The Delegation for 4.6.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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It is no secret that local budgets and resources are stretched when President Donald Trump visits Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach County. Local officials and members of Congress, especially Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, are asking for more federal help to recover costs.

Things should get really expensive as Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan spend Thursday and Friday in South Florida. Handling the security and other requirements of an American President is one thing, but adding a foreign head of state to the mix makes it doubly stressful. Even the Broward Sheriff’s Office is being called upon to help.

Once everyone is settled in, there is a lot to talk about. Trump apparently removed one item from the agenda recently when he agreed to a “One China” policy in a recent telephone conversation with Xi. The New York Times wins the prize for understatement with their description of the summit as two leaders with “clashing agendas.”

There is ample room for multiple disagreements. From trade deficits, to intellectual property theft, to currency manipulation, to militarizing the South China Sea, there are plenty of issues to cover in two days.

Then there is China’s black sheep stepchild, North Korea. By firing off missiles into the Sea of Japan like they are coming from a Pez dispenser, the rogue nation has the Asian Pacific, and American security officials, on edge. Will Xi commit to a spanking?

There are numerous opportunities to make news to be made over the next 36 hours, hopefully something good. The big question: will there be more photos of Trump and Xi or Melania and Peng Liyuan?

Back in Washington and soon after Xi’s arrival in Florida, the Senate will begin to move on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is accurate, the “nuclear option” will be deployed and Gorsuch will be officially on the Court around the time the Trump/Xi summit concludes.

What an action-packed two days!

Trump refuses to pay out of pocket for Mar-a-Lago visits – As for who is paying for Trump’s nearly weekly visits to South Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports that it won’t be the president. Instead, Trump is donating his first quarter presidential salary to the National Park Service, which will go to support monuments and battleground sites.

“So respectfully, it’s like, at what point does he do enough? White House press secretary Sean Spicer said after presenting a check for $78,333.32 to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “He’s done quite a bit in terms of making a donation to government.”

New Trump ad encourages support for Gorscuch — Florida will be on the front lines for a new digital ad touting the Trump administration’s accomplishments and pushing for senators to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Making America Great is launching the ad a week after a $1 million ad buy pushing President Donald Trump’s agenda. In addition to Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Wisconsin, Maine and D.C. will get boosted spending on the campaign.

“Judge Gorsuch is impeccably qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Some of our Senators’ petulant opposition is not in the best interest of our nation, and is contrary to the wishes of their constituency,” said Emily Cornell, the COO of Making America Great. “We welcome the opportunity to give Gorsuch supporters the megaphone they deserve.”

The ad says Trump is “keeping his promises” and “delivering real change. His choice to nominate Neil Gorsuch is a promise made and kept.”

Education Secretary visiting South FloridaDeVos makes her first trip to South Florida since Trump named her to the post. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reportsthat DeVos will visit two schools and Florida International University, starting in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood at the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary School. After that, DeVos will visit the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at FIU.

DeVos will also visit SLAM charter school in Miami, which specializes in Sports Leadership and Management for students in the sixth through eighth grade. On Friday, DeVos is scheduled to visit Royal Palm Elementary school in Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade College.

Delegation weighs in on Bannon’s removal from NSC — It is not often that President Trump makes personnel moves which generate bipartisan support, but he managed to do that on Wednesday. With the announcement that chief strategist Steve Bannon will no longer serve on the National Security Council (NSC), some in the Florida delegation gave the news two thumbs up…one from each side of the aisle.

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Tweeted that it was “welcome news” and reminded everyone of her opposition on the day Bannon’s appointment was originally announced. She was joined at that time by Democrats, other moderate Republicans and even some in the Freedom Caucus like South Carolina’s Mark Sanford.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy called it “a victory for democracy.” In February Murphy introduced H.R. 804 that would prohibit future political advisors from serving on the NSC. Despite Wednesday’s developments, Murphy intends to push her bill through “so that we never again jeopardize the safety and security of the American people for purely political reasons.”

