Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: From a home of religious serenity to one of military readiness, from a structure that was a disaster to one enhancing disaster preparedness – the headquarters of the Florida National Guard in St. Augustine has been all that. The St. Francis Barracks started out, under Spanish rule in 1588, as America’s first convent and a monastery for Franciscan monks. Built from logs and palm fronds but proving to be quite vulnerable to destruction, the monastery had to be rebuilt several times. Now the Guard uses the site to prepare for large-scale disasters – quite a change from the original plan!
DAYS UNTIL Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts: 2: Sine Die: Hours, probably; Jacksonville’s Mayoral Election: 20; Major League Baseball All-Star game: 75; Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuts: 239; First Day of 2016 Legislative Schedule: 258; Florida’s Presidential Primary: 320; Florida’s 2016 Primary Election: 489; Florida’s 2016 General Election: 560.
FLORIDA HOUSE ADJOURNS 3 DAYS EARLY OVER BUDGET IMPASSE via Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press
The annual session of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature crashed to a halt Tuesday as the House adjourned three days early because of a budget impasse with the Senate over Medicaid expansion.
Bills covering everything from tax cuts to gambling and medical marijuana died as a result. The abrupt showdown also raises the possibility of a government shutdown if the House and Senate cannot agree to a new state budget by June 30.
Since the GOP won control of the Legislature two decades ago, the chambers have let their disputes derail the session only a handful of times.
On Tuesday, as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli banged his gavel to end the session, Republican House members cheered, some raising both thumbs in the air.
“He dropped the mic!” Miami Rep. Frank Artiles said.
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said that his party was warned that the House would adjourn early about “10 seconds” before it happened.
“Walking away from your responsibilities is questionable,” Pafford said. “This is a blemish on the Legislature.”
Crisafulli blamed the Senate for the awkward session end. The House has been adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid to more than 800,000 Floridians, even though the Senate has proposed a plan that would allow the state to eventually require recipients to work or attend school.
Crisafulli said the House had made “genuine and legitimate offers” to end the budget stalemate only to have them rebuffed by the Senate.
“It was the right thing for us to do,” Crisafulli said. “We’ve made every effort we can to negotiate with the Senate on the budget. … I don’t think it’s healthy for the process to stay here and continue to talk about something that neither side is changing their view on.”
SENATE CONTINUED SESSION AFTER HOUSE’S ABRUPT SINE DIE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times
Moments before Speaker Crisafulli gaveled the session to a close more than three days early, he left a message on the cell phone of Senate President Gardiner, alerting him of the decision.
Gardiner said that despite the news, he continued navigating the Senate through a series of bills, including a series of claims bills devoted to authorizing payments to people who have been injured by government negligence, and sent them to the governor. He then announced the Senate would return again because “we have a job to do.”
Addressing the chamber, nearly two hours after the House abruptly adjourned sine die, Gardiner expressed his disappointment.
“Nobody won today,” Gardiner said. “Nobody won. Taxpayers lost. It’s an unfortunate turn of events.”
Gardiner said he was proud of the Senate, disappointed in the House and determined to return. He ticked off the bills that had died, casualties of the House’s decision to leave early amid the budget impasse.
“The corrections bill that Sen. Evers brought forward to this chamber, and this body with an oversight committee — that bill’s not going to make it,” he said.
— “Why did the Florida House adjourn early? Answering your questions” via Michael Van Sickler and Kathleen McGrory of the Times/Herald
TWEET, TWEET: @MikeVanSickler: Records dating back to 1971 show that the Florida House and Senate have never ended regular session on separate days. Until now.
EDITORIAL: FLORIDA HOUSE TURNS ITS BACK ON FLORIDIANS via the Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Senate will be in session this morning, debating public policy and passing legislation. The Florida House will be dark because its Republican leaders abruptly adjourned three days early in an arrogant power play over Medicaid expansion that they should not win. It is irresponsible, and it is an insult to Floridians who deserve better.
The surprise move by House Speaker Crisafulli and his puppet master, Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, to shut down the chamber Tuesday reflects their callous attitude toward this state’s most pressing issues. They are all about the hardball politics of pleasing the most extreme wing of the Republican Party, and they are willing to go to any lengths to avoid working with the Obama administration and creating health coverage for low-income Floridians.
