Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
IT’S NICE WORK … IF YOU CAN GET IT
Call it déjà vu all over again … and again … and again … and again.
The Top 5 earners in registered legislative lobbying during the fourth quarter of 2016 were Ballard Partners, Southern Strategy Group, Ronald Book, Capital City Consulting, and Greenberg Traurig.
If the list looks familiar, there’s a reason for that. Each of firms were ranked were among the Top 5 firms each quarter in 2016. And according to our friends at LobbyTools Legislative IQ, it appears the pentad of firms ended the year in the same spot on the earners’ list as where they started.
Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group led the pack in fourth quarter of 2016, reporting in median earnings of more than $2.2 million and $1.6 million respectively.
Book’s reported median earnings of more than $1.5 million, while Capital City Consulting posted median earnings of more than $1.4 million. Greenberg Traurig rounded out the Top 5 with reported median earnings of more than $1.1 million.
GrayRobinson, which reported earning $935,000; Corcoran & Johnston, which reported earning $862,000; The Rubin Group, which reported earning $846,000; Johnson & Blanton, which reported earning $780,000; and Metz Husband & Daughton, which reported earning $640,000 rounded out the list of Top 10 earners during the final three months of the year.
According to LobbyTools, those five firms rounded out the Top 10 list during the first quarter of 2016. However, unlike the Top 5 earners, those firms were ranked in a different order at the beginning of the year.
All told, legislative lobbying firms reported total median earnings of $31.75 million during the fourth quarter of 2016. That was on par with what they reported during the third quarter, and down from the median earnings of $35.7 million they reported during the first quarter of the year.
The Top 5 principals in terms of median payment were: AT&T at $250,000; United States Sugar Corp. at $219,000; Florida Power & Light at $165,000; Automated Healthcare Solutions at $155,000; and Dosal Tobacco Corp. at $150,000.
SPOTTED: Brian Ballard in POLITICO Influence about registering on behalf of Amazon, according to federal lobbying reports. Florida records show Ballard is registered to represent Amazon.com before the Legislature.
— “Pro-Trump lobbyists lands big clients for new D.C. office” via Fredrik Schouten of USA Today
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THE SILENT TREATMENT BETWEEN RICK SCOTT AND RICHARD CORCORAN via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – In the heated battle over job incentives and tourism money … are these two strong-willed Republicans actually talking to each other? No, and that’s rarely a good sign in Tallahassee. Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo said the speaker called Scott‘s cellphone late last week before the governor launched a statewide tour in which he has publicly criticized two GOP House members in their districts, Reps. Paul Renner … and Jay Trumbull, for supporting the elimination of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. “The speaker had reached out to the governor in the past week before the governor’s state tour,” Piccolo said. A phone conversation wouldn’t change either man’s mind, but the deepening rancor over incentives and tourism could easily spread to other policy areas, such as the budget, tax cuts and education. Scott’s office did not deny that he got the call from Corcoran, and spokeswoman Jackie Schutz did not directly address the question of Scott giving him the brush-off.
SCOTT TALKS EFI, VISIT FLORIDA IN RIVIERA BEACH via Florida Politics – Scott’s office Wednesday sent out a video of him chatting with “business, tourism and community leaders” in the north Palm Beach County city. Scott brought his “Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable” to town “to discuss the local economic impact of VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida and the need to fight job killing legislation in the Florida House.”
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce 2016 tourism numbers at 10 a.m. at the Brevard Zoo, 8225 N Wickham Road in Melbourne. From there, he’ll head to St. Cloud where he’ll hold a roundtable discussion with business owners, and economic development and tourism leaders at 2:30 p.m. at The Catfish Place, 2324 13th Street.