Tweet, tweet:

Congress seen as not likely to pass tax overhaul quickly via Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press – After their humiliating loss on health care, Republicans in Congress could use a quick victory on a big issue. It won’t be an overhaul of the tax code. Overhauling the tax code could prove harder to accomplish than repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health law. Congressional Republicans are divided on significant issues, especially a new tax on imports embraced by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the White House is sending contradicting signals on the new tax, adding to the uncertainty. House Republicans also can’t decide whether to move on from health care. Ryan canceled a scheduled vote on a House GOP plan after it became obvious that Republicans didn’t have the votes. He said he will continue to work on the issue but one of his top lieutenants on health care, Rep. Kevin Brady says he is now ‘100 percent’ focused on tax reform. Ryan says Congress can work on both at the same time. It won’t be easy.

SCOTUS won’t weigh in on Florida law banning extra credit card charges — The U.S. Supreme Court said it won’t weigh in on a Florida law that bans extra charges for credit card transactions.

The law was meant to allow merchants to tack on an extra fee for card users to cover transaction costs from payment networks, but last year the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was a violation of the First Amendment.

Bondi asked SCOTUS to make a decision on the issue last year, but they declined Monday.

SCOTUS didn’t say why they were skipping out on the case, but they said last week in a decision about a similar law in New York that the surcharges were a form of speech.

That law was sent back to an appeals court which will decide whether it violates the first amendment.

Rubio claims Tillerson’s remarks invited deadly attack in Syria — While fingers are being pointed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the culprit in a suspected chemical weapons attack, Florida’s Republican senator from Miami is also glaring in the direction of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Rubio believes Assad was carefully listening to Tillerson when the Secretary said last week that Assad might be left in power while the U.S. aggressively goes after ISIS. The senator believes Tuesday’s attack is not a coincidence.

On a Tampa Bay radio program, Rubio expressed his concern with Tillerson’s remarks that Assad’s future is ultimately up to the people of Syria. He likened that to “almost nodding to the idea that Assad was gonna get to stay in some capacity.”

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a few days later we see this,” said Rubio.

Rubio introduces bill to help with student loan debt – The Miami Republican introduced a bill alongside Virginia Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner to make income-based repayment the default option for paying back student loans.

“Our current federal student loan program is outdated and often leaves students and college graduates burdened with a significant amount of debt. This bill will ensure that people with federal student loans have affordable payments and stronger borrowing protections,” said Rubio. “As someone who once owed more than $100,000 in student loans, this issue is personal to me, and I will continue working to simplify this complex and bureaucratic student loan system.”

The bill would cap payment plans at 10 percent of a borrower’s income, and would exempt the first $10,000 of wages from that calculation.

Income-based repayment and other protections are already available to federal student loan holders, but many students don’t use them because they aren’t aware of their options or because the enrollment process and paperwork can be confusing and burdensome, the senators said.

Nelson/Rubio-initiated legislation passes Congress; heads to president’s desk — On Tuesday, the Senate passed HR 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, sending the measure on to President Trump for signature. The bill was the House version of legislation submitted by Florida’s senators in the last Congress named the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act.

“I applaud the House for passing the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act, which will help us make needed improvements to our storm tracking,” Rubio said in a statement. “Once the president signs this legislation into law, families, business owners and others will have better, more accurate information to better prepare for approaching hurricanes and tropical storms.”

Also included in the measure was an amendment requiring functioning backups for Hurricane Hunters aircraft in the event of the grounding of another. This occurred during Hurricane Hermine last year.

“When it comes to protecting lives and property, we can’t afford to go without Hurricane Hunters,” Nelson said after the bill’s passage in the Senate. “We need to have a backup plan in place, and I’m hopeful we’ll have one in time for hurricane season.”

On the House side, Charlie Crist and Darren Soto worked with Nelson to insert the language concerning the Hurricane Hunters.

“I thank my colleagues for helping us make this needed change to keep our hurricane hunters in the air to better protect our communities,” Crist said in a statement.

Nelson, Rubio, rest of Delegation team up on bipartisan legislation to fight Zika virus —Florida’s senators are working together to protect Floridians against the Zika virus. The state had multiple cases in 2016.