To avoid embracing public policy supported by a Democratic president, these Florida House Republicans are willing to sacrifice their precious $690 million in tax cuts. They are willing to put in jeopardy another $600 million in electric rate cuts for Duke Energy customers. They are willing to give up on the House speaker’s top priority, overhauling state water policy. They are taking their ball and going home to avoid accepting federal Medicaid expansion money, and their constituents should let them hear about it in the grocery store, at the mall and on the Little League fields.
HOW EARLY SINE DIE IS PLAYING
Florida Times-Union, House abruptly adjourns session over health-care fight – “House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said he hopes to ‘reset’ the budget process during the undetermined break.” Miami Herald, House carefully planned its ‘surprise’ adjournment but not all members got memo – “The decision by the Florida House to adjourn early was known among a small handful of members of the lobbying corps … positioned themselves in the chamber for the historic announcement.” Bradenton Herald, Florida Senate continues session after House’s abrupt adjournment – “Senate President Andy Gardiner … said that despite the news, he continued navigating the Senate … including a series of claims bills. ‘Nobody won. Taxpayers lost. It’s an unfortunate turn of events.’” Sunshine State News, Legislative Dysfunction in Tallahassee Not a Bad Thing for Conservatives – “… there can be some good that comes out of political dysfunction. Scott … Crisafulli are right in being worried about Medicaid expansion. … Federal government can’t be relied upon to cover most of the Medicaid expansion costs down the road.” News-Press.com, Legislative impasse hurts state taxpayers – “The move does nothing to ease the concerns of a taxpaying public that this Legislature has the best interests of its residents in mind.” Bradenton Herald, Florida Senate warns that intervention by Gov. Rick Scott would be ‘paternalistic’ – “If it’s possible for things in Tallahassee to go from very bad to worse, here’s how … Scott unilaterally calls the Legislature back into special session without any consensus among legislative leaders …” Tampa Bay Times, This is a pivotal time for Tallahassee lawmakers – “Something’s got to give. It will. It always does in Tallahassee, because time is running out.”
COUNTERARGUMENT — LEGISLATIVE DYSFUNCTION NOT A BAD THING FOR CONSERVATIVES via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News
While not exactly the most graceful way of handling things, the House’s sudden adjournment helps ensure Florida’s budget doesn’t go up even higher. Dysfunction isn’t always a bad thing in government and some of the most prosperous times in American history were aided by gridlock in Washington: Dwight Eisenhower with a Democratic Congress, Ronald Reagan against Tip O’Neill in the 1980s, Bill Clinton versus Newt Gingrich.
For far too long, with Republicans holding almost all the cards in Tallahassee, the price tag of Florida’s government has been going up. But with the House and the Senate at each other’s throats, the increase to the cost of Florida government is at least somewhat limited, even if some benefits, like Scott’s tax cut proposal, are lost. Republicans might be fighting it out in Tallahassee, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for conservatives.
HEALTH CARE TRAIN DOESN’T MAKE IT OUT OF SESSION BEFORE HOUSE CALLS IT QUITS via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics
Heath care was the divisive issue of the 2015 regular Legislative Session with health care financing and Medicaid expansion proving too large of issues to bridge differences.
When the House of Representatives abruptly called it quits, several health care issues outside of Medicaid went down in a fiery crash.
Issues that appeared to be alive and in play headed into the last three days of session included:
Developing a site selection process for a new Veteran’s Administration nursing home; allowing physicians to participate in direct primary care;
Allowing advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe and order controlled substances in a hospitals;
Clarifying in statute that free clinics can receive an appropriation, or grant from an appropriation, to provide services to the uninsured while preserving their sovereign immunity protection; and
Authorizing direct primary care contracts between doctors and patients without violating state insurance code.
One bill that passed after the House called it quits was CS/CS/HB 269, which allows manufacturers of investigational drugs, biologic products, and devices to provide such drugs, products, and devices to patients with a terminal condition without the approval of the FDA. The bill has been dubbed the Right to Try Act.
