Sunburn for 4/24 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

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Okay, it’s not exactly a smackdown. But make no mistake: The New York Times is declaring emphatically that it’s moved on from the Nate Silver era. You’re predicting the Republicans are favored to take over the Senate? Take that, buddy! We’re picking the Dems. Now I’m not suggesting that the Times huffed and puffed and tried to come up with a different outcome than its former wunderkind. But it’s interesting that the paper’s launch of its new blog – The Upshot – blazed a different trail than Silver’s 538.

Silver, you may recall, is the data guru who gained a major following when he worked at the Times … When Silver relaunched his 538 site, he got hammered by some on the left for predicting a 60 percent chance that the GOP will capture the Senate this fall… Now comes The Upshot, run by former Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt, with its own ‘statistical election-forecasting machine.’ And that machine, after clanking into action, says theDemocrats have a 51 percent chance of keeping control of the Senate. About the same odds as a coin flip, says the paper. ‘The Republicans’ chances have been declining in recent weeks, falling from a recent high of 54 percent. This is mostly due to some unfavorable polls in Arkansas and Iowa,’ the Upshot says.

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Nobody is paying too much attention to the CD15 race just yet, and Alan Cohn is fine with that — for now.

The award-winning television journalist is running for office for the first time in his life, and it’s not a local or state seat. Cohn is the likely Democratic candidate to face Republican incumbent Dennis Ross in Congress this fall, and is taking it hard to Ross in campaign events throughout Polk and Hillsborough County, where the district resides.

Cohn seized on comments that Ross made last week about increasing the minimum wage at a town hall meeting this week in New Tampa, and reiterated them in Tampa. Ross told a young man who works at Arby’s and wants to increase his pay that doing so “does more harm to our economy … If the government’s going to tell me how much I can get paid and when I can work and when I can’t work, then we have a serious problem in this country.”

The 51-year-old Cohn is a longtime broadcast journalist perhaps best known locally for his work at WFTS-Ch. 28, and specifically his 2010 story about the existence of an undisclosed vacation home owned by the wife of then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman. Mearline Norman accepted $500,000 from deceased conservative activist Ralph Hughes, leading to an FBI investigation (the feds never pressed charges, but the story ultimately ended Norman’s political career).

A key policy difference between the two men is on immigration reform. Though Ross has been beset by immigration advocates at many town hall meetings in CD15 over the past year, he hasn’t bent at in all his opposition to comprehensive reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 13 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.


The widow of Congressman C.W. Bill Young says she no longer supports the man who campaigned as a “Bill Young Republican” and was elected to her husband’s seat in the House of Representatives.

“No, I won’t support him,” Beverly Young said in an interview. It’s quite a switch for Young, who appeared in a Jolly commercial and with him at the rally to announce his candidacy for Congress.

… ut Young is disappointed and upset that Jolly did not hire more of her husband’s staff to carry on what they started under the 22-term congressman, who died in October.

Jolly’s communications director Preston Rudie emailed a statement: “Congressman Jolly has great respect for Mrs. Young and considers her a friend.  Congressman Jolly has assembled a team that he believes can best serve the people of Pinellas County and that can continue the level of constituent service that Mr. Young was so rightfully known for.  Congressman Jolly did not make any staffing decisions nor speak with staff candidates prior to his election on March 11.” Young says Jolly lost her support because “he made promises to my husband that he was going to continue to carry on his legacy, and the first thing he did was dumped the people who made his legacy what it is,” she said. In a two-hour interview, Young described the breakdown of her relationship with Jolly, who she said stayed in the hospital with her while her before her husband died and even helped her pick out his casket. Now, Young says she won’t support or vote for him as he faces a re-election campaign for the fall. “He’s made a mockery out of my husband’s life and his legacy,” Young said. Beverly Young said her husband discussed the issue of his staff with Jolly – even describing the conversation as happening on Young’s deathbed – and that Jolly promised to keep them on for about a month during the transition.


Overbywon nearly 5-percent of the vote in last month’s special congressional election in Pinellas County, but has decided not to run for the seat in the regularly scheduled election this fall.

In a prepared statement, Overby thanked his supporters and his family, and said, “This is far from my last fight and this is not the last time my name will appear on a ballot.”

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$75 BILLION BUDGET TALKS ARE ALL WET via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Inking a $75 billion spending plan for Florida government will require some last-minute trading over wetlands, springs, Everglades, lakes and other water-related hometown projects.