RANDY FINE WARNS SCOTT ABOUT HIS TACTICS via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Fine … said he knows Scott is heading to his area soon because he is one of 9 Republicans on the House Careers and Competition Subcommittee that voted for the bill. But Fine isn’t worried. Instead he sent a preemptive letter to the governor warning him against making enemies and encouraging him to speak with him in person, rather than taking shots at him in the media. “Economic development is not a concept to me, it’s something I’ve spent my career doing … But in my business, I always found the best outcomes come by sitting down in person and finding common ground. Rather than us talking at each other in the media, I’d prefer to talk to you in person.”
FLORIDA HOUSE SLAMS ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IN NEW VIDEO via Florida Politics – In a new three-and-a-half minute video, the House scorches the state’s beleaguered public-private economic development organization, using phrases like “no more corruption” and “no more taking taxpayers for granted.” The video starts by highlighting the Sanford Burnham debacle, continues with the Digital Domain failure, and brings up the $1 million secret deal for Miami rapper Pitbull to promote state tourism – all funded with public money. It also mentions the high salaries, bonuses and lavish expenses ushered in by former CEO Bill Johnson. It ends with a clip of President Ronald Reagan addressing Congress in 1981: “There are a number of subsidies to business … that I believe are unnecessary, not because the activities being subsidized aren’t of value, but because the marketplace contains incentives enough to warrant continuing these activities without a government subsidy.”
ASSESSING VISIT FLORIDA BENEFICIARIES’ ASSERTIONS, PREDICTIONS AND ANECDOTES via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – As the debate over whether to fund or eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida escalates at the Florida Capitol, it’s important to consider that those who directly benefit from the mostly taxpayer-funded organizations are among their most vocal supporters. It’s natural, and predictable. It’s also entirely appropriate that incentives and tourism marketing recipients have the opportunity to make their case for continued funding. But their appeals shouldn’t always be taken at face value. Take Amy Lukasik, director of tourism marketing for the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners. She was one of dozens of individuals who implored House lawmakers last week not to eliminate Visit Florida or its $76 million annual appropriation. Ken Lawson, Visit Florida’s recently appointed president and CEO, made rousing statements against the plan to kill his public-private corporation. Chris Hart, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, did the same in his own way. What else were they going to say?
MARK WILSON CALLS HOUSE PUSH TO ELIMINATE ENTERPRISE FLORIDA ‘A POLITICAL CONVERSATION ABOUT IDEOLOGY’ via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Addressing what he called the “obvious elephant in the room,” Florida Chamber President Wilson criticized House members who backed an effort to end economic incentive programs, calling the move political. “I want to be blunt for a few minutes,” said Wilson. “This is not a Legislature trying to seek how to diversify the economy and how to grow trade. This is a political conversation about an ideology that frankly is silly.” Wilson made his comments during the 2017 International Days hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce … The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week voted 10-5 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and a slew of economic incentive programs. “The Florida Chamber scores votes by legislators,” he said. “We are scoring every one of the votes in the Legislature and it will be factored into endorsements. That doesn’t make a lot of friends, but (we’re) fighting for free enterprise.”
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IMMINENT ARRIVAL – Sen. Lauren Book had to miss Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. She was getting ready to give birth. “She’s having twins, and she’s scheduled to have them tomorrow morning,” committee chairwoman Anitere Flores said. “But she’ll be back up here by the time session starts.” Book, a Broward County Democrat, wrote to Flores in January explaining that her doctors had restricted her travel.
DON GAETZ, CHRIS SMITH AMONG JOE NEGRON’S CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW PANEL PICKS via Florida Politics – Former Florida Senate President Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. Negron … announced his list in a press release. Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate. Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are: Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, Patricia Levesque, Sherry Plymale, William “Bill” Schifino Jr., Bob Solari, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, Carolyn Timmann … former Florida Bar President Hank Coxe; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez.