Two other bills that cleared on Tuesday despite the dysfunction include:
CS/HB 751 — The bill allows patients and caregivers to administer an emergency opioid antagonist to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. The bill also grants healthcare practitioners and pharmacists immunity from civil and criminal liability and professional discipline, related to prescribing and dispensing an opioid antagonist. The immunities provided by the bill do not limit any existing statutory immunities that are otherwise applicable
CS/HB 1049 — The bill was amended to include a pharmacy benefits manager issue that has been pushed by pharmacies the past several years but HMOs and managed-care companies have expressed concerns. The language was included in HB 1049, and under the bill pharmacy benefit managers would have to update maximum allowable cost pricing information at east every seven calendar days; and maintain a process that will, in a timely manner eliminate drugs from maximum allowable cost lists or modify drug prices to remain consistent with changes in pricing data used in formulating maximum allowable cost prices and product availability.
FRACKING, LAND MANAGEMENT AND WATER BILLS LEFT IN DOUBT via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics
The Florida House adjourned the 2015 Legislative Session, leaving bills dealing with water policy, hydraulic fracturing, septic tank waste and Duke Energy Florida in doubt.
As the Senate was discussing fracking legislation, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli told House members there was no reason to keep House members in Tallahassee because of an impasse with the Senate over Medicaid expansion in the 2015-16 state budget.
Crisafulli made clear the he did not think the House’s move to sine die killed legislation.
He said the Senate “had a water bill since the third or fourth day of the session so if they wanted to pass it and had an intention of passing it I think we would have probably seen it by now.”
“Every year bills die in this process that’s just the reality of the process,” he said.
After the announcement, the Senate voted 36-1 to pass the House version of a property rights bill, HB 383.
Just before adjourning, the House refused to concur on Senate amendments to HB 7109, a bill dealing with Duke Energy Florida and Public Service Commission reforms.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA ADVOCATES DISAPPOINTED, LOOKING TO 2016 via James Call of Florida Politics
Medical marijuana advocates are now looking to 2016. One of the casualties of the budget debate waging between the House and Senate is a glitch bill for last year’s Charlotte’s Web law.
SPB 7066 died when the House adjourned.
The Department of Health has been stymied in its attempt to implement the Charlotte’s Web law since Gov. Scott signed it last June. Rob Bradley’s rewrite would have rescued it from the lawsuits preventing DOH from issuing licenses to grow marijuana and regulating the sale of cannabis medicine. An amendment he filed Monday would have increased the number of licenses to grow marijuana, the amount of THC in the medicine – making it more effective – and the list of illnesses eligible for cannabis medication.
… Others are turning their eyes to 2016. United for Care, the group behind last year’s Amendment 2 authorizing the use of medicinal marijuana said almost immediately after the House adjourned it was moving forward with a petition effort to put an amendment on the 2016 ballot.
REST IN PEACE…
State Sen. Charlie Dean‘s massive water legislation package — SB 618 — will no longer see adoption into state law this year, in a session that was purported to be a landmark year for water policy.
Speaker Crisafulli made Amendment 1 implementation a signature issue, while his agricultural bona fides were supposed to make him the man for the season. With a bang of his gavel, state policy on large swaths of water issues will remain in limbo until next year.
Corrections system reforms
A bill spearheaded by state Sen. Greg Evers to increase state oversight over Florida’s embattled Department of Corrections also died.
Evers memorably led a hands-on investigation of the system’s recent issues, dropping in on a selection of troubled prisons and drafting a bill that would create an independent watchdog board to check the correctional facilities. Except now, it won’t.
Aid for persons with unique abilities
A Senate-driven package of bills to stimulate the growth of jobs and encourage college enrollment for mentally and physically disabled Floridians also appears it will end up on the cutting room floor.
SB 7030 to estalish “new postsecondary designation for programs serving students with disabilities,” SB 602 to increase state funding of Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and SB 7022 to improve financial literacy education for adults with unique abilities were all already on the bubble, but now are almost certainly done for in 2015.
The Florida Limousine Association’s Rick Versace claimed victory, saying that by taking their leave and refusing to hear state Rep. Matt Gaetz’s HB 817 and other potential boons to the legal stability of Uber, legislators “placed consumer protection above any other priority in rejecting a bad bill that could have become a dangerous law.”
