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Sunburn for 4.6.17 – The 2017 Legislative Session at the halfway mark

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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.

A MOMENT OF PAUSE

The Easter break is coming at just the right time in the 2017 Legislative Session. We all need a deep breath. Whether we find any (legislative) Easter eggs is another matter.

Some known knowns (“things we know that we know”): At the halfway mark, the House and Senate budgets are pretty much set up to go to conference, as is this year’s gambling legislation.

At least one high-profile bill, the alimony overhaul, has been effectively killed and isn’t coming back this year.

Here’s a known unknown (“things that we know we don’t know”): The “whiskey and Wheaties” liquor-separation repeal effort, which flew through the Senate, is hung up in the House and hanging on by a thread, lobbyists say. Maybe sponsor Bryan Avila can pull off a Hail Mary.

So policy-wise, what’s been accomplished?

Er … well … Gov. Rick Scott signed a bunch of what’s known as “repealer” bills.

According to an email, the Governor signed six bills into law Wednesday, a ho-hum assortment of pro forma measures that, among other things, “delete statutory provisions that have expired or become obsolete.”

Yay?

It doesn’t seem like much. Why, by this time in the previous regular session … well, never mind. We were kind of at the same place.

Still, last year, big leadership bills passed in the first week:

— A water protection bill that then-House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted;

— A bill favored by then-Senate President Andy Gardiner that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and

— Another that increases their educational opportunities.

And yet, and yet … the Senate this week struck a deal on a water storage plan to cut down the “guacamole water” coming out of Lake Okeechobee.

And just maybe, the state will finally compensate the twin brother of Nubia Barahona for the Department of Children and Families’ mistakes.

The 10-year-old former foster child was killed in 2011 and her body was then mutilated with caustic chemicals at the hands of her adoptive father.

Now we’ll worry about the unknown unknowns, “the things we don’t know we don’t know.” Let’s hope they don’t lead to a special session.

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DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 21; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 28; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 28; MLB All-Star Game – 96; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 149; Election Day 2017 – 214; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 252; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 276.

IS THE SENATE ON THE RIGHT PATH ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA? via Peter Schorsch for Florida Politics

The Senate, with the revised version of SB 406, appears to be on what is a fairly balanced means of implementing Amendment 2.

Is that my opinion? Maybe.

But, as of yesterday, even the intrepid Ben Pollara sent an email saying (and I quote), “The Senate bill puts Patients First…” while most parties in attendance at the recent committee hearing waived in support. Not all, but most. That’s a far cry from where this was a few short weeks ago.

Good job senators.

But there is one provision that made it into the bill that will likely create (yet another) firestorm of lawsuits while unnecessarily jeopardizing patient safety. If enacted, this one provision and the resulting litigation conflagration will delay more licensees from entering the field of play or allow some substandard players with untested methods to slide into the market.

That provision should warrant another glance.

Here’s the deal … the bill (SB 406) as it left the committee allows — nay, requires — the Department of Health to issue five new licenses by Oct. 3 — of this year!

To clarify, these licenses must be completed and issued by Oct. 3.

Why should this freak some people out?

First, it is important to recognize that the Office of Compassionate Use (OCU) has only a handful of employees who are already up to their eyeballs in regulating the current crop of licensees, managing physician, and patient registries, handling complaints, issuing identification cards to patients and caregivers, etcetera. Second, it is also vital to understand how complex these new license applications are statutorily required to be. Last round, they averaged well over the 1,000+ page range.

Keep in mind that applicants must rush in these applications and then OCU must review, evaluate, score and award them (thousands of pages worth) – IN LIGHT SPEED.

They must do this, keep in mind, while issuing new patient and physician ID cards, implement sweeping new legislation, monitoring existing operations and do everything else they already do. Whew!

What could possibly go wrong?

With lots and lots (and lots!) of dollars on the table, and tens of thousands of pages to be scoured, there will certainly be at least a handful of aggrieved losers who will take their loss to the courts. We have danced this dance before.

SB 406 began its journey like most bills in the process; with a patient threshold (and not an arbitrary date) as a trigger to begin the process of awarding new licenses. It seems to make the most sense as it not only aligns the Senate bill closer to the House version, it relies on a logical progression based on actual users.

Why the change? Why the ultra-short window? Why take this chance?

This same body spent years designing a system to ensure the safety of patients. Um, where did that go?

