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Sunburn for 4.11.17 – Letting them eat cake; House demand apropos records; Pam Bondi sued; Herald wins two Pulitzers

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

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

DO NOT LET THE PERFECT BE THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD, MR. SPEAKER

If the last week offered the turning point of the 2017 Legislative Session — Senate President Joe Negron‘s scaling back his Everglades reservoir proposal — it also offered an uncharacteristic moment of hubris for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

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. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’ “

That last part — “what you ought to say is thank you” — is the kind of cringe-worthy statement you’d expect from a Johnnie Byrd. Even if he thought this kind of thing before, Corcoran has been smart enough not to say it aloud. In fact, up until Thursday, he had been playing the Capitol Press Corps and the rest of the state’s political media (this writer included) like a fiddle. Corcoran has offered the press just the right amount of righteous indignation mixed with pragmatic politics, good quotes and timely scoops.

But Thursday’s “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” moment left several reporters scratching their heads, as if they realized they were only props in an elaborate play directed by the House Speaker.

What’s worse than what Corcoran said is the absolute inflexibility he and the House are displaying in their gamesmanship with the Senate. The House is allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And in doing so, Richard Corcoran‘s Florida House is in danger of becoming the Freedom Caucus of Tallahassee.

Negron dramatically re-works his top priority, the Everglades reservoir proposal, and how does Corcoran and Co. react? By complaining about the small amount of bonding involved in the financing of the plan, as if matters to a single voter whether the Senate pays cash or uses a credit card at the gas pump.

The courts and bureaucrats are essentially deciding the framework for the state’s gaming industry and what is the House’s position as it enters conference with the Senate? Opposition to the slots expansion approved by local referendums, while also opposing most of the Senate’s other thinking on the issue.

Enterprise Florida? Blow it up, say the political Jesuits in the House. Hospitals and Medicaid? Cut ’em off, says the House while asking them for information on how much they’re spending to lobby. Judges and the courts? Neuter them, says the legislative branch.

None of this is to say that Richard Corcoran is wrong on the merits of these issues. Or that he should abandon his long-held principles.

However, for the first five weeks of the Legislative Session, his side was setting the agenda, if not winning. He should consolidate those wins by reaching out to Negron over the Easter holiday, extending a few olive branches, and getting out of town on time.

Mr. Speaker, you’ve already won. Do not be so principled that you now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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JOE NEGRON’S LAKE O RESERVOIR PROPOSAL GETS SENATE HEARING WEDNESDAY – Negron’s Everglades reservoir proposal (SB 1) is scheduled for a Senate special order hearing tomorrow, as both the House and Senate hold second readings and amendments on their respective budgets. The House budget is at $81.2 billion, around $4 billion less than the Senate. Both chambers are split on Negron’s Everglades reservoir issue, which now includes deepening 31,000 acres of reservoirs, and only using farmland as needed. The plan has also reduced from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion, with Florida bonding for its share. The House version (HB 761) has yet to be heard by a committee. Corcoran, who remains opposed to bonding for the plan, says its chances are improving.

HOUSE, SENATE BUDGETERS DISAGREE ON WHAT EVERGLADES RESTORATION IS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – House members outlined $165.7 million for restoration. That’s $94.9 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP and $32 million for restoration strategies regional water quality plan (line 1594 of HB 5001); $29.9 million goes for Northern Everglades and estuaries (line 1594A). But they also include $5 million for dispersed water storage for the South Florida Water Management District (line 1589) and $3.9 million for agricultural nutrient reduction and water retention projects for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed (1356A). A press release from the Senate says it has $144 million for Everglades restoration, but if they used the more inclusive definition from the House, SB 2500 has $193.6 million; $112 million would go to CERP while the House has $94.9 million. It appears the Senate’s budget does not fully contemplate the Negron water storage bill (SB 10) as line 1595 offers $1 million for the C-51 reservoir. The House budget, of course, has no line for the reservoir.