On Wednesday, Nelson and Rubio – along with Maine Independent Angus King and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr – introduced the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act.

The seven-page bill re-authorizes what was known as the MASH Act, which originally targeted the West Nile virus in 2003. Up to $130 million in grants will be authorized each year in addition to matching funds from state and local governments.

“It is extremely important that states and localities have the tools they need to combat Zika and other illnesses spread by mosquitos,” Rubio said in a joint statement. “This bill is another step toward keeping Floridians and tourists safe.”

“One of the best ways to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the mosquitos that carry it,” Nelson said. “As we head into the warmer summer months, we need to make sure our local mosquito-control boards have the resources they need to protect their communities.

As for the House, Rep. Ted Deutch joined Nelson, Rubio and a bipartisan, bicameral group — 47 lawmakers in all – in a letter urging Trump to keep up the federal effort and funding in combating the Zika virus ahead of Florida’s approaching rainy season.

Nelson proposes prescription drug assistance for low-income Puerto Ricans —Florida’s senior U.S. Senator has filed legislation aimed at helping an estimated 400,000 low-income seniors living in Puerto Rico. The three-page bill would make those seniors eligible for the same federal subsidies enjoyed by low-income Americans that help them afford their prescription drugs. Nelson believes that must be changed.

“That is inherently unfair,” he said. “This bill will help seniors living in Puerto Rico better afford the cost of their prescription drugs by simply putting them on the same footing as seniors living in the states.”

Puerto Ricans are technically citizens of the United States, but do not enjoy the full breadth of the benefits of citizenship until residing in the U.S.

Nelson’s bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Nelson has big lead over Rick Scott in 2018 poll — The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found Nelson leads Scott, 52 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would pick.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cellphone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

That 15-point margin represents the largest spread Nelson has enjoyed in early polling. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted on behalf of the Florida Hospital Association showed a much closer race between the two men come 2018, with Nelson at 46 percent to Scott’s 44 percent.

Meanwhile, a poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce released in March showed Nelson had a 6-point lead over Scott, 48 percent to 42 percent.

That margin was similar to one predicted in a UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey released earlier in the month that found Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. A Mason-Dixon survey showed Nelson with a 5-point edge over Scott, 46 percent to 41 percent.

Scott, who was elected in 2010, can’t run for governor in 2018 because of term-limits. He’s been boosting his national profile in recent months, and is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run.

Spotted: Gov. Scott calling the Republican health care proposal a “great starting point” in a new 60-second spot from the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee targeting potential GOP Senate candidates.

Paulson Principle’s: How 2016 results will impact 2018 campaigns

In the 2016 Florida Congressional races, an astounding 13 of the 27 districts were in play and 8 of them were decided by 5 points or less. In addition, 8 of the 27 districts elected new members. Truly amazing and unprecedented!

Why were the 2016 races so close and competitive in comparison to most congressional elections which see little turnover? First, the Florida presidential vote was close and that was reflected in the congressional elections. Second, court-ordered reapportionment led to the redrawing of the districts. Almost half of the Florida districts were impacted by the redrawn congressional map. Volatility was inevitable.

Of the 8 new congressional members, three were due to retiring Republicans who were replaced by new Republican representatives. Matt Gaetz replaced Jeff Miller in District 1; John Rutherford replaced Ander Crenshaw in District 4 in Jacksonville, and Dan Webster replaced Richard Nugent in District 11 in Hernando County.

Three formerly Republican seats were replaced by Democrats. Long-time Republican John Mica was defeated by politically unknown Stephanie Murphy in District 7. In District 13, incumbent David Jolly first announced he was resigning to run for the Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio during his presidential campaign.

Rubio withdrew from the presidential race and was heavily pressured by Republicans to re-enter the senate campaign. He did, and Jolly and other potential candidates withdrew from the race. Jolly returned to defend his District 13 congressional seat and lost to former Republican and former Gov. Charlie Crist by three percentage points.