With legislative budget negotiators closing in on their weekend deadline and signaling agreement on big-ticket transportation, education and tax-cutting items, the thorniest corner of the proposed budget has been the natural resources arena, where lawmakers are pushing to bring home scores of water-projects.

“Water projects are sort of the meat and potatoes sometimes of what members hear from their constituents back home, and working on a list of water projects is often difficult,” said Senate President Gaetz.

For instance, the House has funded a much larger segment of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s water projects, including $10 million for Lake Okeechobee farm projects, $9 million for hybrid wetlands treatment, and $7.5 million for “rural and family lands” conservation efforts.

The Senate has tucked away $81 million for lawmakers’ hometown water projects, while the House devoted only nestled away $56 million.

… The Senate wants to spend $22 million on springs protection, while the House is sitting on a $45 million offer.

Both chambers are far apart on beach restoration and land-conservation, too.

Adding to the complexity this year: incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli have both taken a serious interest in water-policy and are weighing in heavily on that area of the budget.

Crisafulli, for instance, has secured $10 million for the upper Indian River Lagoon much removal in his home turf of Brevard County.

“Both of the next presiding officers have expressed a real personal interest in water-related issues, so I wouldn’t be surprised if those are a subject of conversation all through the weekend,” Gaetzsaid.

Perhaps the biggest sticking point: the Senate has allotted $82 million for Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee projects, while the House wants to spend $50 million of that on a wastewatertreatment plant in the Florida Keys.

NEGRON ADVICE ON BUDGET: DON’T LEAVE CAPITOL via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

“One thing you learn when you get to Tallahassee is you don’t leave the Capitol building the weekend before session ends, because one of your projects may have been traded for someone who is still in the Capitol,” Negron said. “We’ll be working over the weekend and, of course, the presiding officers will have the last word on the budget.”


Specifics still need to be ironed out, but hospitals across Florida are already celebrating the news that a controversial funding model will not be implemented as planned this year.

The so-called “tiering” law would have required counties that use local dollars to draw down more federal money for hospitals to begin sharing that money statewide. Jackson Health System in Miami was bracing for a $140 million hit as a result of the new law. Tampa General Hospital said its loss would have been $43 million. Miami Children’s Hospital and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg estimated they would collectively see funding cut $17.6 million.

The Legislature’s two health care budget chiefs, Rep. Matt Hudson and Sen. Denise Grimsley agreed this morning that the law should be delayed at least for a year. That gives the state time to complete a study of its existing Medicaid funding mechanisms and come up with recommendations, as required by the federal government.


Investors in nursing homes in Florida would be shielded from lawsuits when residents are abused or neglected under broad new provisions authorized in a bill the Florida House sent to the governor.

The bill, SB 670, passed 109-7 after it had been passed in the Senate. The measure has the backing of the Florida Justice Association, the association representing trial lawyers, and AARP of Florida. But it was vigorously opposed by elder advocates and Tampa-based trial lawyer Jim Wilkes, who has successfully sued dozens of nursing homes that have attempted to shield their assets.

The National Organization for Women Florida Chapter and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, and union groups representing the health care workers in nursing homes, are among the groups that warned the measure will not only hurt residents of nursing homes but subject individual staff members to lawsuits while the owners are shielded.

The measure would stop Wilkes’ strategy in Florida by preventing “passive investors” from being named in a lawsuit unless a court determines they have had an active role. Wilkes contends the bill is written too broadly to describe who is considered a passive investor and restricts discovery in such a way that it will make it more difficult to persuade a judge that there is a link between the investor and the nursing home.

The Florida Health Care Association, with represents nursing homes, has argued that it is impossible for all nursing home operators to hide all its assets and this will not stop anyone from getting sued.

The Florida Justice Association, the trial lawyers association to which Wilkes is not a member, endorsed the legislation after fighting similar proposals for the three previous sessions.


The Senate has amended a bill from the House that re-works mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

The bill passed 36-0 Wednesday and was sent back to the House.

HB 7035 would bring Florida law in line with a U.S. Supreme Court 2012 ruling that says that life without parole for juveniles violates the Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment, leaving Florida law in need of an update. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon leaves the mandatory minimum for first-degree murder, creates judicial sentencing reviews and denies those reviews for those previously convicted of violent felonies before committing first-degree murder.

The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that juvenile brains are still developing, and they deserve an opportunity for rehabilitation.

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On Thursday, both the Senate and House will hold a floor sessions for much of the day.