SENATE MAY BALK AT SCOTT’S PLAN TO HIT HOSPITALS OVER CHARITY CARE via Florida Politics – Scott’s proposal to cut Medicaid reimbursement payments to profitable hospitals that stint on charity care may run into trouble in the Senate. During hearings Wednesday before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, members including chairwoman Anitere Flores raised objections. “The governor’s office has made some assumptions, based on the fact that some hospitals are very profitable, that they can afford a cut,” Flores said … “I’m hearing very different things from our local hospitals,” she said. “I think you heard from other members that they have some concerns, as well.” Scott’s $83.4 billion spending plan would save $298 million “by eliminating arbitrary and inconsistent supplemental payments for hospitals that provide less charity.”
FLA. HOUSE PAGE PROGRAM MANAGER ARRESTED IN SOLICITATION STING via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat – The coordinator for the Florida House of Representatives page program was arrested after he allegedly left his 10-year-old son home alone to meet and have sex with someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl. Michael Chmielewski, who was Civics Program Coordinator with the state House of Representatives Page Program, faces one count of using a computer to solicit a minor and one count of traveling to meet a minor. After he was fired … he was banned from the Capitol grounds … Chmielewski, 37, ran the House’s page and messenger program, which attracts up to 300 teenagers, ages 13 to 18 every legislative session. He had served in that role since 2012. He was arrested after responding to an ad posted by an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old girl.
“WHISKEY AND WHEATIES” BILL SQUEAKS OUT OF HOUSE PANEL via Florida Politics – House members served up a sour version of the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill Wednesday as it barely cleared its first committee. The Careers and Competition Subcommittee cleared the legislation (HB 81) by a vote of 8-7, with the panel’s chair, Monticello Republican Halsey Beshears, voting against it. This is the fourth year a version of the bill has been filed. It aims to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.
MOVE TESTING TO END OF SCHOOL YEAR, LAWMAKERS SAY via Leslie Postal and Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – To minimize class disruptions, Florida students should take the state’s standardized tests during the final three weeks of the school year, a trio of state lawmakers said … Their legislation would end Florida’s current testing season, which starts at the end of February, runs for a week, picks up again in early April and then runs through mid-May. Many educators have complained that schedule interrupts too many classes and unfairly tests students before they’ve been taught a year’s worth of lessons. The bills (HB 773, SB 926) would not eliminate any state exams, as some educators have urged, however. “Teachers are frustrated. They feel like they’re having to cram for a test, they’re having to teach to a test,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate sponsor.
HOUSE HEALTH PANEL SUBMITS TELEHEALTH, NURSE AUTHORITY PROPOSALS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Health Quality Subcommittee submitted a proposed committee bill (PCB HQS 17-01) to address the shortage of health professionals through telehealth regulation and scope of practice changes for advanced nurses and physician assistants … The bill would authorize advanced nurses who meet certain criteria to practice independently, without the supervision of a physician … authorizes physician assistants to perform certain examinations that APRNs are authorized to perform under current law, such as those to detect child abuse, to file death registrations and certify a cause of death and to participate in the Public-School Volunteer Health Care Practitioner Program … A second component of the bill regulates telehealth … It also allows out-of-state professionals to use telehealth, one sticking point in previous sessions.
UNANIMOUS JURY BILL UNANIMOUSLY OK’D IN HOUSE via Florida Politics – A bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence was unanimously cleared by a House panel Wednesday. The Criminal Justice Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 527) by Rep. Chris Sprowls. But the approval was after several public comments that the legislation didn’t go far enough to truly overhaul the state’s capital punishment system.
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BILL BLOCKING PUBLIC RELEASE OF DEATH RECORDINGS A SLIPPERY SLOPE FOR TRANSPARENCY, TRUTH via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics – I will give state Rep. Chris Latvala the benefit of the doubt that he believes he is doing the right thing by filing HB 661 – a measure that prohibits the public release of video and audio recordings of someone’s death. His reasoning: such video inspires terrorists … You know what else is harmful to the public? When governments aren’t accountable to the people they allegedly serve. That is particularly true, as we have seen in recent years, with officer-involved shootings. Would the person who took the video be liable for felony prosecution, which would be the penalty under this proposal, if they posted the video they shot on social media? Without contradicting video, we might just have to take the officer’s word for it that he or she felt their life was in danger. It’s an important check and balance. As far as the video inspiring terrorists, I think Latvala is using fear as a rationale to pull the covers a little tighter over transparency.