Webster abandoned his old Orlando based District 10 to run in District 11 in Hernando County. His old seat, redrawn with a large Democratic base, was won by Val Demings, former Orange County Sheriff. The seat was a pick-up not only for Democrats, but also a gain for women and African Americans.

Finally, two congressional seats switched from Democrats to Republicans. Gwen Graham‘s former Panhandle seat in District 2 was redrawn with a much larger Republican voter base. Graham announced her decision not to seek reelection, but to consider a run for governor. The formerly Democratic seat was won by Republican physician Neal Dunn.

In District 18 in South Florida, incumbent Democrat Patrick Murphy announced his retirement in order to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Rubio. Rubio reentered the senate race and defeated Murphy. Murphy’s former senate seat was won by Republican disabled veteran Brian Mast.

The net result of 8 new members of the Florida congressional delegation was one additional Democratic seat. The Republican advantage of 17-10 before the 2016 campaign moved to a 16-11 advantage after the election. A lot of new faces; just not a lot of new Democratic faces.

Looking forward to the 2018 campaign, we know that the volatility of 2016 will lead to more volatility in 2018. The eight newly elected members in 2016 are going to draw strong opposition. Both parties will look for seats to “take-away” from the other side.

Republican Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami will draw the greatest attention from Democrats and Murphy and Crist will be the prime Republican targets. Both Murphy and Crist defeated incumbent Republicans, and both won close races.

Hang on. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Days until the 2018 election: 579.

Gaetz encourages president to focus on Everglades — The freshman congressman took to the House floor this week to encourage President Donald Trump to “remain focused” on Everglades restoration.

The conservative Panhandle lawmaker down played plans for a South Florida land buy, saying “we should get the government out of the real estate business, not deeper into it.”

The congressman instead pushed for finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which he said has bipartisan support, respects property rights and doesn’t meddle with agriculture.

“Finishing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will ensure that our river of grass will be around for generations to come,” he said.

The Shalimar lawmaker said “the Everglades are Florida” and said they are as iconic as the Space Shuttle and the Orange.

Group to Gaetz: “No health care for illegal immigrants” — The Shalimar Republican is under the watchful eye of the American Security Coalition. Their goal is to keep him from going along with a new health care bill that would include “footing the health care costs of illegal immigrants.”

In a web ad doubling as a fund raiser, the coalition claims Speaker Paul Ryan “is still attempting to ram ‘ObamaCare-lite’ into law.” Activists are urged to “call Congressman Matt Gaetz and tell him to ‘Close the Loophole; No Taxpayer-funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants.’”

The reason to call Gaetz, says the group, is because he “is under so much pressure” and the call could decide whether “Ryan gets his way.”

At the end is an appeal for donations to stop Ryan’s “open borders agenda.”

Gaetz looking into fighter pilot oxygen problems — The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday it has grounded all T-45 Goshawk jet training flights for three days after revelations of instructor pilots were refusing to fly the aircraft citing problems with its oxygen system. According to Fox News, the pilot boycott began late last week and had already grounded hundreds of flights.

This action affects the Naval Air Station at Pensacola.

“Pilots in the United States military should never have to worry about oxygen supply while training or in combat,” said Gaetz, whose district covers Pensacola NAS. “As a member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I will be traveling to Naval Air Station Pensacola next week to meet with command staff, flight instructors and pilots to fully assess potential malfunctions to aircraft oxygenators following the cancellation of training flights on Friday.”

“Histotoxic hypoxia” is the medical term associated with the disorienting disorder which can put pilots’ lives at risk, as well as those of civilians on the ground below.

“It can happen without warning,” one pilot said. “The system doesn’t detect contaminants.

Dunn pushes for legislation to protect against terrorist drone attacks — With the rising use of drones by terrorists, the Panama City Freshman Republican wants to protect military personnel and installations. In a letter co-written with Hawaii Democrat Colleen Hanabusa to the House Armed Services Committee leadership, Dunn urges the committee to help provide legal authority to allow the military to better protect its human and military assets.

