Sunburn for 1.2.18 – Happy New Year! - Florida Politics

Sunburn for 1.2.18 – Happy New Year!

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

No resolutions from us; instead let’s get Sunburn back up and running with some good news about some great people…

Personnel note: McGuireWoods Consulting opens new Tallahassee office” via Florida Politics – These three have good reason to toast the new year: Veteran lobbyists Sean Stafford, Rhett O’Doski and Ryder Rudd have opened a new office in Tallahassee for McGuireWoods Consulting. The announcement was shared first with Florida Politics. “We are excited to welcome Sean, Rhett and Ryder to the team and establish a strong government affairs practice in Tallahassee,” Jim Hodges, incoming president and CEO of McGuireWoods Consulting, said in a statement. “They are seasoned professionals who possess the relationships and policy expertise to be tremendous assets for both current and future clients, as well as a great resource for the law firm and its attorneys.” The three lobbyists have more than six decades of combined government relations experience in Florida and were formerly with the Advantage Consulting Team, founded by Stafford and O’Doski in 2008.

And now, here are some key stories which happened during the holiday break that you may have missed:

Ron DeSantis rising — In good company, DeSantis is starting the year with his best foot forward. Shortly after President Donald Trump on Twitter all but formally endorsed the Florida congressman for a 2018 gubernatorial bid, DeSantis’ “Finance Leadership Team” was made public, revealing a docket of gilded GOP givers. Among them: Sheldon Adelson, owner of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert MercerFoster Friess and donors that usually associate with Charles Koch’s and David Koch’s conservative network also were named. The Koch brothers were uncharacteristically absent from the list, but DeSantis was spotted golfing with Charles Koch at a June retreat.

Bill Nelson surveys Puerto Rico — The U.S. Senator’s tour of Puerto Rico was marked by desperate scenes on the island. Nelson was astonished at how much of Puerto Rico has gone so long — 97 days at the time of his visit — without power. On his tour, he was accompanied by Orlando Democratic Congressman Darren Soto. Soto visited Bayamon Hospital. He noted an exodus of doctors and nurses. The hospital itself had less than ideal conditions for patients, with tarps hanging from the ceiling and water leaking.

Francis Rooney goes full Trump  In related news of positive relationships between Florida congressmen and Trump, Rep. Rooney of Naples called for a “purge” of what he said is a coalition of anti-Trump biased bureaucrats working inside the DOJ and FBI. The claim pertains to questionable texts and other elements that point to a bias in those handling the Robert Mueller investigation. Rooney isn’t alone in his claims; he just made news for his diction. Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz and the earlier mentioned DeSantis have echoed similar concerns — but they refrained from using the word ‘purge.’

A lone spectator watches the New Year’s Eve fireworks from a walkway in Cascades Park Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in downtown Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Rest in peace — On a somber note, the Legislature and the people of Florida lost an admired lawmaker in the unexpected death of state Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, which occurred on Christmas Eve. Hahnfeldt, who was elected in 2016, manned Sumter and parts of Lake and Marion counties. A former submarine commander for the U.S. Navy, he was admired by his peers in the House. There are now six open seats in the Legislature just days ahead of Session.

The latest from the Emeril beat  House Speaker Richard Corcoran is once again meddling in the affairs of public funds and celebrities. This time the spotlight is on star chef Emeril Lagasse. Corcoran wants to know whether the show, “Emeril’s Florida,” which received $11.6 million in public funds, made too much money in its six seasons produced by MAT Media. The state House filed a motion before the holidays, requesting full financial disclosures.

Out of money — Leon County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Andy Janecek painted a dismal picture for the party’s finances in an email sent to Democrat county leaders across the state. The email was a call to arms of sorts, asking the county groups to pitch in to help pay eight regional directors. Referencing newly elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo, Janecek said she had “inherited a mess.”

Judge halts pot licensing  Health officials were legally ordered to halt the process of granting a license to a black farmer to grow medical marijuana. Recall the carve-out for granting the license is a remedy for the Pigford cases, which ultimately found federal discrimination toward black farmers. The injunction is a result of Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, and his lawyers. They argued the law’s requirement that the black farmer must also belong to the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter is unconstitutional. Given the halt, Smith and team might be right, too.

