Sunburn for 5/3 – 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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Which is far better than expected. More importantly, the February, March, and April average is 238,000 added, which is strong. But it is tempered by more than 800,000 people leaving the workforce.


Eight graphs tell you everything you need to know from today’s jobs report. Pay attention to the change in the labor force.

THE ‘BLAME BUSH’ ERA IS ENDING via Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight

Nearly as many people think the current economy is Obama’s doing. Less than half think he inherited our problems from Bush.

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Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who in 2010 campaigned on bringing Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants to the Sunshine State, stood in front of a crowd of undocumented students, pledging to sign a bill that would grant them lower tuition.  He also said he would sign a bill legalizing a strain of medical marijuana for cancer patients and epileptic children.

Several “Dreamers”— immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — stood behind him. The Legislature passed the bill today and sent it to Scott’s desk.

State Democrats quickly pointed out that in 2011, Scott said he “completely” opposed allowing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, called it a “deathbed conversion” and pointed out that Scott vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed the same students to get drivers licenses.

The change of heart in Florida is reflective of a pivot away from Tea Party ideals that helped usher Scott into office and characterized the Florida Legislature in recent years as it passed bills restricting abortion, cutting early voting days, expanding gun rights and reducing spending.

Florida will be the first state in the South to legalize any medical marijuana use when Scott signs the cannabis bill. The state’s voters will decide on a more expansive ballot referendum to legalize medical marijuana for other diseases in November. Also likely to be on the ballot, former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, who is leading Scott in the polls as he runs to get his old job back.

The Legislature also killed a bill backed by the National Rifle Association, which would have allowed unlicensed people to carry firearms during mandatory evacuations.

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FOR THE RECORD – The Florida Legislature adjourned the 2014 session at 10:40 p.m. Friday after approving a $77.1 billion budget.

5 BIGGEST QUESTIONS OF THE 2014 SESSION ANSWERED via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print

The session for the most part did live up to billing as an election-year offering designed to help Gov. Scott.

Here then are this year’s biggest questions answered:

1. Is this year’s gambling legislation the real deal, or is it all for show? It was pretty much just a show. The deep divides over gambling remained in force and halfway through the session both the House and Senate shut down any consideration of any serious legislation.

2. Will the Republican-controlled Legislature really approve in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants? Yes. The Florida House is poised on the final day of the session to pass the bill and send it to Scott. And Scott plans to sign the bill once it hits his desk.

  1.   Testing vs. vouchers Well, this one (headed) down to the wire.

Concerns over testing prompted the Senate sponsor of this year’s bill to expand Florida’s private school voucher program to pull his bill from consideration. But the House then attached the bill that would offer vouchers to middle-income families to a bill that also deals with educational services for disabled children that is a top priority for Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner.

But the Senate bill got tangled up on the 59th day and Democrats refused to allow the Senate to take up the House legislation. The procedural misstep has put the bill in jeopardy of dying on the final day. Weatherford predicted that the bill would still pass before the Legislature ends Sine Die.

4. Could Rick Scott still have a tough session?

The answer was sort of.

Clearly the looming prospect of Scott’s re-election hung over the entire session. Controversial proposals were jettisoned repeatedly as it became apparent that legislative leaders had no intention of sending anything too polarizing to Scott’s desk.

But in other ways Scott fared well. He got most, if not all, of his tax cut package. His spending recommendations were not completely followed but he got a lot of what he asked for and the Senate gave a thumbs up to his appointments.

5. Will there be a libertarian wave during this year’s session?

Kind of, sort of. The Legislature is expected on its final day of session to pass a bill that would authorize the use of a strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” for medical purposes.

Many other pieces of legislation to loosen up on government regulation crashed and burned, whether it was getting rid of red light cameras or deregulating the sale of liquor in grocery stores.

And then there was the big cluster over craft breweries and whether or not they could sale certain sizes of beer known as growlers. The intense firefight between the big beer distributors and the craft breweries over what kind or regulation is needed has not been resolved and the bill is expected to die in the Florida House on the final day.

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The Florida Legislature approved a new budget Friday night, right before it ended its annual 60-day session.

The Senate passed the budget unanimously, while the House vote was 102-15.

The new budget is 3.5 percent higher than last year’s budget and includes a boost in funding for schools, child welfare and projects to battle water pollution.

Legislators came into the annual session with a $1.2 billion budget surplus. They used part of the surplus to pay for $500 million in tax and fee cuts, including a rollback in auto registration fees.

But the extra money also enabled them to spread it around on dozens of hometown projects.

The budget heads next to Gov. Rick Scott, who can veto individual spending items.


Here are 10 things to know about the spending plan:

BUDGET TOTAL: The final budget is nearly $77.1 billion, or an increase of more than from last year. It covers spending starting July 1 through June 30, 2015.

CHILD WELFARE: The state’s child welfare agency is getting nearly $50 million for child protection efforts including hiring nearly 300 employees to help bring down the number of cases handled by investigators.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, got an increase in funding from $63 million to $74 million. Gov. Rick Scott had asked for $100 million.

ENVIRONMENT: Legislators set aside $170 million for projects intended to help the Indian River Lagoon and other water bodies dealing with discharges from Lake Okeechobee. There’s also $30 million for protect Florida’s springs and $25 million for beach restoration.

HEALTH CARE: The budget does increase overall spending on Medicaid, the state’s safety net program. But the budget does not include any federal aid to expand Medicaid eligibility to roughly 1 million Floridians. Legislators have also set aside money to provide services to 1,260 disabled people on a waiting list.

HEALTH INSURANCE: Florida legislators kept intact low-cost health insurance for legislative staff, Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials. Scott, a multimillionaire, currently pays less than $400 a year for family coverage. He had recommended raising the cost. Legislators pay the same higher rate as other rank-and-file state workers.

SCHOOLS: It boosts spending for public schools by $575 million and would increase per-student funding by about $176. But the increase in school funding relies on a nearly $400 million rise in local property taxes. The new budget includes nearly $600 million in money for construction projects for public schools, universities and colleges. That total includes $75 million for charter schools.

STATE WORKERS: There are no across-the-board pay raises in this year’s budget. Legislators did include a 5-percent pay raise for highway patrol troopers and other state law-enforcement officers. There are also pay increases for court employees and assistant prosecutors and public defenders.

STATE WORKERS: There are no across-the-board pay raises in this year’s budget. Legislators did include a 5-percent pay raise for highway patrol troopers and other state law-enforcement officers. There are also pay increases for court employees and assistant prosecutors and public defenders.

TAXES: Lawmakers agreed to cut taxes and fees by $500 million as part of the budget package. The fee cuts include a rollback of auto registration fees. But legislators have also agreed to a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. Shoppers in August will be to purchase clothes, school supplies tax free during that period. Legislators have also agreed to sales tax holidays for energy efficient appliances and hurricane preparation supplies.

TUITION: There are no university tuition hikes included in the budget this year. Plus, legislators have passed a bill that would curtail the ability of universities to charge tuition above the rate set annually by legislators.


At 2:18 p.m. on the day the budget needed to be finalized, a notice came out that House and Senate budget chiefs were holding another meeting. It lasted roughly 30 seconds, but added $4.5 million to the state’s spending plan.

Of that, $2 million was for Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit headed by the daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book. The nonprofit, which helps children who are the victims of sexual abuse, ended up with $3.8 million in the Legislature’s final budget.

It’s emblematic of how the state’s spending plan comes together, largely behind the scenes with a few brief public meetings. Because of a 72-hour “cooling off period” required by law, legislators had to finalize the budget Tuesday in order to vote on it by Friday, the last day of this year’s legislative session.

Each year, lawmakers stress that the process is transparent because they periodically have public meetings. During those meetings, staff members briskly read remaining differences between the House and Senate spending plans.

There is no information given about why one chamber decided to increase or decrease a spending area, decided to add or remove a project, or moved around pots of money.

Hanging in the balance is billions of taxpayer dollars. When budget-writers went into the final stage of negotiations — known as “conference committee” — both chambers agreed to allocate roughly $75 billion in the 2014-15 state budget, a number that jumped to $77.1 billion during final negotiations.