CANADIAN MARIJUANA COMPANY APHIRA BUYING INTO FLORIDA’S MARKET via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – Aphria, a publicly traded firm based out of Ontario, plans to invest $25 million in a shell that will purchase most or all of the assets of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, the Alachua nursery that operates CHT Medical. … That placement, at $2.08 a share, implies a market cap of $177 million and suggests Aphria’s investment — which includes a 3 percent royalty on sales, plus shares — is worth $67 million, according to an analysis by Canadian investment dealer Eight Capital. … The pending agreement offers the most complete information to date on the value currently associated with Florida’s limited medical marijuana licenses, despite their current lack of income under a restrictive system. Chestnut’s CHT Medical, which won its license through a competitive process, has only been in operation since January, but the business has an implied value as the state’s number of eligible patients begins to expand following the November passage of Amendment 2.

TWEET, TWEET:

THE PANHANDLE GETS A MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY AS TRULIEVE OPENS FOURTH OUTPOST via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Trulieve, the first company to dispense medical marijuana in Florida, opened its fourth medical cannabis dispensary in the state Wednesday morning, this time in Pensacola. “We are proud to open our fourth dispensary and our first in the Pensacola area. And this opening is especially exciting because we maintain our headquarters in the panhandle and are deeply committed to our patients here,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “We also have our statewide home delivery program and will have more dispensary locations opening this year.”

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VOTERS SAID YES, BUT FLORIDA MAY CHANGE CLASS SIZE LIMITS via The Associated Press – The House voted 95-22 for a bill (HB 591) that would change the way class sizes are calculated. If the bill became law, then schools would measure class sizes by a schoolwide average instead of measuring it at the classroom level. A similar bill is moving in the Senate. Voters in 2002 first approved class size limits and rejected an attempt to change those limits in 2010. Those limits cap core classes between 18 and 25 students depending on the grade level.

MIAMI LAWMAKER: ‘SCHOOLS OF HOPE’ PLAN IS ‘SEPARATE BUT UNEQUAL’ via Kristen Clark of the Tampa Bay TimesKionne McGhee isn’t sugar-coating how much he dislikes House Republicans’ $200 million, “schools of hope” plan to attract high-performing charter schools to Florida that would aid students currently attending perpetually failing traditional public schools. “This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions, McGhee said when HB 5105 faced its second of only two committee hearings. McGhee will be the House Democratic leader starting in late 2018. The full Appropriations Committee sent the “schools of hope” bill to the House floor on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.

JOE HENDERSON: RANDOLPH BRACY’S HEART MIGHT HAVE BEEN RIGHT, BUT HIS NUMBERS WERE WRONG via Florida Politics – We all know what a firestorm Ayala created when she decided not to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott came down on the side of outrage and in a stunning turn he ordered that the case go to another prosecutor … That prompted state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, to blast Scott in an op-ed published in The New York Times. He was making strong arguments why the governor’s actions are wrong, at least up to the point where he wrote this paragraph: “As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly over-represented on Florida’s death row.” Fact check, please! Actually, there are 143 black males on death row compared to 214 white males. And when it comes to the total number of executions carried out since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas is the runaway leader with the number of people put to death with 576. Florida is fourth (behind Oklahoma and Virginia) with 92.

HOUSE SENDS BACK SENATE’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ BILL via Florida Politics The House on Wednesday OK’d the Senate’s fix to the state’s “stand your ground” law to streamline claims of self-defense—with one change. The House version changes the measure (SB 128) to switch the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to overcome self-defense. Members voted 74-39 for the amended bill, sending it back across the rotunda. The Republican majority in the Legislature wants to shift the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. A state Supreme Court decision had put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

DEMOCRATS DECRY CHANGE TO ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAW via Florida PoliticsA critic of the state’s “stand your ground” law Wednesday said a change to the law now moving through the Legislature will “make it easier for people to murder other human beings.” Lawmakers now are considering shifting the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called that making “a bad law worse.” He appeared with several fellow Democrats at a morning press conference in the Capitol. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

