Representatives.

A loud symphony of applause came in the form of a three-page news release where countless groups praised and thanked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli for his support and commitment toward dedicating funding to “Legacy Florida,” a measure that includes cleanup for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, CERP and other water-related initiatives.

“It’s great to see the Florida House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Crisafulli and Representative [GayleHarrell, taking initiative to support a dedicated source of funding for the Everglades. Restoring and protecting Florida’s Everglades is a top priority,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with the Legislature, including Senator Joe Negron who has championed water issues, this upcoming session to establish long-term funding for our state’s most precious natural resource.”

Crisafulli, who has been vocal about wanting to leave a lasting legacy of significant water policy, has clearly made good on his promise, with the rumor mill coming out of the Senate that it will be welcome to the concept.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also praised Crisafulli’s leadership in the Legacy Florida initiative.

“The Everglades is a nationally recognized, environmental treasure that is a source of pride for Floridians, provides a home to many unique species of wildlife and supplies water to more than 8 million people in Florida. We have the vision and science-based strategies to restore this precious ecosystem, but only with adequate funding can we achieve our goals,” Putnam said. “The leadership of the Florida House of Representatives, led by Speaker Steve Crisafulli, has demonstrated a strong commitment to Florida’s natural resources with the ‘Legacy Florida’ proposal, which will establish a dedicated source of funding to restore the Everglades.”

In addition to Crisafulli, the clear winner of the day, has anyone else seen three pages of “attaboy” quotes from environmentalists all in one release? Kudos also to Everglades Foundation board members Paul Tudor Jones and Mary Barley, both recently appearing in INFLUENCE’s list of 100 Most Influential People in Florida politics, as well as CEO Eric Eikenberg and power lobbyist Nick Iarossi.

Although it is still early, and any appropriations deal is far from cemented, if this dedicated funding for the Everglades is passed and ultimately signed by the Governor, then it will make for an extraordinary Legislative Session for environmental groups.

Florida House: Use conservation money on Everglades

The Florida House wants to dedicate as much as $200 million a year on projects to help restore the state’s fabled Everglades.

House Republicans on Tuesday announced their “Legacy Florida” initiative. It would require that each year that the state set aside conservation money for a variety of Everglades restoration projects.

The list would include projects that lessen the level of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into nearby estuaries. In recent years federal authorities have been criticized for discharging polluted water from the lake into Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River.

The “Legacy Florida” bill is sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell but it has the backing of top Republicans including House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, said in a statement that he believed “consistent funding” will help preserve and protect the Everglades.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Florida Cabinet, GOP leaders to turn out for Jeb Bush fundraiser Thursday evening

Several high-profile Florida Republicans, including all three members of the Florida Cabinet, are lending their support this week to raise money for the presidential campaign of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have been named honorary co-chairs of a $2,700 per person fundraiser scheduled for Thursday evening. The location of the event, which is set to begin at 7:30 p.m., will be provided upon RSVP.

According to the invite, hosting the event are Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Speaker designate Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Jose Oliva. Also on the guest list are Slater Bayliss, Bush’s leading Florida bundler, top adviser Sally Bradshaw and her politico husband Paul, and lobbyist David Browning of Southern Strategy Group among others.

USA TODAY reports that Bush has taken the lead in the state money race against fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, collecting over $4.7 million in-state through Sept. 30. That’s more than twice that of the freshman senator from Miami, who has amassed nearly $2.3 million from Sunshine State donors. According to the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Floridians have given $14.8 million to presidential campaigns so far. Bush is currently sitting on a $10 million chest for the Republican primary, compared to $9.7 million for Rubio.

RSVP for the event is with Ann Herberger at ann@woodsherberger.com or (305) 772-4311.

This Thanksgiving, Florida politicians have much to be grateful for

From the diners and town halls of Iowa and New Hampshire to the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee and from … to Charlie Crist’s waterfront condominium in St. Petersburg, politicians across Florida will gather at Thanksgiving dinner tables to celebrate the most American of holidays.

Before they dig into dishes of stuffed Florida zucchini and yellow squash Parmesan and Florida snap beans with caramelized onions and mushrooms, and scalloped Florida potatoes (recipes courtesy of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam), these elected officials and candidates will share with their family and friends that for which they are most grateful.

Once God, country, family, and good fortune are given their due, here’s what some of the Florida’s politicians should be thankful for:

On the presidential level, the entire Republican field should be ecstatic about the flubbed foreign policy under the Obama administration and Hillary’s email woes. Yet, they’ve managed to completely offset that advantage in the general election by doubling down on the alienation strategy of demonizing minority groups that will likely decide who becomes president.

Fundamentally, Donald Trump is the single luckiest politician this year by becoming the personification of the unfocused rage and fear of white America as they see their paychecks stagnate, their debt climb, their culture erode, and America’s power (and with it, our security) decline across the globe. Whatever happened to a world where you could take a vacation without crushing credit card debt, it didn’t cost as much as a house to send your kid to college, your house was worth more than you paid for it, and men weren’t kissing men at our church altars? Middle America is frightened and pissed. And, of course, all of this is amplified as never before by an ever-shrinking news cycle and the unchecked cacophony of social media.

