Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 19

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

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group:

With the turn of a shovel on this date in 1967, ground was broken on what would become the nation’s second-largest university: the University of Central Florida. The Orlando school – originally Florida Technological University – is #2 in the nation in single-campus enrollment, a distinction it has held since 2010. UCF commencement speakers have included President Richard Nixon, then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden and astronaut John Young. With 60,800 current students and more than 235,000 alumni, UCF may have more Knights than ever imagined by the most ambitious medieval kings.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

DAYS UNTIL Sine Die: 45; the 2015 Election: 230; the 2016 Election: 600

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to the FEA’s Pat Ford. Celebrating today is our good friend Eric Johnson, who, with his boss Patrick Murphy’s expected jump into a U.S. Senate race, is probably having a heckuva month. More birthday wishes to Allison North Jones and Justin York.

TRENDING: #TeamWilson (some of you will get what that means).


The Legislative Session is also about the the tangential and the trivial, but it’s the tangential and trivial which drives the state capital.

That’s why is excited to announce the return of TallyMadness — an online voting competition to determine who is the “best” lobbyist in Florida.

Just like college basketball fans who fill out their brackets as part of “March Madness”, political aficionados in the capital and beyond can vote on a series of bracketed match-ups pitting Florida’s top lobbyists against each other.

Right now, we are still accepting nominations for who should make the big dance. From there, a select, anonymous committee will then seed the lobbyists, 1 through 64. Voters will select the winner of each match-up, with first round voting beginning March 24 and lasting through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 28.

If you would like to nominate a lobbyist or would like to serve on the select committee, please e-mail me at

Voters can also follow @TallyMadness on Twitter, where sneak-peaks of current match-up will be provided, along with other interesting news and tidbits.


Extensive Enterprises Media — publisher of, Context Florida, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn — is looking to hire reporters/bloggers/excellent writers interested in covering:

— Tampa and Tampa Bay politics and government;

— Orlando politics and government;

— The politics of transportation in Florida.

We offer best-in-the-industry pay, but expect you to be both a workhorse and a showhorse. At least four blog posts a day are expected.

Expertise in social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram, is a must.

Email me at if interested.

RICK SCOTT EYEING RUN FOR U.S. SENATE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

But don’t panic Jeff Atwater or Carlos Lopez Cantera. Gov. Scott has told top fundraisers he’s interested in running in 2018 – when Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson’s third term ends – not 2016, when Scott will still be in the middle of his second term.

As uncomfortable as Scott often seems in the political world, the U.S. Senate makes sense given that Scott initially seemed far more interested in federal issues than Florida issues. He started his political career with a committee attacking the Affordable Care Act and by the time he turned his attention to running for office in Florida Marco Rubio was well on his way to trouncing Charlie Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Running in an off-year with lower Democratic turnout also makes more sense for Landslide Rick, who barely won his two gubernatorial races despite a GOP turnout advantage and dramatically outspending his opponents, Alex Sink and Charlie Crist.

Team Scott had been worried about Bill Nelson jumping into last year’s governor’s race, but it’s no sure thing Nelson will seek a fourth term. Florida’s senior senator is acting like he intends to, but he will be 76 in 2018.


Here’s a few recent statements that have been made in the last few weeks that come from two elected officials who hail from different parties and usually have very little in common.

1″I believe that America is not a place where higher education is a privilege that is reserved for the few.  America needs to be a place where higher education has to be available for every single person who’s willing to strive for it, who’s willing to work for it.”

2″Students can spend their money better than government can. It should not require a federal loan and decades of debt for students to get a college degree. Price limits access – plain and simple.”

3″A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class and beyond.  It’s the key to getting a good job that pays a good income.  And it offers a measure of security, because a college degree tells employers that you don’t just have one set of skills; that you’ve got the continuous capacity to learn new skills, which is going to be particularly important for your generation because the economy is going to churn and change in ways that none of us can even anticipate.”

4″If we are going to out-compete the world, the second thing we must do is make higher education more affordable….Just like any business, we should expect education to become more affordable each year, not more expensive.”

The quotes above come from President Barack Obama during a recent appearance at Georgia Tech University and Scott during his State of the State speech earlier this month.

Scott’s entry into the political world, after all, started when the former health care executive began assailing Obama’s health care overhaul. And Scott has not stopped there. He’s hit Obama over a whole variety of issues since then. … But when it comes to college affordability the two sound remarkably similar even if their approaches are a tad different.

SCOTT’S CLIMATE CHANGE GAG ORDER CLAIMS FIRST VICTIM via Peter Schorsch and Phil Ammann of SaintPetersBlog

Scott’s prohibition on the term “climate change” has now claimed its first casualty, says an environmental responsibility group.

Barton Bibler, a long-time DEP employee, received a letter of reprimand ordering him to take two days personal leave. The agency also instructed Bibler not to return without medical clearance.

Bibler currently serves as Land Management Plan Coordinator in DEP Division of State Lands.

On February 27, Bibler attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum, where a number of attendees discussed climate change and sea-level rise, among other environmental topics.

Bibler’s official notes reported all of that conversation.

DEP superiors directed Bibler to remove any “hot button issues,” such as explicit references to climate change. The letter of reprimand, dated March 9, accused Bibler of misrepresenting the “official meeting agenda (so it) included climate change.”

Bibler was instructed to take two days off, which was charged against his personal leave time. He later received a “Medical Release Form” requiring his doctor to provide the agency an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” before being allowed to return to work.

“Bart Bibler has fallen through a professional looking glass in a Florida where the words ‘climate change’ may not be uttered, or even worse, written down,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney.