Just a few days ago, some in the lobby corps noted the irony that the Legislature could well be in posture to pass House Majority Leader Dana Young‘s ambitious gaming legislation, but not a budget.
That brief footnote to history is now washed away completely, as the House will take all likelihood of a gambling expansion plan, Destination Resort-style casinos — and even the less controversial Seminole Indian Gaming pact — out of town with them as they fly back or drive back to their districts.
Jet fuel tax exemptions
After a long, hard slog of a fight between major “legacy” airlines like United Airways and Delta and smaller carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, compromise language that seemed to make each side only slightly disappointed seemed to have taken shape in state Sen. Anitere Flores’ SB 722. That bill, now in Senate Appropriations, will remain grounded until the next time around.
An issue that got a surprising level of burn this session, a pair of bills to ban the sale of powdered alcohol, or “palcohol” in industry lingo, is now awash in legislative inertia — having bitten the dust as HB 1247 by state Rep. Bryan Avila lies stuck on the House Special Order Calendar.
Event ticketing retailers
A major legislative battle between Ticketmaster and basically everyone else in the ticket resale business will also go unresolved this session.
RPOF Chairman and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia got his version of a bill to tighten restrictions on ticket retailers as far as second reading before the full House, but it now appears to be stillborn. The Senate companion is stuck in Senate Appropriations, which likely will not meet before Friday as the point is essentially moot.
State Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice is now calling her SB 1226 a “casualty of the war.” The bill to smooth the road for children with elderly parents who sometimes become ensnared in a legally complex battle of powers of attorney is now bereft of a procedural way forward.
The ‘Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program Act’
We could go on for much longer about the wake of legislative destruction the House’s abrupt adjournment has wrought, and we will in the coming days, but here is one example of a slam-dunk proposal that’s now gone with the wind.
State Sen. Joe Abruzzo sponsored a Senate bill — which passed 40-0 today and would have almost surely have passed the House in similar fashion — to allocate $300,000 to enhance the welfare of retired police dogs. But, alas.
TWEET, TWEET: @BSFarrington: I swear to the higher being of your choice that I’m going to eat better and exercise after session ends. Until then …
MEANWHILE… RICK SCOTT FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST OBAMA OVER MEDICAID EXPANSION via the Associated Press
Florida Gov. Scott has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, accusing them of coercing the state to expand Medicaid in order to get $1 billion in federal hospital funds.
Scott filed the lawsuit in a Pensacola federal court. The governor points to a 2012 Supreme Court decision that the federal government can’t coerce states to expand Medicaid, which is what he says the Obama administration is doing by withholding hospital funds.
Legal experts say that case doesn’t necessarily apply. That’s because the hospital funds Scott wants are part of an optional program the federal government has broad discretion over.
Florida previously led the way in challenging the Affordable Care Act and was eventually joined by about two dozen other states. The fight over the hospital funds has also stalled the Florida Legislature.
— “Scott’s example has furthered discord” via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
CMS TO FLORIDA: LIP IS NOT LINED TO MEDICAID EXPANSION via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post
Just hours after Florida sued the White House for linking federal hospital funding to approval of some form of Medicaid expansion, the Obama administration Tuesday denied the two are connected.
“The decision to expand Medicaid, or not, is a state decision,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
He also said that the fate of the state’s $2.2 billion low income pool (LIP) for hospitals and other health providers treating low-income patients is not hinged on expanding Medicaid.
“We will work with Florida and each state that has an uncompensated care pool regardless of its Medicaid expansion status, to support access to health care for low-income residents that works for individuals, hospitals and taxpayers, taking into account the state’s specific circumstances,” Albright said Tuesday.
“CMS will review proposals regarding uncompensated care pools based on the same principles whether or not a state has expanded Medicaid,” he added.
Compare that with a comment from two weeks ago on the FHIX-Medicaid connection — also from the Obama administration. Then conduct further study of what is known as the Rashomon effect.
“Today we articulated to the state that we believe the future of LIP, sufficient provider rates, and Medicaid expansion are all linked in considering a solution for Florida,” said Ben Wakana, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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BACKERS SAY FILM INCENTIVE BILL STILL ALIVE IN TALLAHASSEE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s abrupt decision to gavel the 60-day legislative session to a close three days before its scheduled end because of a budget impasse with the Senate affects loads of important legislation. For the members of Florida’s economy that work in the TV/movie and digital entertainment industry, it could be a devastating blow.
