Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 16

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

Days until Sine Die: 47; Days until the 2015 Election: 232; Days until the 2016 Election: 602

Happy birthday to House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, who is turning the big 5-0.  Also celebrating today are John French, Jan Gorrie, Broward Commish Chip LaMarca, and Alexander Pantinakis. Belated wishes to state Sens. Audrey Gibson and Chris Smith, former state Rep. Marti Coley and ace comms staffer Kristen McDonald.

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: Officially, Major League Baseball’s color barrier was broken in Brooklyn in 1947. But unofficial history was made here in Florida 69 years ago this week, when Jackie Robinson played at Daytona Beach’s City Island Ball Park in the first integrated spring training baseball game. Robinson was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league Montreal Royals team when he made his debut on March 17, 1946. City Island was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1990, with a statue of Robinson at the south entrance.

Now, on to the ‘burn…


Several top lobbyists are irked by the fundraising efforts underway by Rick Scott‘s Let’s Get To Work CommitteeAs Marc Caputo of POLITICO first reported, Scott became the first sitting governor to embark on a paid media campaign to advocate for his policies. (Recently), he began meeting with a handful of lobbyists at a Tallahassee hotel, where he asked them to bundle as much as $250,000 each for his upcoming ad buy.

Some lobbyists and their clients are kicking in, but some are not, especially as Scottworld continues to do everything it can to support presidential candidates not named Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Scott himself continues to praise Texas Gov. Rick Perry, while his top fundraiser, Meredith O’Rourkejust went to work for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a personnel move we predicted in January).

As one top lobbyist close to Bush sums it up, any money given at this point to Let’s Get To Work is indirectly hurting Bush and/or Rubio.

Two interesting other personnel notes about LGTW: 1) one of its point people on the ground in Tallahassee is Brecht Heuchan, the well-liked lobbyist, political operative, and founder of Contribution Link; 2) the latest campaign finance report for the committee shows that former RPOF Executive Director Juston Johnson, who resigned immediately after state Rep. Blaise Ignoglia unseated Leslie Dougher as chair of the Florida GOP, is now on LGTW’s payroll.

Supporters of state Sen. Jack Latvala‘s bid to be the next Senate president are pointing to his fundraising efforts as an indication that his rival, Joe Negron, has not yet locked up the race.

Latvala out-raised Negron by nearly 4 to 1 in February and raised more money during the last month than Negron has money left in the bank.

Those numbers are misleading, Negron’s supporters insist. While Latvala has been raising money for his committee, they point out Negron has been assisting state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Bill Galvano with raising money for Senate Victory.

Jack’s on the outside, Joe’s on the inside, they say.

Negron’s camp is also saying that there will be pressure on Andy Gardiner to call a caucus vote soon after state Rep. Travis Hutson wins the April 7 special election for Senate District 6.

If Latvala has a card or two left in his hand, now would be the time to play it.

We’re into Week 3 of the 2015 legislative session, which means lawmakers are, basically, at the first turn on the track. Does this mean that legislators are 20 percent done with their work? Absolutely not. In fact, after talking with nearly two dozen lawmakers this past week, I am confident that my prediction that this session would see the fewest number of bills passed is all but a lock. It’s not that bills are dying. It’s that they may never have been alive in the first place.

Is the gambling bill DOA as the Chamber/Disney/No Casinos crowd would have you believe? No, it’s not dead, but it is drawing to an inside straight.

But before I explain why the bill may not be dead, just think about how, um, interesting it is to see the Florida Chamber’s Mark Wilson appearing in an ad defending the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It’s almost as jarring as seeing Associated Industries’ Tom Feeney rallying Senate Democrats on the issue of Medicaid expansion.

Back to whether Majority Leader Dana Young‘s gambling legislation is dead. Here’s the latest key development: Senate leadership is telling casino industry lobbyists that it will not reveal its own gaming bill until the House shows it is actually interested in passing some kind of gambling bill. Specifically, Young’s bill has to make it out of one committee before the Senate, which historically has been more open to gambling expansion, shows its cards.

Look for Young’s bill to be workshopped in the next two weeks (probably 3/26) with a first committee hearing scheduled right before the Easter break.

The trouble for Young’s legislation, or any gambling legislation for that matter, is not the anti-gaming folks, it’s the gambling and pari-mutuel interests who believe they will be left out of the game.

For example, the parimutuels in South Florida would only get a tax cut … in the future … but only when a destination casino comes in and competes with them with more product offering. They get no expansion of operation hours, no parity of product. The only thing other parimutuels get is the ability to decouple and potentially be bought by another interest for the value of its permit under the new formula in the bill.

These are just a few of the policy obstacles standing in the way of the gambling bill’s progression.

Undoubtedly, the event of the week was the Capitol Press Corps Press Skits, if for no other reason than the A-list mingling the event provided. Look, there’s Adam Putnam … there’s Kathy Mears … there’s Gwen Graham, etc., etc.

The skits, at least the ones not produced by the Florida Cabinet, House or Senate, were mediocre, for a host of reasons previously discussed. What has not been discussed is the behind-the-scenes in-fighting that is plaguing the Capitol Press Corps. At work is a rivalry between reporters for The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida, which, along with Press Corps President Tia Mitchell, is the driving force behind the event.

The bitterness of this rivalry was alluded to by the AP’s Gary Fineoutwho tweeted during the Skits that he would not be “taking part in the @NewsServiceFla er, yeah, um “Capitol” Press Corps skits” and that he will participate again only “when the skits are controlled again by journalists.”


Fineout’s tweets, as well as comments from The AP’s Brendan Farrington, are an indictment of NSF publisher Ruth Herrle, who has been accused by more than Fineout and Farrington of “hijacking” the skits. Some Capitol Press Corps members are upset with the selling of high-priced tables to lobbying firms — the same firms the press criticizes for lavishly contributing to state politicians.

There are other issues dividing the Capitol Press Corps; we hear of a rivalry between Mitchell and the Miami Herald‘s Mary Ellen Klas, as well as gossip about a high-profile table sponsorship that has gone unpaid.

With a diminished press corps, the skits are already struggling to remain relevant. And these behind-the-scenes machinations aren’t helping.

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Like Barack Obama as a candidate, Rubio is a first-term senator who lacks sweeping accomplishments and is known as much as anything for his powerful rhetorical skill.

… Rubio is prepared for the Obama question — he got it during an interview last week on Fox News — and points to his nine years in the Florida Legislature. “I was the majority whip, majority leader and speaker of the House of the third-largest state in the country.” Obama, he says, was a “back-bencher” in the Illinois Legislature.

“Ultimately I think the failure of the Obama presidency is not that he only served two years in the Senate before he started running for president,” Rubio said. “The failure of his presidency is that his ideas were just wrong.”

Questions about seasoning are not likely to go away.

“His rivals will certainly bring it up and feed it as a story to reporters,” said Andrew E. Smith, a nonpartisan pollster in New Hampshire. “A skillful candidate can turn it to his advantage, as Obama did in 2008.”

Rubio’s American Dream story, based on his Cuban immigrant parents, is gripping.

“Voters want to get carried away emotionally by a candidate,” Smith said. “The intellectual part is one thing. The experience is another. But you’ve got to have the charisma, the rhetoric to deliver it to voters.”

Republicans have typically rewarded presidential candidates who have been around for a while, but there is a growing sense that this will be a change election — not unlike 2008, when newcomer Obama galvanized the country.

“2016 is the first opportunity Republicans have had in quite a while to be the party of the future, to be the part of a better tomorrow,” Rubio said, “and I hope we’ll take up that opportunity.”