Phillips pointed out that Bibler currently has “no idea” whether he will ever be allowed to return to work.

“If anyone needs mental health screening it is Governor Rick Scott,” he added, “and other officials telling state workers to pretend that climate change and sea-level rise do not exist.”

On March 9, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended a state employee for speaking about climate change at an official meeting, which made its way into the record of the meeting, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).


State-run Citizens Property Insurance has shrunk to the fewest number of policies since its creation 10 years ago.

CEO Barry Gilway told his board today that his company, which insures property owners who cannot find coverage on the open market, has fallen to 598,408 policies as of March 13.

Barring a major storm, Citizens could see its footprint dwindle to as few as 450,000 Florida policies, he predicted.

The turnaround has been dramatic.

There are multiple reasons that Citizens is no longer a vast dumping ground for policies. Among them: Nine hurricane-free years have helped Florida’s property market recover; small Florida-based insurers have added business significantly with cheaper operating costs and cheaper reinsurance, the added layer of coverage that insurers buy to be able to pay hurricane claims; Citizens, itself, has pushed policies to private insurers and made it less attractive to be one of its customers by raising rates for years and cutting back what’s included in coverage.

The state insurer has one over-arching reason behind its mission to be as small as possible. Every Floridian with insurance is at risk of assessment if Citizens cannot pay claims after a catastrophe, so a smaller Citizens means less risk of a hefty assessment.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott visits Palm Beach Gardens to highlight job growth. Press conference begins 1 p.m. at Levatas, 11701 Lake Victoria Gardens #2202 in Palm Beach Gardens.

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TOP REPUBLICAN STRATEGISTS IN TALKS TO JOIN JEB BUSH’S SUPER PAC via Philip Rucker and Matea Gold of the Washington Post

Some of the Republican Party’s top strategists are in serious discussions to work for Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, a well-funded group that will operate independent of Bush’s official campaign but will work to promote his candidacy and tear down his opponents.

Veteran pollster Neil Newhouse and ad-maker Larry McCarthy are among the advisers in talks to work on the outside effort, according to Republicans with knowledge of the conversations.

Campaign finance lawyer Charlie Spies, who set up both Bush’s super PAC and leadership PAC, is expected to serve as counsel to the super PAC once Bush announces his campaign, said these Republicans, who requested anonymity because the discussions are sensitive and not yet final.

Mike Murphy, Bush’s longtime strategist who has been helping the former Florida governor staff up his political operation and shape his economic opportunity message, is considering leading the outside super PAC. He has not yet made a decision about whether to work for the super PAC or serve on Bush’s official campaign as a strategist, the Republican sources said. The New York Times first reported the possibility of Murphy working for the super PAC.

For political consultants, working for the super PAC can be lucrative. Bush has been aggressively recruiting donors for the group, which legally can raise unlimited funds and is poised to have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on television advertisements and other activities.

Since Bush is not yet a federal candidate or officeholder, he is permitted to be involved with the super PAC for now and his advisers are currently overseeing the operations of both Bush political committees. Once he makes his bid official, however, the political team will have to split and the lines of demarcation between the campaign and super PAC staffs must be clear.


Former first lady Barbara Bush is making a new fundraising pitch for her son as he tests the waters for a White House run.

An email message from her — titled “I changed my mind!” — will officially kick off the “Run Jeb Run” fund when it’s sent … to supporters of the Right to Rise super PAC supporting the Republican ex-governor.

In it, the former first lady says her son is “our best chance of taking back the White House in 2016.”

Barbara Bush made headlines in 2013 amid growing speculation Jeb Bush might run for the presidency when she said, “there are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes.”

She has since walked those comments back and last month appeared via Skype at a literacy event in Florida where she also pronounced she’s “changed her mind.”


In a public move presaging his run for the White House, Bush resigned from corporate positions at the end of last year. Less noticed: One of the companies where he served on the board, Florida timber company Rayonier Inc., faced a flurry of lawsuits not long before his exit.

One case alleges that a plant in Georgia violated the Clean Water Act and contaminated the Altamaha River, and five other suits from investors contend the company made false and misleading statements that caused them losses. All are active in court.

Bush is not named as a defendant in the cases, but he is listed among Rayonier board members in court papers filed in the Georgia environmental case, raising the possibility he could be called to testify. In a larger sense, the lawsuits could renew questions about the former Florida governor’s stewardship in the corporate world as he aspires to step back into public office. At least four times, Bush served on the board of companies sued by investors or the government.

It can be difficult to hold board members liable in such cases, even though directors ultimately oversee corporations.

Bush, appointed to Rayonier’s board in 2008, resigned effective Dec. 31 with no disagreements between him and the company, according to a securities filing. Bush earned nearly $198,000 in compensation from Rayonier in 2013, $99,750 in cash and $98,149 in stock value and dividends, the company said.

Just before his departure, investors filed the first of five securities cases alleging Rayonier made public misstatements that caused them significant losses and damages. The five cases – filed in November and December – have been consolidated into one class-action lawsuit in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, where Rayonier is based.

BUSH’S TIE TO FUGITIVE GOES AGAINST BUSINESS-SAVVY IMAGE HE PROMOTES via Tom Hamburger and Robert O’Harrow Jr. of the Washington Post

Bush was a young man building a real-estate business in Miami in 1985 when a health-care entrepreneur named Miguel Recarey Jr. hired him to help locate office space in South Florida.

Bush, then the son of the vice president, later provided another service: opening doors in Washington, where Recarey had mounted an aggressive lobbying effort for a waiver from Medicare rules that would allow his fast-growing company to continue to expand.

