Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – February 26

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Some people come into our lives for just a season. However, even after that time has passed, their positive impact is everlasting.

Margaret Crist Wood was one such person for me.

Margaret’s grace, love for her family, her kindness and laughter left a deep impression with me. We met when I started working with her brother, and was later blessed to work for her and learn from her on her brother’s Senate campaign.

Margaret passed away in her sleep Tuesday after an 18-month battle with brain cancer.

As I process the reality that I will never get to thank her in person for all she did for me, I’m reflecting on what a beautiful gift she was to all who knew her.

When I started working in the Governor’s Office, I immediately reached out to Margaret. Senior staff lovingly referred to Margaret as the “head sister” because she was the one who always coordinated family schedules and appearances. Keeping the Governor’s family informed was part of my job, and Margaret was gracious and kind as I navigated that part of my duties.

Margaret was a crucial member of the Governor’s Baseball Dinner Committee that successfully revived the once-proud Florida Spring Training tradition, and I was fortunate to work on that committee with her.

Working at her direction on the 2010 Senate campaign was a great opportunity to expand our relationship. Under the best of circumstances, managing a Senate campaign is a Herculean task. Managing an independent campaign makes the former look like child’s play. Margaret handled it beautifully with skill and grace. She expertly managed all of the personalities of a group of campaign kids (myself included) who needed our fair share or guidance. She was tough but fair.

While those are the ways I was blessed to establish a relationship with Margaret, that’s not what I will remember about her. What I remember is how fiercely she loved her family.

I keep thinking to a weekend road trip she and I took to Miami for the Senate campaign. We spent hours in the car. She talked to me about how she met her husband Emory and about her three children.

She proudly described how beautifully her daughter Mary delivered her first sermon at her new church. Margaret was so proud that her beautiful daughter had dedicated her life to serving the Lord as a pastor. She told me how her son Julian had carefully planned his proposal to his now-wife Meghan. She talked about how she treasured the ability to work day in and day out with her son Warren.

She talked about growing up in St. Petersburg and how her parents’ love story had affected her. She talked about water skiing with her siblings and the joyous summers they all spent together. Her love for her close-knit family was inspiring. Love permeated every word she spoke.

It was that car road trip and our talks about family and love and motherhood that made me realize that there was quite possibly something important missing from my life. Margaret’s love of her family made me desire a family of my own. I took plenty of opportunities to tell Margaret this and being as classy as always, she always told me I gave her too much credit.

As I look at my daughter in a princess gown twirling around daddy’s office as he writes, I can’t help but think of Margaret and smile. She may not have been willing to accept the credit, but my heart will forever credit her for helping prepare me to find my happily ever after.

So, today although my heart is heavy, I’m celebrating the classiest, most graceful lady I’ve ever worked with. For those of us who were blessed to know you, you truly made the world a better place. Rest in peace Margaret.

Now, back to the regularly programmed ‘burn…

OBAMA VISITS MIAMI, GETS MARLINS CAP via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

President Barack Obama landed in Miami .. and was greeted by Gov. Rick Scott, a frequent Obama critic who put differences aside long enough to present Obama with a Miami Marlins cap.

“I brought him a hat for the All-Star Game,” Scott explained in a pool report filed by Patricia Mazzei of The Miami Herald. The Marlins’ stadium was recently picked by Major League Baseball to host the 2017 All Star Game.

Obama was accompanied by U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson and Linda Sanchez. A Republican invited to the town hall meeting, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, was reportedly denied his request to be on the Air Force One flight. White House spokesman Josh Earnest did not offer an explanation, according to a national pool report.


Likening immigration reform to the great civil-rights movements in U.S. history, Obama vowed … to veto any legislation undoing his executive order protecting from deportation up to 5 million people who are in the country illegally.

“In the short term, if Mr. [Mitch] McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have a vote on whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote,” Obama said, almost daring congressional leaders to challenge him. “I will veto that vote, because I’m absolutely confident that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.”

His veto threat was met with rousing applause from the friendly audience assembled at Florida International University, where Obama taped an hour-long town hall-style meeting hosted by Miami-based Telemundo and sister network MSNBC. The event, moderated by bilingual anchor José Díaz-Balart, was later nationally televised on both networks.

… Eventually, he concluded, politicians will rewrite immigration laws, “because at some point, there’s going to be a President Rodriguez, or there’s going to be a President Chin.”


Amid appeals for bipartisanship, President Barack Obama in just three days has provoked Republicans on issues as disparate as immigration, Wall Street and the Keystone XL pipeline – a combative mix of defense and offense that underscores Washington’s political realignment.

Sensing a Republican retreat, Obama (is) … enlisting his Latino base of support to increase pressure on GOP lawmakers who want to tie spending on the Homeland Security Department to repeal of his immigration executive actions. … (Obama) vetoed GOP legislation that would have forced construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline … proposed tougher rules on financial brokers who help manage retirement accounts, over Wall Street objections … three hardball plays.

Such aggressive activism delights his supporters but irritates the Republicans who now control both chambers of Congress.

It’s not as if Republicans didn’t see it coming. But it unfolds as Obama insists he is willing to find common ground with GOP leaders on such issues as trade and fixes to the criminal justice system.