MITT ROMNEY WARMS TO RUBIO via Robert Costa and Phillip Rucker of the Washington Post

Rubio has been cultivating a relationship with Mitt Romney and his intimates, landing some of the 2012 Republican nominee’s top advisers and donors and persistently courting others as he readies an expected 2016 presidential campaign.

In a crowded field of contenders, the imprimatur of Romney could help clear Rubio’s path into the top tier. Since Romney announced in January that he would not run for the White House again, he and Rubio have had at least two lengthy phone calls in which Romney encouraged and mentored the 43-year-old Florida senator about the political landscape, according to a Romney associate.

Rubio and Romney have built a warm and trusting rapport, in contrast to the frostiness that exists between Romney and the two current GOP front-runners, Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. When Romney said in January that it was time to turn to the “next generation of Republican leaders,” it was widely interpreted as a swipe at Bush and a boost to a fresher face, such as Rubio.

In one-on-one meetings and communications with members of Romney’s inner circle, Rubio has impressed them with what they see as his compelling personal story, his depth and positions on policies, and his respect for Romney and his legacy in the Republican Party.

Rubio has signed up two prominent former Romney officials in recent weeks. Rich Beeson, Romney’s 2012 national political director, has been tapped as Rubio’s likely deputy campaign manager, while Jim Merrill, Romney’s longtime New Hampshire strategist, is on board to play the same role for Rubio.

“For me, his substance, his skill and his story really stuck out,” Merrill said. “I always said if Mitt had decided to run again, I’d be with him. But when he decided not to go, I took a careful look at the field, and Marco represents the next generation of Republican leadership.”

Rubio’s courtship has been particularly intense with Spencer Zwick, who served as national finance chairman of Romney’s $1 billion campaign and is seen as the keeper of the Romney flame. Zwick said in an interview that the senator solicits advice from him regularly in phone calls, e-mails and text messages.

… Rubio also has roots in the Mountain West. Although he was born into the Catholic Church, Rubio lived for several years of his childhood in Las Vegas and, during that time, was baptized in the Mormon Church. In his teen years, he and his family returned to Florida and rejoined the Catholic Church, although many of Rubio’s cousins remain affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

… On Tuesday, Rubio met at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington for an hour with Lanhee Chen, Romney’s former policy director, who remains an adviser and friend. Chen said he was impressed by Rubio’s preparation for the meeting, which focused on foreign and domestic policy, as well as his depth on the issues.

… Rubio’s camp has been in touch with other Romney associates, including Peter Flaherty, a former Boston prosecutor who for years was Romney’s chief liaison to conservative movement leaders.


It was Jeb Bush the conservative, optimistic wonk who showed up in New Hampshire on Friday after a 15-year absence from the first-in-the-nation primary state.

In remarks shot through with policy details and optimism about the potential for growth and innovation to solve the country’s problems, Bush emphasized the conservative sides of his positions on education and immigration and called for severe limits on the federal government’s role in fighting climate change at a half-house party, half-media circus at the home of former state Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen

When asked to name the biggest misconception about Common Core, he said, “That it’s a federal takeover of education.” He then called on Congress to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the law championed by his brother’s administration, and praised limits the law sets on the federal government’s influence over educational standards and the content of curricula.

In addition to advocating for tighter border security, Bush said the country needed to address the problem of immigrants who come legally and outstay their visas. He praised the American immigration system’s focus on family ties as “noble” but said the rules should be changed to privilege economically productive immigrants — likening them to half a million first-round draft picks.

Bush also said that the federal government’s role in fighting climate change should be limited to conducting basic research, that he would like to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and that the country should take a more active role in world affairs. “We’ve been a force for good, consistently,” he said. But “our foreign policy is one of retrenchment, one of disengagement.”

A RELAXED BUSH BRINGS HIS A-GAME TO NH via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Amid melting snowbanks and wall-to-wall throngs of reporters at stops in New Hampshire, Bush — looking at least 30 pounds trimmer than when he was governor — took pointed questions about his views on immigration and the Common Core education standards without a hint of defensive.

Like an anti-Mitt Romney, he firmly stood behind positions that are toxic to many likely Republican primary voters.

“You don’t abandon your core beliefs. You go persuade people, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now, about why I’m for higher standards,” he told a woman who asked him about his support of the Common Core standards adopted by Florida and more than 40 other states. “I think you need to be genuine. I think you need to have a backbone.”

Like an anti-Hillary Rodham Clinton, he cheerfully bantered with reporters and took time to answer question after question on hot-button issues. National reporters saw the Jeb Bush that Florida reporters knew in the 1990s — a top-tier politician who engages, is unscripted and often unpredictable, and can get excited about the most arcane topics.

Bush looked like he was having fun, bemused by the dozens of journalists crowded around him and eager to substantively discuss issues with individual voters, as New Hampshire has come to expect.

“Just kinda wandering around, learning a lot and having fun doing it,” Bush said later, insisting for the umpteenth time that he was not yet committed to running in 2016 but only exploring the possibility.

SPOTTED: A menacing looking Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times on the front-page of the Nashua Telegraph. Front-page here.

THIS IS NOT A STORY: “As governor, Jeb Bush used email to discuss security, troop movements.

ALTHOUGH THE DNC THINKS IT IS, HIGHLIGHTING THIS QUOTE FROM THE BUSH ARCHIVES: “For security purposes, you need to be behind a firewall that recognizes the world for what it is, and it’s a dangerous world, and security would mean that you couldn’t have a private server. It’s a little baffling, to be honest with you, that didn’t come up in Secretary Clinton’s thought process.”


By most accounts, Bush’s first visit to Iowa last weekend was a success. … But before he even set foot in the state, the former Florida governor faced an embarrassing setback: a well-known Republican privately rejected an offer to co-chair Bush’s Iowa campaign.

The importance of political endorsements is often overstated — nothing more than a person agreeing that his or her name be added to a list of supporters. But in Iowa, endorsements can matter, not necessarily for the showcasing of a person’s support but rather the political network and connections the endorser brings to the table.

Chad Airhart instead chose to back Scott Walker in the 2016 GOP Iowa caucuses … Airhart, the Dallas County Recorder, has significant experience in Iowa presidential politics. He worked for the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004, Mitt Romney in 2007 and backed Romney in 2012 … Airhart currently serves as chairman of the Iowa Republican County Officials Association.

Airhart said when he told the Bush team of his decision it was amicable. “They just wished me luck and said they’d see me on the other side,” he said.

THE TROUBLE WITH BEING JEB via Charlie Cook of the National Journal

For some time, polls have found Bush with higher negative ratings than one might expect of someone who has never before run for president or, until recently, maintained a high national political profile.

In the newly released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 1 through 5, among 1,000 adults nationwide, 34 percent of those who were asked how they felt about Bush had either “somewhat negative” (20 percent) or “very negative” (14 percent) feelings about him, with just 23 percent expressing positive impressions (4 percent “very positive,” 19 percent “somewhat positive”). Bush’s net rating (positive minus negative) on this personal thermometer was -11 points, putting him at the bottom of the list of the nine public figures (and one institution) the survey asked about.

While 86 percent of those who identified themselves as Democratic primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Clinton (13 percent could not), just 49 percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Jeb Bush (42 percent said they could not). Indeed, greater percentages of Republican primary voters were able to envision supporting Rubio of Florida, or Walker, or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, than could picture backing Bush.