Recarey got what he wanted. But two years later, the firm, International Medical Centers, was shut down as regulators searched for millions in missing federal funds. Facing charges of bribery and bilking Medicare, Recarey fled the country to avoid prosecution. He remains a fugitive in Spain, where a court denied U.S. requests for extradition.

The Recarey case illustrates aspects of Bush’s business record that are likely to resurface as he moves closer to a campaign for president. Time and again, he benefited from his family name and connections to land a consulting deal or board membership, sometimes doing business with people and companies who would later run afoul of the law.

In the case of Recarey, Bush has said over the years that he “made one call” to a mid-level official to seek a fair deal for a Florida businessman.

But new interviews and a review of congressional testimony show that Bush engaged in multiple calls on Recarey’s behalf to senior administration officials — and that his advocacy made a difference.


Rubio writes in Politico that we shouldn’t allow government to “crash” the Internet party. It’s worth reading his oped if you want the full gist of the current disinformation campaign against net neutrality.

Rubio claims the FCC is going to “play favorites” with Internet service providers, which is like saying SEC plays favorites with stock brokers by requiring them to play by the same rules. He also claims the Internet “is a place…[not] unlike a city or town”– which it is not, it is a set of protocols. And finally, he argues that “it belongs in the hands of our people,” which is a welcome sentiment that completely elides the fact that most of it runs thru pipes owned by avaricious monopolists.


Rubio says that if elected president, he would “absolutely” defy stalwart European allies if necessary in order to revoke an Iranian nuclear deal he might inherit from President Barack Obama.

Rubio, who is on the cusp of announcing a run for the Republican presidential nomination, says the next commander in chief “should not be bound” by Obama’s potential agreement, even if European negotiating partners stand behind the deal.

“The United States, although it’s less than ideal, could unilaterally re-impose more crushing and additional sanctions,” Rubio said in an interview … he would also “use the standing of the United States on the global stage to try to encourage other nations to do so.”

The U.S. is negotiating the high-stakes nuclear deal with Iran alongside three European allies: Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China are also part of the U.S.-led negotiating team.

Rubio is among the 47 senators who signed a letter to Iranian leadership last week warning that Congress could upend a deal. His comments go beyond that, clarifying the actions he would take as president and in the face of opposition from U.S. negotiating partners.

THE INVISIBLE PRIMARY MEANS NO TV ADS. FOR NOW. via Derek Willis of the New York Times

There’s a reason the early part of the presidential nomination contest is called the invisible primary: There are no television ads yet. Voters in key states should enjoy the lull while it lasts, which could be until summer or maybe even longer.

Political ads might not start running until later in this election cycle. The main reason the candidates may wait is simple: super PACs. Most of the early ads four years ago came from the campaigns, not from affiliated political action committees. Only a few of the 2012 candidates had affiliated super PACs; now most serious candidates will.

Because super PACs can raise any amount of money from donors while contributions to campaign committees are capped at $2,700 per person for the primary election, it can be easier to raise the money to pay for expensive television ads via the super PACs. A round of television advertising could be paid for by a few donors, leaving the candidate’s campaign free to spend its money on other activities — or to bank as much of the money as possible until later in the year. That might mean earlier ads will come from super PACs, while candidate ads happen later.

This is a big change from the last fully open presidential contest eight years ago, before super PACs existed. By the end of March 2007, Barack Obama had raised more than $25 million for his campaign, while Mr. Romney had raised almost $21 million. (John McCain, the eventual nominee for the G.O.P., did not start raising money until April of that year.) This year, none of the higher-profile politicians have even filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, let alone formally created a campaign committee.

The timeline could still shrink. In the 2012 race, most super PAC spending financed negative messages about other candidates. A significant amount of money will be spent when there is a clear leader to attack, but the Republicans don’t have that yet. The Democrats appear to have only one strong candidate so far, Hillary Clinton. It’s more likely that some Republican super PACs will air ads opposing Mrs. Clinton. The lack of competition on the Democratic side could mean a longer wait for ads from Mrs. Clinton, too.

Raising enough money to respond on TV to attacks is part of what is driving money raising for super PACs and other affiliated groups long before candidates actually register official committees. This part of the invisible primary — when candidates are as likely to appear before donors as voters — has two goals: gaining large donations and commitments to raise more.

***Aerospace supporters — including representatives from industry, government and academia — will be in Tallahassee on March 25 for Florida Space Day. The group aims to raise awareness about issues affecting Florida’s role in America’s space program, as well as issues affecting the technology development and businesses related to that program.  The theme of this year’s Space Day is: “Florida … Transforming the Business of Space.”***

WHAT’S NEXT FOR DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ? via Zach Cohen of the National Journal

A Senate run isn’t happening … Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s state is still proving a useful base as she aims to be a valuable surrogate, rather than one of the main events on the Democratic ticket, in Florida next year.

Not only will Florida continue to be an important swing state in 2016, the congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair  …  won’t run for Senate in 2016 … (and) has a long history with two potential GOP presidential nominees from the state. Wasserman Schultz says she’s in a unique position to attack Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, with whom she served in state government, as they prepare runs for the White House.

“I … look forward to being able to make sure that voters understand exactly what Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush stand for, because they have been and will continue to try to portray themselves as far different than the unfortunate choices they’ve made that have harmed their constituents.”

[S}he plans to remain in her post as chair of the Democratic National Committee until the presidential election is over … she’ll be running for reelection in her South Florida district, just a short drive from Bush’s and Rubio’s Miami-area homes.

Some have suggested that running for Senate would have been the logical next step for Wasserman Schultz …  (but) she’s reportedly at odds with some party leaders. She denied any internal tension, saying, “There’s one particular newspaper that likes to talk about that.”

