Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
AN UBER VICTORY
After three years of frustration and failure, a bill regulating transportation network companies in Florida is on the verge of reaching the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.
On Thursday, the Senate Rules Committee passed SB 340 by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.
The Senate move came a day after the House version (HB 221) passed 115-0, a vote very similar to the overwhelming approval received in the 2016 Session – that is before it died in the Senate, which has become a graveyard of late for ride-sharing legislation.
But in 2017, the mood in the Legislature’s upper chamber is very different.
This time, it appears statewide regulations on Uber and Lyft will soon become law.
During the Rules Committee meeting, the sole objection came via Brandon Republican Tom Lee, who offered an amendment prohibiting government entities from entering exclusive contracts with a TNC. Lee maintained that if SB 340 is truly about free market competition and tearing down the taxi monopoly, government entities shouldn’t be able to make deals with local governments that restrict competition among other TNCs.
After Brandes had promised to address those concerns before his bill goes to the full Senate, Lee withdrew the amendment.
While the House version faced no dissent, sponsor Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor (who co-sponsored the bill with Tampa’s Jamie Grant) was pressed in Committee about the thoroughness of background checks for ride-sharing drivers.
Sprowls, a former prosecutor, argued the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than those ride-sharing drivers will be subjected to through under the statewide bill.
“The FBI database has 95 million records,” Sprowls said. “These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill have 500 million records.”
Although the full Senate will have ample opportunity to refine the bill further, ride-sharing company officials sound confident that the bill will soon become state law.
“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing,” exclaimed Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy.
Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison: “We are grateful to the members of the Senate Rules Committee, and especially Senator Brandes, for advancing legislation to create a comprehensive statewide framework for ridesharing in Florida. This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity. We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”
Uber’s Stephanie Smith: “Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ridesharing. At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this. We are thankful for the hard work of Sen. Jeffrey Brandes on this bill, and the 10 members of the Senate Rules Committee who voted in favor of safe and reliable transportation options for everyone who lives, works, and visits Florida.”
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PAM BONDI BRIBERY CASE DROPPED FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Fort Myers-area State Attorney Stephen Russell presented Gov. Scott with the results of an investigation. The complaint stemmed from scrutiny last year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump in 2013. Bondi asked for the donation about the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. The investigation came after numerous complaints filed against Bondi by a Massachusetts attorney. Scott assigned the case to Russell after the initial prosecutor, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober, requested a different prosecutor. A prosecutor working for Russell’s office concluded that there is no reasonable suspicion that Trump or Bondi broke Florida’s bribery law.
RICHARD CORCORAN: THE PRESS CORPS’ ENABLER via Florida Politics – At halftime in this year’s Legislative Session, Corcoran sounds like he’s getting a bit fatigued with questions about “transparency.” At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills. “All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said. “Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on.”
CORCORAN SAYS EVERGLADES RESERVOIR BONDING STILL A PROBLEM AS OTHERS RAISE CONCERNS via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Corcoran said a Senate proposal for an Everglades water storage reservoir is “getting better and better” after it was overhauled. But the proposal to borrow up to $1.2 billion to build the reservoir remains a problem … “No, we’re not bonding” he told reporters. “Bonding is an issue.” The cost still would be split with the federal government and the reservoir size to be determined later. “Obviously, it’s a Senate priority,” Corcoran said. “We feel like it’s getting more and more into a place where, that you could see some sort of finality.”
HOUSE, SENATE PHILOSOPHICALLY SPLIT ON MEMBER PROJECTS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – (T)he question of which projects get funded is always a source of contention between the House and the Senate. But this year a more fundamentally philosophical difference has emerged between the chamber’s two leaders when it comes to the relatively small pots of local funding that help pay for members’ pet initiatives, or project requests given to them by lobbyists who represent local governments or non-profits. … The House’s $81.2 billion budget, roughly $4 billion smaller than the Senate plan, includes about $100 million in what Corcoran deems member projects, a significantly smaller number than the Senate. Though there is not an agreement on the amount of member projects in that proposed spending plan, Corcoran says the upper chamber includes about $700 million. … “$700 million is too much for projects,” he said. “That’s a lot of pork.”
A HIGHER HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION? GOOD FOR HOMEOWNERS, BAD FOR COUNTIES via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – For Florida homeowners, it sounds almost too good to be true: Another break on property taxes in the form of a bigger homestead exemption. For legislators, it’s an easy way to seek favor with voters in an election year because the tax break requires their approval in 2018. But for counties and cities, it’s a disaster in the making that they warn would cut property taxes for some but force higher taxes on businesses and snowbirds or force cuts in basic services such as police and fire protection. In a year when local officials say the Legislature is trying to override home rule as never before, counties are mobilizing to defeat legislation to increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 of the first $100,000 of a home’s taxable value.