The Senate agenda includes bills to establish single-gender public school programs, requiring doctors to perform fetus viability tests prior to performing an abortion and urging the President of the United States to issue final approval for construction and completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The House will address human trafficking and sexual abuse of children, a bill modifying rules for sports facilities to receive tax incentives; another bill permitting trauma centers to continue operating, and one removing the cap on the number of registered pharmacy technicians that Board of Pharmacy may authorize licensed pharmacists to oversee.

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House and Senate budget negotiations have taken a frustrating turn with funding for VPK.

While there is a lot of good stuff in the Early Education budget, such as a $5 million increase in School Readiness funding and a School Readiness Provider performance fund that could set up a system for raising quality standards, a small base allocation increase was what the VPK provider community was most focused on.

And that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Despite Gov. Scott’s active support for a $108 per student allocation increase, and the House pushing for the same, the Senate doesn’t look like it will budget in opposition. See for yourself on line 46b.

The current Senate offer does not include a base increase for VPK, and in doing so, represents an effective decrease in the overall total going to Early Learning.

The case for increasing VPK funding is clear. While Florida ranks first in access for prekindergarten in the nation, the National Institute for Early Education Research ranks Florida’s VPK Program 35th among 38 states in per pupil funding, which is $2,383 for the current year. In addition to the benefit to hardworking parents, there are more than 5,000 small and large private businesses that provide VPK programs annually to more than 174,000 children statewide.

The approximate $17 million increase that would fund this program more adequately is a drop in the proverbial bucket — especially considering that the legislature is contemplating spending $10 million on a bungee jumping building in Miami.


Take a quick inventory of what Floridians want and need and lack and are waiting for. Think briefly through the long list of embarrassingly underfunded programs: Medicaid reimbursement for physicians and nursing homes to care for our most vulnerable; waiver programs for people with disabilities; arts and sciences classrooms; teachers; child protection investigators; space to house violent sex offenders…

Do I need to continue?

But forget all of that. Because here’s where your next $10 million in tax dollars might go: a flippin’ building. It’s a cool-looking building, I’ll give it that. It’s an open-sided, bobby-pin shaped spire dubbed “SkyRise Miami.”

Miami, it turns out, doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building. And apparently, that’s a problem (at least for the developers who wish to build one).

SkyRise will be the tallest building in Miami. For its 1,000 feet on a tiny piece of land behind Downtown’s Bayside, it will cost $300 to $400 million to build. And if that were $300 to $400 million of the private developer’s dollars, why not?

But legislative budget writers are looking like they might give the project a hefty wad of hard-earned cash, too, and that’s terribly uncool even in a year with a surplus.

SkyRise will house a nightclub, amphitheater, flight simulator, bungee jump, and a 50-story high-speed drop ride that will give riders the experience of a “free fall followed by the jolt of extremely rapid deceleration.”

I’m glad the SkyRise developers gave us that vocabulary, because it is ironically befitting of a project that will take $10 million in state dollars while children free fall in foster care. While parents free fall in the attempt to provide for a disabled child but can’t do both that and work. While doctors free fall out of the Medicaid program because they’re losing money on each child they treat. While schools rapidly decelerate fine arts programs. While sex offenders free fall from custody and children in foster care aren’t checked in on nearly enough.

That’s no thrill. It’s an offensive waste when we could be using extra cash to solve real problems for Floridians.

A developer who can spend $300 to $400 million to build such an interesting, hurricane-proof spectacle don’t need the extra $10 million gimme. And our lawmakers shouldn’t give it.

This appropriation should be the first to experience “extremely rapid deceleration.”


House Democrats complain that the Republican-run Legislature is leaving a lot of “unfinished business” in the final two weeks of its 2014 session.

“We’re spending the time squabbling back and forth and wasting time that we could be helping Florida families,” House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said at a news conference.

With dozens of Democrats clustered around him, Thurston said the top neglected item has been expansion of the Medicaid program, for the second straight year. Gov. Scott last year reversed his previous opposition and said the state should accept $51 billion in federal funding for expanding the health care program for the working poor, under the federal Affordable Care Act, but the GOP-run Legislature has adamantly rejected the idea.

Rep. Karen Castor Dentel said lawmakers seem intent on working out a way to extend more tuition vouchers so students in struggling private schools can attend charter schools or private academies. She said the GOP leadership also wants to spend $100 million on construction needs or private and charter schools, while public schools are in desperate need of repairs and expansion to meet growing enrollment.

Rep. Mark Pafford said the legislative leadership has devoted extensive hearings to overhauling the Florida Retirement System. Conflicting bills in the House and Senate are likely to be compromised in the closing days of the session, but Democrats have insisted that the FRS is in no trouble and that GOP leaders are just trying to get the state out of the pension business by moving new employees into a market-based investment plan.