There is an element of secrecy to the entire budget process, which is hashed out by a mix of staff, lobbyists and lawmakers who sit on the Senate’s budget-writing committees.

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DREAMERS TUITION BILL HEADS TO GOVERNOR’S DESK via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

In a dramatic shift of policy, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a measure granting discounted tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants.

The bill would grant in-state tuition rates to thousands of undocumented students, so called “Dreamers,” provided they have attended Florida public schools for at least three years prior to applying for the fee waivers.

The controversial measure was recently embraced by Gov. Scott and has been a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, whose chamber passed it 84-32.

The passage is an about-face for a governor and state government firmly in sync with tea party conservatism in recent years. Scott campaigned on passing an Arizona-style immigration law and opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in 2011. But facing a serious challenge from likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, he made his way to the House floor to congratulate lawmakers after the chamber passed the bill on an 84-32 vote.

The estimated cost to the state’s colleges and universities would be about $49 million. Virginia became the 20th state in the nation this week when it adopted similar legislation.

A day earlier, the Senate had reversed course and adopted HB 851, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez.

But the House still had to beat back two attempts to amend the bill Friday, which could have endangered the bill on the final day of session.

DEMOCRATS POINT OUT: For the second time, House Democrats made up the majority of votes for passage of the DREAM’ers bill.


Mayra Rubio was 3 months old when she moved to Homestead with her brother and parents from Guadalajara, Mexico.

After she graduated from South Dade Senior High, she realized she could not afford the out-of-state tuition for public colleges and universities. Undocumented students do not get the opportunity to pay in-state tuition rates.

Mayra used to work on her father’s farm when she couldn’t afford to be a college student. Now that she attends Miami-Dade College, she still offers to lend a hand at the fruit stand her father manages.

So instead, Mayra worked with her father in the fields and groves of South Miami-Dade County. She picked and packed avocados and mangos.

Lawmakers have been debating allowing students like Mayra to pay in-state college tuition rates for public colleges and universities. The Senate is passed an amended version of the bill Thursday. It goes back to the House–which passed an earlier version–one more time.

Mayra didn’t have to wait for the vote. She’s paying in-state tuition as a student at Miami-Dade College after her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application was approved.

With her degree, Mayra wants to help people in Mexico.


The Senate voted 30-9 to allow doctors to prescribe low-THC medical marijuana to patients suffering from cancer or epilepsy.

The move came after Sen. Rob Bradley beat back efforts to open marijuana production to more growers in Florida. Bradley warned that the late-hour amendment could endanger the legislation.

Gov. Scott has said that he would sign the legislation into law.

The measure would allow doctors to prescribe a liquid form of marijuana rich in cannabidiol, or CBD. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound with produces a high.

Under the bill, the state’s Department of Health would establish four dispensing organizations in Florida to dispense the low-THC pot dubbed Charlotte’s Web.

The department also would create a DOH Office of Compassionate Use, which would compile a registry of patients who doctors consider eligible for being treated with the marijuana strain.

Beginning in January 2015, doctors treating patients for cancer or “severe and persistent muscle spasms” associated with epilepsy could prescribe the low-THC marijuana. Only residents of Florida could obtain a prescription, under the bill.


Rep. Katie Edwards, a key architect of the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014,” called on Gov. Scott to sign Senate Bill 1030 into law.

For two years, Edwards has sponsored legislation to allow people suffering from cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other illnesses to be able to use medical marijuana legally under the direction of a licensed Florida physician. She and other Florida Democrats, including state Sen. Jeff Clemens, have argued that cannabis-derived therapies rich in cannabidiol (CBD) can improve the quality of life for the seriously ill. Edwards won the support of Republicans and Democrats by focusing on the need for expedited research and development of CBD in treating children with epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

This year, Edwards — an attorney with a strong background in agriculture — worked in bipartisan fashion in crafting the legislation that won overwhelming approval in both the House and Senate this week and is now awaiting action by the governor. She successfully argued that the bill should include legalized access to low-THC cannabis for Floridians suffering from cancer, ALS and Parkinson’s Disease.

“With more than 125,000 children and 380,000 adults in Florida with severe epilepsy and other debilitating illnesses, it’s time to ease the suffering and bring relief,” said Edwards. “I urge the governor to promptly sign Senate Bill 1030 into law.”


After a half-day standoff, the Legislature voted to let the state’s main school-voucher program expand its enrollment in exchange for more oversight of student-performance and the organization running the system.

Voucher supporters overcame Senate opposition Friday by lopping a 141-page amendment onto an unrelated education bill (SB 850) that also creates “personal learning accounts” for special-needs students and abolishes “special diplomas” — a priority of incoming Senate President Gardiner who has said the diplomas are worthless and wants universities to instead work to develop better technical training.

“That’s pretty important to me,” Gardiner said.

Friday evening, the House briefly considered stripping the special-diploma language but ultimately left it intact to avoid a late-night meltdown, passing it 70-44 largely along party lines.

The bill would allow children in foster care to be eligible for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, as well as tasking the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University with overseeing an evaluation process of how scholarship students stack up next to public-school students. it also raises the income-level for families to be eligible to qualify for vouchers to 260 percent of poverty.

The proposal would place new requirements for audits and background screenings on the organization, Step Up for Students, that administers the scholarship program.

Senate President Gaetz had slowed the voucher language earlier in the session because he wanted the House to go along with increased “accountability” for student-testing. He later scaled back what that means.

The bill doesn’t include requirements of which standardized test voucher students would have to take, but would provide what Gaetz says is “more than i thought we would receive” by allowing parents to evaluate student improvement over time relative to public school students.

“On the academic-accountability level, we’re getting everything we wanted,” Gaetz said. “Schools will know what’s working based on testing that’s valid, not testing that’s sort of homegrown or home cooking.

“Every student who benefits from a tax-credit scholarship will now take an approved test, every one of those students will now have a specific performance report that will be vetted by an objective, third party.”


FEA: “The members of FEA are chagrined by the continued march to expand voucher schools that are largely unregulated, don’t have to follow the state’s academic standards, don’t have to hire qualified teachers and don’t have to prove to the state that they are using public money wisely. There’s no link between vouch­ers and gains in student achievement. There’s no conclu­sive evidence that vouchers improve the achievement of students who use them to attend private school. Yet the Legislature continues to expand voucher schools instead of providing proper funding for our neighborhood public schools. It’s especially galling that the voucher expansion was tacked on to an unrelated bill on the final day of the session.”

Foundation for Florida’s Future: “Florida student achievements show hardworking teachers and student-centered policies are making an impact, but we have further to go to ensure every child is receiving a high-quality education. Our Legislature, with the guidance of President Gaetz, Speaker Weatherford, Senate Education Chairman Legg and House Education Chair O’Toole, acted to keep Florida on a path that places student learning above all else, and that’s good news for students.”

Students First: “Increasing the tax credit scholarship amount means low-income students will have more options for lifting themselves out of what may often seem like hopeless circumstances. Children who need it most will have a chance to get a better education, end generational poverty in their families, and secure a brighter future for themselves and their children. … On behalf of the parents and students we represent, we extend our sincere gratitude to those who fought to find common ground on this school choice bill. We look forward to working with these leaders in the future to expand the program cap and help more kids participate in the program.”

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3 SALES TAX HOLIDAYS APPROVED via The Associated Press

Shoppers buying clothes and schools supplies will get a three-day tax holiday in August.

The Legislature approved a tax cut package and sent it to Gov. Scott.

The $105 million tax cut package includes a back-to-school sales tax holiday that would last from Aug. 1-3.

Under the bill (HB 5601), shoppers would not have to pay sales taxes on any clothes worth $100 or less. Shoppers would not have to pay taxes on school supplies worth $15 or less or on the first $750 of a personal computer.

The bill also includes a three-day sales tax holiday in September on the purchase of energy efficient appliances. It also includes a nine-day sales tax holiday on the sale of hurricane preparation supplies such as batteries and generators.