When asked to choose … 59 percent chose change over experience, while just 38 percent preferred experience over change. All registered voters were then asked the same question about both Bush and Clinton: whether each represented “too much of a return to the policies of the past” or “would provide the new ideas and vision the country will need for the future.” Sixty percent of those surveyed said that Bush represented a return to the past, while 27 percent said he’d provide new ideas and vision; for Clinton, 51 percent saw her as a return to the past, while 44 percent saw her bringing new ideas and vision.

While political reporters, activists, and aficionados may be quite well versed in, and genuinely disagree with, Bush’s positions on specific issues, it is unlikely that many average Americans outside Florida are especially familiar with his stances at this point. It would seem, then, that Bush is simply not being seen by many people as an individual in his own right; he appears to have inherited negatives that he didn’t particularly earn during his tenure as governor. The obvious conclusion is that he is being viewed as an extension of his brother—though that doesn’t explain why he is less popular than George W.

Unquestionably, Bush is going to raise more money than any other Republican, and that gives him some advantages. But it is also clear that he faces political headwinds within his party, some related to his moderate positions on immigration and education, but some because he is somehow seen as more of a reflection of the past than Hillary Clinton is. Like an onion, this campaign is going to have lots of layers.

FLORIDA’S ABOUT FACE ON PRIMARY TIMING via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida is moving to the first date a state can offer a winner-take-all format for delegates, which are used to determine the nominee. That would allow whoever wins Florida to get all of the state’s projected 99 delegates, rather than just a proportion of the victory total, as will be the case for other big earlier voting states like Texas, Ohio and Virginia. They are all set to vote before Florida.

National party rules say that any state voting before March 15, 2016, will have to split delegates proportionally according to the vote tally. As a result, candidates who win won’t necessarily get a full complement of delegates.

Florida Republican Party chairman Blaise Ingoglia said he wants the state to be the first big winner-take-all state to assure that Florida’s victor will have a major boost toward the GOP nomination, and perhaps the presidency.

“We don’t want to dilute our importance,” Ingoglia said.

If the race is still close when Florida votes on March 15, Bush or Rubio could be in an ideal spot to add a windfall delegate haul at a critical point in the nomination process. The only other states set to vote on the same date are Missouri and Illinois, neither of which has close to the delegate total that Florida would offer.

But the move comes with a risk: Florida is putting its primary after as many as 17 other states, including other general-election swing states like Ohio and Virginia. In short, if one candidate gets on a roll, the nomination process could be over before Sunshine State voters cast a ballot.


The unlikely pitch from medical marijuana legalization advocates to conservatives who control the Florida Legislature goes like this: Pass a law now — or risk hurting the GOP presidential candidate by having a referendum on the 2016 ballot.

A constitutional amendment would draw to the polls the younger, more liberal voters more likely to support medical pot, proponents say, helping the eventual Democratic nominee in the nation’s largest swing state — possibly over Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both homegrown Republicans.

“Most people understand that, in a presidential year, medical marijuana will pass,” said Jeff Kottkamp, the Republican former lieutenant governor who backs legalization. “They also know on the national level a Republican can’t win without Florida.”

But GOP leaders in Tallahassee aren’t buying it. Medical marijuana supporters made a similar contention when the issue was on the ballot last year — both Rubio and Bush opposed it — yet Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist anyway. Many Crist voters didn’t vote for the marijuana amendment, a post-election analysis showed. In fact, statewide ballot measures have failed to sway presidential elections in Florida time and time again.

… “I really don’t think that it would ultimately impact the presidential campaign,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who proposed this year’s medical cannabis legislation in the Senate, SB 528. “I just think it’s the right policy.”

… Even some Democrats who endorse the law see a rocky path ahead. “The Legislature should act, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of momentum to pass,” political consultant Steve Schale said. Like the Republican legislators, he disputed the notion that trying to draw a line between a medical marijuana ballot initiative and the presidential race would be persuasive.

“There’s just no evidence in the history of Florida of there having been an up-ballot impact” from a constitutional amendment, he said.

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“The former Republican governor and attorney general flopped when he ran for Senate in 2010 as an independent and governor in 2014 as a Democrat. Yes, he was our choice in last year’s governor’s race, but he lost to incumbent Republican Rick Scott. Now an aide from last year’s campaign says Crist is exploring a run for U.S. Senate. Say it ain’t so. Like an athlete who doesn’t know when to retire, he risks being remembered for futility instead of his earlier achievements. We’ve got a serious case of Crist fatigue, and suspect we have plenty of company.”


Murphy (hosted) political donors at the posh SLS South Beach hotel this weekend to wine, dine and fish with them in preparation for a likely 2016 Florida Senate run.

An itinerary obtained … for the two-day affair include(d) a Friday night reception with Murphy (attire: “resort casual”) and sail fishing for wahoo, kingfish and dolphin, with one trip departing Saturday morning and another Saturday afternoon. It conclude(d) with a late dinner at the hotel.

The itinerary does not say how much donors (were) asked to contribute to what for now is still Murphy’s congressional re-election account, Friends of Patrick Murphy.


As Murphy … gets closer to launching a 2016 U.S. Senate campaign, University of Minnesota political scientist Eric Ostermeier, whose Smart Politics blog is a favorite read for data-minded politics geeks, notes that it’s very rare in Florida for a sitting U.S. House member to make the jump directly to the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

The last Floridian to do it: Republican Connie Mack III in 1988, when he was a three-term U.S. representative and edged Democrat Buddy MacKay, who was also a sitting House member, in the general election.

Mack’s son, former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, attempted the feat in 2012 but lost to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Nelson is a former House member, but he held statewide elected office as Florida’s insurance commissioner when he was elected to the Senate in 2000.

Before Mack, Republican Rep. Ed Gurney went directly from the House to the Senate in 1968.

The last Florida Democrat to successfully jump from the U.S. House to the Senate was George Smathers in 1950. Smathers defeated incumbent Sen. Claude Pepper in a legendary Cold War Democratic primary in which Smathers accused the liberal Pepper of being a communist sympathizer and dubbed him “Red Pepper.”


Republicans in Washington appear most interested in three GOP names: Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, state Rep. Pat Rooney Jr. and Hobe Sound businessman Gary Uber. Democrats generating some chatter include Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, state Sen. Jeff Clemens and state Rep. Dave Kerner. … There’s also been mention on the GOP side of St. Lucie County Commissioner Tod Mowry and Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, wife of popular state Sen. Joe Negron.


A divorce lawyer for Grayson’s wife says the congressman is trying to intimidate him.

Attorney Mark Longwell said in a court filing that Grayson had written him an email threatening litigation for comments Longwell made about the divorce proceedings earlier in the week.

The email was an attempt to intimidate him and influence his counsel of Grayson’s wife, Lolita, Longwell said in the filing, which asks for a protective order prohibiting Grayson from “engaging in abusive behavior.”

Grayson’s attorney, Mark NeJame, said the congressman was only trying to set the record straight with his wife’s attorney.

“He’s no-nonsense and this is not a game to him,” NeJame said. “This has to do with his family, his children, and whether or not he was deceived.”

A trial on whether the Graysons’ marriage was legitimate started last week in an Orlando courtroom. The hearing is to be continued at a later date.

PRESS RELEASE OF THE WEEKEND: “(Dennis) Ross Commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848

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In the 30 years I’ve watched governors, only Crist walked into office with a plan for keeping the records of his administration public. He created an Open Government office and named Pat Gleason, an expert on access and public records, as its special counsel. And he directed state agencies to comply. When we ran into trouble with an agency, Gleason and sometimes Crist personally stepped in to help.