Rep. Joe Saunders said lawmakers have ignored discrimination against gay people in employment and public accommodations. There is still time to take up such legislation, he said, but there is no political motivation to do so.


I had intended to offer a half-time report on the Florida Legislature’s 60-day legislative session, but the majority of the action occurs in the last two weeks — more accurately, in the last few days.

As the legislative session enters its most action-packed phase, the best predictor of a bill’s outcome is where legislative leadership is on the issue.

While individual members exercise some free will during the committee process, the last 10 days are carefully scripted within each chamber — the Florida House and the Florida Senate.

To set the stage, the budget conference between the House and the Senate has begun to work out the differences in the annual spending plan. To some extent, that too is micromanaged by the Legislature’s leadership when they release the budget allocations, forcing spending to conform to breakdowns by area such as education, health, criminal justice, transportation and the environment.

Gov. Scott, Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford all had pretty limited agendas. All three wanted to put money aside in reserves for use in times of a budget shortfall. It appears as though that is happening to the tune of $3 billion.

Another area of agreement is tax cuts. Again, it seems all three will be able to claim victory with $500 million in tax cuts and fee reductions. And, because state revenue has increased by billions of dollars in the past few years, all three called for increased spending in many parts of the budget, including education — albeit not historic as some might claim for education.

What else does Scott want? He asked the Legislature to reverse tuition increases in college-tuition rates. The Legislature seems willing to grant only a partial reduction, denying him a full win on that issue.


I frequently travel on business to Jacksonville and have used local cabs to get to and from the airport. On a recent trip, the cab I was dispatched can only be described as less-than-suitable. It was old, smelled like cigarette smoke, the air conditioning didn’t work, and I had to dig between seat cushions, assorted crumbs and trash to find a broken seat-belt locking mechanism.

Last week in Jacksonville, I tried Uber. My car showed up early. It was a late-model sedan. It was clean. Everything from the power windows, air conditioning and seat belts all worked.

Even better, the driver was a delightful man who knew how to carry on a conversation using flawless English, with just a slight Sudanese accent. His name was Abbas. He came to the U.S. as a political refugee from Sudan 10 years ago. When he arrived, he had little more than the shirt on his back. A decade later, he has a college education, owns a fleet of 10 cars and employs over a dozen people.

Abbas is an American success story with deep lessons about the value of a good education, picking yourself up from nothing and turning yourself into something, through hard work and determination.

He has learned a lot about American government and burdensome regulations by helping with Uber’s fight in Tallahassee to break the monopoly that traditional cabs have in most markets.

Hillsborough County is one of those markets. In fact, we’re one of the worst.


Another poor decision by a local politician. When is it going to stop?

State Rep. Dane Eagle has disappointed his constituency and embarrassed himself with his DUI arrest early Monday in Tallahassee.

… Eagle must understand that securing a level of trust among a constituency is very difficult, especially in Southwest Florida, where we just experienced the demise of another public official, former U.S. Congressman Trey Radel, who was arrested on cocaine charges and ultimately resigned his seat.

Now, Eagle must re-evaluate his political future and his life. One DUI is too many for someone who we trusted to represent us at the highest degree.

… A message to our other elected officials: Stop embarrassing us.


You’ve seen how many campaign ads where a politician says he cares about the “small business community”?

Uncountable, probably.

These candidates may flank such statements with their views on taxes, regulations, or quality of life. But if you ask most employers what their greatest challenge is, day to day, here is what you will hear: finding qualified employees.

Our system is designed on a flawed assumption that high school graduates have mastered basic skills necessary for being productive in some area of work.

In reality, however, employers read through dozens if not hundreds of applications to find one that exhibits basic mastery in English and Math. Then, upon making what are the best possible hires, employers put substantial investment into retraining or remediating employees on things that should probably have already been learned.

This dismal view of our state’s workforce does have a bright light of hope, however.

Over the past 15 years, Florida has seen dramatic improvements in student performance. More high school students are taking and passing advanced placement courses, more are graduating, and more are performing at or above their grade levels. Florida students are surpassing the national average in multiple skills, and have improved at a far higher rate than elsewhere in the country. In fact, Florida is the only state to reduce the achievement gap between African American and White students since 2011.

But that’s not enough.

Employers know this. I know this, from having read through thousands of cover letters for jobs I’ve advertised.

The Florida Standards are the next step to ensure Florida businesses can succeed to their full potential in the years to come.