“Recent reports indicate that Islamic State fighters are increasingly deploying armed Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) against our men and women in uniform and our allies abroad,” they wrote.

The concern is that with success overseas, ISIS will bring weaponized drones “to our shores for attacks and espionage against the homeland.”

Dunn is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Hanabusa is also a member of that committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

Among the six additional co-signers of the letter was Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford. Serving on the Armed Services Committee are two freshman Floridians; Republican Gaetz and Democrat Murphy.

Yoho not backing down from Trump – The Gainesville Republican remains unfazed by Trump’s threats of a fight over health care, reports the Ocala Star Banner. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump tweeted after the failure of the American Health Care Act last week. “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”

“That’s just his style,” Yoho told reporters. “It hasn’t changed my view in any way.”

While a Trump supporter, Yoho – a member of the Freedom Caucus – opposed the AHCA because it did not fully repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yoho wanted a bill that repeals ACA “100 percent,” replacing it with something that that promotes a free market for insurance.

As for Trump’s tweet: “I think it’s a waste of internet space and broadband space.”

Lawson plans April town halls – The Tallahassee Democrat (not the newspaper) announced he’ll hold three town hall events in Jacksonville, Quincy and Tallahassee in April.

Of the three, the one of most interest will be the first one – in Jacksonville on Apr. 12.

With open questions as to Lawson’s commitment to the district, and rumblings of a challenge from former Mayor Alvin Brown, expect provocative questions on what Lawson is doing for Duval – including but not limited to appropriations requests such as TIGER Grants.

DeSantis calls for FBI look into Susan Rice It’s not quite “lock her up,” but Rep. Ron DeSantis told the Washington Examiner that the FBI should look into former Barack Obama National Secretary Susan Rice.

The issue? Requesting the identities of Trump campaign workers caught up in foreign surveillance.

“Congress needs to get to the bottom of this and the FBI should be investigating whether any laws were broken,” he said. “We need to know whether the material gleaned from the Rice unmasking is the material fed to the media in an attempt to do political damage to the Trump administration and, if so, who was responsible for leaking it.”

David Simmons mulling 2018 CD 7 run — The Altamonte Springs Republican said he is “98 percent” sure he will run against Democratic Rep. Murphy next year, reports Frank Torres with the Orlando Political Observer.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought.” Simmons said this week. “I’ve met with the NRCC and I’m 98 percent headed towards a run in the 7th Congressional District.”

A Murphy v. Simmons match-up would pit a political veteran against an incumbent who was virtually unknown a year ago, and would certainly be one of the most-watched contests in the 2018 cycle

Simmons terms out of the Senate in 2018 and has been looking for the next step in his career. In addition to the CD7 run, Simmons is eyeing a campaign for Florida Attorney General or a return to the private sector.

Murphy sets “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events — With Congress set to go into recess until April 25, interaction with constituents will be frequent occurrences for Members of Congress. The Winter Park freshman Democrat is no exception with Murphy scheduling a half dozen “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” events around the Seventh Congressional District.

“My job is to listen to the people I represent, take their concerns to our nation’s capital, and fight for them every day,” Murphy said in a release announcing the events. “I’m working with both Democrats and Republicans to get results and to put people over partisanship.”

The first coffee is set for Monday at the Little Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant in Orlando. The final event will take place at the Maitland Public Library on April 17.

Soto unveils new district office; previews trip to Middle East — The Orlando Democrat had a big announcement last week with two items on the subject line. First, Soto unveiled his hew district office directly across from the Veterans Administration Hospital at Lake Nona. In light of all the problems veterans have faced in VA medical facilities, those in Congressional District 9 will not only have a place to go, but a place within walking distance.

“This location is very symbolic because our VA Hospital is across the street,” said Soto. “I’m always concerned that our Veterans have access to our court of appeals here at my office.”

Soto also revealed his whereabouts for the coming week. Joined by Floridians Dennis Ross and Neal Dunn, and other members, Soto is in Iraq visiting Florida National Guard troops.