BILL WOULD ALLOW TWO OFFICIALS OF SAME BOARD TO MEET IN PRIVATE via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – Members of the same city council or local board would be able to have lunch or attend a ballgame together without worrying about violating the state’s open meetings law under a bill filed this week by Sen. Dennis Baxley … “This needs discretion, instead of zero tolerance,” Baxley said. “This is the Pop-Tart gun bill for public officials. It’s being interpreted beyond reason.” Baxley was referring to a 2014 law that prohibits schools from punishing children who play with fake weapons, passed after a Maryland 8-year-old was arrested for chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun. If adopted, SB 914 would redefine a “meeting” as any discussion of public business between two or more members of the same board or commission. Current law defines a meeting as any discussion between two members of the same board.
LAWYERS FOR THE STATE TELL SENATE COMMITTEE THEY NEED PAY RAISES, TOO via Florida Politics – State attorneys and public defenders face off in court, but they agreed on one thing during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice: Their staff attorneys need pay raises. Trouble is, committee chairman Aaron Bean isn’t convinced there’ll be enough money to pay for that, as much as he sympathizes. “The secret is that there’s just not going to be enough money to cover everybody’s requests,” Bean said following the hearing. “That’s why we triage.” Representatives of an array of state agencies that field attorneys begged the panel for pay raises. Other than state attorneys and public defenders, the committee heard from regional conflict counsel, the statewide guardian ad litem office, and capital collateral representative offices. Additional public-safety agencies also requested increases, including higher salaries.
SPEAKER SAYS “ZERO” CHANCE BUCS GET STATE SUBSIDIES THIS YEAR via Shadow of the Stadium – Speaker Corcoran, told me last week that there was “zero” chance the (Tampa Bay) Buccaneers get the roughly $10 million in state subsidies they’re seeking for their ongoing Raymond James Stadium renovations, even though they are the only professional team seeking money from the state this year … The “scheme” he’s referring to made it easier for pro sports teams to get multi-million-dollar tax breaks. Ironically, a conservative legislature has still denied the funding every year since the law changed. 2017 looks to be no different, thanks to Corcoran and some like-minded counterparts of his in the Senate.
LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools
On: Teri Cariota, formerly an aide to former Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, is now a legislative assistant to Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon.
On: Venusmia Lovely, formerly an aide to Sen. Dwight Bullard, is also a district assistant for Hardemon.
HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee could take up a bill that would repeal the limit on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds during its meeting at 9 a.m. in 404 House Office Building; meanwhile the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee will consider a bill that would allow voters to submit affidavits before the election to resolve discrepancies if the signatures on their vote-by-mail ballot doesn’t match the signature on record when it meets at 9 a.m. in 17 House Office Building. Over in the Senate, the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will hear a presentation from the Florida State University Office of Urban and Regional Planning about autonomous vehicles and the environment when it meets at 9 a.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Joint Legislative Audition Committee will meet at 1 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building to consider a request for an OPPAGA study of the Florida Municipal Power Agency.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Environment Florida Research & Policy Center will release a report at 8 a.m. addressing Florida’s efforts to protect kids from lead in school drinking water.
RATINGS FIRM: INSURERS FACE LOWER GRADES, LENDER EFFECT UNKNOWN via Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post – Ratings firm Demotech says its guidance on 57 Florida-based property insurers is under review in the wake of the 2016 storms and continuing water-claims problems. But officials are not saying publicly how many how many companies are likely to get lower financial safety grades in March. Ohio-based Demotech plays a key role in rating Florida-based insurers for mortgage lenders, including smaller insurance companies not necessarily rated by older, traditional agencies.