Without adequate, home-grown talent pools, employers lose out on productivity. They recruit from out of state. They spend valuable time and money doing what schools should have already done.

By embracing the Florida Standards, Florida’s business community is sending a signal to lawmakers and aspiring politicians that their talking points on small businesses are incomplete without a firm commitment to academic standards, too.

Florida’s 15-year lesson has shown that strict accountability measures, reliable tests, and high standards are a recipe for improvement. Building on this platform is the most important thing that lawmakers can do to ensure true economic development in our state.

That is a campaign ad small businesses would relate to.

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Putnam is joining a group of state lawmakers and agency leaders in an ambitious attempt to get Floridians to eat and live healthier.

The state Agriculture Commissioner, together with Sens. Rene Garcia and Bill Montford among others are launching “Living Healthy in Florida,” a new multi-agency campaign beginning Wednesday to help educate residents on better ways to buy and prepare meals, using fresh Florida foods.

Included in the Living healthy toolkit are common health and wellness messages, as well as a harvesting calendar of Florida fruits and vegetables for families to plan healthy meals around the region’s produce seasons. The initial program will also include information on 30 products, with room to add more of over 300 products grown in Florida.

For agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, United Health Care Community Plan and Florida Healthy Kids, as well as private businesses, information is provided in a format for easy sharing on websites, newsletters and social media.

Each school district in the state gets an electronic copy of the toolkit, and the department will be working with the districts throughout the year, to coordinate harvest schedule changes with meal planning.

The goal of “Living Healthy in Florida,” he adds, is to make the most of the well-established link between proper nutrition and academic success.


A decision by a divided three-judge state appeals court on Wednesday defended the role of a contractor helping the City of Hollywood observe motorist violations with Red-Light Cameras.

In a 2-1 ruling, The Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned a Broward County court decision to dismiss the red-light camera case against motorist Eric Arem.

Arem’s lawsuit focused on American Traffic Solutions, Inc., which contracts with Hollywood to provide both Red-Light Cameras and the computerized system for processing violations.

Although Hollywood traffic-enforcement officers are the ones to decide which motorists will be cited, the company mails out notices of violations and, if needed, issue uniform traffic citations.

Arem challenged his alleged red-light camera violation, and the claim was supported by a county judge — ruling that state law did not allow for contractors to impart uniform traffic citations to the court clerk and found that traffic-enforcement officer must furnish the information.

However, the appeals court disagreed on Wednesday.

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There have been some epic match-ups in past Final Fours of TallyMadness — the online voting competition to determine Florida’s “best” lobbyist — but few of them measure up to the championship of the 2014 tournament.

It’s Jon Johnson of Johnson & Blanton vs. Jim Magill of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney Fowler White & Boggs.

It’s #TeamJB versus the governor of The Governors Club.

#1 seed Johnson made his way to the championship game by knocking-off Mark Delegal of Holland & Knight, who seemed determine to win it all. There’s no doubt we’ll see Delegal making another deep run in TallyMadness.

#8 seed Magill knocked Mr. Cinderella, Scott Ross of Floridian Partners. The clock struck midnight for Ross as Magill rallied on Tuesday to make it to the big game.

Voting in the championship game ends at noon so that I can get the trophy etched and present it to the winner.

DAVID JOHNSON SUMS IT UP BEST: “It wasn’t lost on many of us in TLH how appropriate the votes rolled in upon selecting the final two for the Madden Trophy: Jim Magill, a good friend who gave Steve his first job in politics in 1994 during the drive to win that first Republican majority in the Florida Senate; and Jon Johnson, such a good friend that sweet Carrie gave Jon one of Steve’s ties to wear when we all, sadly, had to say goodbye.”


On Context Florida: Gov. Rick Scott’s attempts to attract Hispanics is overtly transparent, says Daniel Tilson. To illustrate the point, Tilson employs a theoretical conversation between Scott and two “intrepid” reporters. Jeb Bush has earned more than $2-million for serving on the board of Tenet Health Care, a hospital company that strongly supported Obamacare, Martin Dyckman writes. The impression that he had anything to do with the program the GOP loves to hate will hound the former Florida governor if he decides to run for president. Curt Clawson became, essentially, the newest member of the U.S. House in Southwest Florida’s 19th District on Tuesday, which Jamie Miller says demonstrates the power of self-financed campaigns.  If U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor wants to show support for drivers and small businesses in the 14th District, Ned Bowman, Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenient Store Association, suggests she take a stand on the nation’s outdated ethanol mandate, which continues to put drivers and businesses in harm’s way.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Ed Montanari, first among us in the ‘burg.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.