Indeed, Obama … summoned a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House for a private meeting on how to address modernizing juvenile justice, sentencing and incarceration policies … planned to draw attention to the economic benefits of trade and exports in a series of interviews at the White House.

“Let’s try to focus on some of things that we have in common and deliver real results,” he told governors of both parties who attended a White House luncheon.

DEADLINE NEAR, DEAL SETS UP HOMELAND SECURITY VOTE IN SENATE via David Espo and Erica Werner of the Associated Press

Three days before a partial Homeland Security shutdown, lawmakers cleared the way … for Senate passage of legislation to fund the agency without immigration-related provisions opposed by President Obama.

Approval in the Senate would send the issue to the House, where some conservatives derided the plan as a surrender to the White House. … Republicans predicted it would clear, but Speaker John Boehner declined to say if he would put it to a vote.

[I]t appeared the only alternative to House acceptance of the Senate measure — or perhaps a short-term funding bill — was the partial shutdown of a federal department with major anti-terrorism responsibilities — and the likelihood the GOP would shoulder whatever political blame resulted.

The developments in Congress unfolded as Obama met at the White House with immigration activists before departing for a speech in Florida, where more than 23 percent of the population is of Hispanic descent. … quoted Obama as saying Republicans were engaging in “kabuki” to appease conservatives who adamantly oppose presidential directives that would allow more than 4 million immigrants to remain in the country without threat of deportation even though they came to the country illegally.


More than 12,000 airport screeners, border patrol officers, and other Homeland Security employees working in Florida would be affected if Congress doesn’t agree this week on funding the agency for the rest of the fiscal year.

The Homeland Security Department employs about 240,000 workers across the country. About 30,000 of them — mostly office workers — would be told to stay home without pay of the agency closes after Friday. About 80 percent considered “essential” would remain working … they would not get paid unless Congress decided later to do so retroactively.

The Homeland Security Department employs 12,599 workers in Florida, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management. That workforce includes … 6,049 with TSA … 3,422 with Customs and Border Protection … 1,307 with Immigration and Customs Enforcement … 754 with the Federal Emergency Management Agency … 678 with Citizenship and Immigration Services … At least 275 Coast Guard employees.

That number could be considerably higher because the state-by-state breakdown provided by the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t include 41,000 active-duty Coast Guard members around the country.


Jeb Bush was quick to weigh in on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, but has remained silent about the fight over Department of Homeland Security funding.

In recent days we’ve heard from Democrats and equally eager Republicans wondering where the highly visible presidential contender stood on the issue dominating Capitol Hill.

“With the GOP’s partial Homeland Security shutdown looming, Jeb Bush’s silence demonstrates he is not ready to lead the Republican Party, let alone our country,” said DNC spokesperson Michael Tyler. “Despite warnings from one of his advisors that paralyzing the Department of Homeland Security would put our nation’s security at risk, Jeb Bush refuses to encourage his fellow Republicans to do their job. If Jeb Bush wanted to be his own man, he would be leading his party – not waiting to see which way the political winds blow as our national security and the livelihoods of thousands of DHS employees hang in the balance.”

The issue illustrates how Bush will feel more pressure to comment on national matters. When Obama announced the steps to protect millions of additional immigrants against deportation late last year, Bush readily joined in, saying it would make it harder for Congress to act.


Republicans are furious that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wouldn’t testify before the House Oversight Committee before tomorrow’s vote to reclassify the Internet. Things are so bad that the word “Benghazi” is being thrown around —and a poster of Wheeler spotted near Capitol Hill calls him a “boot licker” and another NSFW name. Meanwhile, Sen. John Thune is warning that the FCC vote could lead to a U.N.-style Internet regime.


The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a Florida grouper fisherman who was found guilty of violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for throwing back undersized fish.

Wildlife officers caught John Yates, of Holmes Beach, with the undersized fish in the Gulf of Mexico and told him to bring them back to shore when he returned to the docks.

Yates was charged under a 2002 law intended to crack down on financial coverups in the wake of the Enron fiasco, and the case had been watched for where the court would come down on the question of government overreach. Yates faced up to 20 years in prison.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion that sends the case back to the 11th Circuit Court. Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined in the opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a separate concurring opinion.

Justices Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.

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WISCONSIN’S WALKER OPENS UP BIG IOWA GOP LEAD via David Lightman of McClatchy Washington Bureau

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has opened up a big lead in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state, a new Quinnipiac poll says … Walker polled 25 percent, twice as much as his closest rival, in the Republican presidential derby.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is second at 13 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 11 percent each. Bush is at 10 percent.

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is taking the Republican political world by storm,” said Peter Brown, Quinnipiac Poll assistant director. “He’s gone from being unknown outside Wisconsin to the hot candidate, poised to become the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. Front-runner status would make it easier for Gov. Walker to raise money and recruit top talent for his staff, but it also puts a target on his back.”


Some of the top Republican presidential hopefuls, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, will speak at Club for Growth gathering in Palm Beach … but you won’t read about it on a Florida news site.

Florida reporters aren’t invited … The Club can hold a private event, of course, but it chose to invite some news outlets.