— ONE TOP SENATE STAFFER EMAILS – “This is huge. The rating could be lowered for as many as 17 of the 57 insurers in Florida … and many others will teeter on the brink of a downgrade. If they are downgraded, they can’t insure federally backed mortgages, so they effectively can’t participate in the homeowners’ insurance market. The entire reason for this is added cost of Assignment of Benefits on insurers. This will result in an increase in premiums this year across the board by most, if not all, of the 57 domestic admitted carriers in the state. If there wasn’t enough pressure to do something on AOB this year, this is making the issue something that can’t be ignored.”
DRIVE FOR ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM PICKS UP STEAM via Florida Politics – The prospect that a national rating firm might downgrade Florida insurance companies because of rising costs linked to assignment of benefits agreements has lit a fire under advocates of reforming those contracts. “This issue is having a real effect on the pocketbooks of working Floridians and it’s time we take steps to clean up the process,” state Rep. Ben Diamond said in a written statement … “Homeowners deserve a real, consumer-driven solution that ensures that legitimate claims are paid while putting a stop to the bad actors who are driving up the cost of property insurance for all Floridians.” He pointed to a report in the Miami Herald that Demotech Inc. was about to downgrade as many of 15 of the 57 Florida insurers it rates from “A” to “B” on financial stability. The move could put mortgages at risk for thousands of homeowner because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require “A” ratings on insurance carried by its borrowers.
NEW GROUP SEEKS TO STEER MEDICAL MARIJUANA BETWEEN CONTROL, FREE MARKET via Florida Politics – Smart Medicine For Florida will be pushing for regulations that would assure quality, safety, and security while also seeking a market open enough to assure fair pricing and the voices of patients and doctors, said the new group’s leader, Brian Hughes. The new group will be emerging in coming weeks with details as the Florida Legislature begins in ernest to transition from the very limited, low-THC marijuana medicine production and distribution program that began in 2016 to the much broader one authorized when voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 in November, essentially legalizing all forms of medicines derived from marijuana. That legislative debate could Ping-Pong between interests that still want to regulate medical marijuana into non-existence, to rising advocacy for a free-market.
TRI-RAIL STICKING WITH, DEFENDING, CONTROVERSIAL $500M, ONE-BID CONTRACT via Florida Politics – “Right now, we’re moving forward. We followed a process, and we put the process in place,” said C. Mikel Oglesby, deputy executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. That process has Gov. Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, all threatening to cut Tri-Rail’s money. Their concerns are over how and why the regional transportation authority disqualified five lower bids before awarding the contract to Herzog Transit Services for $511 million for 10 years … all that’s at risk as the Authority goes forward with what Oglesby said was the fair, appropriate and legal outcome of a bidding process in which all the bidders but one failed to follow the rules. “We think that once they hear from us tomorrow, they’ll see that we followed the rules. I think they’ll have a better understanding about what we did and why we did it,” Oglesby said.
FRANK ARTILES OP-ED: A REVIEW OF THE FACTS — SFRTA GETS IT RIGHT for Florida Politics – Over the last few weeks, South Florida has seen criticism regarding the process used by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) to award a contract to operate and maintain the South Florida Tri-Rail commuter rail system to Herzog Transit Services, Inc. … I made it my personal mission to delve into the details surrounding the process and draw my own conclusion on the integrity of the process. What I found was that the attacks on the process are not consistent with the facts surrounding this issue and do not divulge the entire story. The reality is that no other bid contemplates the full and complete cost of running the system, no other bid includes the fundamental cost components that will keep the trains running on time, and no other bid ensures that thousands of Tri-Rail passengers will get to and from work or their other destinations every day, as Herzog Transit Services did … after looking at the details surrounding this instance, I have full confidence that SFRTA acted with due diligence and correctly awarded the bid.