Legislators could begin their session a bit earlier in 2016.

The Florida House on Thursday voted in favor of a bill (HB 9) that would start the annual legislative session in January of that year.

The vote was 93-22. The legislation heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The 60-day session now starts in March. Legislators every 10 years meet in January when they are drawing new Congressional and legislative districts.

Florida’s constitution requires the session start in March in odd-numbered years but leaves it up to legislators to fix the date in even-numbered years.

Rep. Alan Williams voted against the bill after arguing it could harm the economy in the state capital if the session was held during winter months.


Lawmakers passed a measure clarifying what community association managers can do without having to hire an attorney.

The bill (HB 7037) heads to Gov. Scott for review.

Hired managers of homeowners associations sought help after concerns that some of their duties constituted unlicensed – and thus illegal – lawyering.

The bill passed spells out those duties, like completing lien and delinquency paperwork, and codifies the forms they need to use.

It was sponsored in the House by Rep. Ross Spano.

Mark Anderson, lobbyist for community association managers, called the measure “a hard fought victory.”

He asked Gov. Rick Scott to sign the bill into law “so that homeowners will no longer be in jeopardy of being forced to hire costly lawyers to hire the pool cleaner or declare a quorum at a condo board meeting.”


The Legislature passed a sweeping bill aimed at overhauling the child welfare system Friday and is planning to devote tens of millions of dollars to hiring new investigators under a separate budget request after hundreds of child-abuse related deaths in the past five years.

The most significant change to the bi-partisan bill, which unanimously passed the House 117-0, clearly states that protecting a child from abuse is paramount and more important than keeping a family together. That’s a significant shift for the Department of Children and Families, which has placed a premium on putting fewer children in foster care and, instead, offering family services while the child remains at home.

Experts say there are gaps in those services and lax enforcement, usually nothing more than a verbal agreement from a parent to stay away from an abusive spouse, attend parenting classes or to quit drugs. The bill also defines that safety plans can no longer rely on verbal promises from parents.

Lawmakers dedicated $47 million to child safety, including hiring nearly 200 new investigators to try to lessen caseloads per worker. Gov. Scott wanted to hire about 400 investigators.

There’s also $5 million for at-risk families with young children who need substance abuse treatment after advocates complained that lawmakers had overlooked funding to treat mental health and substance abuse problems that are at the root of most child deaths.

Another $8 million will go to sheriff’s offices handling abuse cases. Roughly $10 million is slated for DCF’s foster care contractors for services including hiring more caseworkers to deal with the influx of new foster children.


The Legislature has passed a bill that re-works mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

The bill passed the House 115-0 Friday evening and passed the Senate 36-0 last week. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Scott.

The bill (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 bill 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.

STADIUM BILL CLEARS THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

The Legislature passed a plan to force future sports stadium projects to jockey against each other when they come to the House and Senate seeking taxpayer subsidies.

The bill, HB 7095, passed by an 89-27 vote and has immediate ramifications for $600 million in stadium construction plans — the new Major League Soccer stadiums proposed in Orlando and Miami, as well as the already-underway Daytona International Speedway renovations.

Orlando will be ready soon to break ground on an $85 million stadium downtown for the Orlando City Soccer MLS expansion team, and the project slated to open in 2016 could grow into an $110 million project with the state funds.

The plan requires stadium tax-subsidies to go through a new competition process for annual sales tax rebates where they apply to the state Department of Economic Opportunity and are evaluated based on their economic impact.

It would allow both MLS expansion franchises, along with Daytona Speedway, rodeos, minor-league baseball, and other sports teams compete for $13 million annually in tax revenues for repairs or construction.

It would also allow the MLS clubs and Daytona to split $7 million sooner — in the 2014-15 budget year — because their projects are already underway sooner. Instead of the full Legislature, only a budget panel would have to approve them.

Some House members objected to that provision Friday, arguing Senate leaders were effectively committing the $7 million this year to the soccer and speedway projects.


Conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity expressed disappointment with the new approval process for professional sports stadium projects.

Abbie MacIver, AFP Florida Director of Policy, issued a statement in response to passage of H.B. 7095, which will provide millions of dollars to professional sports teams for stadium construction and renovation.

“I’m hugely disappointed in today’s passage of HB 7095,” MacIver said. “Today the Florida Legislature gave away millions of taxpayer’s dollars to sports franchise owners rather than returning it to Floridians that could really use the money.

MacIver added that AFP, the conservative/libertarian issue advocacy group founded by billionaire political activist brothers Charles and David Koch, would remember how each legislator voted on the issue, and act accordingly.

“Rest assured that AFP will educate the constituents of these elected officials about this vote.”

TWEET, TWEET: @adeslatte: Scott’s office says he “looks forward to signing” stadium bill. #sayfie


Over the objections of Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Senate passed a measure 27-10 that would allow Hillsborough County agencies to opt out of using the 63-year-old Civil Service Board for certain services.

A seemingly innocuous bureaucratic bill, HB 683 touched off a bitter standoff between Joyner and other members of the delegation over the merits of the Civil Service Board, which was created in 1951 to ensure fair employment procedures free from discrimination for Hillsborough’s governmental agencies.

Nearly most of the county’s lawmakers agreed that the Civil Service Board had become too inefficient and costly for many of the county’s largest agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office and the clerk of courts. By allowing the agencies to hire employees without the board, the county could save money. Three Democratic agency chiefs and two Republican agency chiefs agreed the measure was a good one.

It passed the House last week 105-3, getting overwhelming support from the Hillsborough delegation, including Democrats like Rep. Mark Danish and Janet Cruz of Tampa and Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg. Rouson said he would support the bill because unions were no longer objecting.

But using Senate Rule 4.18 that allows a Senator to pull a local bill from consideration, Joyner earlier this week quashed the bill. She said the Civil Service Board, while needing improvement, was too important to tamper with in this way.

The sponsor of HB 683, Rep. Dana Young, cried foul, calling Joyner’s maneuver undemocratic.

As the Senate’s marathon Wednesday session wound down, Sen. Tom Lee, quickly waived the rules and placed HB 683 back on the Senate’s special order calendar, reversing Joyner’s ploy.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Rep. Brodeur amendment was loaded down with other controversial health care issues – including a proposal to allow Ambulatory Surgery Centers to keep patients 24 hours and for overnight stays – that hospitals couldn’t support. Time ran out and the two chambers Sine Died, leaving the trauma center legislation to die on the train.

Afterwards, Safety Net Hospital representatives said they believed that the various stakeholders are tired of the trauma center fight.

TWEET, TWEET: @TBTia: Also no telemedicine, no expanded scope of practice for nurse practitioners, no ALF reforms

NO DUH ALERT: SPRINGS BILL IS DEAD via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

It was always a long shot. But House and Senate lawmakers trying to impose new cleanup rules for Florida’s pollution-battered springs will be back at the drawing board next year.

With the session ticking down on the last day, both sides said the springs bill passed this week by the Senate would not be taken up on the House side — and next year, they’d try again.

Simmons made one last lobbying push to get House Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli, to try to bring the bill up in his chamber.

But without ever going through a House committee, it wasn’t to be.

The Senate earlier this week passed a springs-protection plan that would force developers, farmers, local governments and septic-tank owners to cut pollution flowing into the state’s most imperiled springs.

But the chamber also stripped out $378 million that would have gone annually toward that cleanup — relying instead on Amendment 1, a constitutional question before voters in November that could mandate an estimated $19 billion during the next two decades for conservation projects, including buying land and cleaning up polluted waterways.


Hays hasn’t given up trying to make sure buses pull over when they pick up or drop off passengers.

The Umatilla Republican got an amendment added to a broad highway-safety package that would prohibit buses from blocking traffic when they stop to load or unload passengers if there is another “reasonable means” by which the bus can stop parallel to traffic.

It’s similar to a bill Hays filed last year, a few months after, according to Lake County public officials, he found himself stuck behind a LakeXpress bus that didn’t pull completely over while making a stop in Eustis. That bill never got a hearing.

