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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.7.16

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

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


ADAM PUTNAM PRESENTS FLORIDA-GROWN TREES TO GOVERNOR, CABINET — Agriculture Commissioner Putnam presented Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and CFO Jeff Atwater with Florida-grown Sapphire Christmas trees Tuesdaymorning. The governor lit the Christmas tree during a ceremony in the reception area of the Executive Office of the Governor, and First Lady Ann Scott hung the first ornament, the 2016 Governor’s Mansion Christmas ornament. The four trees were provided by the Ergle Christmas Tree Farm. The Dade City farm is owned and operated by Tony and Debbie Harris, and produces Carolina Sapphire, Florida Cedar, Florida Sand Pine, and Leyland Cypress.




HERE’S THE SCOTT FAMILY CHRISTMAS CARD via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post:


BAH HUMBUG! SCOTT WON’T GIVE STATE WORKERS EXTRA DAY OFF via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – A spokeswoman for Scott said Tuesday that the governor will not be closing state offices an additional day around the Christmas holiday.

Scott for five straight years had ordered state offices to be closed an extra day in recognition of the hard work of state employees. Three times Scott had given state workers Christmas Eve off when it fell on a weekday. Employees had the day after Christmas off in 2014 and in 2011 state employees received Dec. 23 off since Christmas Eve fell on a weekend.

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, so the observed holiday is Dec. 26. In the past, state workers who perform essential functions still have to work. But state offices aren’t open.

MORE BAH HUMBUG – SEAWORLD TO CUT 320 JOBS DURING HOLIDAYS – Company officials said Tuesday in a statement that the goal of the restructuring is to eliminate costs and improve the company’s operations. The job eliminations involve both salaried and hourly workers. The company says it will offer severance packages and job-placement assistance to affected workers.

SeaWorld’s attendance and revenue have suffered in the face of a campaign by animal-rights activists. Earlier this year, the company announced it was ending its orca-breeding program and stopping its traditional killer-whale shows.

SPOTTED at the Tampa WaVE holiday party at the Boat House in Channelside: Former CFO Alex Sink.

JAX MAN MAKES HILLARY CLINTON THE GRINCH IN XMAS DECORATIONS via Action News Jax – A Jacksonville man decided to poke some fun at the campaign season by decorating his lawn with an unusual Christmas decoration. The man-made a 6-foot silhouette of the Grinch — and painted Hillary Clinton‘s features on it. The wooden lawn decoration features Clinton’s campaign symbol and what is supposed to be her hairdo. 


The Trump supporter said he wanted to make another cut-out of Trump but found it too difficult. The homeowner said he is waiting for some elements to finish the portion that will include Trump. He placed the Clinton-themed decoration near a red, white and blue Christmas tree on his lawn on Buttercup Street. The homeowner said he was trying to get some laughs this holiday season.

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DAYS UNTIL: Premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – 8; Inauguration Day – 43; Pitchers & catchers start reporting for Spring Training – 69; Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 100: Election Day 2017 – 334: Election Day 2018 – 698.

HOUSE FRESHMEN GET EDUCATED ON HOW STATE BUDGETARY ‘SAUSAGE’ IS MADE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – Florida House freshmen attended an introductory course to writing a state budget … They learned that the process gives them sweeping authority, but within the limits of fiscal reality. At present, Florida government is running a $3 billion reserve within a total budget of around $83.5 billion. But if spending continues at existing levels, that reserve will fall by half by this time next year. And if that happens, the state will find it impossible to maintain its ability to borrow and its cash-flow obligations, while still providing services to the public, House Appropriations Committee chairman Carlos Trujillo said. “The most important thing is to realize the responsibility that we have,” he summed up following the budget workshop. “We have to pass a balanced budget. We don’t have any additional revenues. In order for us to meet our obligations, we have to manage our revenues with our expenditures. If our expenditures continue to grow, we have to find other places to save money.”

The 45-minute workshop was among a number of offerings during Legislature University, organized by House leaders to orient new members. They covered the basics about the state budget. “It’s a bill. It’s filed. It’s vetted through the process. It’s passed out of the House. It’s passed out of the Senate. It’s sent to conference. At the end, like any other bill, both sides have to match,” Trujillo said. Freshmen might find the process hard to follow, he continued.