However, a Senate bid may also have been very difficult. A recent Mason-Dixon poll … showed that three-quarters of the state knows of Wasserman Schultz, partly because of her frequent appearances on TV and in other media serving as a principal Democratic spokeswoman. … nearly twice as many people viewed Wasserman Schultz negatively as positively, a possible byproduct of her aggressive attacking style against Republican politicians.

That’s left Wasserman Schultz eager to own that space, as a Democratic surrogate in a presidential election that could feature a local Republican nominee. … she is eagerly protecting presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton from attack, too.


As rumors of a possible Senate run simmer in the background, Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan takes a step up the U.S. House ladder, assuming a seat on the Budget Committee on Wednesday.

“As a businessman for over 30 years, I know what it means to balance a budget and meet a payroll,” said Buchanan in an announcement. “I look forward to joining Chairman [Georgia Rep. Tom] Price and the other committee members as we work to grow the economy, create jobs, and reduce the massive federal deficit.”

The appointment places Buchanan on the two most important fiscal panels in the House; the Republican also sits on House Ways & Means, once chaired by Rep. Sam Gibbons of Tampa, the only Floridian to have ever held that rank.


Florida is at the top of the class having earned an “A” in government spending transparency by the Florida Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG. The Sunshine State is one of 14 to earn the ranking of “leading state” by the group.

Florida makes this list based on having user-friendly websites that provide users with accessible information on how money is being spent. Those websites offer easy-to-use search features for the common Joe to “follow the money” as well as downloadable files that allow people and groups looking to dig a little deeper the chance to evaluate entire sets of transactions.

The group also lauds Florida for its creation of a new feature that posts the value of payments excluded from public records due to confidentiality laws. That lets users know just what is missing from the larger picture.

This is the sixth report of its kind conducted by Florida PIRG. Florida received an A last year as well, but falls just short of the agency’s top rating of A+. Only Ohio achieved that.

According to PIRG many states that have created or improved their online transparency this year have done so with little upfront cost.

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The Senate on Thursday will propose an alternative “Low Income Pool” model that would use supplemental Medicaid dollars to increase the base rates all hospitals are paid to treat the poor, elderly disabled, uninsured and underinsured.

The new modified LIP plan would still give the the major local contributors to the LIP program a healthy return on investment because the plan also calls on modifying Diagnostic Related Group payments for inpatient care to critical Medicaid providers, or those with trauma centers, neurological intensive care units for newborns and burn centers.

By modifying the DRGs for those facilities the major contributors to the program (Tampa General, Jackson Memorial, South Broward Hospital District and Shands Jacksonville) would still be guaranteed a healthy return on their investment and, therefore, would continue to be incentivized to contribute the local taxing dollars to the state, which uses the mney to draw down a federal match.

In order for the new model to work, however, the federal government must sign off on allowing the total reimbursement to hospitals to exceed the costs to treat Medicaid and uninsured patients. That’s generally a no-no under the federal rules governing the LIP program.

The Senate has been working on the plan since the session started, weeks after a high ranking federal official announced the state’s LIP program would not be renewed as is beyond summer.


A 23-page bill released by the House Health Care Services Committee proposes to redesign the state group insurance plan and begin offering employees access to a variety of plans, including discount medical plans and direct primary care plans beginning 2016.

The proposed committee bill, PCB HHSC 15-02 will be discussed by the House Health Care Services Committee at its meeting today.

The proposed changes to the plan are phased in. The first phase, effective 2016, directs DMS to establish employee contribution rates in 2016 that reflect the actuarial benefit difference between HMOs and PPOs. Also effective 2016 the bill requires the state to offer  employees access to a variety of health options, from prepaid health plans to direct primary care to discount medical plans.

Also in 2016, the state moves ahead with a shared savings approach by requiring the Division of Management Services to contract with at least one entity that provides comprehensive pricing and inclusive services for surgery and other medical procedures.

Any costs savings resulting from the contract would be split between the state and the employee. Savings would be directed to the employee’s Health Savings Account (HSA), Health Retirement Account (HRA) or paid back to the employee through health plan reimbursements.

Also effective 2016 DMS would be required to offer in at least one area of the state–but no more than a three-year price transparency pilot project where the prices of elective and diagnostic procedures are published.

Under the pilot project the state would publish-a benchmark price for procedures based on information submitted to the state by health plans. If the employee uses a provider who charges less than the benchmark price, 50 percent of the savings will be directed toward the employees HRA, or HSA. Alternatively the money could be spent on health plan reimbursements so long as it doesn’t exceed the employee’s out of pocket expenses. The other savings would be directed toward the state.

DMS is required under the bill to report the cost savings under the pilot project to the Senate President, Speaker of the House and the Governor.


After five years of quietly writing a monthly check to the state as part of the landmark gaming compact that gave them the exclusive right to operate black jack, chemin de fer and baccarat at their Hard Rock casinos, Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature have sent a signal that they may not renew the deal when that portion of their agreement expires in July.

In an effort to make the case to continue the deal that drew at least $1 billion in revenue for the state over five years, the Tribe has broken its silence.

… on Wednesday, the tribe’s general counsel and chief executive agreed to a rare on-the-record interview … “We want to see if there is a way to extend the contract before it expires. We’re still early in the game,” said Seminole General Counsel Jim Shore. “We’re trying to figure out where everybody is on the compact or gaming issue.”

Here’s what we learned: 1. After the Gov. Rick Scott negotiated a compact with the Tribe last April, and it was rejected by Legislative leaders in the final week of the session, he has halted all negotiations, telling Tribal leaders instead to talk to the Legislature.