Soto spokeswoman Iza Montalvo confirmed the group leaves Thursday and returns the following Tuesday. The delegation is also bringing 150,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the troops.

“We have a lot of things going on in Mosul,” said Soto. “It’s a huge opportunity for me in my first term to be able to learn more about the biggest policy issues that we’re dealing with.”

Demings announces open house, Women’s Advisory Council — The Orlando freshman Democrat is inviting constituents to “An Afternoon at the District Officeon Saturday. Those taking her up on the offer can “learn about what constituent services we offer, meet our staff, hear what the Congresswoman’s priorities are, and tell her what you want done in D.C.”

Hours are from 2-5 p.m. The office is located at 2295 Hiawassee Road, Suite 301 in Orlando.

Demings has also launched a Women’s Advisory Council focusing on women in business. The group, consisting of eight business leaders, will provide input “on how federal programs can be improved to improve opportunities for women and girls in Central Florida.”

“This group of women is uniquely qualified, and comes from a variety of diverse backgrounds,” she said in a news release. “I am grateful they will be a part of the Women’s Advisory Council and look forward to taking their expertise and knowledge with me to Washington.”

Demings also plans to establish other working groups in the coming weeks and months.

Demings and Murphy to speak at Central Florida Tiger Bay — The two Democratic U.S. Congresswomen are slated to speak at the April 7 Central Florida Tiger Bay Club meeting.

The pair will give their insights and views from their first three months in Washington during the noon am meeting at The Country Club of Orlando.

Those wishing to attend will need to RSVP to the Central Florida Tiger Bay Club. The event is free for club members, but will cost $40 for guests and non-members.

Bilirakis talks VA reform on House floor — Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis invoked a bit of his Greek heritage pushing for a Veterans Administration reform bill he is sponsoring on the House floor this week.

“In Greek mythology the Gordian knot represents a complex problem that needs out-of-the-box thinking to solve,” Bilirakis said. “The VA’s Gordian knot is its repeated manipulation of key data and overall lack of accountability.”

The bill’s full title is “the VA Guidance for Organizational Reform and Data Integrity for Accountability Needs Key for Necessary and Optimal Transformation Act” – or GORDIAN KNOT for short.

The bill would require the VA to standardize their data recording mechanisms, publish the average wait times for each medical facility, and streamline the agency’s organizational structure as well as hiring and firing practices.

“I believe this bill is absolutely necessary to reform the VA and assist in its mission to care for our true American heroes,” he said.

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Crist appeals to second president on behalf of incarcerated constituent — The St. Petersburg freshman Democrat is taking the case of Crist’s constituent, Michael Morgan, to the President of the United States for a second time. Late last week Crist wrote a letter to President Trump asking the president and his administration to look into the case of Morgan, who is serving a sentence for what a growing number believe, was a crime Morgan did not commit.

Crist describes Morgan’s status as “unjustly incarcerated.” The former governor understands that the sitting governor holds the authority to take legal action in this case, but feels Trump could play a role due to the inaction of Gov. Scott.

“Mr. President, your attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful to drive needed action by our state’s Chief Executive,” he wrote.

Crist began the letter with a call to work together on criminal justice reform, using Morgan as a visual example of the need to get something done. He also touted reforms carried out in Florida during his four years as governor.

Shortly before President Obama left office in January, the newly-sworn in Crist wrote a similar plea on Morgan’s behalf and also extolled the need for reform. In that letter, Crist gave a shout out to Speaker Paul Ryan “who has taken a strong stance on these issues.”

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” he wrote, before chiding Scott for inaction.

Crist raises record $717K in Q! – The St. Petersburg Democrat is reporting a record-breaking $717,000, claiming it was the most raised by any freshman lawmaker during the first quarter in office. Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

Castor reaffirms support for Paycheck Fairness Act – On Equal Pay Day, the point where women must work over and above the previous year to make the same amount as men, the Tampa lawmaker joined her Democratic colleagues to call Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“Equal pay is vital to women, their families and the broader economy. Paychecks for women continue to lag, and it is past time to fix the inequity,” Castor said. The Act would ban employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with each other, impose harsher penalties for pay discrimination and require employers to be able to show that wage gaps between men and women are based on factors other than gender.