Judge rules against state on greyhound drug testing  Florida regulators used an outlawed set of protocols to drug test greyhounds, according to a recent ruling of Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stevenson. The tests found greyhound trainers Charles McClellan’s and Natasha Nemeth’s dogs had cocaine in their system, but Stevenson said the procedures used to drug test the dogs were outlawed, making the results insignificant. The ruling has some implications. It marks another defeat for the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, continuing a losing streak in court. Regulators also worry that the decision voids drug testing for dogs and have subsequently filed a temporary rule to test greyhounds in the meantime.

Brandy Abruzzo, the wife of state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, took to Twitter this week to tell her side of the story.

Hell hath no fury — Boynton Beach Democratic state Rep. Joe Abruzzo’s rocky divorce made post-holiday headlines after his wife, Brandy Abruzzo, took to Twitter and called the lawmaker a “scam artist and narcissist.” She also accused him of assault and claimed he was in cahoots with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office because they did not arrest the representative following her claim that he assaulted her. This news comes at a time when the Legislature is arguably more aware than it has ever been on issues relating to assault and corruption. But Rep. Abruzzo’s spokesperson has called the claims baseless, and accuracy of the allegations has yet to be confirmed.

Minimum wage boost — Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a 15-cent raise in the state’s minimum wage. The increase came Monday, making $8.25 the lowest wage possible for all workers who are covered by the federal minimum wage. The state passed Florida’s minimum wage law in 2005. Since then, it has risen a total of $2.10 an hour, or 34 percent. This year’s increase is the largest since 2012.

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— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Financially-strained Florida Democrats ask county leaders for money” via Ana Ceballos of Florida PoliticsIn calls to county-level Democratic party leaders last week, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo asked for financial assistance to pay for the salaries of eight newly hired regional staffers.Only six out of the 67 county committees have made a donation. While FDP officials paint this as a fundraising effort, the move is a clear sign that the party, fresh-off two pricey victories, is struggling financially. One of those was the Palm Beach County Executive Committee, which Rizzo still chairs. After consulting members, Rizzo donated $10,000 on behalf of the Palm Beach committee.

Field finalized in race for Neil Combee House seat” via the News Service of Florida — Without any last-minute entries, the three-candidate race to replace former Republican Rep. Combee of Auburndale was finalized last week. Republicans Jennifer Spath and Josie Tomkow will square off in a Feb. 20 special primary election, with the winner facing Democrat Ricky Shirah in a May 1 special general election. Combee left the House District 39 seat last month to take a federal agriculture job. HD 39 includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties.

Four candidates to vie for Daisy Baez House seat” via the News Service of Florida — Republicans Jose Pazos and Andrew Vargas, Democrat Javier Fernandez and unaffiliated candidate Liz de las Cuevas qualified to run in House District 114. Rep. Baez resigned in November after pleading guilty to a perjury charge in an investigation of her residency. The Republican primary will be held Feb. 20, with the general election on May 1. That means the seat will be open throughout the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts Jan. 9 and is scheduled to end March 9.

State House election finance reports due — Qualifying candidates for Miami-Dade’s House District 114 and Central Florida’s House District 39 will have to submit their campaign-finance reports by Tuesday. For HD 114, that includes Republicans Jose Pazos and Andrew Vargas, Democrat Javier Fernandez, and unaffiliated candidate Liz de las Cuevas. In HD 39, that includes Republican candidates Jennifer Spath and Josie Tomkow, along with Democrat Shirah.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Gov. Rick Scott pulls plug on ‘Project Sunburst’ website with his emails” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press — A highly publicized effort by Gov. Scott to put his emails — as well as the emails of his top staff — online has been quietly shuttered. More than five years ago Scott launched “Project Sunburst” with fanfare and called it an “unprecedented step” to give citizens a transparent window into his administration. Scott decided to make public his emails several months after he ordered an investigation into how and why emails he wrote right before he became governor were deleted. But this fall the main part of the “Project Sunburst” site was taken down completely. And before that happened, many of Scott’s staff stopped making their emails available to the site. “Every email hosted on Sunburst will still be available online,” spokesman John Tupps said. “Also, the Governor and Lt. Governor’s emails will be posted on our website on a weekly basis where we currently post all other public records.” But media organizations seeking emails by Scott’s top staff, including his chief of staff, will have to make public records requests for them.