2. Although the law requires the governor to sign the compact and the Legislature to ratify it, having lawmakers handle the negotiations is not perceived as a risky place to be for the Tribe.

3. The Senate, governor and House’s decision not to expect $116 million a year from the card games portion of the compact in their draft budgets is considered “just posturing;” as is the House’s mega bill to expand gambling.

4. The Tribe does not rule out the potential that it may be a potential bidder if the state authorizes destination resort. 5. The Seminole’s argue that Florida’s compact is already one of the best in the nation, with a 25 percent revenue share that is exceeded by not other state, and they believe could return as much as $400 million a year into the future.

6. The Seminole’s presence in Miami Beach is not a sign that they are intent on becoming a gaming operator there. 7. They believe one of their strongest arguments is giving the Tribe exclusive access to games serves as buffer against gaming “creep” that results in the slow-expansion of gambling in return for less revenue. 8. The Tribe’s new public relations strategy is a reflection of the changing landscape.


Environmental groups supporting the purchase of 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land launched on Wednesday commercials and released a petition from scientists in support of the proposal.

The ads from the Everglades Trust show polluted water from Lake Okeechobee being discharged into the St. Lucie River with signs in Martin County warning against swimming.

“Legislators must respect the mandate of the voters and use the Amendment 1 funds for what the voters intended — to buy lands in the Everglades and protect our drinking water,” Everglades Trust President Mary Barley said. “We must act now to save Florida’s water, time is running out.”

Another group, the Everglades Foundation, released an Everglades Restoration Petition, following the delivery of the petition last week to state leaders and the South Florida Water Management District.

The petition, with 207 signatures from 33 academic institutions, says expanding storage and treatment south of Lake Okeechobee and increasing clean water flowing from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades are essential to protecting the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and Florida Bay, the Everglades Foundation said.

“The Everglades scientific community clearly wishes to express this directly to our elected leaders and water managers,” said Thomas Van Lent, director of science and policy at the Everglades Foundation. “Hopefully, this petition will spur the implementation of projects that expand storage and treatment in the EAA.”

The state in 2010 signed an option to buy the U.S. Sugar Corp. land. But the company says the restoration strategy has changed dramatically since the 2010 deal was reached.


Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda told a dramatic story in a House committee … of using a gun to prevent being raped while she was a student, saying that’s one reason she favors a contentious bill allowing guns on Florida university campuses.

“My life might have had a different trajectory, a different path, had that rape been perpetrated,” the Democrat from Tallahassee said as the House higher education subcommittee approved the bill.

The bill is advancing in the Legislature despite opposition from the administrations and campus police of the state’s 12 public universities.

“I didn’t report it for the same reason a lot of (sexual assault victims) don’t,” she told reporters afterward. “You want to just continue on – you don’t want the trauma.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said her father sent her to school with a handgun, which she kept in her off-campus apartment where the attack occurred. She said the attack was “very violent,” but, “I was able to get to my gun.”

The bill would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry their guns on campuses.

The subcommittee Wednesday voted 11-2 for the bill with two Democrats dissenting. It has been approved by two of the three committees required to bring it to a vote on the House floor, and two of the four required Senate committees.


The House has put forward a plan to cap the tens-of-millions of dollars doled out each year for the state’s “economic toolkit,” which include programs used by Gov. Scott’s administration for job recruitment.

The proposal, part of a 61-page bill filed by a budget subcommittee, would put a collective annual limit of $60 million on seven economic incentive programs that use tax incentives and cash to lure new businesses to Florida or encourage existing ones to expand.

There is a separate cap of $35 million on the Quick Action Closing Fund, which is a pot of money Scott can most easily use without legislative input.

There is an annual back and forth between Scott and the Legislature over economic incentive money. Last year, Scott requested $95 million, but lawmakers appropriated $71 million.

In his proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, Scott is requesting $85 million, which is exceeds the new cap proposed by the House. The chamber’s bill includes nearly $24 million for economic incentive programs.

The bill was filed by the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which is chaired by state Rep. Clay Ingram. He termed conversations he has had with the Scott administration about the new cap “super respectful.”


A duo of Republican lawmakers sounded off on Americans for Prosperity’s Florida arm … for robocalls made to their districts ahead of a vote on legislation offering tax credit to the film industry.

The House version of that bill, which offers $50 million in tax credits next year, passed the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee with the support of GOP Reps. Ray Pilon of Sarasota and Pat Rooney of Palm Beach Gardens, but not before the two criticized the robocalls.

The calls told recipients to call the member’s office and voice opposition to the bill. Pilon said his aide got a call from someone who wanted to “ask him to vote no.” When the aide asked the person what issue they were talking about, confusion ensued.

“He said, ‘I don’t know, I was just told to push the button and tell him to vote no,’” Pilon said.

Rooney said people in his district told him about the calls.

“I got the word that there were robo calls made to my district, and my constituency, and my house,” he said. “That is crossing the line.”

They said the group should have spoken to them in person, but never did. After the meeting, AFP Florida took to Twitter to refute that claim.

DEBATE ON HOUSE WATER BILL MOVES TO SENATE via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics

Environmental groups continued … to criticize a House water bill in advance of a Senate committee workshop while an industry group said the legislation offers a statewide approach to Florida’s water needs.

HB 7003 recognizes the Central Florida Water Initiative in state law while eliminating a South Florida Water Management District farm-permitting program for Lake Okeechobee in favor of agricultural “best management practices.” It requires the setting of minimum flows for springs simultaneously with setting recovery goals, which environmentalists say will delay action.