All of this changed when Scott was elected. He does not make most of his travel public and never discloses who travels with him on his personal airplane.

On any given day most of us don’t know where Scott is. This is how he was able to join sugar lobbyists in a secret trip to the King Ranch in Texas. It was only discovered later when the Tampa Bay Times gained access to Texas hunting license records.

Scott and his staff rarely even answer questions posed by reporters. Instead they repeat talking points released earlier.

He has made a lot of noise about putting his emails online, but much is missing when a controversy occurs. After he was re-­elected in November, Scott admitted he and staffers had been conducting business in private emails they had not disclosed.

His office has been especially uncooperative when times get tough. After he was caught lying about the firing of FDLE Commissioner Jerry Bailey, Scott repeatedly refused to answer questions about the situation.

When confronted with a Department of Corrections in chaos and under investigation for the deaths of inmates, his administration issued a gag order forbidding anyone at Corrections to respond to any questions.

Scott kept the Open Government office Crist created, but it is essentially a joke. Meaningful responses to questions and requests have disappeared behind press releases.

A governor’s response to open government is important. It sets an example for the rest of state government as well as cities and counties who are covered by the law.

Scott fails by any measure.

NO TROUBLE GETTING DATA FROM STATE AGENCIES via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union

Public record requests sent to a half-dozen state agencies produced relevant documents in a reasonable time frame and generally free of charge, an audit performed as part of the Florida Society of News Editors’ annual Sunshine Week found.

However, anecdotes from newspapers around the state demonstrate that obtaining documents and data from state agencies is not always this easy and can sometimes be very expensive. The Attorney General’s Office runs a mediation program to assist journalists and members of the public in resolving disputes over public records, but that process is no cure-all.

The offices of Gov. Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Economic Opportunity and Florida Supreme Court all promptly responded to reporters’ requests for the department head’s daily schedule, travel reports and expense documentation from October. … None of the state agencies required a fee to fulfill the requests.

Not all of the Sunshine Week requests produced many documents. For example, Scott prefers to travel on his family-owned private jet and does not always submit paperwork to the state asking for reimbursement for expenses.

“The search for records has been completed and no records responsive to your request were produced,” his office said in response to the audit request. The governor’s schedule is posted online and emailed to the media daily.

Putnam’s office provided his calendar but said he, too, did not submit travel documentation or expense reports during the month in question. The DEO submitted 40 pages of travel documentation in addition to executive director Jesse Pannucio’s schedule and expenses for the month.

Reporters across Florida relayed much more troubling responses when making their own public record requests in recent months.

The Florida Department of Health sent the Tampa Bay Times an estimate of $714.18 for copies of the agency’s Ebola team’s incident reports this year. The bulk of the charges were to pay for 13.25 hours of staff time to review the reports and make redactions. Because there were no confirmed cases of Ebola in Florida, the paper questioned the amount of the estimate but ultimately narrowed its request to lower costs.

In June 2014, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel asked the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to comb its Electronic Freight Theft Management System database for information about cargo heists. The agency first told the paper it did not have the information, then said it was exempt, then estimated the cost could be $5,000 or $10,000 to produce the data, according to editorial page editor Rosemary O’Hara.

After months of conference calls and meetings with lawyers, the department told the paper the new estimate is $8,000.


Lawmakers are considering more than 60 bills that would create new exemptions in the Sunshine Law, including a measure that would keep the public in the dark about who is applying for top university posts.

Only the Legislature can create exemptions in the Sunshine Law; bills that would close meetings and information to the public require a two-thirds vote in each chamber and automatically sunset after five years unless they’re re-enacted. Bills creating exemptions must state the public necessity for doing so.

Since 1985, the number of Sunshine Law exemptions on the books has grown from about 250 to more than 1,100, an increase of roughly 340 percent. Last year alone, lawmakers passed or re-enacted 22 exemptions, roughly 12 percent of all bills passed, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee.


The father-and-son lawmaking team of state Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Chris Latvala has angered open government advocates by seeking to expand privacy protections for current and former police officers as well as their parents, siblings and even their girlfriends.

The two Pinellas legislators have filed similar bills in the Legislature that would keep secret driver license numbers, license tag numbers, email addresses and “former places of employment” for current and former law enforcement officers.

The bills say the new exemptions are needed to protect officers from physical or emotional harm or stalking.

“There just seem to be a lot of people that have a negative view of law enforcement, and want to do them harm, so I wanted to give them extra protections,” said Rep. Latvala … was concerned about an anti-police mentality in the wake of officer-involved shootings and altercations in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere that led to widespread protests across the country.

Shielding police officer records can have consequences. In 2011, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune ran a series detailing how the process for investigating and disciplining Florida police officers and prison guards has been flawed at several levels, allowing troubled lawmen to return to work after repeated acts of misconduct.

Under the Latvalas’ proposals, thousands more current and former officers would also be covered by the new protections, including specified employees in the state departments of Health, Children and Families and Revenue; current and former correctional officers and correctional probation officers; and current and former assistant state attorneys.

“They just don’t give this stuff the kind of deliberation they should,” she said. “When you look at public-record exemptions, they fly through. Why isn’t somebody saying hey wait a minute, why are we exempting this?”


This legislative session, one lawmaker filed a bill creating what he thought were common-sense exceptions to Florida’s broad disclosure statute for public records, which would encompass body-cam recordings.

But state Sen. Chris Smith … had to temporarily pull the measure (SB 248) from consideration after objections from police and civil rights organizations that the measure went too far — or not far enough. A House companion measure was withdrawn last month.

Smith’s (b)ill creates several exceptions to public disclosure, including body-cam footage taken inside a home; at a hospital, mental health or social services facility or at the scene of a “medical emergency.”

Other exemptions apply to video showing someone under 18 inside a school or on school grounds, or “a child younger than 14 … at any location.”

A catchall provision exempts any police body-cam video where an individual recorded had “a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Smith added: “The devil is in the details, and the problem we have is trying to get these details so that everything is fine. Every time we put something in, something else pops up.”

He mentioned a section of his bill mandating law enforcement agencies keep body camera recordings for “not longer than 90 days.” Law enforcement representatives told him that some internal investigations, for instance, can last up to four years, he said.


Access to Florida online court records varies by hierarchy” via The Associated Press

A look at five ‘sunshine citizens’ and their pursuit of public records” via the Miami Herald

Public records sometime costly and can take months to receive” via the Florida Times-Union

Sheriff’s office charges $20 for CDs: Are public records a money maker?” via the Palm Beach Post

With more police wearing cameras, the fight over footage has begun in Florida” via Columbia Journalism Review

***The Fiorentino Group is a full service government relations and business development firm providing a broad range of consulting services to clients looking to influence public policy and create new business opportunities. The Fiorentino Group’s team of advocates is one of the largest in the state and has decades of experience in state, local and federal government relations and new business development.***

CHARLOTTE’S WEB STALLED AGAIN BY CHALLENGE… via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Florida’s long-delayed effort to provide a strain of medical marijuana to cancer patients and those suffering seizures has hit another snag — with a legal challenge to the latest attempt at crafting regulations for the so-called Charlotte’s Web product.

Advocates said they had hoped the new regulations would avoid the kind of objection brought by a Jacksonville attorney representing a 4-year-old suffering from a brain tumor.

Peyton and Holley Moseley, a Gulf Breeze couple whose daughter, RayAnn, has cerebral palsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily, helped spearhead last year’s legislative effort that legalized the liquid, non-euphoric marijuana strain.