HOUSE STAFF TELL LAWMAKERS MEDICAID MANAGED CARE PROGRAM IS MONEY SAVER via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – Florida’s top economist was unable earlier this year to confirm that the state’s mandatory Medicaid managed care program was saving the taxpayers any money. But state legislators who attended a Medicaid meeting with House health care committee staff were emphatically told that the program is a cost saver. “Big picture on the costs, what do we see in this program? It’s going down,” House Health & Human Services Committee staff director Christa Calamas told the members who attended the Medicaid breakout session on Tuesday. While the overall costs have increased, Calamas asked members to consider the average cost per person. According to the House Medicaid document, the average annual cost per Medicaid enrollee in 2011-12 when the mandatory managed care program passed was $6,251. In 2015-16, the average costs per person was $5,896.

BILL WOULD PROHIBIT PUBLIC FUNDING OF SPORTS STADIUMS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed the bill (HB 77) … The House website shows it does not yet have a Senate companion. The legislation says “sports franchise(s) may not construct, reconstruct, renovate, or improve a facility on public land leased from the state or a political subdivision thereof.” It also would require any “sale of public land by the state or a political subdivision for a sports franchise to construct, reconstruct, renovate, or improve a facility on such land must be at fair market value.” The 2-page bill applies to the “National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, the National League or American League of Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League, or the promoter of a signature event sanctioned by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).”

— “Sports stadium bill could impact Rays deal” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

BILL TARGETS CRIMES FROM ‘VIOLENT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS’ via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – A bill filed for the 2017 Legislative Session by Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Dane Eagle seeks to enhance penalties for violent crimes from illegal immigrants. “Reclassification of crimes” legislation would increase penalties for violent crimes committed by illegals by one degree from the baseline penalty. A third-degree misdemeanor would become a second-degree misdemeanor, and so on, under this legislation, which sees escalations similar to current hate crimes legislation (a genre which will see expansion this session, via enhanced penalties for hate crimes against law enforcement.) Hutson … notes in a press release that he is “focused on going after violent illegal immigrants only” to “ensure that all people in Florida, whether they be residents or visitors, are protected from these violent actors.” Eagle says the federal government has been “asleep at the wheel.”

THIS IS YOUR FLORIDA HOUSE — MEN, WHITES, YOUTH HAVE THE NUMBERS via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The Florida House is 76 percent male, 66 percent white, and has an awful lot of newcomers this year, according to data released by the Majority Office.

The Republican caucus is 82 percent male and overwhelmingly white, also at 82 percent, with 17 percent Hispanic and 1 percent African-American. That last would be Rep. Byron Donalds, representing Hendry and Collier counties. The 41-member Democratic caucus is 63 percent male, and nearly half — 49 percent — are African-American. Whites comprise 34 percent of the caucus, and Hispanics 17 percent. Numbers reflect power.

About the newcomers: There are 49 freshmen in the House this year, including 27 in the GOP caucus and 22 Democrats. Only 20 members are in their fourth year of service, including 17 Republicans and three Democrats.

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN FLORIDA COULD TOP $1B IN THREE YEARS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019, according to an industry report …  By 2020, the report predicts, Florida will be the second-largest medical marijuana market in the country, following only California. Marijuana industry analysts New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research compiled the estimates based on data from governments, businesses and activists. New Frontier and Arcview assume sales will begin next year. They predict $10 million in marijuana sales in 2017, though the earliest the drug could be available to an expanded group of patients is late in the year. From there, revenues from the market would only grow, gaining steam from national upward trends in the marijuana industry and the state’s steady population growth.

KNOX MEDICAL AUTHORIZED TO DISTRIBUTE MEDICAL POT via Joe Reedy of the Associated Press – The state’s Health Department gave Knox Medical authorization over the weekend. The organization, which has its cultivation and distribution facility in Winter Garden, said on Tuesday that it expects to begin in-home delivery to patients by Friday.

OIG LAUNCHES TWO NEW INVESTIGATIONS INTO CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – Florida’s inspector general opened two investigations into Citizens Property Insurance Company stemming from internal complaints made against the state-run insurer between July and September … One investigation stems from allegations of improper conduct; the other focuses on alleged harassment and discrimination. The investigations affect two business units: underwriting and systems and operations. OIG investigations can result in criminal prosecutions or terminations. The Office of Inspector General’s third quarter report was given to the Citizens Audit Committee, which met briefly … Audit Committee chairman Juan Cocuy said it was provided for informational purposes and it wasn’t discussed. In all, there were six internal complaints levied against Citizens by staff or vendors between July and September. The other four complaints are being addressed as “administrative projects,” which includes consultation services, opinions and referrals.