EDITORIAL: SENATE BUDGET IS AN INVESTMENT IN FLORIDA’S EDUCATION via the South Florida Sun Sentinel ed board – The Senate would increase overall state funding for the universities by $334 million next year, about 12 percent. The House would cut that category by $183 million, almost 7 percent. The Senate also would make the universities accessible to more Floridians by expanding financial aid by $320 million. This total includes a $180 million increase in Bright Futures merit scholarships and a $126 million boost in need-based aid. The House, by contrast, would reduce Bright Futures by more than $11 million, though it would bump up need-based aid by $7 million. Negotiators in the two chambers will need to reconcile these and any other discrepancies before passing a budget and sending it to Gov. Scott‘s desk. But if lawmakers are truly committed to enhancing the quality and competitiveness of the state’s university system — and ultimately the state’s economy — the Senate’s position will prevail. A first-class higher education system is a critical component in attracting more high-wage jobs to Florida.

HOUSE BUDGET LANGUAGE WOULD UNDERMINE FLORIDA LOTTERY CONTRACT via Florida Politics – Pending an appeal of a court order blocking a $700 million Florida Lottery contract, proviso language in the proposed House budget would appear to block officials from attempting to enforce its terms. The language within the budget bill, HB 5100 (see page 329) pertains to a $26.6 million appropriation to operate game terminals. It would forbid officials from paying a vendor to “deploy, utilize, or lease” instant-ticket or full-service vending machines. The document would provide $5 million “only to pay to lease up to a maximum total of 1,500 instant ticket vending machines at a per-machine, per-month rate that must be specified in express terms in a vendor contract.”  A separate $2.9 million line authorizes leasing no more than 500 full-service machines, under a written contract with a vendor. The disputed contract would boost the number of full-service vending machines to 5,000.

DESPITE BIG DOLLARS, HOUSE ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN NOT ATTRACTIVE TO TOP NATIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL FIRMS via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – House Speaker Corcoran wants nonprofits that have operated high-performing charter schools in other states to replicate their success here. To that end, he’s made them an offer: $200 million to cover facilities costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus a wish list of statutory and regulatory changes designed to help them prosper. But it appears they’re not interested. Several of the organizations the Land O’Lakes Republican has mentioned by name or that have appeared in front of House education committees — networks that operate charter schools in New York City, Boston, the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, among other locales … they have no plans to open schools in the Sunshine State.

HOUSE DEMANDS FINANCE RECORDS FROM SECRET APPROPRIATIONS via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – Speaker Corcoran wants two companies that received millions in secret appropriations to detail how they spent the taxpayer money. A Fernandina Beach psychological firm run by the friend of a state senator received $1 million in this year’s Florida State University budget with the lawmaker’s helpbut failed to produce the results it promised … An online education company operated from the Miami office of a lobbyist received $2 million in the Florida Polytechnic University budget but served fewer students at a greater cost than a separate program run through the University of Central Florida, the Daily News reported. Corcoran’s letters threatened to make the universities return the money if details aren’t provided by Thursday about how the companies spent the money or if they failed to use it as required.

ANITERE FLORES ATTACKED OVER AOB via Florida Politics – Floridians for Government Accountability is launching a direct mail campaign targeting Sen. Anitere Flores over insurance premiums. The direct mail campaign comes about a week after the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that indicated Flores, the chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, would be to blame if insurance rates increased. “Paying too much for insurance? The Wall Street Journal says Flores is at fault,” reads one side of the mailer.

TRIAL LAWYERS DENOUNCES HOUSE WORKERS’ COMP PACKAGE via Florida Politics – HB 7085 is “a handout to the insurance industry and its big-business allies – one that does little to benefit injured workers or most employers,” the Florida Justice Association said in a written statement. “The plan wipes out countless injured workers’ ability to afford legal help when insurance companies wrongfully deny benefits, without providing other new benefits to offset this added burden,” the organization said. Real reform would allow workers some choice in their doctors, a “mid-level” tier for benefits, competition between insurers on rates, and “reasonable” attorney fees, said Richard Chait, chairman of the workers’ compensation section. “The eventual outcome of the current approach will be that more injured workers will receive inadequate health care treatment to help them recover,” he said.