That’s because a bill sponsored by Venice Republicans Nancy Detert in the Senate and Mike Miller of Winter Park in the House that would begin to make Florida more competitive with other states in attracting film and television programs has yet to pass through both houses of the Legislature, potentially setting the state back another yet another year in trying to lure Hollywood productions to the Sunshine State. The state set aside $296 million for such productions that was supposed to last for six years back in 2010, but they burned through that in just a few years, making it a priority for the entertainment community this year.
But Dale Gordon the head the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, says that while officials in the entertainment community in Florida we’re stunned by today’s development, they’re still confident that the bill will come back in the special session – though the likelihood of passage is still unclear at this time.
“We’re not panicking right now,” she told Florida Politics. “We’re surprised, but we knew the special session was going to happen anyway. It’s inevitable.”
Gordon says that because there have been no appropriations assigned to the film incentive package, lobbyists have informed her that this and other economic development bills will be addressed during the special session, which has to be called for but will probably happen sometime in June (June 1 has been rumored as the opening day). The Legislature must come together to close the several billion dollar gap between the two houses to get a budget to Governor Scott by June 30, when the current budget expires.
HOUSE PASSES ONLINE VOTER REGISTRATION BILL AFTER ADDING WHAT SOME DEMS CALL A POISON PILL via Matt Dixon of Political Fix Florida
Legislation that would allow Florida voters to register online by 2017 easily passed the House, but not before a tweak was made that some Democrats said was an attempt to defeat the legislation.
The idea of setting up a system for online voter registration has created a rift between Gov. Scott, who opposes the plan, and lawmakers. During a series of testy committee hearings, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Scott’s top election official, argued with lawmakers over the feasibility of the bill.
The bill passed on a 109-9 vote in the House, but now includes language that increases security requirements for data captured as part of the online voter registration system.
Because the bill now has a provision that was not in the bill when it passed the Senate, it will now have to “bounce” back so Senators can consider the tweaks.
The amendment would require that information online system comply with the “Information Technology Security Act,” and require that Detzner’s office conduct a risk assessment before it goes online, and every two years after.
“This is not a veiled attempt…to kill a bill,” said Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican who filed the amendment. “This is an attempt to say for the first time we are going to pass technology policies in this state that make sense.
DRONE RESTRICTIONS FLYING TO GOV. SCOTT via James Call of Florida Politics
A Florida Legislature crackdown on drones flew out of the House with a unanimous vote.
SB 766 would prohibit drones – unmanned mini-robots equipped with cameras — from taking pictures on private property without consent. The measure already cleared the Senate, and now is on its way to Gov. Scott.
The FAA forbids the commercial use of drones but a New York judge’s ruling last year invalidating a $10,000 fine against a commercial user created a market for their use and raised privacy concerns.
Florida joins more than a dozen states with restrictions on drones.
The proposal, by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill and state Rep. Larry Metz, states that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy on his or her privately owned property if a person is not observable by persons at ground level. It prohibits the use of images taken without consent. Violators would face lawsuits seeking damages and injunctions.
The bill includes exceptions for police if they obtain a search warrant that authorize the use of drones. There also are exceptions for agriculture, utility maintenance, property appraisers and the reasonable use by a person licensed by the state in performance of professional duties.
PARALYZED TEEN WILL GET $3.5 MILLION UNDER CLAIMS BILL via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press
The family of a Jacksonville teenager who was left paralyzed by a falling tree limb will receive a $3.5 million settlement under a bill the Legislature sent to Gov. Scott on Tuesday.
If Scott signs the bill, Joseph and Audrey Stewart will finally be able to better help their son Aubrey four years after he was crushed by the limb that fell from a rotting, city-owned tree that neighbors had been complaining about for months.
“I sent my blessings out to the governor and to Jacksonville,” Joseph Stewart said after the Senate passed the bill on a 36-1 vote. “God bless you.”