THE WORST STORY YOU’LL READ TODAY – ER DOCTOR CALLS LOXAHATCHEE TOT’S STARVATION DEATH WORST HE’S SEEN via Olivia Hitchcock and Hannah Winston of the Palm Beach Post – “My baby girl died,” Alejandro Aleman whispered into a cellphone outside a Palms West Hospital emergency room, according to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office records. “This is why people throw their babies in dumpsters. … They harass you like this when accidents happen.” The ER doctor who tried to revive 13-month-old Tayla Aleman called her’s the worst starvation case he had ever seen … Tayla starved to death weighing barely 7 pounds, sheriff’s office records state. She was born weighing 9. Those recently released files in the death-penalty cases against Tayla’s parents, Aleman and Kristen Meyer-Aleman, describe the young girl’s lifeless body lying on a gurney in the emergency room, surrounded by the medical equipment doctors futilely used to revive her. A pink, animal-print onesie from Carter’s was underneath her, sheriff’s office records state. The onesie was sized for a 3-month-old.
BAD NEWS FOR OYSTERS, FISHING via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – A special master’s recommendation in the ongoing tristate water war could spell ecological and economic disaster costing billions of dollars for Florida’s panhandle, Apalachicola Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire said. “If Georgia has no cap and will continue to withhold and draw more water out of the basin then we have a dead end,” he said. But this Apalachicola apocalypse can be avoided if the Army Corps of Engineers starts considering the water needs of North Florida as well as Georgia, he said. The fight is over how water is allocated from Lake Lanier to the Apalachicola Bay and affects three rivers and their basins — the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint. Special Master Ralph Lancaster, appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, found that Florida failed to show a need for a consumption cap in Georgia. Florida’s lawyers should have included the Corps in the lawsuit, Tonsmeire said. “If the Corps had been in the suit it would have been able to change the flow to help make that remedy,” he said after reading parts of the order.
HURDLES TO SCHOOL CHOICE REMAIN DESPITE FLORIDA’S OPEN ENROLLMENT LAW via Erin Clark of FloridaWatchdog.org – Florida has one of the most robust school choice programs nationwide, with 45 percent of pre-K-12 students in the state having exercised some type of choice option in the 2015-16 school year. A new law seems poised to amplify that even more … Under HB 7029, public schools are required to allow students to transfer in from anywhere else in the state, as long as they have the capacity to take them. Still, parents in counties across the state are finding out that getting children into a school that suits them is more complicated than one would expect of an open enrollment policy. In Seminole County, 1,000 elementary school students are being rezoned in August due to growing enrollment … parents in Seminole County have been told that district schools are at capacity next year and that no intra-district transfers will be allowed, except for diversity reasons. Next year the capacity at Keeth could shrink by 100 spots, leaving little availability to parents who want to stay put.
MANATEE COMMISSION VOTES TO APPROVE MOSAIC’S MINING REQUEST via Claire Aronson of the Bradenton Herald – Despite the majority of public comments voiced in opposition during the hearings, the commission, in two 5-2 votes, approved both a request to rezone 3,596 acres of Mosaic’s Wingate East property for mining, as well as the Master Mining Plan. The mining at Wingate East will be completed around 2034, with reclamation ending around 2042. “I don’t like mining,” said Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac, who voted in favor of Mosaic’s proposal. “The fact of the matter is they have property rights. Mining is a specific listed property right.” In addition to Benac, voting in favor were commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Steve Jonsson, Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Carol Whitmore. Commissioners Robin DiSabatino and Charles Smith cast the dissenting votes.
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DAYS UNTIL: Start of 2017 Legislative Session – 19; Florida Capitol Press Corps Press Skits – 26; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die – 78; FSU vs. Alabama – when 98; Election Day 2017 – 260; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 301.
DONALD TRUMP TO RALLY IN MELBOURNE ON SATURDAY via Dave Berman of FLORIDA TODAY – He will appear at a rally that begins at 5 p.m. Saturday in the AeroMod International hangar at Orlando Melbourne International Airport. Doors will open at 3 p.m. People seeking the free tickets are asked to provide their name, cellphone number, email address, state of residence and ZIP code. There is a limit of two tickets per cellphone number.