Florida could soon implement pre-arrest diversion programs statewide” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — A pair of criminal justice reform proposals are laying out an ambitious plan that could reduce crime and incarceration rates in Florida by implementing pre-arrest diversion programs statewide. If approved by the state Legislature, the bills would direct all judicial circuits in the state to create and implement both an adult and juvenile civil citation programs. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, filed his bill last week and state Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican, is expected to file a similar companion bill in the House.

After fatal derailment in Washington, Debbie Mayfield urges Scott to review rail safety” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, has been pushing legislation the past two years to have the Florida Department of Transportation exercise safety and regulatory oversight over Brightline, and in a letter to Scott she urged he get behind her SB 572, the proposed High-Speed Rail Passenger Safety Act. Her efforts represent the concerns of many political leaders along the Treasure Coast, which would be the ride-over country for Brightline’s proposed West Palm Beach to Orlando route. Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, received federal approval for that route and financing backing for the $1.1 billion needed in the past two weeks. Couple that with the environmental permits, and the train has virtually left the station. It now has all federal and state environmental approval and financing it needs, though the company indicated it still is reviewing financing options.

Democrats push bills that would put warning labels on prescription opioids” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Sen. Annette Taddeo introduced her bill, and a similar bill was filed by state Rep. Joseph Geller in the House early in November … Under both bills, pill bottles would have to carry a red sticker with a big, eligible written warning before a pharmacist or a practitioner can dispense Schedule II drugs, which have a high potential for abuse. The Department of Health would also need to create a pamphlet that would be distributed for free to people who get their prescriptions. Labels on pill bottles are not a new thing. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration began to require new warnings on containers last year to warn about the dangers of combining opioids.

Broward lawmaker: End session money chase by governor, Cabinet” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — Rep. Evan Jenne … filed his proposal (HB 707) and says statewide officials should be held to the same standard as lawmakers, who are barred from fundraising during regular, extended and special sessions because it creates the appearance of a quid pro quo at the Capitol. “Everybody should play by the same rules,” Jenne told the Times/Herald. “It’s just to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” The governor can legally raise money during sessions even though he has life or death power over every bill and appropriation affecting lobbyists and their clients. Cabinet members lobby lawmakers on all kinds of issues but have no constitutional role in the fate of specific legislation like the governor does. Gov. Scott sidestepped a question about it. “It’s a decision for the Legislature,” he told reporters. Jenne’s bill received only two House committee references — ordinarily a good sign — but no senator has filed the proposal. Even if it passed, it would not have any impact on the upcoming session.

Jeff Brandes and family returned from China in 2017 with a new adopted daughter.

Must-read about Brandes and his family — “John Romano: watching a family’s love grow at Christmas” via the Tampa Bay Times — An awkward dance of translated introductions and tentative hugs in an orphanage waiting room in the Guangdong province of China. It is mid-November and Natalie and Jeff Brandes are some 9,000 miles from their St. Petersburg home. As of that moment, so is the 8-year-old girl standing before them. Jeff and Natalie have talked about this for years. During the early days of their marriage, and through the births of daughter Lottie and sons Colin and Conor. They had the means, and they felt the calling. And now they were learning the reality of adopting an older child. So when does love arrive? Maybe it starts when they are preparing to leave. Jeff … watches as Fu Ying (aka Lizzie) forever walks away from the only home she has known, and drives off with a pair of strangers. “When she got in the car with us,’’ he says, “I thought this was the bravest little girl in the world.’’ One month into her American life, Lizzie loves chicken nuggets from McDonald’s, Disney movies and swimming. All of which were brand-new in her world. Communication is a work in progress, but day-to-day life is pretty manageable. Natalie’s mother, Winnie Jackson, was a little older than Lizzie when she came to the United States, and still speaks Cantonese. “We started on this journey sort of looking at it through our own eyes, but it’s kind of morphed,’’ Natalie said. “You’re exposed to this need, and you realize it’s not about you anymore. It doesn’t matter how difficult things might be on any given day because what they need is more important. There’s no need I have that will ever compare to what they’ve been through … These kids have no families and their futures are bleak, and they deserve better than that.’’