JACK LATVALA ARGUES REVISED LAKE O. PROJECT DEFANGS ITS CRITICS via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – If House leaders really oppose special interests they’ll support the Lake Okeechobee plan the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday, Latvala said following the vote. “When you hear their stated objections that they’ve made publicly, it’s always had to do with losing jobs or the amount of bonding involved,” Latvala told reporters. “We’ve pretty much removed those stated objections. Now it’s just going to have to come down to whether they’re going to follow the will of the special interests that are involved.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL OKS CHANGES TO NURSING HOME FUNDING via Ryan Benk of WJCT – … that includes a new formula for reimbursing nursing homes. Opponents say the proposal would cut Medicaid dollars for top performing homes, while proponents argue it’ll result in a more equitable distribution of state funds. With 60 percent of nursing home residents on Medicaid, a lion’s share of the long-term care facilities depends on state reimbursement to stay afloat. Right now, nursing homes are funded retroactively after they submit expense reports. Officials audit those payments annually to make sure taxpayers aren’t overpaying. The Senate proposal would instead pay nursing homes a predetermined amount up front based on a specific formula.

STATE CONSIDERS ISSUING CERTIFICATES AFTER MISCARRIAGES via The Associated Press – The House voted 115-1 for what’s called the “Grieving Families Act.” At a parent’s request, the state would issue “certificates of nonviable birth” to women whose pregnancies end after nine weeks and before 20 weeks of gestation. Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths and death certificates must be issued. Parents can also request a birth certificate in such cases.

BILL TO HELP FOSTER CHILDREN GET DRIVERS’ LICENSES HEADS TO GOV. via The Associated Press – … under a bill heading to Gov. Scott. The House unanimously passed the bill that would make permanent a pilot program that began in 2014. The program reimburses foster parents or children for driver’s education, license fees and insurance. The idea is to help children in state care become more independent. The cost of the program is $800,000.

NEW HOUSE WORKERS COMP AMENDMENTS GO TOUGHER ON ATTORNEY FEES via Mike Moline of Florida Politics – The House Commerce Committee will take up a workers’ compromise amendment package Thursday that takes a more aggressive approach to attorney fees than did previous versions of the legislation. The amendments to HB 7085 retain language allowing deviations from the statutory attorney fee schedule that link trial lawyer’s compensation to benefits secured through claims litigation. But it shrinks the maximum hourly fee from $250 in the existing language to $150. Such awards would be tied to customary fees charged by defense — not plaintiffs — lawyers, depending on jurisdiction.

>>>WHAT ONE INSURANCE INSIDER THINKS: “The amendments will go a long way to help the system. Is it an overhaul that will significantly lower rates? No, but it will help stem the tide of future double digit increases by affecting behavior of claimants attorneys and the judges of compensation claims, along with attorney fee guidelines. The underlying bill addressed hospital costs that will also help. Of course, it could be tweaked and made better, but within the House self imposed parameters, it is a good of place to start as any. Late word is that Associated Industries may be waffling. They think the trial bar wrote it. They are wrong, Trial bar does not like this and will not support, as they would rather have nothing, which by the way is where we may very well end up based on the overall disposition of the Senate.”

TELEHEALTH, NURSE AUTHORITY MEASURE PASSES SECOND HOUSE PANEL via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools –-  The House Ways & Means Committee passed contentious legislation allowing advanced nurses who meet extensive education and experiential requirements to practice independently, without the supervision of a physician. A second component of HB 7011 regulates telehealth, allowing in-state and out-of-state professionals to use the technology. The bill also creates a tax credit for health insurers and health maintenance organizations that cover services provided by telehealth. The bill must pass the House Health & Human Services Committee before heading to the floor.

HOUSE PASSES REGULATIONS FOR UBER, LYFT via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Ride-booking companies have been pushing for statewide regulations so that their drivers are not subject to varied laws depending on what county or city they find themselves in. If the Senate passes the bill — up in its final committee hearing — local laws such as those charging fees in South Florida counties, Orlando and other large metropolitan areas around the state would all go away. The state law would demand drivers carry insurance of $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage. Local governments still would be able to keep pickup fees charged by ports and airports, so long as those ports charge taxi companies the same amount. The taxi companies continue to be against the legislation. They argue that what’s good for large cities is not necessarily what’s good for small towns.

HOUSE ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ SPONSOR SAYS BILL STILL IN PLAY via Florida Politics – Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila is keeping hope alive that a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods will garner enough votes for passage. “We had some late issues come up,” he said after Wednesday’s floor session. Lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, this week said the bill would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where booze is sold. But Avila said he disagreed with that reading of the bill and alcoholic beverage statutes. The latest issue came up after other critics raised concerns that gas stations would be allowed to sell distilled spirits under the measure. “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill,” Avila said.