“The decision was made to limit access to a few outlets not only for space and privacy concerns, but also to outlets with readership interested in the Club for Growth specifically, not just the Floridians speaking at its conference,” spokesman Barney Keller said.


CPAC, the annual winter confab held, begins … in Washington, and American Bridge 21st Century is psyched.

The liberal super PAC conducts opposition research to help Democratic candidates and their organizations (we saw one of their cameramen in Sarasota to film the Rand Paul speech earlier this month).

With some very slick editing, they’ve produced a new web ad that appears to make all of the major GOP presidential candidates – Bush, Walker, Rand Paul, Christie and Rubio — appear to be floundering on the campaign stump. Again, definitely some slick editing.


[W]ith temperatures below zero, 25 College Republicans from Saint Anselm College met privately with Rubio … immediately won the support of Shane Archambault, a 20-year-old sophomore.

“We obviously want a candidate who can win elections,” he said. “I think it would be tough for somebody named Jeb Bush to win the election, especially because of how many people disliked his brother at the end.”

His reaction offered a promising sign for Rubio’s first foray into New Hampshire as an all-but-declared presidential candidate … validation of the 43-year-old senator’s theory of the case, but just as important, it highlighted an opening Rubio hopes to exploit against fellow Floridian Jeb Bush.

Rubio, who has made clear to key supporters that he will run for president instead of reelection to the Senate, plans to present himself as a young, fresh face with an inspiring personal narrative — the embodiment of the American Dream. Implied, of course, is a strong contrast with Bush, the scion of a political dynasty that now extends five generations deep.

In an unsettled key early state — where the activist class is in no rush to take sides and everyone thinks that the race won’t break decidedly until late January — Rubio recently signed top GOP operative Jim Merrill to oversee his New Hampshire efforts. Merrill, who led Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns here, qualified as a big get, signaling the seriousness of Rubio’s intent in the nation’s primary.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rubio will speak at a veterans’ health care policy summit hosted by the Concerned Veterans for America’s (CVA) Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce and live streamed online. Media can RSVP to Media event begins 8:45 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

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Everyone – and I mean, EVERYONE – seems to be completely blowing off Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s candidacy and think her chances of winning a 2016 Senate race are about the same as mine. … I will make the case for her.

First, she can raise real money.  She has a strong base in South Florida and a national network that rivals anyone — even Patrick Murphy.

Second, even though she hasn’t been on the ballot in a seriously contested election … she knows how to fight, to organize and how to campaign. She has been in non-stop campaign mode … since she was a child. … [D]id I mention she has friends in high places?

So, can she make it out of the primary?

That will depend on what the primary looks like and who else appears on the ticket. … where they are from and what demographic box they can check. Put a lot of men from I-4 (or anywhere for that matter) and if she is the lone woman, she waltzes right in. If it’s just her versus Murphy and another woman, she will have a much harder shot. … with serious cash … and high name recognition … she begins the race – regardless of what the ticket looks like – at or near the front of the pack.

So where do most Democratic voters live? Even a first year poli-sci student knows the answer to that. They live in her media market. They have seen her on TV since before they were on Medicare. They know her and my guess is, they like her.


The Tampa-based Democrat was easily re-elected in November for the fifth time since winning the open seat in 2006. If she wishes, the 48-year-old Congresswoman could probably hold her seat another couple of decades in her overwhelmingly Democratic drawn gerrymandered district.

There also has been speculation she could be considering a run for governor in 2018 as well.

This week, Florida Politics asked Castor whether she’s considering a run for higher office.

She didn’t completely rule it out.

“I love the state of Florida,” she said as she walked toward an aide’s car driving her to Tampa International Airport after concluding a press conference on the DHS funding situation. “And I am very concerned about the direction of the state. And I love public service. It’s very rewarding. Can I have a greater impact where I am? I have been building seniority on the most important committee to the state of Florida (the Energy and Commerce Committee). But I want the best for all my neighbors and I want the best for the state, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. But I’m not planning anything.”

STORIFY: @SaintPetersBlog: SPOTTED: @JeffAtwater & @TheRickWilson walking into @NRSC office in D.C. Is the CFO gearing up to run in 16 for @MarcoRubio’s seat? … .@JeffAtwater may be the most underestimated major pol in Florida. A giant killer & a fmr. Sen. Pres., he isn’t given enough cred. … A @DWStweets vs. @PatrickMurphyFL primary on one side, a @JeffAtwater vs. @WillWeatherford race on other in 2016? Wow!!! … If you needed any further proof that @MarcoRubio is running for president, what does it say that @TheRickWilson is in DC for @JeffAtwater? … @TheRickWilson tight with Rubioworld + Wilson doesn’t waste his or his client’s time. So if he’s taking Atwater to NRSC #ConnectTheDots.

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A $100 million settlement has been reached between three major tobacco companies and hundreds of people who sued them for smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Florida federal court.

The tentative agreement … involves R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. … resolves about 400 cases pending before a federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, but does not affect thousands of other lawsuits pending in Florida state courts.

The lawsuits stemmed from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, known as Engle v. Liggett Group, which threw out a $145 billion class-action verdict against cigarette makers. That decision let stand … companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking hazards … also required smokers and their families to pursue individual wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits based on cigarette use.