Flags will be at half-staff for Don Hahnfeldt, who died Christmas Eve.

Flags ordered at half-staff for Don Hahnfeldt” via Florida Politics — Flags will be flown at half-staff today (Tuesday) to honor the late state Rep. Hahnfeldt, Gov. Scott announced Friday. Hahnfeldt, first elected last year to represent House District 33, died on Christmas Eve. The district includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion counties. Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Sumter County Administrative Building in Wildwood, the Sumter County Courthouse in Bushnell, and at the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Jan. 2. Hahnfeldt, of The Villages, “distinguished himself during his 32-year career in the U.S. Navy, commanding two nuclear submarines and serving as Commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Strategic Submarine Squadron,” according to Scott’s statement.

— Funeral services scheduled for Hahnfeldt will take place 11 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church located at 7081 SE Highway 42, Summerfield, Florida 34491. In lieu of flowers, Hahnfeldt’s family has suggested sending contributions to The Dolphin Scholarship Foundation.

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— STATEWIDE —

Texting ban may soon be enforced on Florida’s deadly roads” via The Associated Press — Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky says it is hard to separate texting drivers from drunken drivers as he cruises down a suburban interstate highway. Both weave. They speed up and slow down for no obvious reason and get too close to other cars. They endanger their lives and others. Florida, with some of the nation’s deadliest roads, is one of the last states to not fully ban texting while driving, but the Legislature will soon consider a bill that would. However, studies conflict over whether such bans have any effect. Florida law says texting by non-commercial drivers is a secondary offense — law enforcement officers must see another violation like speeding or an illegal lane change before they cite a driver for texting. The bill would make texting a primary offense. Forty-three states already make texting while driving a primary offense. Three besides Florida list it as a secondary offense — Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. There is no state law against texting in Arizona, Montana and, for noncommercial drivers 22 and older, in Missouri.

5,000 rape kits result in 1,300 DNA ‘hits’ in Florida” via WTXL — Nearly 5,600 previously unprocessed sexual assault kits have now been tested … These recently processed kits have resulted in nearly 1,400 hits in a federal DNA database. Before a 2016 law, Florida had not required rape kits to be tested. Law enforcement agencies are now required to submit evidence within 30 days of the beginning of their investigations, and the lab must process the sexual assault kits within 120 days of receipt. Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Just think of the cases that can potentially be solved, and not only help victims here in Florida but victims throughout the country.”

Florida’s rape kit backlog is shrinking, with more than 1,400 ‘hits’ says Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Florida could spend a billion dollars on an Everglades reservoir. But will it work?” via Jenny Staleovich of the Miami Herald — This spring, Florida lawmakers approved plans for a massive new reservoir near Lake Okeechobee, touting the billion-dollar project as a breakthrough in the decades-old effort to save the Everglades. Less than a year later, South Florida water managers are struggling to make the ambitious project a reality — while environmental groups have begun to raise concerns that the plan is based on flawed data and that it may become a Trojan horse used to challenge long-standing water quality standards for the fragile Everglades ecosystem … Lawmakers, pushed by powerful sugar and agriculture interests, called for a reservoir on state-owned land below the lake. That meant squeezing a deeper reservoir onto a smaller footprint, with less land for cleaning water. They also sacrificed the valuable option to buy sugar land, requiring the South Florida Water Management District to relinquish the state’s only leverage to acquire more land — long before anyone knows for sure whether the downsized reservoir and treatment marshes will work. “They’re giving up something big here for something that might not work,” said William Mitsch, director of the Everglades Wetlands Research Park, who worried that without more treatment, “they’re just going to have another Lake O belching into the Everglades.”