USED NEWS – “Florida gambling bills with billions at stake are likely to come down to session wire” via Alexandra Glorioiso of the Naples Daily News on April 5; “Will lawmakers walk away from gambling?” via Jim Rosica on March 31.

STATE COULD OPEN UP ATHLETIC BOOSTERS AND FOUNDATIONS via The Associated Press –  The Florida House is moving ahead with a measure to repeal a state law that now allows university groups to keep most of their records private. If the bill becomes law athletic boosters and university foundations could only keep confidential information on the names of donors. The legislation would also prevent colleges and universities from using taxpayer money to pay for people who work for direct support organizations, which usually raise money to help pay for athletics and other university operations. The House this year started scrutinizing university spending and requested private records that showed how much university foundations spend on travel and salaries.

STATE MAY SPEND MONEY TO BOOST SECURITY AT JEWISH SCHOOLS via The Associated Press – House and Senate budget committees voted to set aside money for security in spending plans being drawn up by the Legislature … The amounts that legislators set aside range between $254,000 and $500,000. Rep. Randy Fine says the money would go to pay for security upgrades at day schools now serving around 10,000 children. Budget documents say part of the funding go to fences and installing bullet proof glass. Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to a report issued late last month by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

WTF? This remake is guaranteed to be funnier than the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart original. We can hear Rene Garcia saying, “Too tight. Too tight!”

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Health & Human Services Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7) that would eliminate the state’s certificate of need program when it meets at 8 a.m. in 17 House Office Building. The Judiciary Committee will tackle a proposed committee bill dealing with the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The committee will also discuss a bill (HB 1335) calling on the Legislature to acknowledge and apologize for the abuses at the reform school. The Commerce Committee will discuss a bill (HB 7085) dealing with workers’ compensation reform when it meets at 1:30 p.m. in 212 Knott. Over in the Senate, the Appropriations Committee will take up several proposals when it meets at 8 a.m. in 412 Knott. The Rules Committee will take up a bill (SB 340) to create statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft when it meets at 10:30 a.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. Greyhound doping is on the agenda when the Regulated Industries meets at 1 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: County commissioner from across the state are expected to speak out against proposals that would strip local governments of their home-rule authority during a Florida Association of Counties press conference at 9:30 a.m. on the fourth floor by the Senate Chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Consumer Protection Coalition will address the growing abuse of assignment of benefits during a press conference at 12:30 p.m. in front of the House Chamber doors.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Elizabeth Porter and Sen. Rob Bradley will hold a joint press conference to announce joint resolutions to designate April 2017 as “Springs Awareness Month” at 1 p.m. in Room 333 of The Capitol.

HAPPENING TODAY – FAMU DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Get ready to see a lot of orange and green in the Capitol on Thursday. Why? Well, it’s FAMU Day at the Capitol. Students, alumni, staff and administrators will use the day-long event to advocate on behalf of Florida A&M University and thank lawmakers for their support. The FAMU Student Government and FAMU National Alumni Association will provide free shuttle services to the Capitol throughout the day. Go Rattlers!

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will stop by the 2nd annual Build Tamp Bay, a technical career fair for high school students, at 9:15 a.m. at Port Tampa Bay – Cruise Terminal 2, 651 Channelside Drive in Tampa. He’ll then head to Gainesville for a “Fighting for Florida Jobs” roundtable at 3:30 p.m. at Optym, 76000 NW 5 Pl.

RICK SCOTT’S SEARCH FOR AGENCY LAW FIRMS WITH LEGISLATIVE CONNECTIONS COMES UP EMPTY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Hunting for what it calls potential conflicts of interest, Scott‘s office asked every state agency to disclose a case in which it employs a law firm that has a state legislator on its payroll. More than 30 agencies responded, but none said it has such an arrangement. Only the Department of Corrections appeared to hedge somewhat, telling Scott’s office that “it does not appear to have any current contracts with a law firm that employs a current Florida legislator.” Scott’s chief of staff, Kim McDougal, asked agencies to respond after learning that Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has received more than $235,000 in legal work from Enterprise Florida since 2014. A top Corcoran priority is to abolish Enterprise Florida, which he has repeatedly cited as an example of waste and “corruption” in state government.