The provision that Hays got into HB 7005 on the Senate floor Friday isn’t quite as severe as last year’s bill. It makes sure to define what “reasonable means” would be: “Sufficient unobstructed pavement or a designated turn lane that is sufficient in length to allow safe loading and unloading of passengers parallel to the travel lane.”

This year’s version, unlike last year’s years, also makes it clear that the requirement would not apply to school buses.


A man who spent 21 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children might be compensated by the state more than 40 years later under a bill passed by the Legislature.

The Senate voted unanimously late Friday for a bill that changes a law that compensates wrongfully incarcerated prisoners so that James Richardson can be paid more than $1 million. The bill now goes to Gov. Scott.

Bill sponsor Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando said now 78-year-old Richardson wants to build a church with the money.

Richardson was convicted in 1968 of poisoning the lunch of his children with an insecticide. But the conviction was set aside after it was reinvestigated by then-Miami-Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno.

TWEET, TWEET: @GrayRohrer: Selfies taken this session > number of bills passed


Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli: “Over the last sixty days, House Republicans provided much needed tax relief, worked to ensure our children have world class educational opportunities and demonstrated our sincere appreciation to our men and women in uniform. We also took important steps to protect Floridians by defending the lives of our most innocent, unborn children, and strengthening our right to keep and bear arms. The House proudly stood up for Floridians this Session to improve the quality of life in our state and I look forward to seeing these good bills become law.”

Rep. Kathleen Peters: “I am confident that my Homeless Bill that just passed the Florida legislature in conjunction with the social marketing Who Knew Campaign? I am working on will make a significant difference on the future of our homeless citizens.”

Florida Chamber’s Eric Silagy: “Thanks to Governor Scott’s leadership, Florida is adding jobs and cutting taxes for Florida families and job creators, and this legislative session, lawmakers created even more opportunities for Florida to succeed.”


Film Florida: “We are disappointed at the decision to not fund the Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program this session.  Unfortunately, this is the second year in a row that our industry has gone without having funding added to this overwhelmingly successful incentive program. … Beginning tomorrow, Film Florida will rededicate itself to educating our state’s policymakers on the positive economic impacts that the entertainment industry provides.  We will bring our message from the Panhandle to Key West that for every $1 the state invests in the entertainment industry, $5.60 is returned and infused back into our state’s economy. … And, while we are disappointed, we are encouraged by the words of Senators on the floor yesterday, who pledged to work on the Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program during the next legislative session.”

Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida: “Notwithstanding the fact that nothing has passed, safety net hospitals believe an environment exists for all affected parties to come together and reach agreement on ending current disputes and forging a new statewide trauma rule. We encourage the Florida Department of Health to reopen negotiations over a new statewide rule, and look forward to contributing to a process that is based on collaboration and transparency.”

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Crist issued a statement Friday about the proposed $77.1 billion Florida budget up for a vote by state lawmakers Friday evening.

“Lawmakers should be commended for approaching the budget in a bipartisan fashion,” said the former Republican turned Democrat, “but I’m very concerned about the level of funding for our schools.”

Crist added that there is good education is essential to long-term job growth in the state. With more than $2.5 billion in new revenues coming into the state this year, Crist calls on the Legislature to restore all of Gov. Rick Scott’s previous cuts to per-student funding, and give our teachers raise, as well as invest in good local schools.

“Governor Scott needs to fix this budget,” he concluded. “He should use his line-item veto and judge every pork project by one test: Would this money be better spent helping Florida’s children?

Crist, who is challenging the incumbent Governor as a Democrat, said Scott should “veto the pork spending,” and call the legislature back to town and demand the money be put into public schools.


As a parting shot for the 2014 legislative session, the Florida Democratic Party released a new video of FDP Chair Allison Tant blasting the accomplishments — or lack thereof — of the GOP in Tallahassee.

Tant says the Republican-led legislature “left all kinds of unfinished business” at the Capitol, doing “little to nothing” for working Florida families.

She began the two-and-a-half minute  video by denouncing another year of inaction on expanding Medicaid by accepting more than $50 billion from the federal government so more Floridians would receive health coverage.

Medicaid expansion is not for those who are on government assistance, Tant says, but for “families that are working every single day, who work very hard not to qualify for public assistance.”

Tant says she “cannot believe” the legislature failed to move forward on the issue of equal pay for women.

“The unfinished business – they accomplished far too much on the unfinished side and too little on the finished side.”


Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida, released this statement on Friday:

“When legislative leadership and Gov. Scott are done pouring the champagne and patting themselves on the back, they should reflect on how they failed our state by putting deep-pocketed campaign contributors and partisan politics ahead of the needs of working Floridians and the middle class.

“From refusing to expand health care to more than a million uninsured Floridians, to allowing no debate on raising the minimum wage or equal pay for women, the list of issues ignored by this legislature is indefensible.

“For yet another legislative session, Gov. Scott and his legislative allies did everything in their power to block pro-middle class legislation while pulling out all the stops to advance the wish list of their deep pocketed campaign contributors.

“In virtually every issue area, from education to health care and from energy policy to consumer protection, GOP leadership has once again ensured this is the best legislature money can buy.”

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Winner: Will Weatherford

With the passage of the immigration tuition bill and voucher expansion, House Speaker Will Weatherford is the single biggest winner of the 2014 Legislative Session. He has completely silenced his detractors by accomplishing something few of the old silverbacks could have pulled off, and it is the capstone on the first phase of a political career that will inevitably find its full expression on the national stage.

It’s his Nixon-to-China moment, not Gov. Rick Scott’s.

He has pulled the Republican Party in a new and better direction in a successful act of political daring unequaled in Tallahassee for many years.

It also destroys the myth that Weatherford is too nice to throw sharp elbows. He was willing to buck Republican orthodoxy, post up against Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, and pull a seemingly bewildered Rick Scott to the finish line on an issue that has huge practical implications for a few and enormous symbolic value for everyone.

Remember he started this initiative when the Senate president opposed it, the governor would not say he supported it, and powerful members of his own chamber didn’t like it.  It is one of those threshold moments of authentic vision and leadership to be relished.

I’ve seen the future, and it is Will Weatherford.

Winner: Adams Street Advocates delivers for Florida Pharmacy Association

The Florida Pharmacy Association led by their new lobbying firm Adams St. Advocates had an extremely successful legislative Session!

FPA and the Independent Pharmacy Cooperative were instrumental in passing legislation that would require fair and uniform pharmacy audit rules (SB 702)  by pharmacy benefit managers’ (PBMs).   This new law will provide predictability and common sense business practices for pharmacies to prepare and respond to audits increasing efficiency and productivity.

FPA through budget language fought to give state employees the option to purchase their 90 day maintenance drugs from retail pharmacies.  Current law required state employees to buy these drugs from a mail order pharmacy often resulting in much needed medication going to wrong addresses, waste due to a change in prescription or long periods of time sitting in mailboxes.  This ability to visit and purchase from a retail pharmacy will give employees better access to care and proper medication counseling.  This effort was strongly supported by Cynergy Consulting who represents multiple pharmacy related  interests.

After much debate and controversy on the House side, FPA together with the Florida Independent Pharmacy Network and the Florida Society of Health System Pharmacists successfully supported legislation by Senator Grimsley to address the number of pharmacy technicians a pharmacist must supervise.  The legislation that ultimately passed both chambers wisely removes an arbitrary cap and allows the Board of Pharmacy to approve any increase in the number of pharmacy technicians a pharmacist can supervise in a particular setting.  It revises the makeup of the Board to increase the number of actively practicing pharmacists to ensure patient safety is a priority in this process.

This was a major victory for ALL pharmacists in Florida.

Winner: Affordable Housing 

In too many years past, funds that would be reserved for affordable housing were raided and diverted to other agendas. This year, however, affordable housing advocates across the state will see housing trust fund dollars used to serve their rightful and intended purposes.

The Sadowski Housing Coalition emerged as the face for the effort, calling on the Legislature to avoid more trust fund sweeps and appropriate housing trust funds dollars for housing.

The effort resulted in a $100 million appropriation for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program and $67.7 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan program.