Duke, TECO customers face storm charges — Duke Energy Florida asked state regulators last week to approve a proposal to collect $513 million from customers to cover the costs of Hurricane Irma and replenishing a storm reserve. Duke plans to recover the money over a three-year period, starting in March, according to a news release and a filing with the Florida Public Service Commission. Tampa Electric Company also its own proposal to collect about $87.4 million from customers starting in March. The money would go to covering storm damage and replenishing a reserve, with the largest chunk — nearly $77.7 million — stemming from this year’s Hurricane Irma, according to the filing. Tampa Electric also is seeking to collect much-smaller amounts related to hurricanes Hermine and Matthew in 2016 and tropical storms Erika in 2015 and Colin in 2016.

Regulators to look at need for two power plants” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — State regulators will hear arguments in March on proposals for two new power plants in Putnam and Pasco counties that would supply electricity to customers of electric cooperatives throughout Florida. Filings with the state Public Service Commission show a two-pronged strategy by Seminole Electric Cooperative, Inc., to help meet future power needs. Seminole, which provides wholesale power to cooperatives throughout the state, wants to build a 1,050-megawatt plant at its already-existing site in Putnam County and contract for electricity generated at a 573-megawatt plant in Pasco County that would be owned by a subsidiary of General Electric Co. The Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing March 21 on key regulatory approvals — known as seeking determinations of need — for the projects.

Florida joins nation’s first mobile network for first responders” via the Tampa Bay Times — Florida has joined a national program designed to improve mobile communications for first responders. Gov. Scott made the decision Thursday, joining its plan to build a nationwide wireless network. FirstNet will be solely used by those who work in law enforcement and emergency services. The idea is to make communication among first responders more efficient and reliable, according to the agency. Currently, departments use their own digital and radio communication tools, making interagency communication difficult, at times, according to firstnet.gov. Once FirstNet is rolled out, all first responders will communicate on one network. It’s also supposed to improve communication during disasters and large, densely populated events — times when cell networks used by civilians are prone to overload, rendering cellphones useless for communication. AT&T will build, operate and maintain the infrastructure required for the network in Florida, the company said in a news release, at no cost to the state.

Controlled substance dispensing rule to change” via the News Service of Florida — Pharmacies and physicians who dispense controlled substances will now have just one day to report information to the statewide prescription-drug monitoring program. The Legislature passed a bill this year that trimmed the reporting time and required that reporting be done through the state-approved electronic reporting system. In the state fiscal year 2016-2017, an average 6,024 dispensers each month reported controlled-substance prescription information to the database, dubbed E-FORCSE, which is an acronym for the Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation. The report shows that the number of queries to the database submitted by health care practitioners in the fiscal year 2016-2017 increased 30.3 percent over the number of queries submitted the previous fiscal year. The Legislature during the 2018 session is expected to pass legislation to help decrease the state’s opioid epidemic, and lawmakers are considering whether to mandate that doctors use the database before prescribing controlled substances.

Judge tells big tobacco to keep paying Florida” via The Associated Press — A judge in Florida is ordering R.J. Reynolds to continue paying the state millions of dollars in tobacco settlement money despite selling off major brands. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen in Palm Beach County issued his ruling nearly a year after Attorney General Bondi sued the tobacco company and Imperial Tobacco Group. R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies were part of a landmark multibillion-dollar settlement with Florida to compensate the state for treating sick smokers. But the company sold cigarette brands Kool, Winston, Salem and Maverick to Imperial Tobacco Group in 2015 and neither company continued to make payments to the state. When Bondi filed the suit January, she said Florida was already owed $45 million and could lose $30 million a year going forward.