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UNIVERSAL ORLANDO STEPS INTO CAPITOL BEER BATTLE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Universal Parks & Resorts is stepping into the middle of a bar fight between beer makers and distributors over legislation that would allow brewers to sponsor rides or events at major theme parks. The bill (SB 388) seeks to carve out an exemption for theme parks to a Prohibition-era law, known as “tied house evil,” that bans brewers from giving gifts or special deals to retail sellers. In Britain, a “tied house” is a bar required to sell beer from a particular company. The law is intended to keep brewers from creating monopolies and pushing out the competition by preventing rival beers from being sold. Supporters of the bill think the law is an unnecessary relic. “It’s got to be close to the most archaic, anti-competitive, heavily regulated regulatory statute on the books,” said Universal lobbyist Mac Stipanovich. Under the bill, brewers would be able to acquire sponsorships at theme parks with at least 25 acres and 1 million visitors per year. It would apply to Universal and Disney theme parks, but not connected areas such as City Walk or Downtown Disney.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Ivette O’Doski, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association; Pinch A Penny, Inc

Robert Beck, Adams Street Advocates: Quidel Corporation

Travis Blanton, Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: PP+K

Christian Caballero, Foley & Lardner: Blue Head Land & Cattle Co., LLC

Kevin Cabrera, Southern Startegy Group: Miami Downtown Development Authority

Jon Costello, Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: Heartland Education Consortium

Claudia Devant, Adams Street Advocates: The Children’s Forum; DataLogic Software, Inc.

Chris Dawson, GrayRobinson: Accelerated Learning Solutions Florida

Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: ExamWorks

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Argo Partners; SkyMed International (Florida) Inc.

Michael Harrell, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Recyclers Association

Corinne Mixon, Jessica Janasiewicz, Mixon & Associates: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and its Affiliates

Toni Large, Uhlfelder & Associates PA: Orange County Medical Society

Kimberly McGlynn, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Rural Economic Development Association

Sydney Ridley, Southern Strategy Group: Beer Industry of Florida, Inc

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Florida Crystals Corporation

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – PERSONNEL NOTE: CYNTHIA HEFREN NAMED CFO OF VISIT FLORIDA via Florida PoliticsHefren is coming home: She will be VISIT FLORIDA‘s next chief financial officer, President & CEO Ken Lawson announced Wednesday. Hefren most recently was Assistant State Audit Supervisor for the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor. But she’s a Florida state government veteran, previously serving as Director of Auditing for the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, and several other positions. She starts next Monday.

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JOSE MALLEA RAISES $50K IN THREE WEEKS IN HD 116 RACE via Florida Politics – The Miami Republican announced in March he was running to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. According to Mallea’s campaign, he raised $50,000 since filing to run for office March 9. “We are off to a strong start,” said Mallea.

DAVID RIVERA ETHICS CASE GATHERING DUST ON RICHARD CORCORAN’S DESK via Ann Howard of the Capitolist – With House Speaker Corcoran firmly positioning himself as a no-nonsense leader, taking up the matter of Rivera’s ethics issues should be low=hanging fruit – an easy way to score points and take a fellow Republican to the proverbial woodshed. It remains unclear what, if anything, Corcoran plans to do about it. Over the past two days, Corcoran declined several requests for a comment on the matter. So for now, at least, the ethics case against Rivera remains mothballed on the Speaker’s desk.

OIR OK’S 10,500 CITIZENS TAKEOUTS FOR JUNE via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – To assist in depopulation efforts, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved 10,511 policies to be removed from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in June. The takeouts have been approved for Weston Insurance Company. June takeouts bring the year’s total approved takeouts to 68,235. Only 11,399 policies have been removed from Citizens in 2017.

ELECTION SUPERVISOR’S ISLAM PRESENTATION CAUSES ALARM via The Associated Press – The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants an election official in Florida to cancel a presentation on Islam that he’s offering to voters and poll workers … Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis will present what he calls a “history of radical Islam” Thursday night. Stamoulis told the station his speech is an extension of something he calls “voter education.” He says he feels it’s an important issue for both voters and poll workers … CAIR says it’s inappropriate for an official to host such a polarizing event. Some groups are planning to protest the event.

LEGAL DEBATE OVER ARAMIS AYALA’S DECISION TURNS INTO HOCKEY GAME via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A debate in Orlando between former 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton and retired 18th Judicial Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton Jr. broke down into near chaos at times, with shouted interruptions leading to political accusations, a few insults, a bit of belittling, sarcasm and condescension, and angry protests of unfairness. And most of that wasn’t between the prosecutor and the judge who were officially squaring off, but between Ashton and the debate moderator, Orlando defense attorney Mark O’Mara. “I hoped this discussion would not become political but it almost immediately did,” said an exasperated-sounding Ashton, who lost the JC9 seat to Ayala in a nasty election battle last year, and then took the positions opposing her decision. “I hoped that somebody would show me a case or an interpretation or a rule or a statutory construction. “But all I’ve heard is you two yelling at me that I’m wrong!” “I haven’t yelled at you at all. I’m very soft-spoken,” corrected Eaton, quipping about his reputation on the bench.