“The House water bill takes the teeth out of controls on water use that are supposed to prevent springs from running dry and lakes from disappearing,” David Guest of Earthjustice said … “Reform is desperately needed and the House bill hands the problem over to committees of special interests that will develop unenforceable management plans.”

Audubon Florida is asking supporters to tell senators to table what they’re calling a “dirty water bill” and instead support SB 918 by Sen. Charlie Dean, a Republican from Inverness. He’s chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, which will hold the workshop on HB 7003 beginning at 4 p.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

Brewster Bevis of Associated Industries of Florida said AIF’s Florida H2O Coalition hopes the Senate supports the comprehensive approach taken by the House.

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The Florida Senate on Wednesday put money behind its pledge to reform the state’s troubled prison system, voting to spend $6.9 million on system changes and create an independent oversight commission that would have the power to investigate corruption and abuse.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously for the wide-ranging bill being pushed by Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, in the wake of reports of suspicious inmate deaths at the Department of Corrections, allegations of cover-ups, and claims by whistleblowers that the agency’s chief inspector general has sabotaged investigations and ignored inmate abuse.

The bill, SB 7020, would create a nine-member Florida Corrections Commission, appointed by the governor, and under the independent Justice Administrative Commission. The panel would have the power to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud, and inmate abuse, as well as review budget proposals and make policy recommendations.

The commission staff could conduct unannounced inspections of all prisons, including those operated by private prison contractors. It would do regular “security audits” focusing on the institutions with the most violent inmates. It would require specialized training for sexual abuse investigations. And it would expand gain time for inmates who complete education programs, saving the state about $1.2 million a year.

Meanwhile, the House subcommittee on Justice Appropriations has discussed the issue but has advanced no similar legislation.


Senators … watered down a bill that would have allowed whiskey sold in the same space as Wheat Thins.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved new language for a bill (SB 468), which now allows for big-box retailers like Publix and Wal-Mart to put a door between their main store and an attached liquor store. Under current law, a separate entrance is required to sell hard alcohol.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley … was intended to balance convenience for customers with a desire to keep hard liquor out of grocery aisles, a cause supported by many lawmakers, including Sen. Kelli Stargel … who wrote the amendment. Even with a door inside the store, state law would require shoppers to buy groceries at a cash register inside the grocery store and liquor at a cash register inside the liquor store.

Under existing law, there’s little overlap in what liquor and grocery stores can sell. Grocery stores sell beer and wine but no hard alcohol. Liquor stores can sell limited snacks and juices to be used for mixed drinks but not staples like eggs, milk or bread.

Lawmakers voted down an alternative offered by Sen. Jack Latvala … that would have scrapped both the door and booze in grocery aisle provisions and instead focused the bill on delivery processes for hard alcohol at stores with separated grocery and liquor sections. Latvala said his option would have helped businesses while ensuring children didn’t have access to the liquor store.


A bill exempting taxpayers’ email addresses from the state’s open record law advanced in the Florida Senate. Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala argues the proposal protects consumers from scammers who use digital skills to defraud people. Latvala says he’s sponsoring the bill because tax collectors requested he do so.

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner questioned the need for the legislation, asking what was “the perceived notion” that tax collectors had about identity theft?

Latvala said the open records exemption is needed because email addresses when combined with other personal information could be used for identity theft and other scams. The bill makes an email address provided to a tax collector exempt if it was provided for a citizen to receive a quarterly tax notice, or to obtain the citizen’s consent to send a tax notice.

“If someone goes on the website, pulls up your name, your tax return – a facsimile of that tax return – is actually on the web. The concern is that someone can take that facsimile, recreate it, if they had your email address, send you an email, and say ‘if you’ll pay within the next 10 days, this bank account, this credit card, you get a 10 percent discount, and take advantage of people in a fraudulent way.”

He stressed that the exception only applies to email addresses that are provided to a tax collector in connection with a tax return.


It was the insurance industry versus the provider community when a House subcommittee took up a bill that prohibits balance billing for emergency services … with the insurance and HMO industry emerging the victor.

Over the objections of the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Radiological Association and the Florida Chapter American College of Surgeons, the subcommittee passed a bill that would ban physicians from balance billing insured patients for emergency services and care.

Health care providers already are prohibited from balance billing for HMO patients.

As amended, HB 681 also changes current laws that outline HMOs must reimburse out-of-network physicians for rendering the emergency services to the greater of: Medicare allowable rate; usual and customary reimbursement received by a provider for the same service in the community where the service was provided; or the amount negotiated with a provider who does not have a contract with the HMO for the service.

SOBER HOME BILL CLEARS FINAL HURDLE IN HOUSE via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post

A House bill designed to ensure sober homes are safe for addicts and neighbors passed its final committee stop on Wednesday and is headed to the House floor.

HB 21, filed by Rep. Bill Hager would establish a process that would enable recovery residences, such as halfway houses, the opportunity to become certified by state-approved certification organizations.

Although the certification is voluntary, the bill includes an incentive to earn certification by prohibiting substance abuse treatment centers from referring clients to recovery residences that are not certified . That prohibition would go into effect July 2016.

The Department of Children and Families would be responsible for selecting groups to provide certification. These certifying organizations would be required to establish and oversee procedures ranging from drug-testing to “good-neighbor” policies that address neighborhood concerns and complaints.

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Andrew Korge, the son of prominent Miami Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, intends to run for the Florida Senate whenever incumbent Gwen Margolis’ seat becomes open.

Margolis is term-limited in 2020, and that’s the race for which Korge said he has filed his candidacy. But should Margolis retire in 2016, Korge indicated he will run then. His father is close to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee next year.