“The Moseleys are heartsick to learn of the challenge to the Charlotte’s Web rule,” said Ryan Wiggins, a family spokeswoman. “Following the last hearing, they felt confident that all of the stakeholders in the rulemaking process were happy and ready to move forward.”

… BUT ROB BRADLEY PROMISES TO HELP via James Call of Politics of Pot

“The latest challenge is probably the last straw for many in the Legislature,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, sponsor of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. “I expect the Regulated Industries Committee will have a serious discussion very soon about what we need to get this substance in the hands of suffering families”

A regulatory structure implementing the law authorizing five licenses to grow marijuana and dispense medicinal oil was supposed to be in place by January 1. A lawsuit last fall delayed the Department of Health from awarding licenses to supply children with an often-fatal form of epilepsy and people afflicted with cancer and muscular diseases with the medicinal oil.

The latest challenge could be resolved by the end of May and if the ruling goes against DOH then it’s anyone’s guess when Florida’s first legal marijuana crop will be planted and the blossoming of a medicinal marijuana industry will occur.

The process is leaving people dazed and confused.

“We are not where we need to be and it is time for the Legislature to take a serious look at the things we can do to get this problem solved,” said Bradley. “I’m interested in talking about legislation that is self-executing and doesn’t require rules to be implemented.”

Implementation of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 will be scheduled for a committee meeting in two or three weeks, said Bradley … self-executing legislation is a quicker route then a rule making process that has turned into a circus of squabbling growers and investors.

Bradley was asked if his goal is to have the medicinal oil available before the end of the year.

“We passed a law that things were going to be in place January first that has not occurred. I don’t think it is fair to anyone to make any promises,” said Bradley. “What I can say is that I’m going to use my best efforts to get this medicine into their hands as soon as possible.”

RICHARD CORCORAN, THE MONEY AND MA BARKER via Gary Fineout of the Fine Print

In the wake of the Great Recession legislative leaders pulled the plug on the process that helped the public know a little bit about where items stashed in the budget came from.

For various reasons, and despite some Democrats decrying the amount of pork contained in the state budget, legislators have not reinstated the process known as “community budget issue requests” even as the economy has steadily recovered.

Well this year is turning out to be a bit different.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Pasco County Republican now in charge of the House budget, has decided to embark on some changes in the budget process … on Jan. 30 he emailed House members and told them that if they wanted something in the 2015-16 budget they needed to answer a series of questions about the project.

Corcoran made it clear that he expected the summary because “it is my expectation that budget issues are thoroughly vetted.”

When asked about it Corcoran explained that both he and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli wanted to bring back “transparency” into the budget process.

Corcoran’s email apparently caused quite a bit of discussion among legislators.


The House released its budget outline – known as allocations – formally kicking off what’s poised to be a contentious budget process.

Crafting the state’s nearly $80 billion state budget is always a driving force behind every aspect of session. This year, though, that dynamic escalated after federal healthcare officials said they would not give Florida money from the federal-state Low Income Pool, which is used by hospitals to treat low-income and uninsured patients.

Scott’s administration is still engaged in negotiations, but if the feds offer no money, it would blow a $1 billion hole in the state budget.

Complicating matters is that the House and Scott have built their budgets assuming the feds cave and provide the state LIP funding.

Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee … said using uncertain money to craft a spending plan would be “irresponsible,” and the Senate will not initially include that money in its spending plan.

The Senate is not releasing allocations, and hopes to have its “budget ready to print by the end of next week,” according to Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Senate President Andy Gardiner.

The Senate is also working on a plan that would draw down $42 billion in federal funding over the next eight years to expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That plan is strongly supported by hospitals, which stand to lose out if LIP funding falls through.


Wasn’t the environment supposed to get more money under Amendment 1 — not less? Is this the old Lottery-style switcharoo?

Those are obvious questions to be asking after the House issued the general revenue allocation on Friday for the 2015-16 state budget.

Agriculture and natural resources spending appeared to be taking a hit — at least compared to last year’s allocation.

Last year the allocation was $467.8 million for the agriculture and natural resources and a portion of general government. This year the allocation is $409 million, or $58.8 million less — even as general revenue overall grew this year by more than $600 million.

But how can that happen considering voter approval of Amendment 1? It’s supposed to provide $757 million in documentary stamp tax revenue for water and land conservation.

Well, the question actually provides part of the answer.

The allocation deals with general revenue. Amendment 1 directs revenue from documentary stamp taxes, not general revenue.

And some money already being spent with documentary stamp tax revenue is being used to pay for activities that probably qualify under Amendment 1.

And there’s a lot that we also don’t know yet.

The allocation is another step in the budget process, not the end deal.

We don’t know how much of that $58 million reduction — if it really becomes a reduction at all — is coming from environmental programs rather than agriculture or other general government categories.

The environment could end up taking an even larger hit, but it’s too early to tell.

“The agriculture and natural resources budget has always been predominantly funded with state and federal trust funds,” said Michael Williams, Communications Director for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. “And so inferences regarding the total environmental budget based on the GR (general revenue) allocation should not be made.”

***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.***


Big tobacco vs. Florida trial attorneys –– The four tobacco industry defendants in the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement are now pursuing a bill that would retroactively limit their exposure in that case.

State Sen. Garrett Richter and state Rep. David Santiago are both running bills that would apply limitations on punative damages to all civil actions in which a judgment has not been entered — including those of around 4,000 claimants in the Big Tobacco settlement. Richter’s SB 978 has emerged from the slush pile and received a relatively short path to a full Senate vote, facing just two committees in Judiciary and Rules. The House version of the bill has also received just two assignments — Civil Justice and Judiciary — but neither bill has yet been considered or calendared.

Optometrists vs. 1-800-Contacts — As we wrote back in February, ambiguity in a federal regulatory battle concerning the legality of major contact manufacturers cooperating to create “unilateral pricing policies” — i.e. establishing price floors below which their products cannot be sold — set up a state-by-state legislative battle over who can sell their contacts directly to the public and how they can do it. Brandon state Sen. Tom Lee filed SB 1400, which would restrict the upstart independent retailers and help the optometrists maintain their dominance in the market.

Since then the bill has been referred to a slate of committees, namely Health Policy; Commerce & Tourism and Appropriations, but it has not been heard. A House companion sponsored by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle has received committee referrals as well, and also has not moved.

Ticketmaster vs. Stubhub — Our 2015 preview of this legislative donnybrook explained how Ticketmaster is seeking to expand its near-monopoly on major event ticket sales by redefining tickets as “revocable licenses” rather than personal property belonging to its owner upon purchase. That would force Stubhub and shoe-leather scalpers everywhere to receive permission from Ticketmaster to resell tickets purchased from them, permission the company would almost certainly be tight with in the extreme.

RPOF Chairman and Spring Hill state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia filed a bill to do just that in HB 463. That bill continues to sit in the Business & Professions Subcommittee, where it has lain dormant since January. Its Senate companion, SB 742 by state Sen. Wilton Simpson is also currently inert, having been referred to three committees but not taken up.

Major airline carriers vs. Mid-major carriers — This explosive imbroglio over jet fuel taxes features legislation that has, so far, reached higher altitudes than that of most of the above. Delta and American Airlines were left out of a fuel tax rebate granted to several smaller carriers in order to bolster Florida’s air travel industry amid post-9/11 fears of flagging business and tourism. But the carriers who benefit from the rebate — including SouthwestJet BlueAirTran and Spirit — have now done so for years in an improving economic climate, and the big boys are now saying it amounts to an unfair advantage.