The settlement … requires final approval from a federal judge … would end the federal cases that would have taken years had they gone to trial.

Under the deal, R.J. Reynolds and Richmond, Virginia-based Philip Morris would each pay $42.5 million and Lorillard, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, would contribute $15 million. Each individual plaintiff who agrees to the settlement can share in the funds, but any that do not may negotiate further. The goal … is for full participation.

FLORIDA BANKS BUCK PROFIT TRENDS via Margie Manning of the Tampa Bay Business Journal

Florida commercial banks and savings institutions outperformed their counterparts nationwide in 2014.

As a group, 179 Florida financial institutions posted $1.19 billion in net income in 2014, up 14 percent from $1.04 billion in net income in 2013, according to newly released figures from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Nationwide, full-year earnings totaled $152.7 billion. That’s $1.7 billion lower than in 2013, a decline of 1.1 percent, the FDIC said. It was the first decline in annual net income in five years.

Much of the 7.3 percent decline in earnings for banks nationwide in the fourth quarter was due to a $4.4 billion increase in litigation expenses at a few large banks, according to the FDIC. More than half of the 6,509 FDIC-insured institutions around the country had year-over-year growth in 4Q earnings, and the number of “problem banks” fell for the 15th consecutive quarter to 291.

Most of Florida’s banks are community banks.

One of the biggest turnarounds was posted by Florida Bank in Tampa, the sixth most profitable bank in Florida in 2014, with $40 million in net income. In 2013, Florida Bank lost $5.1 million; only eight other banks in Florida had bigger losses last year. Florida Bank is being acquired by IberiaBank Corp. in a deal expected to close within days.


Florida’s corporate tax rate of 5.5% is among the lowest in the U.S. But if it were solely up to Rick Scott, it would be completely eliminated. The governor campaigned in 2010 on eliminating the state’s corporate tax by the end of his second term in office. … the Legislature has resisted such a tax cut so far, there is a proposal in the Legislature this year that would increase the corporate income subject to taxation from $50,000 to $75,000.

A new report … says that the most profitable Fortune 500 corporations headquartered in Florida have been paying less than half of that 5.5% rate, while receiving taxpayer-funded subsidy deals and government contracts at the same time … those same companies have spent “heavily” on state-level political campaign contributions and legislative lobbying in Florida.

Integrity Florida says that although the corporate profits tax rate in Florida is set at 5.5% … 13 profitable Fortune 500 corporations headquartered in Florida paid a 2.7% average corporate profits tax rate to state governments in the U.S. between 2011 and 2013. Those same corporations made $35.1 billion in estimated profits in those years, and paid an estimated $945.7 million in total corporate taxes in those same two years.


One of the many things that Republicans, including those in Florida, have complained about President Obama is his use of executive power, most recently … seen in his executive order dealing with immigration.

Florida is one of the more than two dozen states that late last year joined the lawsuit filed by Texas challenging the president’s actions. … Attorney General Pam Bondi contended that her decision to join the other states was not about immigration but to undo what she termed “unwarranted presidential overreach.”

… Scott exerted his own kind of executive authority, and one that could theoretically also be challenged as “overreach.” … issued an executive order … authorized Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to suspend an 11th grade standardized test that was about to be given to high school juniors this spring. … in response to a testing investigation undertaken by Stewart at his urging last year while he was on the campaign trail.

… Scott asserts that his authority to give Stewart the power to suspend the test is vested in the state constitution. … [L]anguage he cites is from the first part of Article IV, which states that the governor “has supreme executive power.”

Nowhere does Scott contend that there is an emergency that requires him to act now regarding the test.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will present school recognition funding to Orange County Schools at a press conference beginning 10:00 a.m. at Dr. Philips High School, 6500 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando.

A RICK SCOTT TAX HIKE? YES, SOME REPUBLICANS SAY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott doesn’t talk about how his “record” budget for schools requires the state to collect more taxes from Floridians. … some of his fellow Republicans say it’s true.

Scott’s $77 billion budget proposal now before the Legislature includes $842 million more for schools, bringing per pupil spending to its highest level. … nearly half of Scott’s increase would come from higher property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses due to growth in property values.

Is that a tax increase? Absolutely, a key Republican legislator says.

“It is a tax increase if you’re a property taxpayer who gets a tax bill that will go up next year compared to this year. Property taxpayers will look at that and say ‘That’s a tax increase,'” said Sen. Don Gaetz … key architect of the education budget as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. “The state is contributing less and less … and local school districts are contributing more and more.”

Gaetz … added: “If the check he (the taxpayer) has to write goes up, then he thinks his taxes go up.”

Scott’s education budget includes $392 million more in property taxes collected statewide as part of the statewide K-12 fund known as required local effort, for a total of $7.6 billion. The state-mandated property tax rate for schools would stay the same under Scott’s proposal — about $5 for every $1,000 of taxable value — but the growth in property values will require taxpayers to pay more.

If Scott’s proposal passes the Legislature, all 67 county school boards will have to ratify the decision.