HOUSE WORKER’S COMPENSATION PACKAGE EMERGES FROM COMMERCE COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The House workers’ compensation package survived hearings before the Commerce Committee Thursday, including business-friendly amendments that would leave injured workers paying their own attorney fees if they pursue meritless claims. One by one, the panel gave voice approval to three amendments offered by House Insurance & Banking chairman Danny Burgess, who has managed the underlying bill’s progress. The final vote on the bill was 20-14. … “I believe this bill does strike a balance between constitutionality and a strong reform,” Burgess said. “I fought tooth and nail to make sure we had a constitutional proposal.” Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw wasn’t sold. “I hope we get to a place that’s fair and balanced, but right now I think we’re way out of whack,” he said before voting “No.”
HOW THE TRIAL LAWYERS FINALLY LOST A ROUND IN THE FLORIDA HOUSE via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics
The conventional wisdom has been that trial lawyers are dominating the 2017 Session, flexing their muscle in both chambers.
On the other side, the term “trial lawyer” is anathema, the label that the GOP uses (even though many trial lawyers are Republican) to taint an issue that crosses their friends in the business community.
Whatever you call them, the lawyers took one for the team in the House Commerce Committee Thursday. A succession of business-friendly amendments made it on to the workers’ comp bill.
A big one worth noting is a cap on attorneys’ fees, which is a big win for the business community.
With budget conference still to come, though, anything can still happen. But maybe, just perhaps, Speaker Corcoran—an attorney himself—isn’t as smitten with the lawyers as people think.
INSURANCE INDUSTRY FRUSTRATED BY LACK OF PROGRESS IN LEGISLATURE via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – For the last two years, the industry has pressed the Legislature to pass legislation aimed at curbing a spike in lawsuits over disputed water claims from homeowners, particularly in South Florida. But House and Senate versions of what to do are dramatically different, raising the possibility that nothing will ultimately pass this year to address what one Miami area insurance agent called a “growing cancer” … “We are here halfway through the 2017 legislative session and it appears another year may pass without reforms,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick at a rally at the Florida Capitol Building. She said if reforms do not come, consumers are looking at rate increases to offset the cost of litigation. She said Citizens Property Insurance is looking at a 50 percent rate increase “all because the Legislature is tolerating an undeniable problem.”
AOB REFORMERS PRESENT PETITIONS, INSIST NO OFFENSE INTENDED AGAINST CARLOS TRUJILLO via Florida Politics – Advocates of assignment of benefits reform delivered 1,500 petition signatures to Speaker Corcoran’s office Thursday, renewing their campaign against what they consider dodgy lawsuits by unscrupulous contractors and attorneys. … The advocates, operating under the Florida Consumer Protection Coalition banner, blame abusive lawsuits involving AOBs for rising property insurance claims. … The speakers appeared thrown on the defensive by the first question from a reporter. It concerned a list Citizens has published naming the law firms producing the most AOB-related litigation. Fifth from the top is Trujillo Vargas Gonzalez Hevia, a name partner in which is House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo. … (Citizens Insurance chief Barry) Gilway stressed that he was not accusing Trujillo of any scams. “I did not say that or infer it, sir. What I’m saying, basically, is: There are 13 firms that are driving this, from Citizens’ perspective,” Gilway said.
HOUSE MEDICAID RESTRUCTURE INCLUDES ASKING FEDS FOR WORK REQUIREMENTS, ENROLLEE PREMIUMS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Health & Human Services Committee agreed to submit its proposed committee bill restructuring the statewide Medicaid managed care program … PCB HHS 17-03 consolidates the program from 11 regions of the state into eight larger regions, and changes the number of contracted health plans for each region. The Agency for Health Care Administration asked for the changes as it prepares to re-procure plans for the program starting later this year. The bill directs AHCA to request federal approval to require enrollees to work, be searching for work or be in school to maintain Medicaid eligibility. It would come with exemptions for those with disabilities and single parents with infants.