FLORIDA CHAMBER TACKLES TRANSPORTATION ISSUES IN NEW VIDEO — The Florida Chamber of Commerce released a new video during The Florida Chamber’s Transportation Summit this week. The video addresses the challenges and opportunities the state will face in the coming years, as millions of more people move into the state. Six million more residents will call Floridians home between now and 2030, and another 150 million visitors will come to the state each year during the same time span. “With a growing population, the Florida Chamber Foundation takes discussions on Florida’s Transportation future very seriously,” said Tony Carvajal, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber Foundation. “By bringing together industry experts with those affected by transportation issues, we can not only plan for the future, but we are able to plan better for the next six million residents.” Among other things, the summit focused on transportation trends; the impact transportation will have on access to housing, education, and jobs; and new models for transportation funding. Click the image below to watch the video.

FLORIDA’S TIDE OF RED INK RECEDES AGAIN – HITTING NINE YEAR LOW via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – Florida’s debt dropped $1.6 billion last year to its lowest overall level since 2007, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet were told Tuesday. The state’s Bond Finance Division Director Ben Watkins pointed out the decline returned Florida to its more recent course of reducing the level of red ink, after a one-year increase spawned by major borrowing for road work on Interstate 4. The $24.1 billion owed by Florida is its lowest level since 2007.

FLORIDA LOTTERY ANNOUNCES RECORD SALES MONTH, STRONGEST NOVEMBER EVER via the Space Coast Daily – The Florida Lottery announces its strongest November ever, with record sales for the month totaling over $489 million, an all-time record high. This represents an increase over last year’s November sales of 9.5 percent. Ticket sales during the month of November generated approximately $127 million in contributions to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF). The Lottery’s November sales figures represent all product offerings, with Scratch-Off sales being primarily responsible for the record numbers; sales of Scratch-Off tickets alone exceeded $327 million. Draw games accounted for more than $162 million in sales.

EX-FWC OFFICER SUES FOR JOB BACK UNDER ‘WHISTLEBLOWER’ LAW via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Travis Hooker filed suit last week in Leon County Circuit Civil Court under the state’s whistleblower law. The decorated combat Marine, who was stationed in Iraq, was a lieutenant in the FWC’s law enforcement division. He alleged that his October 2015 firing came after alerting superiors that another officer was attending his son’s Little League games while on duty. The suit says the proof is in computer-aided dispatch records that show the individual logged in as working, but at the baseball fields. Instead, Hooker himself got in trouble because he declined to name other FWC employees who had tipped him off. Instead of investigating the other employee, FWC officials tried to “damage (Hooker’s) reputation,” according to an earlier court filing.

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS PUTS CHUCK O’NEAL ON ITS BOARD via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising —  Apopka environmentalist and former Democratic candidate for Florida Senate District 11 Chuck O’Neal, has been appointed to The League of Women Voters of Florida’s State Board of Directors. O’Neal rejoins the board after resigning early this year to run for state office.

WHAT JACK LATVALA IS READING – LAURALEE WESTINE APPOINTED TO SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT via POLITICO Florida – Westine, 45, of Palm Harbor, has been an attorney in private practice since 2000, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1995-2000. Westine fills a vacancy created when Judge Bruce Boyer resigned.

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2018 WATCH – JOHN MORGAN TORN ON POSSIBLE GOVERNOR RUN, AND IN NO HURRY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Morgan, the 60-year-old Orlando trial attorney who championed Florida’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative this year, said others – not he – are pushing for him to run for governor. And while flattered, he insisted it’s not his idea, and he’s not giving it any serious thought yet. “I don’t think I have to do anything this year, 2017,” Morgan said in an interview … But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it now, if only when he’s driving around, kicking it around in his head. “The advantage I have, for better worse, is they [any other candidates for governor in 2018] are going to have to spend $25 million at a bare-bones minimum to have any name ID. To me that’s a starting number,” he continued. “And so for better or worse, except for Miami and Fort Lauderdale, I [his Morgan & Morgan law firm featuring him in TV and billboard advertising] am in all those markets, and have been for 30 years or so. I also have the advantage of four years of [campaigning statewide for medical] marijuana, and a very big following. When people come up to me, they thank me for marijuana.”