EVAN JENNE’S ‘TIPPING POINT’: A RUN FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER via Florida PoliticsIt’s tough to be a top Democrat in Florida, but Jenne is going for it. Jenne, of Dania Beach, recently announced his intention to seek the leadership of the House Democrats in 2020-22. In a state where Republicans have controlled the Legislature for the last two decades, “you can’t promise definitively that something will happen,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. That said, he added, “If I say I’m going to do something, you can stick to my word.”

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “As the House is poised to take up its budget proposal this week, please see the updated infographic at … below for the breakdown of legislation that has been placed on the calendar for a hearing in the Florida House through April 11th“:

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 16; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 23; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 23; MLB All-Star Game – 91; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 144; Election Day 2017 – 209; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 247; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 271.

BETSY DEVOS PRAISES THIS VOUCHER-LIKE PROGRAM. HERE’S WHAT IT MEANS FOR SCHOOL REFORM via Emma Brown with the Washington Post — Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice that the Trump administration holds up as a model for the nation. The voucher-like program, the largest of its kind in the country, helps pay tuition for nearly 100,000 students from low-income families. But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools. …Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice, does not seem to be bothered by that complaint. She is driven instead by the faith that children need and deserve alternatives to traditional public schools. … On Thursday, DeVos visited another Florida private school to highlight the program. Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE) Elementary is “an awesome example of the opportunities provided through the Florida tax-credit scholarship,” DeVos told reporters. She said that the administration is working on how to expand choice nationally and that there is a “possibility” its efforts might be patterned on Florida’s tax-credit program, according to Politico.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: CFO Jeff Atwater will host the traditional “Ringing of the Bell” ceremony, honoring firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, at 8:35 a.m. at the Florida Capitol.

LAWSUIT: PAM BONDI FORCING CONTRIBUTIONS TO UNREGISTERED CHARITIES via Florida Politics – The Attorney General is forcing businesses who settle unfair trade actions with her office to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities, according to a lawsuit filed last week. She also is directing contributions to her Office’s own nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi … The petition says Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse. “Our office has not been served at this point; however, after a preliminary review of the information you provided us, we believe these claims to be without merit,” Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.

STATE, FORMER HEALTH CARE PROVIDER AGREE TO SETTLE SUIT OVER PRISONERS’ UNTREATED HERNIAS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – About 1,800 current and former Florida prison inmates who were denied medical care for hernias will be entitled to divide $1.7 million in damages from a class-action lawsuit under a conditional settlement agreed to by the Department of Corrections and its former prison health care provider, Corizon, and filed in federal court in Tallahassee last week. The suit was brought by the Florida Justice Institute and the Coral Gables law firm of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in September 2015 on behalf of three inmates. It alleged Corizon and the agency violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments by denying the inmates medical care in an effort to save money. The damages will be paid by Corizon, but the settlement agreement also requires the state prison system to adopt a new policy to provide consultations with surgeons for inmates with hernia symptoms in all Florida facilities.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor will plant a pinwheel garden with Department of Economic Opportunity staff to help raise awareness about child abuse prevention in Florida at 3 p.m. at the Caldwell Building Steps, at the intersection of Madison Street and Monroe Street, 107 Madison Street, in Tallahassee.

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS SAYS LACK OF OPENNESS STILL HINDERING CONSTITUTIONAL REWRITE PANEL via Florida PoliticsThe head of the League of Women Voters of Florida said Monday that “a lack of transparency” still plagues the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. In a letter to chairman Carlos Beruff and commissioners, LWVF President Pamela Goodman added concerns over “potential roadblocks to meaningful public engagement, potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and a less than robust respect for the Sunshine Rules.” The commission, which convenes every 20 years to fold public hearings, then review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document, still has not adopted final rules since its March 20 organization meeting.

PERSONNEL NOTE: GOVERNOR’S TOP LAWYER JOINING CONSTITUTION REVISION PANEL via Florida PoliticsWilliam Spicola, general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott for the past year, is leaving to become top legal officer of the Constitution Revision Commission. Replacing him as GC in the executive office of the governor is Daniel Nordby, a partner in Shutts & Bowen’s Tallahassee office. Both job changes become official on April 17, the governor’s office announced Monday. … Before joining Scott’s office, Spicola was a veteran of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. … Nordby has practiced election, constitutional, and administrative law at his firm since 2014. Before that, he served stints as general counsel to the Florida House and the secretary of state’s office.