TWEET, TWEET: @Mdixon55: Legislature shooting at DEO … Prominent GOPers saying Scott’s budget raises taxes … Waiting to be told Legislature/EOG fight is media creation


He advised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Republican Governors Association … Alan Levine now says he has a message for Florida Republicans in the Legislature: Tap into a 1332 innovation waiver under the Affordable Care Act. The waiver allows the state to essentially circumvent the employer mandate, the individual mandates as well as provisions on exchanges and premium credits.

“If the Legislature wants to be bold and offer a conservative solution, it’s one of the best tools I’ve seen,” Levine told Florida Politics via a series of Facebook messages. Levine, Mountain States Health Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer, works in Tennessee now but says he cares about what happens in his native state and will start talking to Republicans about the 1332 waiver option.

The section 1332 waiver would allow the state to circumvent most of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and use the  federal funds that would have been funneled to Florida under Obamacare — such as the premium tax credits to individuals who enroll through and tax credits for small businesses – to fund the state created program. Levine’s “read” of the section is that the state also would be authorized to use Medicaid dollars, federal Title XXI dollars (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) and Low Income Pool dollars to fund the state program.

Levine called section 1332 of Obamacare “the red carpet Republican governors have been wanting.”


If Florida increases its bet on gambling, the wager will ride on whether new casinos could become economic engines as in Baltimore, or economic vacuums as in Atlantic City … the central argument in a debate over gambling during a Florida Forward forum sponsored in downtown Orlando …

Opponents, notably No Casinos Inc. President John Sowinski, argued that many new casinos have sucked vitality out of communities by drawing dollars away from existing restaurants, hotels and attractions. … he held up Atlantic City’s economic demise, with recent widespread casino failures, as a frightening cautionary tale.

Supporters … argued that many new casinos that are more wisely planned and regulated, as in Baltimore and Ohio, have been boons to their cities’ economies and could serve as role models for any Florida expansion.

The casino issue is reemerging because Florida’s five-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida expires this summer. It allows the tribe lucrative, exclusive rights for its seven tribal-land casinos, in exchange for more than $130 million in annual fees.

A renegotiated contract could open up what other casino operators want — expansion of competition.

GROWERS REACT TO CHARLOTTE’S WEB “KILLER” APP via James Call of Florida Politics

Florida nursery owners and investors are gaining a better understanding of a regulatory structure for a medicinal marijuana industry. The Office of Compassionate Use posted several documents … created by a proposed rule for the state’s Charlotte Web law.

“Have you seen the application? My, it’s a killer,” grower Kerry Herndon said with a laugh … “I spent a long time on the old rules applications and this is like ten times more.”

Growers, investors and patient advocates will get to discuss applications for the five licenses available to grow marijuana and a performance bond tied to the license during a public hearing … The proposal was developed in a negotiated rule making session that last more than 25 hours earlier this month.

The Department of Health invited a panel of stakeholders to help write regulations implementing the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act after a judge invalidated its first attempt.

The latest proposal is entering a period where it can be challenged for not being consistent with the law as written or with legislative intent. … after looking at the application and the scorecard DOH will use to evaluate applicants … DOH isn’t mandating requirements but will score applicants on their plan to meet objectives.

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Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by uber-rich brothers David and Charles Koch is lashing out against two powerful Senate Republicans who have introduced bills related to economic incentive programs.

One bill (SB 1046) by Sen. Nancy Detert … would create an incentive fund “to respond to extraordinary opportunities and to compete effectively with other states” in attracting the entertainment industry to Florida.

The other bill (SB 1214), by Sen. Jack Latvala … makes changes to existing quick-action closing funds, which AFP says allow state dollars to subsidize private economic development without enough transparency or oversight.

AFP isn’t really a fan of Detert or Latvala, despite its strong conservative reputation and the senators’ klout among fellow Republicans in the Legislature. In 2014, AFP gave them both “F” grades in its legislative scorecard.

HOUSE, SENATE UBER BILLS CLASH via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel

Bills filed in the House and the Senate to impose state regulations on ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are headed in the opposite directions.

The Senate version … by Sen. Jeff Brandes … imposes state requirements for insurance, background checks for drivers and minimum vehicle safety standards, but allows local governments’ fees – like the ones recently passed by Orlando – to stand.

The House version … by Rep. Matt Gaetz … includes the same insurance and background check requirements but preempt all local regulation of companies providing rides through phone applications or other software to the state.

Brandes … said he would like to see those local fees and regulations gone.

The House bill also imposes other regulations and restrictions not included in the Senate bill. Uber and Lyft would be required to pay a $5,000 annual permit fee, post fare calculations and insurance coverage limitations on their websites, provide electronic receipts to passengers and provide insurance for drivers. … Uber and Lyft would be required to implement a “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy. Passenger complaints of drivers would result in an automatic suspension of the driver until the companies complete an investigation.

Both bills prohibit the companies from hiring drivers with more than three moving violations or one major violation like reckless driving in three years. Drivers with a DUI within the last seven years or a felony conviction for fraud, theft, sexual crimes, property damage or violence need not apply either.


Democratic Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana recently filed a mental health crisis prevention bill in the Florida House designed to increase preventing mental health care, a social service offered on a very limited basis if at all in Florida’s lean state government.