After a tactful and strategic lobbying effort lead by Ken Pruitt and the P5 Group, coupled with an aggressive earned media effort spearheaded by Bascom Communications & Consulting, the Coalition’s ask was able to ring loud and clear in the ears of Subcommittee Appropriations Chairs.

Florida’s effective affordable housing programs will receive the funding they need – and deserved – to help house Floridians in need.

Winner: Anfield Consulting

If Florida’s water resources had a voice, that voice would holler a big thank you to the Legislature for its attentive ear in 2014. And would likely shout an even louder thank you to the team at Anfield Consulting for advocating so vigorously for all things water.

Anfield, commonly known in the Capitol as “the water guys” (and otherwise known as Frank Bernardino, Lee Killinger, and Albert Balido), delivered this precious resource a nearly uncountable number of wins this session.

Anfield successfully secured funding for multiple public and private-sector clients promoting initiatives such as the protection of the environment (Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Package in the Senate), local water projects benefiting the residents of various cities and counties, the development of regional water supplies, the enhancement and protection of water supplies, and local water treatment initiatives.

In the policy arena, Anfield worked on behalf of its clients with policymakers to secure positive changes to legislation relating to springs protection, reclaimed water, and wastewater regulation. They were trusted advisors on water funding to Rep. Ben Albritton and Sen. Alan Hays in particular.

Through its involvement with Florida Water Advocates, Anfield continued to shed light on the need for statewide water infrastructure funding and was invited to make presentations before legislative committees with this well-received message.

Anfield’s efforts in this area are reflected in the Legislature dedicating the highest state funding levels in the past six years to water resources — not just in terms of dollar amounts, but in terms of the share of the budget dedicated to it. Anfield’s expertise and partnerships are no doubt a driving force behind H20′s big wins in 2014.

Winner: Behavioral health advocates

The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association pulled out some hefty session wins, and in doing so, scored some points for safer communities across the state. Its efforts have secured greater treatment options for mental health and substance abuse addiction disorders, and have worked toward integrating conversations about behavioral health into the primary care setting.

Some of the FADAA’s legislative priorities included measures on background screening, needle exchange programs, inmate reentry, and weight thresholds for oxycodone and hydrocodone to be considered trafficking.

Because of FADAA’s testimony, a new pilot project is being created to bring an individualized treatment regimen for families with children in child welfare. The Casey Report and Miami Herald series identify 68 percent of child victims also had parents with substance abuse problems.

These priorities were lobbied under the able guidance of Frank and Tracy Mayernick, as well as FADAA executive director Mark Fontaine, and Jill Gran. Other team coalition players were the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, Florida Partners in Crisis and several FADAA members and their lobbyists, such as DACCO and Manatee Glens.

Though the association tallied many wins this year — some simply the moral victory of having favorable hearings if not full passage — many other priorities failed to gain speed. These included telemedicine, Baker Act reform, and Medicaid expansion. Can’t win ‘em all, but the FADAA and its allies are clearly among the net winners of 2014.

Winner: Charlotte’s Web, RayAnn Moseley & Cannabis Growers

Low-THC cannabis will be legalized in Florida for patients with specific ailments. Who could have seen that one coming a year ago?

There are more winners on this one issue than are easily enumerable. We’ll start with the obvious: lawmakers Matt Gaetz, Katie Edwards, Aaron Bean, Rob Bradley, and Jeff Brandes for having the courage to do what is right instead of what is easy by filing and fighting for a medical marijuana bill in a Republican-led Legislature in an election year.

Then there are two fairly unknown lobbyists, Jules Kariher and Kim Berton, who took the lead on Charlotte’s Web and managed to pull off the feat of getting the measure passed — with veto-proof majorities, at that. SB 1030 was approved by a vote of 30-9 in the Senate and 111-7 in the House.

RayAnn Moseley, the face of the Charlotte’s Web fight in Florida, is another clear winner. Her life — like those of so many other children suffering from severe forms of epilepsy — will be forever changed.

Finally, farmers — at least those who have been in operation for at least 30 years in this state — will have the opportunity to become approved to grow this strain of marijuana. Time will tell, but my guess is that this represents a big win in the farmers’ column, too.

None of these wins would have been possible had the Florida House and Senate not stayed the course, keeping partisan politics out of the bill.

But that is not to say the issue is apolitical. To the contrary, the debate around the legalization of Charlotte’s Web is the opening salvo in a far larger war that is likely to occur in 2015 when and if the far “broader” medical marijuana language in Amendment 2 passes in November.

While certainly serving those in need of this compassionate and right measure, this year’s debate was also a necessary exercise in desensitization in which Republican legislators were forced to wrap their heads around the concept that medical cannabis may have a legitimate role in the lives of Floridians.

If this blog were featuring the legislative “winners” of the past decade, this one issue would absolutely make the list. Charlotte’s Web represents a major triumph by an odd-bedfellow team of proponents. There have been few issues like it before, and few will easily follow this unlikely and groundbreaking course.

Winner: Lobbying firm Corcoran & Johnson

Multiple funding items and policy measures were passed in 2014 that bring energy to the Tampa Bay region. Notably, the IMG Academy was pegged for $5 million; the Florida Aquarium, for $3.65 million; and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority the potential for ungodly amounts through SB 218, which adds the ability for the authority to build and operate managed lanes and other transit supporting facilities.

The Florida Aquarium project is also a big deal, going beyond mere cash flow. It will provide funding for cultural facilities and cultural support grant applications, as well as funding for partnership projects with TECO and the Fish & Wildlife Commission in the Apollo Beach area.

Tampa Bay’s gains in no small part came through the tireless efforts of Corcoran & Johnston lobby team — Michael and Jessica Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, Matthew Blair, Michael Cantens, and Amanda Stewart. Their Tampa-based firm solely represents the Florida Aquarium, IMG, the Tamp and Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

Between these projects, the potential for state stadium funding, and the impressive leadership of Bay Area lawmakers, these communities are the 2014 Session’s regional winners in the book of this blogger.

Winners: Disney and No Casinos

Every year when there’s no expansion of gambling, it is a win for No Casinos, and also for Disney. The 2014 session began with what seemed like a perfect context for gaming expansion. And ended with nothing but a faint glimmer of hope for casino allies thinking forward to next year.

No Casinos operated a flawless, well-tuned lobbying strategy, and with Disney aboard, ably thwarted some equally powerful foes — foes like Genting, Las Vegas Sands, parimutuels, and more.

It will get easier for the anti-casino crowd with Andy Gardiner as Senate president next year. And, as I have argued, casinos gained some strategic edges this year due to blunders by the Scott administration.  

No doubt, having a 29-person lobby team helped No Casinos frustrate opponents. Among these, some big names: Mercer Fearington; the Johnson & Blanton firm; Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb; Randy Enwright; Tom Gallagher; Dan Pollock; Liberty Partners; and more.

Winner: Doritos

The debate around the legalization of Charlotte’s Web is the opening salvo in a far larger war that is likely to occur in 2015 when and if Amendment 2, the medical marijuana amendment, passes.  The debate this year was a necessary exercise in desensitization in which Republican legislators were forced to wrap their heads around the concept that medical cannabis may have a legitimate role in the lives of Floridians.

Winner: Duke Energy

We think of a legislative win as being something that was proposed or killed, something amended or whipped up at the 23rd hour that makes its way into law. But other wins are quieter. They are wins in the form of… nothing.

Plenty has been written about the forces that lobby not for change but for the status quo. And when it comes to these dynamics in Florida, 2014 has one true winner: Duke Energy.

Duke Energy has quietly, expertly pulled a major win in the form of “nothing.” Despite all of the negative press the company has endured this past year — especially from the Tampa Bay Times — there was nary a mention about legislation impacting Duke’s nuclear cost recovery fees. No rolling back of these fees, no new reporting requirements, nada, zilch.

While at least two bills were filed relating to nuclear cost recovery fees, neither was heard in any of the six or so committees of reference.

Duke’s team of 17 lobbyists did something right to take an issue of wide contention and broad public dismay and diffuse it fully before even an inch was gained.  