Aubrey Stewart was 15 when the accident happened. The city of Jacksonville quickly admitted fault and offered the family $3.5 million for his care. But under Florida law, any claim of more than $200,000 against the state, a city or county must be approved by the Legislature – even if the money would be paid by a local government or its insurance carrier.
Last year, then-Senate President Don Gaetz wasn’t letting his chamber vote on any bill authorizing claims against Florida governments. That included the bill to help the Stewarts, which Gaetz rejected despite pleas from the entire Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Alvin Brown to pay the family.
CLERK’S MANUALS — JUST IN TIME FOR SPECIAL SESSION via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times
If you’ve spent the whole session reminding yourself which one’s Rep. Bob Cortes and which one’s Rep. John Cortes, good news: Clerk’s manuals are in.
Finally, you can learn which freshman lawmaker likes growing vegetables and NASCAR. Or figure out the difference between Travis Hutson’s House and Senate bios.
But the real value of these bad boys will be the special or extended session waiting for us down the road. That’s the moment the Capitol’s newcomers will really shine.
So if you’re asking yourself, who’s Steve Crisafulli? Check the manual. Andy Gardiner? He’s in there too.
(Oh, and John Cortes is a Kissimmee Democrat; Bob Cortes is an Altamonte Springs Republican.)
TWEET, TWEET: @BSFarrington: I swear to the higher being of your choice that I’m going to eat better and exercise after session ends. Until then …
***Smith, Bryan & Myers is an all-inclusive governmental relations firm located in Tallahassee. For more than three decades, SBM has been working with our clients to deliver their priorities through strategic and effective government relations consulting that has led us to become one of Tallahassee’s premier governmental relations firms today.***
ACTUAL PRESS RELEASE: “Gov. Scott to Attend Grand Opening of the Orlando Eye”
WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING — FLORIDA RANKS NO. 1 FOR AEROSPACE MANUFACTURING ATTRACTIVENESS via Cindy Barth of the Orlando Business Journal
Florida ranked first in the United States for aviation manufacturing attractiveness for the second year in a row, according to the PwC US 2015 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings.
The report ranked states on tax rates, industry size, operating cost and education. The study used a weighted average of variables such as costs, workforce and number of aerospace companies located in each state.
Florida is home to more than 2,000 aerospace and aviation companies that employ more than 82,000 Floridians and create an annual payroll impact of more than $5 billion in the state.
Florida’s manufacturing sector also is a leading industry with more than 18,000 companies employing more than 311,000 workers around the state, ranking it first in the nation in manufacturing export intensity — the percentage of our total manufactured goods that are exported.
GAS PRICES LIKELY TO KEEP RISING IN FLORIDA via Doreen Hemlock of the Orlando Sentinel
Gasoline prices have risen at least 10 cents in the past month, and they’ll probably go higher.
This week, the price of regular gas in Metro Orlando averaged $2.51 per gallon, up 10 cents from a week earlier and up 1 cent from a month ago, according the AAA travel club. That’s about $1.15 per gallon less than a year ago.
With crude oil prices hitting their highest levels this year, the price of gasoline now averages $2.53, the highest since December, AAA said in its weekly fuel price brief.
Prices are likely to continue rising as the summer driving season nears and refineries switch to more expensive summer blends of gasoline, AAA said. Even so, gas prices probably won’t hit $3 per gallon in 2015 because of hefty world supplies, AAA said.
The price for West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark oil price, reached it highest level in four months last week but settled down 1.02 percent at $57.15 a barrel.
GUACAMOLE WARS: DRONES AND DOGS DEPLOYED TO FIGHT DISEASE RAVAGING FLORIDA’S AVOCADO CROP via Tamara Lush of the Associated Press
On subtropical farmland in South Florida, researchers are doing battle with the deadly fungus, laurel wilt, which is spread by a tiny beetle and has the potential to decimate Florida’s avocado crop. The hashtag they have adopted for their mission: #savetheguac.
Laurel wilt is spread by the ambrosia beetle, an invasive species from Asia. It first appeared in the U.S. in Georgia in 2002, and has spread around the Southeast, mostly in redbay laurel trees. Avocados are in the same laurel tree family, and once infected by the fungus the tree can be dead within six weeks.
Researchers and farmers are fighting to halt the fungus before it advances to California, where the avocado is king.