MUST READ, PART 1 — WHY COPS SHOOT via Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Times — In September 2014, the Tampa Bay Times asked all of Florida’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies for reports generated any time an officer shot someone between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014. The newspaper analyzed more than 10,000 pages of police records, combed through hundreds of court documents and media reports, and conducted dozens of fresh interviews to build Florida’s most comprehensive database of policy shootings. The top line findings: Florida police shot 827 people in those six years, about one every two and a half days. More than half were fatal. Nearly one-fifth of the people shot were unarmed, or about 156 people. And about half of those were black, in a state where blacks make up just 15 percent of the population. That means unarmed black people were nearly eight times as likely to be shot as by police than whites.

MUST READ, PART 2 — FLORIDA EMBRACES ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION, EVEN AS POLITICAL DIVISIONS RUN DEEP via Jessica Bakeman of POLTICO Florida — In the first in a multi-part POLITICO series on the policies and politics behind the increasing move toward online education at the state’s public universities, Bakeman looks at the deep divisions among politicians and policymakers about whether virtual courses and degree programs can be accessible, affordable and high quality. The piece looks at Gov. Rick Scott’s push to move to a system of virtual education, while Senate President Joe Negron, one of the state university system’s biggest backers, continues to have a “strong wariness and skepticism” toward online education.

GUITARS OUST MINARETS AS HARD ROCK REDOES TAJ MAHAL CASINO via Associated Press Rock ‘n’ roll and guitars — lots of guitars — are in as the Hard Rock chain re-does Atlantic City’s former Trump Taj Mahal casino. The company owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe on Wednesday unveiled its $375 million plan for the shuttered casino resort, which it bought last month from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and plans to reopen by summer 2018. It will draw on the world’s largest collection of music memorabilia to help brand the new resort, with a decided New Jersey slant … “There will not be one — and underscore the word ‘one’ — piece of design, architecture, minaret or anything left over from the Taj Mahal,” Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. “We are removing it all.”

AMAZON PICKS OFF NFL THURSDAY NIGHT FROM TWITTER via Mae Anderson of The Associated Press – The e-commerce powerhouse will stream NFL Thursday Night games this season via its Amazon Prime video service, replacing Twitter. The live-streams of the games will be available to the estimated 65 million members of Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year and also includes other perks like free videos, books and shipping. That means that technically, the games won’t be free to stream, but they will still be carried by broadcast networks CBS or NBC, as well as simultaneously on the NFL Network … it’s a one-year deal worth close to $50 million … about five times what Twitter paid for the right to stream the games last year.

IT LOOKS LIKE A BERRY GOOD YEAR FOR FLORIDA BLUEBERRY FARMERS via Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times – There’s a sweet spot, after Chilean imports and before the Georgia harvest, in which Florida’s southern high bush berries are not just the only game in town. They’re the only game on Earth. This is not an accident. Scientists have worked with Florida growers for decades developing varieties that will ripen right when there isn’t competition. This year, they appear to have nailed it. In short, it’s an early season, having started near the beginning of March. And the yield is looking strong — maybe 20 million pounds, experts project. According to Alto Straughn, who has 750 acres of blueberries in north Florida and is co-owner of 230 acres in Georgia, this year’s season started 10 to 14 days early. “We picked 100,000 pounds last week,” he said. “That’s unheard of. Prices are really high right now… Last year everything was three to four weeks late.”

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY BUFFET LUNCH MENU Thursday’s Italian Day at the Governors Club with Tuscan white bean soup; Sicilian caprese salad – tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, red onion, chopped parsley & olive oil – Italian green salad – iceberg, romaine, red onion, Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, pepperoncini – seasonal greens; three dressing sections; beef steak pizzaiola; rosemary chicken; potato gnocchi with tomatoes, olive oil and basil; roasted garlic eggplant and grilled vegetables.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Tribune’er Rosemary Curtiss, former Rep. Jim Frishe, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Carolyn Johnston, Chelsea Murphy, and the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeremy Wallace.

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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