Winner: The Everglades Foundation 

What happens when water that once flowed naturally from Lake Okeechobee gets diverted to accommodate housing and commercial development? An unnatural flow plus pollution and runoff that disrupts the natural — and important — ecosystems of the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, and the Everglades. Wildlife are hurt, water quality goes down, water bodies become dangerous to fish in or recreate in, and our economies are diminished.

That’s why the 2014 session and its extraordinary focus on the Everglades and water quality restoration projects can be deemed a winner.

Thanks largely to Sen. Joe Negron and a willing House to make a deal, Everglades Foundation priority projects were funded to the tune of more than $259 million.

The lobby teams at Capital City Consulting and Southern Strategy Group were among those to bring home some of the big ones within this figure — such as  Water Quality Restoration Strategies ($32 million), Everglades construction projects ($85.1 million), Tamiami Trail – DOT Workplan ($90 million), and Lake Okeecbobee cleanup ($19 million).

Winner: Florida Health Care Association

This session, the Florida Health Care Association advocated its most ambitious agenda in years — and has done so with extraordinary results.

It is the only profession to pass tort reform (see SB 670), it passed a major Certificate of Need reform bill without any of the customary CON acrimony (see HB 287), it met its goals in the budget, and successfully supported an increase in nursing home residents’ personal needs allowance from $35 to $105 per month.

Success on a tort reform measure alone would be enough to place the FHCA on the 2014 “winner’s” list. SB 670 was written to ensure that nursing home residents and their families are able to pursue lawsuits against those directly at fault for negative events while preventing unreasonable, frivolous claims against passive investors who have no role in care decisions.

Behind the FHCA’s legislative triumphs this year were a strong team of lobbyists and media consultants  – namely Sachs Media Group, and 22 lobbyists including this year’s TallyMadness winner Jon Johnson. Others on the team are the FHCA’s internal legislative director Bob Asztalos, along with Sean Pittman, Matt Bryan, Allison Carvajal, David Ramba, Travis Blanton, Melanie Brown, and Amy Christian.

Loser: Florida Justice Association

This once proud organization used to command respect on the 4th and in the EOG. No longer. This year, they did something they have never done in their long history (this organization once toppled the most powerful senator in modern history, Dempsey Barron): They agreed to – and even publicly supported – a tort reform measure in order to ensure no further harm to their members.

As reported here, they cut a deal that will live in infamy.  They agreed to restrict lawsuits brought by injured nursing home residents against large corporate nursing home owners in exchange for allowing smaller suits against mom & pop and locally owned nursing homes – an idea they vigorously and vocally opposed in past years.  In the process, they tossed overboard a highly regarded former member who specializes in these kinds of suits (and who they once gave their highest advocacy award to) in order to have a peaceful session.

The deal worked.  No other tort bills even made it to the floor.  But the need to cut such a pitiful deal spells trouble for the future of this waning Florida power.

Winner: Florida taxpayers

Chalk up a win for Joe Lunchbucket. The Legislature saw an opportunity in this first budget surplus year in ages to give some back to Florida taxpayers. These breaks come in the form of a rollback in car fees, avoidance of subsidizing sports teams owned by billionaires, and sales tax holidays.

The biggest return to taxpayers may be the annual vehicle registration fee rollback. SB 156 cut these fees to the tune of $400 million, or about $25 per typical motor vehicle, and Gov. Scott promptly signed this into law.

Then, there’s the neglected stuff that we used to do as a state, which taxpayers truly benefit from: bolstering environmental protection, higher education, biomedical research, and programs for kids and cops.

We will see if Florida TaxWatch takes apart this year’s budget with its annual turkey hunt … but my take is that, overall, Florida taxpayers pulled a big win this year.

Winner: Human Rights, Freedom & Baseball 

In what began late in session as an unlikely amendment but quickly gained support and momentum, we have today a huge legislative win that takes a stand on some of America’s most foundational values: human rights, freedom, and — yes — baseball.

Rep. Matt Gaetz joined with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to take on yet another big issue in 2014 in this proposal to require Major League Baseball to change how Cuban players are treated if baseball wants to share in state money for stadium work.

In short, MLB allows foreign players to negotiate as free agents — yet singles out Cuban players, prohibiting them from negotiating as free agents while still in Cuba. Those who defect to the U.S. must enter the annual amateur draft, at a substantial disadvantage to where they would have been otherwise.

These unforgiving rules have led to Cuban players to try to establish residency in a third country, such as Mexico, resulting in (not surprisingly) unwanted and dangerous entanglements with human traffickers, smugglers, and drug cartels.

The Diaz/Gaetz amendment, added to HB 7095, was embraced by Speaker Will Weatherford.  Sen. Anitere Flores joined on as the measure’s Senate sponsor, and did so with the support of Sen. Jack Latvala.

Behind these lawmakers’ push was Sachs Media Group, producing a website (, a media blitz, national stories, a response from MLB, and more, in just two weeks’ time.

Winner: Jack Latvala

Welcome to the Latvala Show, a political spectacle of strategic positioning.

Bills and policy triumphs aside, the big picture is about who will assume the Senate presidency next: Jack Latvala or Joe Negron. Here’s how Latvala used the 2014 session to all but ensure his success. Negron opposed an idea that has grown in popularity across party lines: allowing children of undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates, providing that these children had been students for at least three years in a Florida high school. Negron’s stance against this measure was unconvincing, and it blew open a hole big enough for Latvala to exploit.

The Tampa Bay ringmaster rallied two-thirds of the Senate to his cause. He can now hold this out to his colleagues as an example of Negron’s outdated views and lack of leadership skills. While Negron looked weak and out of touch, Latvala looked strong and forward-thinking. That’s enough to tip the scales in Latvala’s favor and break the stalemate in the race to assume Senate leadership. Adding to this prediction: it is more than likely that Latvala will be the right-hand man to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner. This position is arguably more powerful than that of the presidency itself, at least in the hands of such an able political veteran. Latvala has two years to fill that vacuum around Gardiner.

Winner: Gaming interests

Here is where I will contradict the easy estimation that “gaming” was a big loser this session.

What I am about to say in no way detracts from the fact that No Casinos and Disney are clear winners. These organizations had clear direction, strategy, message and delivery. Their game was impeccable and unlikely to be derailed with ease.

But allow me to explain how gaming interests also won, but in a different way, and due entirely to the ill-fated foibles of the Scott administration.

Rick Scott and his beleaguered chief of staff made a massive tactical blunder by exposing the Seminole Compact negotiations — and in doing so, they effectively killed any chance that a deal will be ratified before next year.

This means that gaming expansion is once again back up for consideration during the next legislative session.

Second, the terms of the negotiation were exposed: $2.55 billion over seven years, plus a new facility in Fort Pierce for the Seminoles.

While these terms are obviously a non-starter with the Legislature, knowing these details gives Genting, parimutuels and other gaming advocates a huge leg up on any potential negotiations in the future. We now know for certain that any Seminole compact will require at least that much, and more than likely a lot more in terms of payments to the state.

Third, the pinheads surrounding Rick Scott once again did nothing except create more enemies than they can count by attempting to negotiate such a deal in the first place. Let’s count them:

1) Every gaming interest that ever donated a dime to Rick Scott now doesn’t trust him.

2) The Seminoles are furious for outing the deal. They don’t trust him and are likely to support Charlie more than ever. (As if their support for Crist was ever really a question, right?)

3) The Legislature holds a degree of disdain for the Scott staff (mostly Hollingsworth) that is palpable and stems from the fact that Hollingsworth naively believes the governor is in a position of strength. He isn’t. He will veto many turkeys in the budget. That’s nothing new. But when that’s done, he’s the lamest of lame ducks, and Hollingsworth will be neutered.

So, to recap, here’s how Scott’s maladroit team once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, made enemies of friends, and tried to split the proverbial baby only to make everyone mad.