“While the Mental Health First Aid Act is only a small step towards improving our mental health care crisis, it is a step in the right direction,”said Berman, who chairs the Palm Beach County legislative delegation. “I am happy to sponsor this legislation so that we can begin to eliminate the stigma regarding mental health and help individuals get appropriate recognition and treatment.”

Following public spectacles of violence at educational facilities like the Sandy Hook and Florida State University shootings, rhetoric began to circulate that while gun possession laws need not be regulated, mental health ought to be bolstered. Towards that end Berman’s bill would direct the Department of Education to create a program that would teach educators and first responders “information about potential risk factors and warning signs of mental illness” or substance use disorders.

This is not Berman’s first bite of the mental health apple. She’s also sponsoring a bill to reform the Baker Act with fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Abruzzo of nearby Boynton Beach.

Her bill matches that of Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, who introduced identical legislation back in mid-January. Her SB 344 awaits a hearing in the Senate Education Pre-K – 12 Subcommittee. It figures to have a difficult path forward after that since it must then navigate committees on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, Education Appropriations and Appropriations, no mean feat for minority party-sponsored bill that requires the appropriation of funds.


Republican Rep. Manny Diaz of Hialeah Gardens has filed a bill that would prevent entities who receive funding from Florida’s government from suing the state using those taxpayer dollars. The Hialeah Gardens Republican says that he is not seeking to limit access to the courts for these organizations, but rather simply seeking a commonsense accountability measure.

“It is illogical that taxpayers can foot the bill when an organization sues the state.” said Diaz in a statement on Wednesday. “We need to hold all groups accountable: fiscally and ethically.”

A separate provision of the bill would require that any group receiving more than a quarter of its annual revenue from state-funded sources must annually submit all revenue, salaries and benefits of its employees and officers, litigation expenses, and description of  its political activity.

Diaz’s bill, HB 549, is matched by Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel’s SB 1114. Though the language is not yet identical, the pair of lawmakers has indicated their desire to make the bills comport with one another during the legislative process.

The House version has been referred to the Government Operations Subcommittee, Appropriations and State Affairs. Stargel’s bill has yet to receive committees of reference.


As more Florida school districts say they aren’t technologically ready for computerized testing, one key lawmaker has pointedly questioned their reports.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg noted during a recent hearing that superintendents whisper about problems as they sign their names certifying readiness. Now, he’s filed a bill aiming to take the system out of their hands.

SB 1264 would have an independent state agency set standards for school technology needs, and also assess whether districts meet the mark. In order to receive state technology funding districts would have to undergo this verification.

“Not a lot of us have a lot of confidence in what the districts are reporting,” Legg said, adding the state wants to have “truth in data” before pouring more money into the system.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed putting $80 million into school technology during the coming fiscal year. We expect a lively discussion about how that money would be spent, with issues such as internet connectivity in rural areas among the many demands.

PIC DU JOUR here of Reps. Jim Boyd and Matt Hudson visiting the new Pittsburg Pirate Field House.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***


Florida Realtors … announced joining the 23-member coalition of major employers to support legislation updating the state’s discrimination protections for employment, housing and public accommodations.

As the newest member of Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, Florida Realtors is the largest trade association in the state, with more than 140,000 members. They are part of a grassroots movement backed by more than 200 Florida businesses, each seeking passage of the Competitive Workforce Act.

For the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session, Florida lawmakers will consider House Bill 33, filed by Key Largo Republican Rep. Holly Raschein and Senate Bill 156, by Democratic Sen. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington.

Both bills combined are known as The Competitive Workforce Act … updates Florida’s anti-discrimination law, creating uniform protections statewide in an effort to help attract and retain the best employees.

In a statement, Florida Realtors President Andrew Barbar said his organization is proud to “support any public policy measure that promotes fair housing and helping Floridians achieve the dream of homeownership.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Sadowski Coalition and other affordable housing advocates will release “Home Matters Report 2015” and call on the Legislature to use housing trust funds for, um,  housing. Press conference begins 10:30 a.m. at the Florida Realtors offices, 200 South Monroe Street in Tallahassee.


In anticipation of the 2015 Legislative Session, is asking state lawmakers about … goals and priorities … here are responses from Rep. Shawn Harrison of Hillsborough.

Local priority: “The move of the USF Medical School to downtown Tampa.”

Special appropriations: “Funding the Manatee Hospital upgrades at Lowry Park Zoo, the state’s only dedicated facility for the treatment of injured manatees.”

Expand health care coverage to Floridians without coverage as a result of not expanding Medicaid: “I am open to the expansion of health care for Floridians based on free market, private enterprise models. I do not favor a ‘Take it or leave it’ dictate from the federal government.”

Brandes’ medical marijuana bill: “I did not support Amendment 2 but I agree that there are appropriate applications for medical marijuana as long as it is for limited and specified conditions. I am open minded on Rep. Steube’s bill and hope it can be further limited to distribution by traditional pharmacies.”

Beer “growler” debate: “I see no reason why they should not be available.”

Alcohol/grocery separation law repeal: “Yes. Beer and wine can already be sold. I don’t believe there is a reason for the distinction.”


Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes is holding the latest “Brews with Brandes” beginning 6 p.m. at the Green Bench Brewing Company.  Green Bench is at 1133 Baum Avenue, in St. Petersburg’s Edge District.


Republican House District 16 hopeful Jason Fischer is hosting a fundraiser beginning 5:30 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of GrayRobinson, 50 N. Laura St. Ste. 1100.


Former state Rep. Jamie Grant … facing nearly $6,000 in fines from the Florida Elections Commission for late-filed finance reports from his 2014 campaign. He appealed and the commission took up his two fine cases.

Emmett Mitchell, Grant’s lawyer, told commissioners the campaign treasurer had been confused because of litigation over the race … Commissioner Patricia Hollarn wasn’t buying the argument.

Because of ongoing litigation over Matthews’ presence in the race, the House of Representatives threw out the November election results and vacated the office. … A new election against write-in Daniel Matthews is set for April 21.

The commission agreed to reduce the fine in the first case from a maximum of $5,650 to $700 – $50 for each of the 14 days the report was late. … The next fine of $250, for another report that was seven days late, was upheld.


With the campaign in its last week, two mystery mailers are roiling the race in City Council District 6.

Both mailers defend candidate Jackie Toledo against “vicious” attacks and describe her as an apolitical, unifying leader. One mailer … also calls her opponents, Tommy Castellano and Guido Maniscalco, “failed” politicians … asks, “Will they do anything to beat this woman?”

The mailers are being sent by a political committee called Moving Tampa Forward that was registered with the Florida Division of Elections on Feb. 17 … the committee’s sole officer as Auston Cianflone and gives its address as 4010 N Lois Ave., in Tampa — an address that belongs to the Hawks Landing student apartments for Hillsborough Community College.

HCC does not have a student named Auston Cianflone … It does have a student named Auston Molina … [A]n Auston Molina from Tampa (has) Facebook connections include two people named Cianflone … listed on his Facebook page … “Moments from the Year” in 2014 included “Anthony Pedicini’s 35th Birthday Pub Crawl,” … a photo gallery that includes tagged photos of Molina and Pedicini … Toledo’s paid campaign consultant.

“The only person that I’m working for in the District 6 race is Jackie Toledo,” said Pedicini, whose firm has been paid $33,755 by Toledo’s campaign for advertising and campaign materials.

Asked whether he knew Auston Cianflone, Pedicini said no. Asked whether he knew Auston Molina, he said, “No, I don’t think I do.” … about the Facebook photo gallery, Pedicini said, “I have to go look at the pictures. There were 90 people at my birthday party.” … he has 3,000 friends on Facebook.

“I’m always the guy,” Pedicini said during a telephone interview about Moving Tampa Forward. “I’m always blamed … It’s good for business.”

***Today’s SUNBURN is sponsored by Corcoran & Johnston Government Relations. One of Florida’s top lobbying firms, Corcoran & Johnston has demonstrated the ability to navigate government and successfully deliver results for clients, time and again. To learn more visit***

APPOINTED: Maurice Ferre and Kenneth Wright to the Florida Transportation Commission.

REAPPOINTED: Susan Rolston and the reappointments of Brian Aungst Jr. and Dr. James Sewell to the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County.


After the collapse of the record industry from a witches’ brew of online music sales, internet streaming and piracy, live music has arisen as the next great revenue source for the music industry. … With it, came the evolution of a secondary ticket market – “scalping” as some say.

The logistics of putting on a concert, from the artists, promoters and venue operators to ticket sellers, causes billions of dollars in lost revenue to this “secondary market.”

Internet-driven ticket reselling, where both ticket brokers and scalpers see profits while those taking artistic and financial risks, see little or no returns. Live music event behemoth Ticketmaster, with its parent company, Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, are now entering the fray by moving into the reselling market.

In true corporate fashion, Ticketmaster is working legislatively in Florida to gain an advantage in this lucrative resale market.

HB 463/SB 742 are new attempts to rewrite the law in 2015. If passed, it would revamp Florida law, defining a ticket as a license, revocable for any reason … “A ticket is a revocable license, held by the person in possession of the ticket, to use a seat or standing area in a specific place of entertainment for a limited time. The license represented by the ticket may be revoked at any time, with or without cause, by the ticket issuer.”

What makes this significant is that for an individual to transfer a ticket – for sale or free – they would need permission of the original ticket issuer. In many cases, that’s Ticketmaster. Consumers have only one option: to resell or transfer the “license” through Ticketmaster or its reselling website, presumably for a fee.

The problem with that is this; imagine being unable to attend a concert at the last minute. The law would technically prohibit you from merely selling the ticket/license, or even giving it to a friend. You would have get permission through Ticketmaster first … TM will prevent reselling tickets by anyone except them … Limiting competition … have one intended consequence: driving up secondary market ticket prices, with TM reaping additional billions in revenue.