“If she decides to qualify in 2016 I stand ready to knock on doors and support Sen. Margolis in every possible way,” Andrew Korge said in a statement. “If she chooses an alternate path and the seat becomes available, I will be prepared.”

That could set up a 2016 Democratic battle royale between Korge and state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Florida’s first openly gay lawmaker.

Richardson announced in January that he would run for Margolis’ seat. At the time, Margolis, 80, said she didn’t know if she would seek reelection, though she has an open 2016 campaign account. District 35 spans the eastern edge of Miami-Dade County, from south of Cutler Bay to Golden Beach. Richardson said in a statement that he would back Margolis — and presumably back out of the race until 2020 — if she runs for re-election. That suggests Richardson filed earlier this year assuming Margolis would retire but perhaps got ahead of himself by not letting her make that announcement on her own.


LAUDERDALE WON’T SHUTTER RED-LIGHT CAMERAS via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

Despite legal challenges and fiscal woes, red light cameras are here to stay, the City Commission decided … For now, Fort Lauderdale’s controversial red light camera program is suspended. The cameras stopped citing red-light runners on March 6, a week after a Broward County judge ruled the program violated state law.

Fort Lauderdale officials plan to keep the city’s 32 cameras in place at 20 intersections until the court challenges can be resolved.

[T]wo traffic judges dismissed 24,000 pending red-light camera ticket cases from throughout Broward County. Officials with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions screened the videos captured by the traffic cameras before sending them to local law enforcement agencies for ticketing. But state law mandates that only police officials can issue violations.

Fort Lauderdale commissioners also approved a plan allowing American Traffic Solutions to take over the legal costs and logistics of seeking an appeal. … Other cities, including Hollywood, have done the same.

Last month, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach declined an appeal by Hollywood over an October ruling that determined the city improperly delegated its police authority to American Traffic Solutions.

Hollywood is appealing that ruling to the Florida Supreme Court. … In the meantime, Hollywood has since stopped sending out the $158 citations, but city officials say they plan to modify the program to comply with state law.

LOCAL, STATE LEADERS: WE WANT HARRIS TO STAY HERE via Wayne Price, Dave Berman and Ilana Kowarski of FLORIDA TODAY

More than 40 state and local leaders have signed an open letter to Harris Corp. Chief Executive Officer William Brown saying they are committed to making Brevard County the “logical and desirable home” for Harris as it completes its $4.75 billion acquisition of Exelis Corp.

The list of names in the letter …  is a virtual “Who’s Who” of city, county, state and federal lawmakers, along with representatives of local business groups and civic organizations.

The letter congratulates Harris on its acquisition plans and notes the “highly complicated decisions” that will go into integrating the two companies.

“We want you to know how proud we are and how committed we are to making Brevard County the logical and desirable home to your operations, including your corporate headquarters for years to come.”

The community is concerned that Harris could move its headquarters to the Washington, D.C., area once the acquisition of the McLean, Virginia-based Exelis Corp. is completed this summer. Many of its defense and government customers are centered in that region. The acquisition isn’t expected to affect the 6,000 Harris engineers, scientists and other employees currently based in Brevard.

Brevard has been home to Harris since 1974.

***Stephen Hayes of FOX News and The Weekly Standard, keynotes The James Madison Institute’s 2015 Annual Dinner on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 with special guest Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The event will be held at the Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center. Limited tickets available. Click here to purchase.***

4TH FLOOR FILES talks with Allison Liby-Schoonover of Metz, Husband & Daughton. Alli brings more than a decade of government experience in both legislative and executive branches.

In addition to serving as a legislative analyst in the Senate Majority Office, specializing in education and agriculture, Alli had played a key role as deputy Senate finance director at the Republican Party of Florida in the 2012 election cycle. Prior to that, she worked in legislative affairs department of the Florida Department of the Lottery. Here’s the file on Allison.


Peter Antonacci, GrayRobinson: City of Key West

Ron Book, Rana  Brown, Ronald L. Book, PA: Banyan Health Systems; Palm Beach County

Michael Anway, Holland & Knight: Florida Academic Cancer Center Alliance

Wayne Bertsch, Jr., Wilson & Associates: Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy

Michael Corcoran, Jeffrey Johnston, Matthew Blair, Michael Cantens, Amanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Rayonier, Inc.

Ellyn Bogdanoff, EBS Consulting: Imagine Learning

Karen Bowling, Foley & Lardner: Chartrand Foundation

Linda Collins: University of Florida

Mark Flynn: Pathfinder Communications, LLC

Pamela Burch Fort, The Commerce Group: Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches

Ron Greenstein: International Speedway Corporation

David Griffin, GrayRobinson: Florida A&M University

Steven Grigas, Akerman: Lakeside Pediatrics

Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: Reedy Creek Improvement District

Ron Pierce, Natalie King, RSA Consulting: City of Winter Haven; Welldyne Inc.

Teresa Long: Keiser University

Lisa Miller, Lisa Miller and Associates: Demotech

Marianne Moran: The Nature Conservancy

David Sigerson: Florida Pawnbrokers Association


Carlton Fields Jorden Burt announced the addition of Matthew Leopold, former General Counsel of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Agency (DEP) and former attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. Leopold joins the firm as Of Counsel in Tallahassee. He will be a member of the Government Law and Consulting practice group.

With a decade of government experience split between the federal government and the State of Florida, Leopold focused his practice on environment, energy, water law, and litigation. Now in private practice, he will leverage this knowledge to assist clients with legal disputes and regulatory, public policy, and legislative challenges across a wide range of issues, helping them navigate through the landscape of government decision-makers.