(Think Medicaid expansion, where Scott said he was for it and did nothing after that, enraging his base while cementing his image among moderates as a lip-service politician willing to say anything to win a vote…)

In the case of gaming expansion this year, Scott’s handlers pissed off the Legislature, guys like Sheldon Adelson, parimutuels, and the Seminoles. That’s the whole list, guys.

For these reasons, I offer gaming expansion as a non-loser thanks to the loserdom of Scott and Hollingsworth. No, Genting and Sands are not closer to establishing a beachhead on South Beach, but thanks to some epic gubernatorial nincompoopery, gaming allies may soon sit in the winner’s circle alongside their foes, Disney and No Casinos.

Winner: Imbibers win and lose in 2014

For once let’s start with a loser: the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. The organization pushed for unnecessary, anti-free market red tape on a growing Florida industry. While other states are passing bills to make it easier for craft brewers to expand their businesses, the FBWA made it their mission to add regulations where none are needed. While doing so opened the beverage titans to a flood of public backlash, little doubt they’d take the same tack again to protect precious and lucrative turf.

Meanwhile, in the winner’s circle is Scott Dick, who represents ABC Fine Wine and Spirits. While ABC’s stance was also to limit retailer’s ability to easily sell distilled spirits, at least the group had crafted a rationale for doing so.

You are likely familiar with this issue, even if you were unaware that it was a contentious one. Florida supermarkets and other retailers may sell wine and beer within their main store but must operate a separate space to sell alcohols such as whiskey or gin. The law requiring such separation was written in 1935, making it “archaic” in the minds of many, including Sen. Bill Galvano.

Galvano sponsored SB 804 to repeal the separation requirement, but withdrew the measure because he didn’t have the votes. Because Dick and his allies had run a fantastic ground game and convinced members of the merits of keeping distilled spirits out of arms reach.

Charles Bailes, head of ABC, explained to the TC Palm that their position was one that kept higher potency alcohols further out of reach from teens who would stick out a lot more in a liquor store than in an aisle at Walmart.

“The best checkout system in the world isn’t going to keep liquor out of the hands of kids,” Bailes said. “They’re stealing it and even drinking it in the store.”

House companion bill HB 877 never got traction. Agree or disagree with ABC, there is little contesting they had a winning game.

Loser: Rep. Marlene O’Toole

It’s hard to find a bigger loser than Marlene O’Toole this legislative session.

She singlehandedly blocked the Money Course, a favorite of this blogger, which would have required a financial literacy course in high school.

The measure would have required the Florida Department of Education to work with nonprofit organizations to develop standards, curriculum and professional development guidelines for teaching financial literacy. Who knows — this could have benefited not only the next generation of Floridians, but perhaps also their teachers and parents in the process.

What’s worse? O’Toole told the Associated Press she supported it but didn’t have time to hear it in her committee.

You know who that pissed off? The Florida Chamber of Commerce, CFO Jeff Atwater, the Florida Council on Economic Education, the Florida Bankers Association, the Business Section of the Florida Bar, the Florida Prosperity Partnership, and any other rational person watching this bill.

HB 367, sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen and cosponsored by, oh, just a bipartisan coalition of more than a third of the entire House, never had a hearing.

Meanwhile, its companion bill (SB 212), sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, made its way through two committees before halting on April 9 — due to the House’s failure to do its part.

If O’Toole doesn’t fix this next year, she will secure herself a position in the Saint Petersblog Losers Hall of Fame.

Winner: New College of Florida 

New College of Florida, the small liberal arts college in Sarasota, has been in the news a few times over the past few months, mostly in announcements by college rating organizations that boast the school’s excellent value, unique academic model, affordability, and high percent of students awarded with Fulbright’s and other similar honors.

And now, add to the list of recent accolades a big win in the 2014 session: the addition of the school’s first-ever master’s degree program. This two-year M.Sc. program in Data Science and Analytics will produce 15 graduates per year, and will fill a growing need for graduates in this field in Florida’s workforce.

Despite the unmet need there are no master’s program in Florida that specialize in the use and analysis of big data. Consulting firms such as McKinsey and Gartner have projected the current shortfalls to grow to well over 140,000 nationwide in the next few years despite starting salaries above $80,000.

This big win came through the efforts of the tireless Capital City Consulting team — namely Nick Iarossi, Chris Schoonover, and Ron LaFace Jr. — and reflects the college’s academic fortitude and growing fan base.

Winner: Older Floridians and their families

Several flagship, Florida-based organizations providing critical assistance to elder Floridians and disabled adults saw significant gains during the 2014 legislative session under the trusted leadership of House Chairman Matt Hudson and Senate Chair Denise Grimsley.

Beginning with the Florida Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the Florida Council on Aging, these two organizations whose membership provides frail seniors and disabled adults with access to home and community-based care saw significant increases in funding – nearly $24 million, to provide services to persons on the waiting list for care.

By providing frail elders and disabled adults with just a little help – home-delivered meals, personal care, transportation, etc., through programs like Community Care for the Elderly and Alzheimer’s Disease Respite Care, Local Service Programs and others, Floridians can remain at home safely and with dignity, avoiding the need for more costly nursing home care.

Florida’s Coalition for the Homeless was also recognized for its efforts to increase the visibility of homelessness and the need for additional funding to prevent and solve the problem of homelessness, particularly for children and their families.

Supported by the efforts of Sen. Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters, the Florida Coalition for the Homeless and local continuums of care received $8.2 million in additional funding for services and advocacy on behalf of homeless Floridians.  These increased dollars will be put to good use by Florida’s 20 local homeless continuums of care in their efforts to prevent homelessness and provide a “hand-up” to those that are homeless today.

Winner: Pharmacies

Common sense legislation leveling the playing field for local community pharmacies is also on its way to the Governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 702, championed by Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Travis Cummings and a major priority for Pharmacy Choice and Access Now (PCAN), Florida Pharmacy Association (FPA), Florida Independent Pharmacy Network (FIPN), Independent Pharmacy Cooperative (IPC) and Pharmacy Provider Services Cooperative (PPSC) directs pharmacy benefit managers to follow certain procedures when it comes to pharmacy audits. The legislation mandates notification of an audit, eliminates auditing during the busiest times of the month, protects local pharmacy owners from fines for simple clerical errors and provides reasonable time for pharmacies to address audit discrepancies. This legislation simply sets the ground rules for pharmacy benefit managers to create a more effective auditing process.

Winner: Florida Students and Teachers

Florida students and teachers are among the biggest beneficiaries of a strong 2014 legislative session.

The House and Senate demonstrated their commitment to providing every Florida student with a quality education by passing Senate Bill 1642 to improve Florida’s accountability system. Lawmakers voted to restore focus, clarity and confidence to one of the A+ Plan’s hallmark principles, A-F school grading.

Hardworking teachers and student-centered reforms are working. Florida has further to go, but we are headed in the right direction and are on a path that fundamentally puts student learning above all else.

A simplification of the school grading formula will bolster the intent of Florida’s comprehensive reforms and will reinforce public confidence that school grades actually mean something. These grades determine in part which top-performing schools get performance bonuses, and which struggling schools must up the game with new staff or face closure.

At the same time, SB 1642 offered a one-year reprieve from sanctions or penalties as a result of school grades. As the state transitions away from the FCAT and to a new assessment, the first year of testing will be used as a baseline to measure schools in the future.

Detractors, mainly Democrats, threw criticisms that school grades would be inappropriate even after next year. For example, Rep. Karen Castor Dentel opposed SB 1642 saying that it would allow Florida to continue to rely on “the test-obsessed genie of reform” and that “we are simply trading a one-trick pony for a three-ring circus.”

I don’t know, but to me, Castor Dentel’s so-called “one-trick pony” is precisely what got Florida out of the gutter in academic performance.

Prior to the implementation of the A+ Plan, half of Florida fourth-graders were functionally illiterate and our high school students — even the unimpressive percent that graduated — were laughable in terms of national comparisons.

If a one-trick pony works… let it keep performing. And that’s why Florida students are the big winners of the 2014 session.

SB 1642 heads to Rick Scott for his signature.

Winner: Southern Strategy Group

The SSG army of two dozen lobbyists descended on the Capitol this March and showed little interest in taking prisoners this session.