State Sen. Anitere Flores‘ SB 722 and HB 595 by state Rep. George Moraitis seek to change that by deleting that rebate provision — and while they’re at it, also lowers the rate of the jet fuel tax from 6.9 cents per gallon to 5.4 cents per gallon. Both bills sit in their second of three committee assignments, House and Senate Finance & Tax, respectively. Moraitis’ bill was approved by Tourism & Economic Development on the first day of session, with state Reps. Dane Eagle and Mike La Rosa casting “No” votes. The Senate companion was given permission to take off in Transportation, where it was unanimously approved two days later.

Uber vs. Florida Taxi Cab Association — By far the most visible statehouse food fight to the apolitical public, the battle to allow ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate without running afoul of local ordinances prohibiting their operations has made uneven progress so far.

Shalimar state Rep. Matt Gaetz’s HB 817 was approved in House Transportation & Ports, with three Democrats casting “No” votes — probably not an obstacle that gives Capitol watchers much pause. On the other hand SB 1326, sponsored by Uber’s most visible champion, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, has not yet been taken up in committee nor has it been calendared. When it does come up in its first stop in Regulated Industries, it’ll be interesting to see whether committee member state Sen. Jack Latvala takes an interest in the debate.


Although the vote by the Florida House of Representatives last week to repeal Florida’s 38-year ban on gay adoption was hardly overwhelming, there was little open dissent on the House floor, with only a handful of lawmakers even discussing the legislation before voting on it.

Among those who did so movingly was Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, one of the most socially conservative members of the Legislature. Baxley spent several minutes on the floor describing what he called “one of the toughest votes” he had made in his career, adding that the decision to support it came only after staying up all night praying and thinking about it. “I believe every child deserves a mother and a father,” he said. But “today I am looking at a bill that helps a child find a home.”

It’s also a bill that he no longer supports.

As the website for the Florida House of Representatives, Baxley officially changed his “Yay” to a “Nay” on Friday night at 6:22 p.m.

“What it has done is put me in the position of affirming homosexual adoption, and that’s not where I am,” Baxley told Florida Politics early Sunday afternoon.

… Support for the amendment has enraged social conservatives in Florida, who are determined to stop its passage in the Senate. The amendment was attached to a larger bill that creates incentives for Floridians to adopt children in state care.

Matthew Staver from the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, told the Christian Examiner that anyone who voted for the bill should be removed from office.

And after the vote on Wednesday, John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, tweeted, “Funny whenever gays are involved the centuries old best interest of children legal standard is completely ignored @MyFLHouse @FLGOPMajority.”

Baxley said he apologized to Stemberger, who then informed his followers on Twitter on Friday that Baxley was going to reverse his vote.

“Just spoke with @DennisBaxley. Said he made a huge mistake in voting for gay adoption bill HB7013. He’s changing his vote. #StilltheNorthStar,” Stemberger tweeted on Friday afternoon.

Baxley has adopted children himself, and calls the overall adoption bill “great.” But he says that it then became a “gay adoption bill,” and says upon reflection and “moral clarity,” he could no longer support it.

Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida, said that the last time she sat down with Rep. Baxley, he gave her a book that focused on finding common ground despite their vastly different perspectives.

“I appreciated the gesture, and when I heard him speak before voting to strike anti-gay language from the adoption statute I thought perhaps he had absorbed some of the wisdom he had shared with me,” Smith writes in an email. “I was disappointed to see him scramble back from a place of moral courage to a place of political comfort. I hope he finds that courageous path forward again soon.”


The Senate has proposed a tandem of bills that, combined, would transform Florida’s mental health and substance abuse laws as well as increase the amount of federal Medicaid money used fund the programs.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human services will discuss two bills. … The first bill, among other things, requires the Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration to submit to the Legislature … a plan to increase federal Medicaid dollars for mental health and substance abuse and to show the pros and cons of targeting the increased dollars at, among other things: Expanding Medicaid access for the “severely and persistently” mentally ill; increasing the rates managed care plans are paid for treating those with chronic mental illness or substance abuse disorders; and creating a designated health program or other mechanism to drawn down supplemental Medicaid payments

The 43-page bill also alters the managing care entities that contract with the Department of Children and Families placing into law specific requirements for their governing boards. It also deletes a requirement that managing care entities be nonprofit organization.

Moreover, the bill makes several changes to the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program to incorporate mental health services, including adding publicly funded community mental health services providers to the to the list of “essential Medicaid providers,” meaning they must be included on managed care plans networks.


The Legislature is considering a bill that would end permanent alimony in most future divorces, setting up formulas that would set time limits and amounts based on the length of the marriage and the income difference between the spouses.

Sponsored by state Rep. Colleen Burton and state Sen. Kelli Stargel, both Polk County Republicans, the bill (HB 943) calls for payments that would last to between 25 and 75 percent of the length of the marriage. Judges could break the guidelines only in unusual cases, stating their reasons in writing.

The bill’s supporters want an end to lifetime payments, saying recipients use existing law to extort a meal ticket even when they could work. Opponents say ending permanent alimony would make it impossible for mothers to stay home with their children, for fear of being left destitute, and punish women who give up careers to keep a family functioning.

“You can find extremes on both sides,” exploited alimony payers and recipients not getting just compensation, Burton said. In many cases, she said, awards vary widely in cases with similar circumstances. “We’re attempting to provide direction to the courts and some parameters as to what people can expect.”

Stargel has pushed alimony changes for years, including a 2013 bill that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed because it retroactively applied to divorces that were already finalized. She said the new bill, which wouldn’t be retroactive, is a negotiated compromise and expects former opponents, including the Florida Bar’s family law section, to support it.

Fort Lauderdale family law attorney Roberta Stanley, who has worked on the new bill, said it “expands and puts more teeth” into statutes allowing alimony to decrease or end if the recipient remarries or enters a financially supportive relationship. It also provides that if either party unreasonably seeks or opposes a modification of alimony, the other party can be awarded attorney’s fees — an attempt to prevent using the cost of court action to force a former spouse into an unfair settlement.

But supporters of the current system are strongly opposing the measure.

Cynthia Mayer of Ponce Inlet, a member of the First Wives Advocacy group, called the bill “anti-women and anti-traditional family,” and said it could put alimony recipients, 97 percent of them women, on welfare in their later years.

HOSPITAL TAXING DISTRICT ON LARRY METZ’S RADAR AGAIN via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

State Rep. Larry Metz has requested an audit of the North Lake County Hospital District.

Metz wants the state auditor general to review the district’s financial statements from 2012 through the end of the fiscal year and has requested that the audit be completed by September 2016.

That’s two months before voters in Lake County will be asked to weigh in on whether the North Lake County Hospital District, which has taxing authority, should continue. Under a law passed in 2012 — and spearheaded by Metz -– the hospital district will expire unless residents vote to keep it intact in the November 2016 election.

The request caught Lake County Hospital District chair Catherine Hanson by surprise.

“I don’t mind the audit being done,” Hanson said. But she added that she has known Metz for years and said it would have been a “professional courtesy” to be told about the audit request before finding out through a reporter.

“We are political friends,” she said.


Some groups representing insurance companies in Florida say, many personal auto policies exclude “livery” service, meaning accepting money to give rides. They see a “gap” in a bill that passed a House subcommittee Tuesday, HB 817 sponsored by state Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz told The Post Friday, “It’s no surprise Big Insurance wants to force a massive insurance mandate.”