MIAMI DADE DEMOCRATS PICK NEWS LEADER AMID DRAMA OVER STATE PARTY via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The most momentous election in recent memory for Miami-Dade County Democrats ended late Tuesday after more than three hours of political wrangling that could determine the future of the Florida Democratic Party. At stake at the reorganization meeting were not only the reins of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Executive Committee — but also the chances that a deep-pocketed donor might find a way to run for the far more powerful position of chairman of the state party, which has been reeling since its drubbing in the Nov. 8 election. Juan Cuba, until recently the local party’s executive director, won the Miami-Dade chairman’s post. Dotie Joseph, a former North Miami Beach assistant city attorney, became vice-chairwoman. Business consultant Bret Berlin was reelected state committeeman without opposition. Francesca Menes, policy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, became the new state committeewoman.

— “Stephen Bittel says he has not struck a deal with Miami Dade Democrats” via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald

MARIO DIAZ-BALART READY TO WORK WITH ELAINE CHAO, BEN CARSON via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News – … even as he never quite embraced Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Diaz-Balart was clear throughout 2016 that he would back the Republican presidential nominee but never referred to Trump by the name. Still, that lukewarm support was more than what Trump received from South Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

With the Trump team planning for a $1 trillion federal transportation and infrastructure program over the next 10 years, Diaz-Balart will have a large seat at the table as Congress gets ready to examine the proposal … “I commend President-elect Trump for selecting Elaine Chao to serve as the secretary of the Department of Transportation,” Diaz-Balart said. “Elaine is a bright, capable woman, and her previous Cabinet experience will be helpful in this role. I look forward to working with her to improve our nation’s infrastructure to best serve our country’s needs.” Diaz-Balart also offered praise for Dr. Ben Carson  … after Trump picked his former presidential primary rival to lead the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. “I thank Dr. Ben Carson for his willingness to serve our country as HUD secretary,” Diaz-Balart said. “He will bring an outsider’s perspective, helping to shake things up so the agency can better serve families across the United States. Dr. Carson has a true passion for helping people, and I look forward to working with him to improve the quality and efficiency of our housing programs.”

CHARLIE CRIST CALLS ON CONGRESS TO EXTEND TAX BREAKS BEFORE ADJOURNING via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics — The congressman-elect on Tuesday asked Congress to extend several soon-to-expire tax breaks, including a medical expense deduction for seniors, and a tuition and fees deduction. Congress is expected to adjourn for the year later this week. “These tax breaks are important to seniors, students and homeowners struggling to make ends meet,” said Crist, Florida’s former governor, in a statement. “Congress can and should extend them before the end of session.” Crist has honed in on five tax breaks that help seniors, students, and middle class homeowners. … “The Majority in Congress wants to delay consideration of these tax breaks until next year, when they hope to overhaul the tax code,” said Crist in a written statement. “The better way forward would be to do what’s right for our seniors, students and middle class homeowners and extend these tax breaks now!”

PERSONNEL NOTE: CRIST NAMES SENIOR PATRICK MURPHY AIDE NEW LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR via Florida Politics – Crist announced … the appointment of veteran policy adviser Christopher Fisher to Legislative Director in his Capitol Hill office. “I am excited to have Chris join the team,” the former governor said in a statement. “With his years of experience serving Florida in Washington, working on the issues the people care about, Chris will hit the ground running.” A graduate of the University of Miami, Fisher has a deep legislative background working on behalf of Floridians, previously serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for Congressman Patrick Murphy, legislative assistant for Congressman Ted Deutch, and Health Policy Fellow for Congressman Robert Wexler.

RIO2016, ELECTION2016, POKEMONGO TOP GLOBAL TWITTER TRENDS via The Associated Press –The Rio Olympics, the American presidential election and Pokemon Go were the top global trends on Twitter in 2016. The social media site says Rio2016 was the most tweeted-about topic around the world, followed by Election2016 and PokemonGo. Euro2016, Oscars, Brexit, Trump and BlackLivesMatter also made the top 10. A Spanish gamer known as elrubius originated the year’s most popular tweet: It reads “Limonada” (lemonade) and was re-tweeted more than 1.3 million times. One Direction’s Harry Styles had the second most-repeated post — quoting a Taylor Swift song — with more than 700,000 retweets. A postelection tweet from Hillary Clinton encouraging little girls to recognize their power and seize opportunities was the third most popular of the year with 634,560 retweets.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear friend, Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida, as well as the great Anna Alexopolous, Jane Castor, and Jon Yapo.

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.

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