To highlight the issue, first daughter Ivanka Trump posted a USA Today infographic on Instagram showing equal pay statistics, which read: “Women earn 82 percent the full-time weekly paycheck of a man. Black women earn 68 percent and Latina women earn 62 percent of the full-time weekly pay of a white man.”

Buchanan talks tax reform with Suncoast business group – The Sarasota Republican spoke to business group the Argus Foundation this week about a bill he introduced to lower taxes on small businesses.

Buchanan’s bill would make sure that no small business in the country pays a higher tax rate than large corporations by removing income earned by passthrough businesses from the individual tax code and treat it income like business income earned by corporations.

Vern Buchanan updates The Argus Foundation on his bill to cut taxes for small businesses.

“It’s time for Washington to stop punishing Suncoast small businesses and start helping them,” Buchanan told the group. “I’m very pleased my bill is building support.”

The congressman said his proposal was picking up steam and had been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Nelson and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins

Bipartisan delegation members tour Holocaust Museum — On Monday, several members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism had a private tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Taskforce co-Chairman Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, was among those taking the tour.

“It’s a very powerful place to stop when you’re in Washington because of what it says about the need to speak out; the need to stand up,” Deutch told Roll Call.

Deutch and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, co-founded the taskforce in 2015. They announced its revival in February and the two will again lead the effort.

Also joining the tour was Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and St. Lucie Republican Brian Mast. Several members of the 2017 freshman class also attended.

“There’s a certain coarseness in the air right now, so it’s important that a group of leaders in the Congress speak up and stand up for folks and try to bring people together and educate them,” Castor said.

Deutch feels those touring the museum will leave with a sense of purpose.

“I think people will be inspired to go out and play a more active role in fighting hatred and bigotry of all kinds,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz mulling over bill to ban guns in checked baggage – The South Florida Democrat is considering introducing a bill that would ban the transportation of guns on airplanes.

The longtime lawmaker met with federal, state and local law enforcement last week to talk about current law, which allows airline passengers to transport unloaded firearms as checked baggage.

Wasserman Shultz is considering the bill in response gunman who killed five people at Fort Lauderdale’s airport earlier this year after retrieving a gun from his checked baggage.

“There is no obstacle I am aware of in the law that prevents TSA from regulating the transportation of firearms,” she said. “I have continued to be in the process of taking a look and seeking input at the best way to address transportation of firearms and whether legislation is necessary. … I want to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the politics of the Second Amendment.”

Curbelo teams up with Oregon Democrat for marijuana tax bill — South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is cosponsoring a bill with Oregon Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer that would make it easier for marijuana businesses to pay taxes.

The bill would allow pot peddlers to claim common deductions and tax credits so long as they are operating in line with state law.

“One of my goals in Congress is to ensure the law treats all enterprises with fairness and equity; giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper,” Curbelo said in a statement. “This bill clarifies our federal tax code for those marijuana businesses operating legally and in compliance with state regulations by providing tax parity.”

Current law doesn’t allow companies that deal in Schedule I or Schedule II substances to deduct even simple expenses such as rent from their taxes. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance.

Former Mica staffer exonerated in college classroom dust up — A onetime staffer in the office of the former Florida Republican Congressman recently at the center of a national story was allowed to return to class after Rollins College lifted his suspension. Marshall Polston, who once served as a part time employee in Mica’s office, was originally suspended after verbal clashes with a professor over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The matter made national news when Rollins suspended Polston on March 24 following verbal exchanges with Prof. Areej Zufari after the latter reportedly told her class Jesus was not crucified. Zufari also said Polston’s presence in class made her “feel unsafe” and accused Polston of “stalking” her.

While Polston was chided by the university for behavior not “consistent with the values we abide by at the College,” he was held “not responsible” for the accusations leveled at him and allowed to return to class.