— “Majority of voters in Florida favor Medicaid expansion, survey says” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald
LAWMAKERS CLOSER TO ANSWER ON CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITIES via Travis Pillow of redefinED.org – The state House is pushing ahead with a plan, included in its budget package, that would require school districts to steer some of their local property taxes to charters. A similar effort had stalled in the Senate, but was jump-started this week and won bipartisan approval today from the Appropriations Committee. SB 376 would steer more than $150 million to charter schools statewide, though funding would vary significantly among districts. Before the committee passed the bill, Sen. Oscar Braynon said he wanted to add more protections to head off “private enrichment” in charter school real estate deals. “No one wants to have taxpayer money go to enrich someone, and then when they sell or divest, they make money, and they walk away with taxpayers’ money,” Braynon said. He had proposed an amendment to that effect, but withdrew it for the time being.
KEEP IT SECRET: FLORIDA MAY CLOSE PRESIDENTIAL SEARCHES via The Associated Press – A House panel approved a bill that would keep confidential the name of anyone applying to become head of a college or university. The bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel would also keep confidential the names of people applying for other top positions such as dean or provost. The legislation (HB 351) heads next to the full House. A similar bill has not moved in the Senate. If the measure becomes law, the names of finalists for top jobs would be made public 21 days before there is a final vote to hire someone.
POLLUTION-SPILL BILL RACES TO APPROVAL BY SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – The Senate Appropriations Committee wastes little time or comment approving a proposal to make sure the public is notified within 48 hours of a toxic spill. The panel took bare minutes to vote the bill out unanimously. It was the final committee stop on the way to the Senate floor. CS/SB 532, the Public Notice of Pollution Act, requires notice to the Department of Environmental Protection of any spill within 24 hours. The department then would have 24 hours to tell the public. Violations could bring civil penalties of $10,000 per day. Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton filed the bill after an administrative law judge in September threw out a toxic-notice rule imposed by Gov. Rick Scott — who acted after it took three weeks for neighbors of a phosphate plant in Lake Wales to learn that it had spilled millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater into the aquifer.
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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 20; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 27; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 27; MLB All-Star Game – 95; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 148; Election Day 2017 – 213; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 251; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 275.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 8:45 a.m. (CST) Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, 210 Harbor Boulevard in Destin. He’ll then head to Pensacola, where he’ll hold a military roundtable at 11:15 a.m. (CST) at the Navy Federal Credit Union, Building 3, 5550 Heritage Oaks Drive.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. until noon in the Acura Club at FAU Stadium at Florida Atlantic University 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton. The meeting is scheduled to go until noon, but ending times are tentative based on attendance and public interest.
CRC HEARING MOVING TO CAPITAL FROM PANHANDLE via Florida Politics – The Constitution Revision Commission is moving its public hearing next Wednesday from Pensacola to Tallahassee “to maximize public input and commissioner participation,” according to a press release. Don’t worry, northwest Florida residents: the CRC “will re-schedule a public hearing to be held in the Florida Panhandle in the upcoming weeks.” The hearing now will be held at Florida A&M University’s Efferson Student Union, in the Grand Ballroom. A map of the venue is here. Free parking will be available, with doors open to the public starting at 4 p.m.. The hearing will begin at 5 p.m. More info is on the commission’s website, at www.flcrc.gov. It’s formed every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document after holding public hearings statewide. Any constitutional amendments it puts forth would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters on the 2018 general election ballot.
BEARS AGAIN ON WILDLIFE COMMISSION AGENDA via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times – The agenda for the April 19-20 FWC meeting in Tallahassee, includes a discussion of “bear management,” but the staff is not going to recommend a bear hunt, according to executive director Nick Wiley. “We are not planning to propose anything specific to bear hunting in 2017,” Wiley said in an email. “With that said, there is usually public comment about bear hunting at our commission meetings and I expect that to continue at this meeting. And our commissioners can certainly discuss the topic if they wish. So, I would say the issue is likely to come up given the level of interest we continue to see.”
STATE COULD PUT POLICE LINEUP STANDARDS INTO LAW via The Associated Press – The Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to use the lineup standards to avoid eyewitness mistakes that could lead to wrongful convictions. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement encouraged agencies to adopt the standards, but agencies aren’t required to do so. Eyewitness mistakes are to blame in 64 percent of cases in which defendants are later exonerated by DNA evidence. The current guidelines suggest lineups be conducted by an administrator who does not know the suspect in order to ensure impartiality. Also, witnesses should be told that suspects may or may not be in a photo or in-person lineup and that they are not required to make an identification.