Avocados are Florida’s second-biggest fruit crop, behind citrus. The larger, smooth-skinned avocados in the Sunshine State differ from the smaller, rough-rined California Haas avocados. California produces nearly 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop and it’s worth about $400 million annually — which is why it’s essential to stop laurel wilt’s spread.
Part of the challenge of fighting laurel wilt is that by the time a farmer sees evidence of the disease — thin, hair-like prongs sticking out from tree trunks and limbs that are really the sawdust residue left behind by the burrowing beetle — it’s too late to save the tree. But if farmers can catch the disease in its infancy, before symptoms emerge, there’s hope of saving the tree with fungicide.
The first step is finding which part of the grove is infected. That’s where the drone comes in. According to Ty Rozier, owner of Elevated Horizons, a Miami-based drone company, the vehicle carries a thermal digital imaging camera as it soars over the groves in lawnmower patterns.
U.S. SUGAR SAYS LAND BUY NOT WORTH IT, OTHERS DISAGREE via Chad Gillis of News-Press.com
The U.S. Sugar Corp. is trying to save taxpayers from themselves. That was the company’s message while giving … a tour of its facilities and lands that could be purchased for Everglades restoration later this year.
The South Florida Water Management District has an option to buy about 46,000 acres of sugar land by October at an estimated cost of $500 million to $700 million.
“If your solution is ‘let’s just send it (lake water) south,’ you’ve done nothing to improve the water quality at the coasts,” said U.S. Sugar senior vice president and former water management district board member Malcolm Wade. “And you’ve written off Lake Okeechobee, the chain of lakes (north of Okeechobee) and Everglades National Park.”
The public push to “send water south” gained momentum in 2013, when record flood conditions swamped most of the state. Freshwater plumes spewed 15 to 20 miles offshore of Sanibel, and residents on both coasts held rallies and protests.
“They’re ignoring that the government doesn’t want to buy it and they don’t have any plan designs for it,” Wade said. “(The land under contract) has no trade value. The state has been surplussing land already, and they’re looking at this and saying ‘here we go again.'”
Water managers have given up to 17 reasons why the district’s purchase of the land is not worth pursuing, including the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding the lake, wildlife species protection concerns, water level limitations and flood risks. Environmental groups disagree.
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SAVE THE DATE: State Rep. Doug Holder is holding a fundraising reception Thursday, May 7 for his Senate District 28 campaign. The event begins 5:30 p.m. at The Francis, 1289 North Palm Ave., in Sarasota.
ELIZABETH PORTER NOW RUNNING UNOPPOSED IN HD 10 2016
Rep. Elizabeth Porter of Lake City now has even greater certainty of success in her re-election campaign in House District 10 – Tea Party-identifying challenger Barbara Ann Price has formally dropped her bid to challenge Porter as she seeks a fourth consecutive term.
Porter, a former chair of the Columbia County Commission and Deputy Majority Whip in the House, has met a challenge from an independent Price candidacy before. The incumbent shellacked Price, a retired nurse, as well as another write-in opponent in 2014 on her way to gaining 98.3 percent of the vote to Price’s 0.8 percent.
Democrats sat out the last race in the deeply conservative district, which takes in Baker, Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties as well as a portion of Alachua.
Porter’s campaign account showed $8,300 in contributions as of a March 31 state campaign finance filing deadline.
FORMER REP. MARILYN EVANS-JONES ENDORSES SHERI TREADWELL IN RACE FOR HD 11
A Republican candidate in a heated five-way race to succeed Fernandina Beach Rep. Janet Adkins in a Northeast Florida House seat just got a boost from former Rep. Marilyn Evans-Jones, who served for ten years in the House representing two different Space Coast districts from 1976 until 1986.
Evans-Jones came out on Tuesday for Sheri Treadwell, a former U.S. Department of Commerce official under George W. Bush.
In a joint announcement, Evans-Jones said of Treadwell: “”I think Sheri would represent Nassau County and her district beautifully. She is a devout Christian and an intelligent woman. I gladly support her candidacy, and we would be proud to have her representing us in Tallahassee.”
Evans-Jones also ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1986 running with Congressman Lou Frey.