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— KEY OPINIONS —

EDITORIAL: THE LEGISLATURE’S FREE-MARKET FANTASY FOR HOSPITALS via TBO.com – Access to quality health care is not just at risk in Washington. It also is at stake in Tallahassee, where Florida House Speaker Corcoran relentlessly pursues a free-market fantasy that threatens the future of hospitals such as Tampa General, Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg and the BayCare network. This is a risky strategy that would undermine the financial viability of the venerable institutions Tampa Bay residents have long relied upon for top-flight care, and it fails to recognize that hospitals cannot be treated like fast-food franchises competing for customers on opposite street corners. Corcoran declares he and his Republican allies are pushing “dynamic reform” to health care aimed at empowering patients by increasing the supply of health care options, which they believe will bring down prices. That would create a wild-west free market for health care where hospitals are treated no differently than auto dealers or furniture stores competing for customers by promising lower prices in the best neighborhoods and avoiding unprofitable sites in low-income communities. The reality is that health care doesn’t work that way unless you’re Gov. Scott, who got rich running the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system — now HCA Healthcare — that is one of the key supporters of the changes.

ROBERT MCCLURE: MISINFORMATION ABOUT EVERGLADES RESTORATION ABOUNDS via the Tallahassee Democrat – We all recognize the special place in Florida’s shared heritage and the unique ecosystem present in the Glades. So it has been somewhat disappointing to observe how much erroneous information is being written regarding attempts to restore the Everglades and fix ongoing challenges with Lake O. The James Madison Institute (JMI), with a 30-year history of nonpartisan, public policy work has done extensive research in this area, seeking to identify the most effective and efficient path forward regarding Everglades restoration. Nobody disputes the fact that heavy rain events have myriad negative impacts on the environment, the economy and the population. Heavy rains cause Lake O to reach depths requiring discharges from the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). This water, often containing toxins, then flows into the Everglades estuary. And yet, many falsely claim the main source of pollution is the farmers of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This is in direct opposition to the facts on the ground, as highlighted in our report of 2016 entitled “Solving the Everglades Riddle.”

ANDY MADTES: WHAT HB 11 SUPPORTERS DON’T GET via Florida Politics – Recently the House passed HB 11, legislation that would require labor unions representing public sector workers to certify they have more than half of the workers signed up as members every single year. In their view this will empower workers to somehow bargain better contracts and benefits and, they swear, in no way an attempt to strip workers of their right to a voice on the job. It could be they just don’t understand how a union, in a “right to work for less” state like Florida, operates in a modern workplace. The wages, retirement, health care and other benefits that a union like AFSCME negotiates are enjoyed by every employee, not just those that pay dues. Things like investments in safety, emergency response protocols and, yes, how to save lives from a burning building are negotiated on behalf of bus drivers, public service aids and more, not just those in police and fire unites that the legislation would except under the belief they are the only ones dealing with public safety. All public-sector workers are on the front line of serving their community. Maybe the supporters of the legislation believe that all workers pitch in to the union in their workplace. That is not true. Members decide to pay dues for a variety of reasons but not because they are forced to do so. Non-members don’t even pay a fair share for the benefits they get to enjoy. It is a choice, but this legislation would take that choice from them.

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HOME RULE ADVOCACY GROUP ADDS TWO NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ITS ROSTER via Florida Politics – Home-rule advocates Campaign to Defend Local Solutions is adding Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Black Justice Coalition as official partners. Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors that advocates for common-sense gun laws, while the National Black Justice Coalition is the country’s leading black LGBTQ civil rights organization. The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions was launched by Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in January and include in its membership elected officials from 15 states as well as local and national organizations. CDLS was formed to fight against local government pre-emption laws passed by state legislatures, which it claims are often pushed through by “shadowy special interests and unaccountable lobbyists.”