SUPREME COURT TWEAKS ITS ‘SENIOR JUSTICE’ RULE AFTER CONTROVERSY via Florida Politics – The Florida Supreme Court no longer will allow its justices to keep working indefinitely on open cases after they leave the bench, according to a new rule released Thursday. After Justice James E.C. Perry officially retired on Dec. 30, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga allowed him to finish work on opinions as a “senior justice,” following decades of court practice. But critics, including Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, cried foul. They complained Perry was displacing his successor, C. Alan Lawson, who started work the next day on Dec. 31. Perry worked for an additional month after that. Lawson—GOP Gov. Rick Scott‘s first Supreme Court pick—is a conservative; Perry most often voted with the court’s left-leaning contingent.
PARENTS CONTINUE CHALLENGE OF FLORIDA’S THIRD-GRADE RETENTION LAW via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – A group of parents from Hernando County and across Florida is asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider their challenge of the state’s third-grade retention law. Their attorney, Andrea Mogensen, filed a request for review Wednesday of a recent 1st District Court of Appeals decision tossing out their complaint. “The decision announces a rule of law that conflicts with and misapplies existing precedent of the Florida Supreme Court on the same questions of law,” Mogensen said. The 1st DCA ruled that the parents should have brought their suit in local jurisdictions and not in Leon County. It also said they did not meet any requirements for injunctive relief. The court further made strong statements in support of the state’s testing and promotion system.
PERRY THURSTON, OTHERS WANT CONFEDERATE STATUE ISSUE RESOLVED via Florida Politics – Former and current black lawmakers took to the Old Capitol steps Thursday to call for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general now in the U.S. Capitol. Led by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and surrounded by alumni members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the group called for passage of Thurston’s bill that would formally approve Dr. Bethune to replace Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, will remain. But Thurston’s bill has yet to have a hearing, and competing legislation calls for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.
CHRIS KING LONE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE TO SHOW AT FLORIDA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS SYMPOSIUM via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – King tweeted such, “Honored to talk w/the great leaders at the @FLBlackCaucus Gubernatorial Symposium about how to make our future better than our past.” The other announced Democrat so far is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum … “He’s here. Showing up is half the battle,” caucus chair state Sen. Perry Thurston. “I want to thank him for showing up, thank him for being here.”
‘GROVELAND FOUR’ EXONERATION RESOLUTION PASSES COMMITTEE via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – ‘The Groveland Four’ were four young men and teenagers who endured one of the darkest known moments of Florida’s Jim Crow history when they were falsely accused of rape, then all of them were beaten, two of them were killed, and two were convicted and imprisoned on what legal researchers are now convinced was false evidence … the House Judicial Committee unanimously approved a House Resolution 631, declaring the story, which began with a 1949 incident on a Lake County back road outside of Groveland, to have been a “grave injustice.” The bill declares that injustice toward Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, exonerates them and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.
STATE MAY SPEND $1.2 MILLION ON REFORM SCHOOL MEMORIAL via The Associated Press – The state Legislature is already considering a bill to formally apologize for abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, where nearly 100 boys died between 1900 and 1973. The school was located near Marianna, some 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Tallahassee. A House panel voted to carry out recommendations made last year by a state task force. The bill authorizes creation of a memorial at the state Capitol and one near Marianna. It also calls for reburying victims of a 1914 fire at the school cemetery in Marianna, and to rebury other remains in Tallahassee.
TODAY IN #CLUSTERF*CKS: HOW A SUICIDAL FLORIDA FOSTER CHILD FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald – When Lauryn Martin-Everett hanged herself at a troubled Tavernier youth shelter, children’s advocates in the small island community began asking questions. The answers, they were told, were hundreds of miles away. Though the 16-year-old had been sent to live at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter on Plantation Key, the responsibility for her care remained in Southwest Florida. Members of a South Florida child welfare oversight board expressed frustration … that the teen had been moved far from home, and no one in her new county was responsible for ensuring her welfare. “We’re a small community down there; we’re not talking about Miami-Dade,” said Alexsa Leto, who heads the Monroe County office of the state’s Guardian-ad-Litem Program, which matches vulnerable children with court-appointed advocates. “And we didn’t know the child was there.”
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PERSONNEL NOTE: STEVE JACKSON OUT AS FDP HOUSE VICTORY POLITICAL DIRECTOR — Jackson is expected to continue with the FDP, serving as the statewide field director, Jackson was hired in 2015 after a nationwide search to serve as the political director for House campaigns. In a statement announcing his hire, then-incoming Minority Leader Janet Cruz said she thought it was important for “House Victory to have our own dedicated political director focused exclusively on electing more Democrats to the House.” A campaign veteran, Jackson got his began his career as a field organizer in Florida during President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, before going to work as the field and data director for the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee. He went on to lead the successful re-election campaign for then Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez in 2014, and spent about a year working as the data and targeting manager for America Votes, before joining House Victory. Look for Jane’e Murphy, a close advisor to incoming Minority Leader Kionee McGhee, to play a key role going forward; although she is not going to be taking over political director role (yet).