So far Treadwell has raised $13,950 in her bid to represent District 11, second only to fellow GOP candidate Richard Clark.
DEMOCRAT JOE SAUNDERS MULLING POSSIBLE COMEBACK IN HD 49 via Ryan Ray of Florida Politics
Former Democratic Rep. Joe Saunders is “talking to family and friends about what the future may hold” now that Rep. Rene Plasencia – who narrowly defeated Saunders in a razor-thin contest in District 49 last November – has opted to run in a more Republican-leaning adjacent district in 2016.
Saunders took to social media and later caught up with Florida Politics to address the shifting electoral landscape in Orlando.
“The news that Rene Plasencia won’t seek re-election in House District 49 has given me a lot to think about,” Saunders told Florida Politics.
“I’ve watched this session closely and, like many, can see glimmers of opportunity and lots to be concerned about. When I first ran in 2012 my message was about balance. I spent my first campaign, and even my re-election campaign, talking to voters about how extreme Tallahassee has gotten and how disconnected it is from where everyday people actually are,” Saunders continued.
“The work to bring guns to UCF’s campus is a great example. Less than two years after the Knight Nation narrowly averted a Virginia Tech style incident, the legislature moved forward this year with a bill that would tie UCF’s hands when it came to guns. A measure supported by Rep. Plasencia himself who had publicly sworn in debates with me he would never support guns on college campuses,” said Saunders on Sunday, referring to “Coach P”‘s support for HB 4005 on a House education panel.
ALVIN BROWN ASKS “WHO’S ON YOUR SIDE?” IN NEW TV ATTACK AD via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
In a new television ad, the first he has had since the First Election in March, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown asks, “Who’s on your side?”
Spoiler alert: According to the 30-second spot, it is not his opponent in the May 19 runoff, Lenny Curry.
The ad, which is infused with a “fighting liberal” ethos that was absent from the Brown campaign messaging as recently as a couple of weeks ago, draws a contrast between what the Brown campaign dubs his “record of supporting working families” with his opponent’s record of “putting politics above all else.”
Citing Brown’s support of raising the minimum wage, announced last week at a press conference, the ad contrasts that to Curry’s position of opposing a minimum wage increase that he stated, according to the ad, in March 2014.
The ad also contrasts Brown “helping students be the first in their family to go to college” with Curry, who “sided with the politicians who raise tuition.”
As well, “Alvin Brown is working to protect the St. Johns River” while “Curry took money from the billionaires dumping polluted water in the St. Johns,” the ad maintains, referring to donations to the RPOF from the Koch Brothers when Curry was Florida GOP Party Chairman three years ago, rather than to money actually donated to the Curry campaign.
CONTEXT FLORIDA: GOP FLIPS THE BIRD, BALTIMORE, EARTH DAY AND TAINTED FBI TESTIMONY
On Context Florida: With nearly four days left in the Florida Legislature’s regular session, Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House Republicans essentially flipped us the bird and flew home, says Daniel Tilson. Steven Kurlander says the lessons of Baltimore are that Americans need to wake up and notice how misuse of words and arguments in both Baltimore and Ferguson leads to violent behavior. That behavior must not be tolerated, since there is no right to riot, nor should there be tolerance of it on any city street. Last week Kristin Jacobs had the honor and the privilege to stand with President Obama on the 45th annual celebration/recognition of Earth Day. What inspired her most was Obama’s sense of optimism. He was unwavering and reassuring in his desire to stand above the political fray, to ignore the doubters and deniers, and to begin tackling the single largest challenge facing our generation … and we know what she is talking about. Tainted FBI evidence puts Florida convictions in doubt, says Martin Dyckman. At least 42 Floridians have gone to prison, including one who was executed and as many as nine who remain on death row, after trials in which FBI “experts” gave testimony that the agency now concedes to have been unscientific.
NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS
Laura Boehmer, David Shepp, Southern Strategy Group: Lakeside Station LLC
Matthew Dallida: Motorola Solutions
Christopher Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: Florida Power & Light
Emily Lewis: Charlotte County
Bill Martin: Florida Association of Realtors
HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to my man, Brian Aungst, Jr., and today to Sen. John Legg and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s Travis Norton.