Jeb Bush should be thankful that his he was able to raise money for his super PAC before officially becoming a candidate for president. Were Bush limited to just what his campaign has raised, he’d probably be out of the race by now. Instead, he still has close to $100 million behind him — enough to keep him in the game until at least January.

Marco Rubio has to still be thanking his lucky stars for whoever it was who advised Bush to attempt to directly attack him during the candidate debate in Boulder, Colorado. He’s been a month-long tear since that Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan clash and increasingly looks like the leading choice of the GOP establishment.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to be thankful for the FedEx driver or the mailman or whoever keeps losing the letter from Barack Obama firing her for job not well done.

On the state level, Rick Scott has benefited from the dysfunction between the House and Senate because, for once, our do-nothing governor doesn’t look ineffective by comparison. Scott can traverse the state and do ribbon cuttings at WaWa stores without fear of being upstaged by his legislative counterparts.

Adam Putnam has 3 million reasons to be grateful this year. That’s how many dollars he’s already raised for his expected 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Patrick Murphy owes Jeff Atwater a thank-you note for his Hamletesque flirtation with running for the U.S. Senate. While Atwater hemmed and hawed, the four Republicans looking to replace Rubio were frozen in place, as Murphy continued to raise money and consolidate the support of moderate Republicans.

John Morgan and other medical marijuana supporters owe a debt of gratitude to Attorney General Pam Bondi for not filing an opposition to their ballot initiative and to the Florida Supreme Court for subsequently canceling oral arguments.

Allison Tant and Florida Democrats had little to be thankful for after last November’s elections, but with redrawn congressional and state Senate maps, the Dems have their first chance at electoral relevance in more than a decade. They can thank the folks who sponsored the Fair Districts amendments, as well as Barbara Pariente and the rest of the Supreme Court justices who are making sure they are implemented, for this opportunity.

It’s crazy to think that Charlie Crist, having twice this decade lost statewide race, would have a political reason to be thankful, but, after the Florida Supreme Court ordered the state’s congressional districts redrawn with a seat all but hand-carved for Crist, the former governor has reason again to be grateful.

Senate President Andy Gardiner is both thankful and relieved that the two rivals to succeed him — Joe Negron and Jack Latvala — reached a deal where Negron will take the top spot while Latvala will be in appropriations chairman. Peace in your time, Mr. Senate President.

Gardiner’s counterpart, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, remains grateful session after session that he has the 40 state Senators — or Somalian warlords as one member described them — across the hall from him, all of whom seem to want to go out of their way to make the House look like the deliberate chamber and the Senate the raucous one.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is perhaps the luckiest politician in Florida because he ended his term on a high note (passing in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens) and by and large avoided the protracted food fight over Medicaid expansion. Compared with the current cast of characters he looks like Winston Churchill.

For a presidential race featuring five candidates with ties to Florida, for a Legislature that would have difficulty organizing a two-car parade, and for a constant stream of zany “Florida Man” stories, count this and other political writers especially grateful. For there is no more interesting cast of characters or story lines than those found in the Sunshine State.

Long-awaited water policy bill passes House committee

A House budget panel on agriculture and the environment passed an expansive water policy bill by Rep. Matt Caldwell Wednesday afternoon.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Committee approved HB 7005 by a vote of 11 to 1, with Democratic Rep. José Javier Rodríguez opposing.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has signaled its approval for the bill, as did a number of business-backed groups such as Associated Industries of Florida and Florida Chamber of Commerce, while some environmentalists stay on the fence.

Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, told the panel her group was grateful for steps the bill’s sponsor had taken since the bill appeared before the Legislature this spring.

Kunkel specifically mentioned greater verification and enforcement of best management practices, known as “BMAPs” in legislative jargon.

However, Kunkel also cited lingering concerns about water conservation incentives and new, sometimes permanent, extensions for certain water-use permits, especially on areas near bodies of water with maximum nutrient levels. She also cited a general lack of vigor from the Department of Environmental Protection when it comes to oversight.

Kunkel representative also told the panel that the organization would like to see the development of nitrogen targets for Lake Okeechobee, which has been beset by problems stemming from agricultural runoff that in turn affect ecologically sensitive bodies downstream, such as the ailing Caloosahatchee River.

David Cullen spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club to express appreciation for a “very good amendment” dealing with minimum nutrient levels. However, he too criticized the bill as getting only “halfway there” to a good water policy bill.

Cullen called for more-concrete deadlines for permit holders and seekers, prohibitions against releasing nutrients around springs, and called definitional language governing springs policy “deficient.”

The Nature Conservancy testified in support, highlighting the sections of the bill that create protection for Florida’s springs and that require projects that produce water for nature and people be planned for concurrently.

Rep. Ray Pilon agreed the bill was not perfect, but called the measure “a solid foundation” for water policy going forward.

Similarly, Rep. Debbie Mayfield expressed a wish to change the Legislature’s structure for founding water projects. Mayfield wants projects to be funded more like road projects, where appropriations are granted on a five-year basis and not one year at a time.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli‘s first year at the helm, 2015, was supposed to be the “Year of Water” after  voters passed a constitutional amendment to create a permanent dedicated source of money to pay for water protection efforts.

No bill emerged from this year’s regular Session when a similar bill by Caldwell and the State Affairs Committee became one of many casualties when the House adjourned three days before the scheduled end the Session.

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