Ivette Arango, The Beacon Council

David Browning, Jerry McDaniel, Southern Strategy Group: Daytona State College Foundation

Mike Corcoran, Corcoran & Johnston: Florida Alliance for Healthy Communities

Nelson Diaz, Southern Strategy Group: Beer Industry of Florida; Braman Motors

Mark Maxwell, SCG Government Affairs: ESE Networks; Social Solutions

Frank Mayernick, Tracy Mayernick, Jodi Stevens, The Mayernick Group: Florida Association of Recovery Residences; Lexington National Insurance Corporation; RAI Services Company

Rhett O’Doski, Sean Stafford: The Alliance for Solar Choice

Eric Prutsman: Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association

Keri Rayborn: Professional Resource Network

Missy Timmins: 1-800 Contacts, Inc.

SPOTTED at Southern Strategy Group’s Happy Hour event at its new Tampa office: Rep. Jimmie Smith, former Rep. Ed Hooper.


Sandi Poreda today announced the launch of her new communications firm, Bulldog Strategy Group. The firm is headquartered in Florida’s capital city and specializes in what a release describes as “the under-served field of litigation communication, as well as crisis communication training and response.”

“I’m excited to plant a small but meaningful flag in the landscape of the public relations industry,” Poreda said. “Bulldog Strategy Group strives to be exactly what our profession needs – smart, honest and tough.”

A nationally accredited public relations professional, Poreda has more than a decade of providing strategic communications counsel to organizations and clients. As communications director for former Attorney General Bill McCollum, Poreda was directly responsible for the communication of complex and sensitive legal issues to the media and public at large.

“This specialty service area gives Tallahassee’s legal community the opportunity to provide added value for their clients,” Poreda said. “Traditionally, attorneys and public relations professionals are polar opposites, but we know that good communication and successful cooperation benefits everyone, especially the client.”

In addition to focusing on litigation communication, Bulldog Strategy Group specializes in crisis communication training and response. Poreda has extensive experience managing crisis scenarios, from natural disasters to internal disruptions, and she emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. Crisis communications services include the development of a customized crisis communications plan, scenario-based training, media training, media relations and direct crisis management.

“Sandi’s range and depth of experience will serve our community well,” said Sarah Bascom, president of Bascom Communications and Consulting, LLC.

Poreda’s firm also offers a full range of public relations and marketing services, including target audience identification, message development, copy writing, social media management, media relations and special event coordination.

***Metz, Husband & Daughton is a full-service  firm dedicated to overcoming clients’ legislative, legal and regulatory challenges. An energetic team of highly-skilled members; MHD has the experience, expertise and reputation necessary to achieve clients’ diverse goals in the policy and political arena.  MHD has proven proficient in achieving results through long-standing representation of Fortune 500 companies, major Florida corporations, and state-wide trade and professional associations.***

ACTUAL PRESS RELEASE: “Second Annual VCC Vaping and Electronic Cigarette Convention Comes to Tampa”


On Context FloridaWith all the coverage of special interest agendas and lobbyists making millions, Daniel Tilson says most Floridians cast a blind eye towards state government. It is not because they do not care, but because the humanism, empathy, compassion and clarity that should be the four chambers of the briskly beating heart of our government … have been replaced by corporatism, selfishness, heartlessness and secrecy. Miami Herald political editor Sergio Bustos recently said that Senate President Andy Gardiner met recently with Herald editors and told them that, if he could, he would do away with the Florida Lottery. With that, Jac VerSteeg says casinos might be out of luck in Florida. A Senate president who would like to pull that plug clearly would have no interest in letting gambling interests build their glittering palaces in the Sunshine State. As someone who has tried to use the sports platform and the power of sport to address serious social issues during the past 50 years, Richard Lapchick has great hope that we will use sports platforms in an expanded way in the years ahead. Society can only be better for it if we do.

Media bashers, media ethicists and the Greek chorus at Comedy Central will be gorging for a long time on the disgraced remains of Brian Williams. Florence Snyder believes the credibility crisis now engulfing NBC News is not Williams’ fault. It is never the reporter’s fault.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


Reggie Garcia, state lobbyist and an AV preeminent-rated lawyer, has written a do-it-yourself guide to the Florida correctional system … a complex system for parolees and clemency petitioners to navigate.

How to Leave Prison Early lists 25 steps to clemency, 17 steps for parole, seven steps to get into work release and four steps for a conditional medical release … for the family and inmate seeking mercy from the governor and Cabinet in the form of a second chance after serving a sentence or is eligible parole.

“It is very clear to me is that it is a hyper-niche of government,” Garcia said … “People somewhat understand the courts, people somewhat understand the Legislature but very few people interact with the executive branch, particularly the government and Cabinet, unless they have a regulatory or policy matter. And here four times a year the governor and Cabinet sit in the Cabinet room and hear from ordinary citizens who are asking for a second chance.”

Garcia has more than 20 years’ experience representing clients in clemency, parole and work release matters. He observed that the system can be confusing and intimidating to people caught in its web.

Graham chaired the Clemency Board for eight years and commuted 21 prison sentences. Garcia noted he has a deeper understanding of the issues at play than most people.

***Conversa is a women- and minority-owned, full-service public affairs, public relations, design and research firm, specializing in the development of campaigns that help you listen, understand, engage, and interact with local and global audiences. We’ve helped organizations ranging from Fortune 500 clients and national non-profits to small businesses and international associations define messages, protect interests, influence opinion leaders, and create the conditions necessary for social change. To learn more about how we get people talking, visit***

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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