It routinely saw in the Capitol corridors lobbyists from their far-flung Florida network including those from Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, in addition to the usual platoon of Tallahassee regulars.

And, this firm tackled some of the biggest issues under the twin domes, including those tied to healthcare, gaming, sports franchises, insurance, public safety, and education.

SSG also seemed to fully use the talents of itsr most recent high-profile hire, former budget chief Jerry McDaniel, to shepherd through nearly three dozen appropriation items.

Notable wins for SSG included a rare high-profile defeat of the NRA on the issue of concealed weapons in emergency evacuations, a $5 million premium tax break for Fidelity, a rewrite of the state’s ticket laws for Disney, a new process for professional sports franchises to apply for a sales tax credit, the creation of a new expressway authority in Central Florida, and a closely watched knife fight with a rival lobbying firm over an important appropriation.

As a bonus, the political world got to track SSG’s maneuverings on Twitter where its 1000+ followers got a daily glimpse into the world of Tallahassee power lobbying.

Winner & loser: Thrill-seeking recreationalists 

Winner:  ATV enthusiasts! Imagine if dirt bikes were still defined by law as machines that required lawnmower-style pull-starts. That wouldn’t make sense, considering that technology has advanced motorsports substantially over the past many decades. But for ATV riders, Florida law has been comparably ancient in its definitions. Until now. SB 1024 has finally redefined ATVs to embrace modern amenities such as steering wheels instead of handle bars, and side-by-side seating instead of straddle seats. If signed by Gov. Scott, Florida will no longer be among the dwindling number of states clinging to archaic seating arrangements to define this genre of sports vehicle. The new law opens up Florida’s trails to safer, more comfortable ATVs and also helps to make Florida’s wild lands more accessible to the disabled.

Loser:  Bungee Jumpers.  Here is the story of how in one architectural phallic symbol (the Florida Capitol) funding for another architectural phallic symbol (SkyRise Miami) was denied. We’ve talked about SkyRise Miami here before. Apparently the Senate was on the same page. Despite a gallant run, Ron Book’s last-minute efforts to get $5 million sent to a developer for this should-be-privately-funded project fell through. SkyRise Miami, which will boast a 1,000-foot bungee tower, may have been the Eiffel Tower in the House, but in the Senate it was “that effing tower.” The House proposed $5 million, the Senate countered with $2 million to be paid after the developer demonstrated he had secured $400 million in private funding, and the whole thing finally got zeroed out.

***SUNBURN is sponsored in part by Floridian Partners, LLC, a statewide Public and Government Affairs firm with offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Their firm’s success is measured by its clients’ success. Outreach and Public Advocacy; Strategic Issue and Campaign Development; Grassroots and Grasstops Coalition Building – Floridian Partners is a one-stop firm for clients needing assistance at all levels of government in Florida.***

APPOINTED: Jennifer J. Frydrychowicz to the Escambia County Court.


Brian Ballard, Ballard Partners: Early Childhood Initiative Foundation

Paul Bradshaw, David Browning, Chris Dudley, Mercer Fearington, Towson Fraser, Jerry McDaniel, Clark Smith, Jim Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Camelot Global Services, M H Corbin, Inc.

Douglas Bruce, Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb PA: Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA

James Hargrett: Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority

Bill Helmich: Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates

Sean Pittman, Pittman Law Group: MBF Healthcare Partners

Christopher Snow, Snow Strategies: Fletcher’s Medical Supplies, Inc.

***The RSA team produces results for its clients through its extensive knowledge of the legislative process, longstanding relationships with elected officials and community leaders and strong work ethic.   RSA is a full service consulting firm specializing in community and government affairs, fundraising & event planning.  RSA clients receive personal attention and commitment from a team of seasoned lobbyists, led by Ron Pierce.   Learn how we can help your business, visit***


In the wake of Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry’s abrupt resignation earlier this week, a handful of prominent Republicans are pushing House Speaker Will Weatherford to run for the post.

Rumor began to swirl around the Wesley Chapel Republican quickly after Curry’s May 31 resignation.

“No one in the state could do a better job than Will Weatherford,” said Bill Bunting, former chairman of the Pasco County Republican Executive committee. “He can fundraise, he is well respected and well connected.”

Curry’s resignation caught many in the party off guard, which is not a good place to be headed into a heated gubernatorial race.

The vote will take place at the state GOP’s quarterly meeting at the end of May. The voting body is the party’s State Executive Committee, which is comprised of more than 200 members, including Bunting and Hightower.

Another person in the running is Leslie Dougher, head of the Clay County GOP.

TWEET, TWEET: @MikeHaridopolos: @willweatherford would be a perfect choice for RPOF Chair!

***SUNBURN is brought to you in part by Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC, a top-notch public affairs, political communications and public relations firm.  Visit to read about their growing team, success stories and case studies.***



Democratic leaders in Washington and Tallahassee heralded the last-minute emergence Marine Corps. Reserves Col. Ed Jany to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in his Pinellas County district as a home run.

Jany, a former Orlando cop and Special Forces Green Beret offers a potentially impressive Washington outsider contrast to Jolly, the former C.W. Bill Young aide-turned federal lobbyist.

But all we know at this point is that Jany, 49, is a first-time candidate with no known political or fundraising network, that he lacks a home in the Pinellas district, and that he won’t even be listed on the ballot as the Democratic nominee because he did not change his party registration to Democrat in time. We know also that party officials could not have been clumsier in how they cleared the field for the little-known Jany.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and especially Pinellas Democratic Chairman Mark Hanisee, bullied out of the race one of Pinellas county’s most prominent ministers, the Rev. Manuel Sykes. Their message? A black man has no chance running for office with an overwhelmingly non-back electorate.

Way to court your most loyal constituency and very shrewd thinking, gents. After all, America has never elected an African-American president. Oh wait …


Some Democrats think they’ve found a great smoky hope in state ballot measures seeking to legalize marijuana. Come November, Alaska will vote on whether to make recreational marijuana legal, and several other states are thinking about doing to the same. Young voters, who are very much in favor of marijuana legalization and who tend to lean Democratic, haven’t made up as high a percentage of voters in midterm elections as they do in general elections; if they come out to vote on pot, maybe Alaska Democrats can get their candidate into office.

But a closer look at the evidence suggests they might not stand to benefit. Overall, past marijuana ballot measures haven’t meant that more young people come out to vote. This year’s senate race in Alaska would likely have to be very close for the marijuana ballot measure to make a difference.

The conventional wisdom that marijuana ballot measures help Democrats goes back to the 2012 exit polls conducted in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Those surveys showed that young people were a larger percentage of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008. In Colorado, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 6 points more of the electorate (from 14 percent to 20 percent), 12 points more in Washington (10 percent to 22 percent), and 5 points more in Oregon (12 percent to 17 percent), where the ballot measure failed.

But there’s some contradictory evidence from another source: The government’s Current Population Survey (CPS) didn’t show anywhere near the increase in young voters that exit polls did. The Census Bureau found youth turnout rose by 0.2 points in Colorado, dropped by 0.9 points in Oregon, and dropped by 2.7 points in Washington from 2008 to 2012, an average 1.2-point drop across all three states. This drop is pretty much the same as the 1.5-point drop in young voters nationally, as measured by the CPS.

There’s reason to think we should trust the CPS more than the exit polls. The latter aren’t designed to estimate the ages of voters, as the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement has pointed out. That’s not to say CPS estimates are immune to margin of error. In Colorado, Oregon and Washington a variety of pollsters had numbers more in line with the CPS than the exit polls.

We can also look at prior years’ recreational marijuana ballot measures, including those that sought to legalize, decriminalize or lessen the penalty for recreational marijuana. For the 14 such ballot measures since 1998, the voting pool was made up of 0.2 percentage points fewer 18- to 29-year-olds, according to the CPS, compared to the prior similar election (i.e. the prior midterm for midterm years and the prior presidential election for presidential election years).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Representative Ritch Workman, PCI’s Donovan Brown and Eckerd College’s Tom Scherberger.

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.