“Matt has litigated the BP oil spill case, the Everglades case, and the water wars between Florida and Georgia — the biggest and most complex environmental disputes in Florida and nationally.  This rare experience makes him an exceptional addition to our firm and clients,” said Nancy G. Linnan, chair of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt’s Government Law and Consulting practice and Tallahassee office managing shareholder. “His unique federal and state perspective, including policy formation and advocacy, adds a dimension to our practice that we are extraordinarily excited about.”

SPOTTED: Former South Florida Water Management District Chairman Allan Milledge and wife Cathy Vogel, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Florida Agricultural Museum, in the Capitol courtyard attending Florida Ag Day at the Capitol.

***Smith, Bryan & Myers is an all-inclusive governmental relations firm located in Tallahassee. For more than three decades, SBM has been working with our clients to deliver their priorities through strategic and effective government relations consulting that has led us to become one of Tallahassee’s premier governmental relations firms today.***

BROWN-NOSING OF THE DAY: @FrancoRipple: @AdamSmithTimes’ Florida Five newsletter is a new daily must-read. Kudos to @Learyreports & @KMcgrory too.

MY TAKE ON THE TIMES’ NEWSLETTER — “The ridiculousness of the latest idea from the Tampa Bay Times

This is a newspaper company sending a newsletter email to drive readers to its blog, which is 90 percent made up of stories to be published in the newspaper.


On Context FloridaMarc Yacht talks about the Oklahoma University Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter, which raised the stupid-bar with a nine-second racist chant going viral. Media were quick to put aside the usual murder and mayhem to air this fraternity spectacle worldwide. So whom are these undergraduates finding joy in racist chants? Martin County must stand up to development bullies in court, says Sally Swartz. The quality of life that makes Martin different … includes such things as a 4-story building height limit, restricting density to 15 units per acre, and an urban boundary that confines growth to where services such as water, sewer, fire and police protection already are available. It means protecting residential neighborhoods. As an undergrad in the middle of the Material Girl 80s, Laurie Uttich does not remember anyone – a professor, a parent, or even a random guy on the street (or in the career counseling center) – ever telling her to “do what I love and the money will follow.” Instead, she heard: “Get a job.” If Marc Yacht’s recent commentary were a paper written in a senior undergraduate course, it would not get a very good grade, says Saint Leo University president Arthur F. Kirk Jr.Yacht ignores important facts and falsely argues that the sole purpose of higher education is to prepare graduates for immediate post-graduation employment. As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now for the rest of the story.”

Visit Context Florida to dig in.



Filling out an N.C.A.A. bracket isn’t just about basketball prognostication. It’s also about personal preferences. In this regard, Jeb Bush’s bracket — obtained by our colleague Nick Corasaniti — is a delight. (We’ve created a version of Mr. Bush’s bracket in The Times’s bracket contest.)

The bracket is conservative in many ways. Of the 16 top teams in the tournament (those seeded first through fourth in the four regions), he has picked 13 of them to make the Round of 16.

And the exceptions aren’t just any teams, either. Two of the three are from Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus of 2016. Mr. Bush has picked Northern Iowa, a No. 5 seed, in a mild upset over No. 4 Louisville, and No. 7 Iowa in a larger upset over No. 2 Gonzaga. He then has Iowa meeting Iowa State in an intrastate battle in the Round of 16 — and picks Iowa State, which is in a more conservative part of the state than the University of Iowa, to win.

You can also see some of his Texas roots in the bracket. He picks Texas to upset Butler in the first round and Baylor to beat Wisconsin — a little dig at Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps? — to reach the Final Four.

But Mr. Bush’s choice of national champion makes clear that his sights aren’t trained only on the Republican nomination process. To win it all, he didn’t choose the favorite, Kentucky, which after all plays in a reliable Republican state. He instead chose Virginia.

Along with Ohio — and, yes, Mr. Bush picked Ohio State to beat a higher-seeded team in the first round — Virginia has a claim on being the nation’s new bellwether state, having displaced Missouri. Virginia voted for Mr. Bush’s brother in 2000 and 2004 and for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012.


The Republican governor went against a lot of conventional wisdom in picking the Badgers to down Virginia in the national championship game April 6 in Indianapolis. Undefeated Kentucky is the favorite on many fans’ brackets.

But Scott’s biggest upset may be in picking his home state’s only entry in the tournament — the University of North Florida — to beat a #1 seeded Duke team. 

UPDATE: Ain’t gonna happen: UNF loses to Robert Morris University, 81-77.

TWEET, TWEET: @JKennedyReport: If @FLGovScott’s selection of UNF to beat Duke holds true, bracketology will take its place among STEM disciplines.


Reaching out to mainstream and new media journalists who cover Florida’s capital political corridor just got a lot easier, thanks to a new mobile app launched today by Sachs Media Group. The free app, available on iOS and Android devices, connects users to the entire Capitol Press Corps.

The “Florida Capitol Press Corps” app features contact information – including office and cell phone numbers, email addresses and Twitter handles – for more than 60 Capitol reporters, editors and producers, as well as state agency communications directors and leading political bloggers. The app also provides immediate access to those reporters’ Twitter feeds, as well as news releases and other helpful information.

“Today, instant connection is the key to getting and staying in touch with the people who define Florida politics and the Capitol to all of Florida and the nation,” said Ron Sachs, President & CEO of Sachs Media Group. “For the first time, this innovative app streamlines access to the best Capitol press corps in the country. It’s free, it’s fast and it’s fun to use.”

With the app, which was developed in partnership with App Innovators and is updated in real time to remain current throughout the year, anyone can instantly retrieve the latest news, tweets and news releases – without the hassle of filtering through the native social media feeds.

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.