POLL: DONALD TRUMP TRAILS GENERIC DEMOCRAT, BUT NOT ELIZABETH WARREN, IN 2020 via Jake Sherman of POLITICO – Roughly a quarter of voters think he is the worst president in the past three-quarters of a century. Forty-three percent of voters are ready to vote for a nameless Democrat in 2020, while just over a third say they’ll vote for Trump. In the fourth week of Trump’s presidency, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that Democrats could be in trouble — and Trump could triumph — if they continue their lurch to the left. Despite the public’s increasing misgivings about Trump’s behavior and tactics in the White House, he still beats Sen. Elizabeth Warren… in a hypothetical matchup, 42 percent to 36 percent — a fairly impressive margin for a less-than-popular president against the prominent senator.
MEET THE WILDLY POPULAR BLOGGER CHRONICLING TRUMP ONE DAY AT A TIME via Melody Kramer of Poynter.org — Matt Kiser worked in news for many years, and now he works as a product manager at an algorithm startup in Seattle. But every day, Matt spends upwards of six hours working by hand on his single-subject blog, which launched in January. The concept of his blog was pretty simple: Matt simply wanted to log what he called “the daily shock and awe in Trump’s America” and make it easy for others to consume. Over the past three weeks, What the F*ck Just Happened Today? has grown immensely popular. Matt now has more than 48,000 newsletter subscribers (and an enviable open rate over 50 percent) and is on pace to receive more than 2.5 million page views in February.
AMBASSADOR JEFFREY LORIA? via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The New York Post reports that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is being floated by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as the next U.S. ambassador to France. “So far, Priebus has pushed — and won signoffs — for Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria to head to France, GOP activist Georgette Mosbacher to Luxembourg, financier Lew Eisenberg to Italy and hedge funder Duke Buchan to Spain,” the Post reports.
BILL NELSON AGAIN TALKING THE ‘CENTRIST’ TALK REGARDING SUPREME COURT NOMINEE via Bob Sparks of Florida Politics – Nelson does a good job of talking the moderate, bipartisan approach in the U.S. Senate. In the end, he nearly always votes with the liberals in his party … Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2018, has a high-profile vote coming his way … the Senate will conduct hearings involving Judge Neil Gorsuch … Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court … Nelson and some of his colleagues will want to know where the judge stands on certain issues. He mentions voter suppression and “unlimited money in campaigns” as two issues most important to him. Bewilderment over the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which Gorsuch participated, clouds Nelson’s opinion of the judge. As usual, he is saying the right things. Nelson telegraphed his intentions when asked whether he supported a filibuster against the nomination. “You bet I do,” he said. “The filibuster has always forced the political extremes to come to the middle to build consensus.” There is that “centrist” dialogue masking a liberal position again.
WILFREDO FERRER OUT AS SOUTHERN DISTRICT U.S. ATTORNEY – Ferrer announced Wednesday that he will step down as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida effective March 3. “There has been no greater honor than to serve and protect the same community that opened its arms to my parents when they immigrated to this country,” said Ferrer in a statement,” said Ferrer, a Hialeah native who has held the post since he was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. During his 7 years on the job, Ferrer’s office has indicted more than 11,000 cases and charged more than 18,000 criminal defendants. Prosecutor Ben Greenberg will take over until President Donald Trump picks Ferrer’s successor. Candidates eying the job include former federal prosecutors Roy Altman, John Couriel, Daniel Fridman, Jon Sale and Carlos Castillo.
CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION VOWS TO TACKLE FLORIDA’S MANY WATER ISSUES via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s congressional delegation, which stretches from the far left to the far right, has successfully joined together to fight oil drilling efforts. Now the lawmakers are seeking common cause on a broader array of water quality issues facing the state. “Let’s get the politics out of this and make a difference,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan … co-chairman of the delegation. “We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state’s beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida’s thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife.” Attending the meeting was Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.