Only after a driver agrees to accept a rider does a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage apply, the bill says.

Before that, the measure says, drivers who have logged on but not accepted a request for service must meet lower requirements for private motorists under state law — $10,000 liability for injury to one person and $20,000 for two or more. Gaetz said the bill does provide for a ride service’s coverage to kick in if the driver’s insurance will not pay.

“If somebody is sitting in their car with an open app, I have yet to be convinced that activity requires more insurance than anyone else on our roads,” Gaetz said.

California imposed minimum requirements for “period 1” coverage after a hard-fought legislative battle last fall, but the bill that has made the most progress so far in Florida’s legislative session needs amending, insurers say.

“We must close the gaps in coverage to ensure the public and the driver are protected throughout the entire time the vehicle is being used for hire,” said Logan McFaddin, state government relations counsel for the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America.

***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.***



With a hat-tip to LobbyTools, here is latest on who is on and who is off the legislative staffing merry-go-round.

On: Melissa Santoro is state Sen. Jeff Clemens’ new legislative assistant.

Off: LaNedra Carroll has left her position as state Sen. Geraldine Thompson’s legislative assistant.

On: Whitney Langston has joined the House Health & Human Services Committee.

On: Ebony Pardo is now district secretary for state Rep. Bobby DuBose

Off: Wayne Neunie is no longer a legislative assistant for DuBose.

On: Sandra Livingston is the new district secretary for state Rep. Mike Hill

Off: Jordan Schilt is no longer district secretary for state Rep. Kristin Jacobs.

Off: Evie Parks is no longer the district secretary for state Rep. Amanda Murphy.

On: Luisana Perez is the new district secretary for state Rep. José Javier Rodríguez.

On: Alexandria Ayala is the new district secretary for state Rep. Victor Torres.

Off: Jordan Schilt is no longer the district secretary for state Rep. Kristin Jacobs.


About 100 legislative assistants — the people whose main job it is to make members look good — attended the (House Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee orientation session), which dealt with everything from their per diem ($134 a day) to compliance with the “gift ban” rules and the importance of getting everything filed on time.

… There are several rules you wouldn’t notice from the fifth floor galleries. For instance, you rarely see any legislative aides in the pews. Stay out of the cheap seats unless you’ve got business there, the aides were warned.

If you’ve got some free time and want to watch the floor session, that’s what the Florida Channel is for.

One mandate that would amuse Capitol reporters says that deadlines are deadlines. Stephanie Birtman, the Rules Committee staff director, said the computers are unforgiving.

If something has to be filed by 6 p.m. the day before a committee meeting, 6:01 is not OK. In fact, that does not even mean 6:00:01. The date-time stamp waits for no one.

“Time deadlines in the rules are hard and fast,” she said. “There is no ‘-ish’ factor when we talk about deadlines.”

There are rules for an excused absence. Members are removed from committees for missing two consecutive meetings, unless they notify the committee chair. For floor sessions, they need to notify the speaker.

And that gift ban mentioned earlier is not fooling, either. Aides were warned not to accept any gift or favor from any lobbyist, or anyone employing a lobbyist.

That means the little free candy and soft drink counter on the fifth floor, operated by CenturyLink with munchies provided by Publix, is wide open for any spectators visiting the Capitol — but not for legislative staff.

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state Capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at***

APPOINTED: Anna Maria Hubbard and Elizabeth Webster to the Florida Board of Nursing.

APPOINTED: John Alter, Angus “Gus” Andrews, Nicholas “Nick” Patronis to the Northwest Florida Management District.


Sebastian Aleksander, Aleksander Group: Miami-Dade County Firefighter Association

James Berton, Jr., Nelson Mullins.:  Southeast Toyota Distributors

Ronald Book, Kelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: Florida Equine Council, Inc.; The SEED Foundation; Tangerine, LLC

Elizabeth Bradin: CenturyLink

Pete Buigas, Buigas and Associates: MedicFP

Christopher Carmody, Christopher Dawson, Frederick Leonhardt, Robert Stuart, Jr., GrayRobinson: Central Florida Fair, Inc.

Michael Corcoran, Jeffrey Johnston, Michael Cantens, Amanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Indian Trail Improvement District

Christopher Dudley, Towson Fraser, Jerry Lee McDaniel, Southern Strategy Group: Moffitt Cancer Center

Edgar Fernandez, Anfield Consulting: American Water Works Association (Florida Section); Broward County

Courtney Gager: Florida Family Action

Mark Haney, Ausley & McMullen: Protective Life Insurance Company

Taylor Hatch: Department of Management Services

Anna Kimsey Edwards, Dutko Worldwide:

Al Lawson, Lawson & Associates: Excellence in Education National, Inc.

Christopher Lipson: Home Care Association of Florida

Joseph Love, Jr.: National Hemophilia Foundation

A. Stephen Hill, A. Stephen Hill & Associates: Aspire Health Partners

Tiffany Homler: Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority

Natalie King, RSA Consulting: Environmental Professionals of Florida, Inc.

Beth Carlson Lewis: South Florida Water Management District

Terry Miller, Strategic Advocacy: Foundation for Government Accountability

Leanne Esther Norr: Home Care Association of Florida

Christie Ann Pontis: CenturyLink

Noah Reandeau, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs: Thermo Fisher Scientific

John Reid, Florida Innovation Group: Innovative Health Care Properties II; Patriotic Partners of North Florida

James Randolph Spratt, Magnolia Strategies: City of LaBelle; City of Moore Haven; City of Okeechobee; City of Okeechobee; Hardee County Board of County Commissioners; Hendry County Board of County Commissioners; Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: Worldwide Interactive Network

Jon Yapo, Foley & Lardner: HNTB Corporation; National Hemophilia Foundation


Verizon is boosting the Florida Legislature, giving lawmakers, staff and the media to tools they need for governing in the 21st Century.

Verizon Wireless finished installing its advanced 4G LTE network technology throughout the state Capitol so more than 5,000 legislators, lobbyists, observers and visitors can connect on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices daily in the heart of Florida’s government.

As part of the project, engineers activated 4G LTE service over the Distributed Antenna System (DAS) inside the 718,000-square-foot facility. DAS includes a “small cell” base station as the LTE signal source, as well as 100 small antennas throughout the compound.

“Small cells” are mini-versions of full cell sites used for boosting wireless capacity.

After investing nearly $3 billion in the state, and $80 billion nationwide since 2000, Verizon 4G LTE service now comprises the company’s entire network in Florida, covering 99.8 percent of the state’s population.

***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***


On Context Florida: State Rep. Steve Crisafulli suggests the state needs to take better care of its land before buying any more with Amendment 1 money, writes Bruce Ritchie. Some environmentalists say that there does not need to be a choice between buying and taking care of what the state already owns. Thousands of students took the FSA writing test last week with no glitches or slowdowns. Catherine Martinez wonders if that should be a non-news story. Another non-news story is that Pearson, who creates the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test used by several states such as New Jersey and New York, has contracted with Tracx, a company that claims it can data mine social media in order to check for security breaches by students and staff. If only marijuana decriminalization were the goal when Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli recently released a “joint agenda.” But no, says Daniel Tilson, turns out they were promoting their “5-point Work Plan 2015” for the in-progress legislative session. FDOT’s recent announcement of their plans to expand Florida’s Turnpike in Palm Beach County reminded Timothy Hukllihan of something his father often said: “Bigness is the problem.” When agencies grow too large, they function like massive cruise ships -– great at moving forward, but so poor at changing course they need tug boats to help them.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.