PERSONNEL NOTE: DOUGLAS SUNSHINE JOINS COURT CLERKS ORGANIZATION via Florida PoliticsSunshine has been named chief legal officer of the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers statewide association, according to a Monday news release. Sunshine is a state government and legal veteran, with more than 25 years of experience. He’s been Agency Rules Coordinator for the Agency for Health Care Administration and Florida Department of Revenue. He also served in the Florida Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Unit, the Office of General Counsel for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Florida Engineers Management Corp., and the Florida Department of State.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FSU’S HIRES ALUMNA AS ITS NEW VP FOR STUDENT AFFAIRS via Florida Politics – The new hire is Amy Hecht, an FSU graduate who was VP for student affairs at The College of New Jersey, a public institution with about 7,400 students. Enrollment at FSU is nearly 42,000. “We are extremely pleased to welcome Amy back to her alma mater,” President John Thrasher said.  “Amy’s knowledge and experience in student affairs, as well as her passion for FSU, will serve our students well as we strive to continue on our path of excellence.” Hecht will oversee student housing, health, counseling, and recreation programs, as well as a career center, the student union, the student government association, and the dean of students. … She will succeed Mary Coburn, who is retiring at the end of this semester after 14 years as VP for student affairs.

FLORIDA WINTER BAR EXAM PASSAGE RATE NOW AT LOWEST POINT IN 8 YEARS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed the bar, or 57.7 percent, according to a release from the state’s Board of Bar Examiners. That’s down from the high pass rate of 80.2 percent in February 2013, when there were 819 first-timers, and the lowest passing percentage for the February exam since 2009. “Save for a few states, bar passage rates have continued to decline nationwide,” the Above the Law blog reported late last year, noting that California’s July bar exam pass rate was its lowest in 32 years. Experts have placed the blame on law schools lowering their admission standards to fill seats as the number of applicants continues to decline. Part of that decline is because full-time lawyer jobs keep dwindling, according to The American Lawyer. Citing U.S. Department of Labor data last week, the website reported “employment in the U.S. legal sector took another hit in March, with the industry losing 1,500 jobs.”

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MIAMI HERALD WINS TWO PULITZERS, FOR PANAMA PAPERS INVESTIGATION AND EDITORIAL CARTOONS via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Staff coverage of the Panama Papers, the international investigation that exposed how crooks and millionaires use the secret world of offshore companies, and the mordant political commentary of editorial cartoonist Jim Morin in a year rife with material won the Miami Herald two Pulitzer Prizes … The 2017 prize for explanatory reporting was awarded to the Herald, its parent company McClatchy and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for their dive into a massive cache of leaked documents that revealed a financial system of tax havens preferred by tax dodgers, corrupt politicians and drug dealers whose money often wound up in Miami real estate. The 2017 prize for editorial cartooning went to Morin, whose unmistakable quill-pen drawings and piercing captions have anchored the Herald’s editorial pages since 1978. Morin became a two-time Pulitzer winner, having previously earned the coveted prize in 1996.

TIMES FOOD CRITIC LAURA REILEY’S ‘FARM TO FABLE’ SERIES IS FINALIST FOR PULITZER PRIZE via the Tampa Bay Times – … which exposed false claims of food origins by many restaurants and farmers’ markets. Reiley’s work prompted state investigations into the claims and other state-level regulatory changes. She was one of three finalists for the prize, which was won by Hilton Als of the New Yorker.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, Jupiter Medical CEO John Couris discusses the Certificate of Need program as he tells lawmakers some regulations are necessary to maintain quality care in hospitals. Gomes also interviews Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez about his efforts to see a statewide ban on red-light cameras. House District 66 hopeful Berny Jacques gets a running start in his 2018 campaign. Plus, Gomes shares reactions from Florida officials about Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria.

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU Tuesday’s Governors Club buffet menu offers a taste of the South with chicken noodle soup; spinach salad – spinach, red onion, roma tomato, bacon, shallots, mushrooms, eggs, herb vinaigrette; tiger slaw – red cabbage, carrots, coleslaw dressing; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; fried chicken; fried catfish & hush puppies; scalloped potatoes; butter beans & ham; and corn choux.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my favorite GrayRobinson lobbyist, Chris Carmody, as well as Betsy Collins and the St. Pete Chamber’s Chris Steinocher.

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.

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