With healthcare discussions front and center at both the state and federal level, Caitlin Carroll with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has her hands full. Carroll, who recently took on the Sunshine State in her coverage area, said her organization is working to make sure patients have access to innovative treatments and care. We caught up with her to talk about what needs to be done at the state and federal levels to make sure that happens.

FP: Talk to me about what states should be doing to ensure patient access.

CC: I think when it comes to patient access, the most important thing is making sure that patient care is in the hands of the patient and the doctor who knows them best, and that they’re not getting caught up in bureaucratic red tape and the middle man system we see in our current supply chain system. One of the things we feel strongly about is making sure patients have the best options and the most information about their own coverage and their own care as possible. We want to see a level playing field between insurers and doctors and their patients, ensuring patient protections. And part of that means giving more information and a better appeals process by streamlining step therapy and fail-first protocols.

FP: How should federal lawmakers deal with these same issues?

CC: I think overall we are in the middle of having a conversation about how to improve our health care system so that it focuses on outcomes and results and what is valuable to patients, rather than a system where savings and rebates are getting caught up in middle men and aren’t being passed on to patients. From our perspective, we want to have a conversation about moving toward value-based health care that focuses on outcomes, that focuses on results and that allows patients to know that the medicines and the treatments and the cures that they’re receiving are the best ones that are going to work for them, and they’re receiving the best care possible.

FP: What should Florida lawmakers be doing to work with their counterparts in Congress and beyond about this?

CC: First and foremost, we want to make sure any policies that we adopt actually address patient concerns without penalizing innovation that is going to develop the lifesaving medication that they need. Balancing those priorities to make sure we’re ensuring affordable access, that we’re ensuring quality care and we’re also not penalizing the future innovations that are going to improve life expectancy and quality of life over the next decade. We at PhRMA are not only bipartisan, but we are a nonpartisan organization, we are willing to work with anybody and we believe that all solutions have to look at the reality of our current supply chain, and address that reality. and they also need to take comprehensive looks that bring together all health care stake holders. there isn’t just one silver bullet that is going to address improving patient access, it really has to be a comprehensive solution.

Ballard named to RNC finance postAlex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Tallahassee lobbyist secured a spot on the Republican National Committee fundraising team. Ballard served as chair of the Trump Victory in Florida and vice chair of the inaugural committee. He also had roles on the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Save the date — Fundraiser for Florida House candidate Jose Mallea scheduled for Monday — The Miami-Dade Republican, who announced he was running for state House back in March, is headed to Washington, D.C. for a fundraiser hosted by Andrew Card, former President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, and his wife, the Rev. Kathleene Card. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Mission Dupont Circle, and the host committee includes Jeb Bush, Jr.

Pinellas transit officials push priorities during D.C. tripBrad Miller is hopeful several days of productive meetings on Capitol Hill will translate into good things for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Miller and Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and Pat Gerard were in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with federal lawmakers about several top priorities for the transit authority, including funding for a rapid transit project. Both Long and Gerard serve on the PSTA board.

“Public transportation, roads, it’s really a partnership between federal, state and local governments when it comes to funding,” said Miller, the transit authority’s CEO.

Miller said one of the PSTA’s top priorities in 2017 is to secure FTA Small Starts funding for the St. Pete to Beach Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project. It’s the highest demand transit corridor, and having the project would be a “big boon” for the tourism community.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller, and PSTA members Janet Long and Pat Gerard met with Rep. Kathy Castor to talk transportation issues this week.

Miller said the group also met with lawmakers about changing policy about what type of ridership data can be reported to federal officials. The transit authority has partnered with Uber and Lyft to create first-mile/last-mile connecting service. The program allows people to hail a ride for about $1 to take them to the closet bus stop, and then riders are able to continue their destination.

But those first-mile/last-mile connecting service rides don’t count as transit ridership in the formula currently used to calculate future transit capital funding. So Miller said he and this team met with members about ways the formula could be changed to account for innovation.

The trio met with Reps. Kathy Castor, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist Dennis Ross and Darren Soto. They also met with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations, and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

“They’ve been very, very supportive of these programs,” said Miller. “Transportation investments drive our economy.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.