If you want to imagine how the world will look in just a few years, once our cell phones become the keepers of both our money and identity, skip Silicon Valley and book a ticket to Orlando. Go to Disney World. Then, reserve a meal at a restaurant called Be Our Guest, using the Disney World app to order your food in advance.

If you’re wearing your Disney MagicBand and you’ve made a reservation, a host will greet you at the drawbridge and already know your name—Welcome Mr. Tanner! She’ll be followed by another smiling person — Sit anywhere you like! Neither will mention that, by some mysterious power, your food will find you.

The MagicBands look like simple, stylish rubber wristbands offered in cheery shades of grey, blue, green, pink, yellow, orange and red. Inside each is an RFID chip and a radio like those in a 2.4-GHz cordless phone. The wristband has enough battery to last two years. It may look unpretentious, but the band connects you to a vast and powerful system of sensors within the park. And yet, when you visit Disney World, the most remarkable thing about the MagicBands is that they don’t feel remarkable at all. They’re as ubiquitous as sunburns and giant frozen lemonades. Despite their futuristic intentions, they’re already invisible.

Part of the trick lies in the clever way Disney teaches you to use them — and, by extension, how to use the park. It begins when you book your ticket online and pick your favorite rides. Disney’s servers crunch your preferences, then neatly package them into an itinerary calculated to keep the route between stops from being a slog — or a frustrating zig-zag back and forth across the park. Then, in the weeks before your trip, the wristband arrives in the mail, etched with your name — I’m yours, try me on. For kids, the MagicBand is akin to a Christmas present tucked under the tree, perfumed with the spice of anticipation. For parents, it’s a modest kind of superpower that wields access to the park.

Every new experience with technology gently nudges our notions of what we’re comfortable with.

If you sign up in advance for the so-called “Magical Express,” the MagicBand replaces all of the details and hassles of paper once you touch-down in Orlando. Express users can board a park-bound shuttle, and check into the hotel. They don’t have to mind their luggage, because each piece gets tagged at your home airport, so that it can follow you to your hotel, then your room. Once you arrive at the park, there are no tickets to hand over. Just tap your MagicBand at the gate and swipe onto the rides you’ve already reserved. If you’ve opted in on the web, the MagicBand is the only thing you need.

It’s amazing how much friction Disney has engineered away: There’s no need to rent a car or waste time at the baggage carousel. You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card. You don’t need to wait in long lines. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of taking out your wallet when your kid grabs a stuffed Olaf, looks up at you, and promises to be good if you’ll just let them have this one thing, please.

This is just what the experience looks like to you, the visitor. For Disney, the MagicBands, the thousands of sensors they talk with, and the 100 systems linked together to create MyMagicPlus turn the park into a giant computer—streaming real-time data about where guests are, what they’re doing, and what they want. It’s designed to anticipate your desires.

‘CINDERELLA’ IS BELLE OF THE BOX OFFICE WITH $70.1M DEBUT via Jake Coyle of The Associated Press

“Let It Go” may be Walt Disney’s anthem these days, but “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” might be the more accurate theme song for the Disney juggernaut.

Disney’s recent streak continued over the weekend with the $70.1 million North American debut of its traditional, sumptuously costumed fairy tale adaptation “Cinderella,” according to studio estimates. Interest in the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Lily James of “Downton Abbey,” was boosted by a “Frozen” short, “Frozen Fever,” that played before the feature.

Disney’s box-office surge has been propelled partly by the so-called “halo effect” of “Frozen,” a sequel to which Disney announced last week. But it’s also been driven by the appeal of seeing Disney cartoon classics turned into live-action fantasies. “Cinderella” follows previous live-action hits like “Maleficent” (whose May 2014 debut of $69.4 million “Cinderella” narrowly bested) and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Disney has also found big profits in capitalizing on female moviegoers, who made up the largest chunk of “Frozen” and “Maleficent” fans. The audience for “Cinderella” was 66 percent female, Disney said.

The success of “Cinderella,” which cost about $95 million to make, was international. It made $62.4 million overseas, including $25 million in China. Disney could also celebrate “Big Hero 6” becoming the top-grossing worldwide animated release of 2014; the Oscar-winner has made $633 million globally.

With Disney’s high-priced but lucrative ownership of Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar, the studio will be flexing its strength throughout 2015 with releases like “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Inside Out” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

MARCH MADNESS via The Associated Press

The Kentucky Wildcats ended up where everyone expected them on Selection Sunday: Seeded No. 1 on their quest to become the first undefeated team since 1976.

Oh, but there were surprises when the NCAA Tournament bracket came out, too.

Big-conference UCLA and Texas made it. Colorado State and Temple did not.

Wisconsin is a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history. But the Badgers must play in the West Region, where second-seeded Arizona is certain to draw more fans.

As for those play-in games that start Tuesday in Dayton. Well, one of the teams playing is Dayton — a No. 11 seed that will have a distinct home-court advantage Wednesday night against Boise State. Generally, that’s not allowed during the tournament, but there’s an exception because the committee said the Flyers were the last team in the 68-team field, and thus, had to play in the opening-round game.

“It falls within our policies and procedures,” selection committee chairman Scott Barnes said. “It’s obviously a home-court advantage but we didn’t waver from that decision.”

Fans have a few days to fill out their brackets (Sorry, no billion-dollar prize available for a perfect one this year), then the action starts in full on Thursday, when Kentucky headlines the slate against the winner of a play-in game between No. 16 seeds Manhattan and Hampton. A ‘1’ has never lost to a ’16.’

The other No. 1 seeds were Villanova in the East and Duke in the South. Those were pretty easy picks.

And then there was the total no-brainer — placing Kentucky at the top of the Midwest Region, and at the very top of the bracket. The Wildcats defeated Arkansas 78-63 on Sunday to improve to 34-0. If they win six more, they’ll become the first team since then 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated.

“I think I have the best team and the best players,” said coach John Calipari, trying to lead the program to its ninth national title. “Does that mean we’ll win? No, it doesn’t.”

The Wildcats are even-money picks in Las Vegas to win it all, and at least one coach, Bill Self of Kansas, thinks that might be a bargain.

“I shouldn’t be talking about Vegas, but my point is, I think they’re a pretty heavy favorite,” said Self, whose Jayhawks are seeded No. 2 in the Midwest.

Other No. 2 seeds are Gonzaga in the South and Virginia in the East.

The bracket includes its usual share of quirks and tear-jerkers.

—UCLA’s first game is against SMU, coached by Larry Brown, the 74-year-old turnaround artist who is taking his third team to the NCAA Tournament. The first team? UCLA, of course.

—Harvard, coached by former Duke star Tommy Amaker, faces his old rival, North Carolina, in the first round.

—Georgia State coach Ron Hunter watched the bracket unveiling with his left foot in a cast. He tore his Achilles’ tendon while celebrating his program’s first trip to the tournament since 2001. The 14th-seeded Panthers open against Baylor.

—Also seeded No. 14 is Albany, which made the tournament on a 3-pointer with 1 second left by Peter Hooley, whose mother died six weeks ago from colon cancer. No. 14 Albany opens against Oklahoma State.

—Wichita State is in the same region with Kansas, an in-state program that won’t schedule the Shockers, and Kentucky, which ended Wichita State’s undefeated season last year in the second round.

This year, it’s Kentucky that comes in with a ‘0’ in that loss column.

“Everyone is zero-and-zero now,” Calipari said. “That’s the key to this. It’s a one-game shot. It’s not best-of-5.”

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.