REPUBLICANS MOCK CHARLIE CRIST AS A BOOZER via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – The big-hearted folks at the National Republican Congressional Committee today delivered a gift box to Crist … It included a bottle of Finlandia vodka – a reference to Politico report that he was spotted drinking Finlandia and OJ on an afternoon flight to Washington earlier this month – and a stop watch – since he missed one of his first votes this year because he mistimed his walk to the House floor. It’s a light-hearted attack … but Crist allies best hope he does not become better known for guzzling booze than those Red Bulls for which he is best known. Crist’s office responded cheerfully, sending out a photo of positive press clips apparently tacked to the gift box: “Team Crist appreciates the poster board material. And there’s nothing better than fresh Florida OJ. Cheers!”
FLORIDA INSIDER POLL: JOHN MORGAN WOULD BE STRONGEST DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR GOVERNOR via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – Here’s how the largely Republican group of Florida Insiders, including fundraisers, campaign professionals, lobbyists, academics and activists, came down on the question of the strongest Democratic nominee: John Morgan: 36 percent; Gwen Graham: 33 percent; Bob Buckhorn: 18 percent; Philip Levine: 6 percent; Andrew Gillum 5 percent; Other: 3 percent.
AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY LINING UP BEHIND DENISE GRIMSLEY FOR AG COMMISSIONER via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales Feb. 28. While the invitation notes a host committee is still being formed, the backers listed on the invitations reads like a who’s who of the Central Florida agriculture and political leaders. Among Grimsley’s supporters: Bob Behr, the former commissioner and CEO of Florida Natural; Ben Hill Griffin III, an industry leader and a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame; Ellis Hunt, the current chair of the Florida Citrus Commission; Marty McKenna, the former president of Florida Citrus Mutual; and John Barben, the current preside of Florida Citrus Mutual. The invite also lists Florida Citrus Mutual PAC, Florida Cow PAC, Polk County Farm PAC, and Southeast Milk, Inc. as backers.
GOP OFFICIAL QUITS AFTER RACIST FACEBOOK POST AND ‘DEATH PANEL’ UPROAR via CT Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times – Bill Akins said he resigned as secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee because he spoke out of turn during a Saturday congressional town hall meeting by insisting the Affordable Care Act has “death panels”… But it wasn’t his comments about Obamacare that drew national scorn … He became the subject of widespread ridicule only after The Washington Post revealed his Facebook posts contained racist and fake news stories and memes. Pasco Party Chairman Randy Evans and Committeeman Bill Bunting said no one with the GOP asked him to resign, but they said it was those Facebook posts that likely contributed to his departure.
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PERSONNEL NOTE: KELLY QUINTERO JOINS LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS via Florida Politics – Quintero will be the organization’s registered lobbyist for the 2017 Legislative Session. She’s a native Floridian and is graduate of the University of Central Florida with a degree in political science. She has worked at the Orange County Tax Collector’s office, most recently as Deputy Communications Director. Quintero spearheaded bilingual media relations, digital media and community relations. She also served as Central Florida Political Director during the 2016 presidential campaign, coordinating activities throughout 11 Central Florida counties.
SOUTH FLORIDA BUSINESS JOURNAL NAMES VETERAN JOURNALIST JUDY MILLER AS MANAGING EDITOR via Brian Bandell of the South Florida Business Journal – In her role as managing editor, Miller will oversee newsroom operations under the direction of Editor-in-Chief Mel Meléndez. Her responsibilities include supervising and editing reporters, and the distribution of crucial business news across various publishing platforms such as online, mobile, email, print and social media. Miller worked at the Miami Herald from 1992 to 2006, starting as an assistant city editor in Broward County and rising to investigations editor and then managing editor. She led the team of Herald journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for exposing voter fraud in the Miami mayoral election. She also co-led the Herald team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Elián González raid. She was part of Pulitzer Prize finalist teams with the Herald for two other stories: the Columbia shuttle explosion and electrical flaws in South Florida bus shelters.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Dan Daley. And his hair.