MIAMI-DADE MAYOR’S SON JOINS COREY LEWADOWSKI LOBBY SHOP via Marc Caputo of POLITICO – Carlos Gimenez Jr., former consultant for Donald Trump and the son and namesake of Miami-Dade’s mayor, is joining the lobbying shop run by the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski, as it drums up business in one of the nation’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Gimenez said he joined the newly founded firm, Avenue Strategies, to focus less on lobbying and more on strategic consulting and business development for clients in Florida and Latin America.
NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS
Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology
Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecencia: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates
Jon Kilman, Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association
Toni Large, Steven Uhlfelder, Uhlfelder & Associates: Florida Medical Horticulture
Janet Mabry, Mabry and Associate: Academica
Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Coalition of Ignition Interlock; Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology
Bill Rubin, Amy Bisceglia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: St. Petersburg Distillery
Jon Yapo, Foley & Lardner: Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association; NeuroTrauma Association of America, Inc.
Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky will discuss Gov. Rick Scott’s reassignment of cases from 9th Circuit State Attorney Airamis Ayala to 5th Circuit State Attorney Ben King.
Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show will feature new Miami Gardens Police Chief Delma Noel-Pratt, who is also the first woman to lead the city’s police force, and Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores.
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists this week include former Democratic State Rep. Ed Narain, Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan Ruth, political writer Joe Henderson and Tampa Republican Women Federated Club VP Terry Castro.
Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan will be on to talk about the upcoming Day of Love and Kindness for the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, while the show’s Common Ground segment will focus on health care legislation.
The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will be joined by Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week Kent Justice will bring on Visit Jacksonville President/CEO Paul Astleford, Dr. Sunil Joshi of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, and Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.
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FLORIDA CITY SAYS ‘GAME OVER’ TO INFLATABLE SUPER MARIO via The Associated Press – A Florida city is saying “game over” to a business owner’s decision to inflate a 9-foot-tall (2.7-meter-tall) Super Mario outside his shop. Scott Fisher owns a video game store in the city of Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville … Fisher filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the town’s ban violates his free speech. Lawyers with the conservative law organization Institute for Justice are representing Fisher. They argue that the city is discriminating by allowing inflatables to be displayed as holiday decorations or creative displays, but not to promote businesses. Fisher says the inflatable Mario helps people find his small store.
OLD-FASHIONED REST STOPS DISAPPEARING IN FLORIDA AND OTHER STATES via Jenni Bergal of Stateline.org – Cash-strapped transportation agencies are shuttering the old ones to save money, or because they don’t attract enough traffic or are in such bad shape that renovating them is too costly. Or, the stops have been overtaken by tourist information centers, service plazas that take in revenue from gasoline and food sales, or commercial strips off interstate exits. Florida, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota are among the states that have closed traditional rest stops in the past two years. But advocates of maintaining traditional rest areas say even if motorists are offered flashier options for pit stops, the ones that sprung up as highways did are still needed for driver safety and convenience … unlike service plazas, rest areas on federal interstate highways are prohibited from selling gasoline or food other than from vending machines, the proceeds of which traditionally go to people who are visually impaired. State transportation departments run the rest areas and are responsible for cleaning and maintaining them. That can take a chunk of their budget, depending on staffing and amenities, officials say.
RIVERS OF LIGHT TO BE SHOWN NIGHTLY STARTING SATURDAY via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will be shown every evening starting Saturday. Since its debut Feb. 17, the show has run at 8:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Rivers of Light is the first evening spectacular at Animal Kingdom and will play a crucial role in spreading out summer crowds once Pandora – The World of Avatar opens May 27. Disney bills Rivers of Light as “a celebration of the beauty, fragility and wild unpredictability of animals and nature told through live performers, animal spirit guide floats, fire, water and projections.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the great crusader, Lori Brown, and the great-at-something-I-just-don’t-know-what, Chris Turner.
HAPPENING SATURDAY — 17th annual Sochoopy Worm Gruntin’ Festival — The annual festival is scheduled for Saturday, and the day-long event includes a worm gruntin’ demonstration with Gray Revell, a professional bait harvester, at 10:15 a.m.; a worm gruntin’ contest open to kids ages 12 and under at 10:30 a.m.; and live music throughout the day.