A ‘Red Bull rule’? State strikes back on drugs in race dogs” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Calling it an “immediate danger” that needs “emergency action,” gambling regulators this week filed a temporary rule to allow them to keep testing racing greyhounds for drugs. The moves come after an administrative law judge struck down the testing program, saying it was “invalid.” The Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in Florida, also asked Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson to reconsider his ruling. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

State just says ‘no’ to booze from vending machines” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — State regulators this week rejected a request to install high-tech beer and wine vending machines in South Florida, a proposal opposed by lawmakers and industry groups. A Miami-Dade company had sought an OK from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) to offer what it calls “self-checkout micro marts” with wine and beer. The day after Christmas, however, ABT director Thomas Philpot in part said the “unmanned, albeit remotely monitored, sale of alcohol from vending machines would contemplate a sale in a manner not permitted by the (state’s) Beverage Law.”

The banker to Florida’s medical marijuana players is getting out of the business” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — First Green Bank, a Central Florida community bank that operates only in this state and doesn’t require a federal charter … was handling accounts for six of the state’s seven licensed producers of medical marijuana. But now, in a move that underscores the volatility of the state’s nascent market, First Green has announced that it is closing the accounts of its cannabis clients and won’t be handling their money past early January. Initially, the announcement — which comes just a few months after the bank celebrated being the first in the state to handle medical marijuana clients — sent some clients scrambling. But the bank has apparently found a new institution willing to take its place, and companies that spoke to the Miami Herald say they’re confident that Florida’s 40,000 card-carrying medical marijuana patients won’t notice any hiccups. “There will be no interruption or change in operations as far as patients and members are concerned,” said Jake Bergmann, CEO of Surterra Holdings, a medicinal marijuana operator and a First Green client.

Florida’s capital adds solar farm to city’s energy grid” via The Associated Press — Officials say a $33.2 million, 20-megawatt solar farm was connected to Tallahassee’s energy grid Monday. The facility was built without taxpayer dollars. Miami-based Origis Energy USA will run it under contract with the city of Tallahassee. The solar farm is the size of 92 football fields. Officials say it will produce up to 2 percent of the city’s total power supply. That’s enough to light up 3,400 homes. Some 2,000 residential and business customers signed up for a special subscription service to receive solar power at a slightly higher rate than regular customers. An additional 7,000 homes could be illuminated by solar energy when the second phase of the project is completed in 2019.

— STEPPING UP —

Step Up for Students is involved in almost every aspect of Florida’s school choice voucher program.

Ninety-nine percent of the more than 100,000 yearly Florida Tax Credit Scholarships are approved by Step Up. It is not only a state contractor for the scholarships, reports the Orlando Sentinel, but a fierce advocate for school choice in Florida.

Often referred to as vouchers, the scholarships are given to students who are “generally among the poorest in the state and kids who are struggling the most in public schools.”

Those scholarships have increased from “41,000 children a decade ago to more than 140,000 today using three scholarships at 2,000 private schools across the state.”

About 70 percent of all students on the scholarship are African American or Latino.

Tampa Venture Capitalist John Kirtley helped launch the tax credit scholarship under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Kirtley said he does not worry about families who have enough money to find what they believe is the right education for their kids. Instead, he works “every day to help those who don’t have the means to make a choice.”

— Advocacy: “Step Up has helped to win legislative approval of major expansions of the scholarships — the cap on the tax credit program grew from $118 million in 2010 to about $700 million this year and is set to continue to grow.”

— Making changes: “Step Up President Doug Tuthill proposed changes that would prevent schools from falsifying fire and health inspection documents as well as require more schools to submit financial reports and allow the state to inspect more schools.”

— Leading the charge: “Every significant recent change to the scholarship law was either initiated or supported by Step Up.”

— D.C. MATTERS —

Palm Beach adjusts to having the president as one of its part-time residents” via Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — This holiday season, as Trump makes his 10th visit as president, his presence has become an afterthought to many. Logistical problems caused by his stay remain a mild annoyance, but those who live and visit here say they have learned to plan around the inconveniences. On Worth Avenue, an upscale shopping district just north of the president’s private estate of Mar-a-Lago, shoppers and store owners now change their schedules on the basis of when the Trump plans to arrive. Palm Beach does look different when Trump is in town. But it appears these changes have become so routine that some residents were surprised to hear he was already in town — settled in with his family and golfing At a nearby Trump course.

End of TPS program means thousands of Haitians, mainly in Florida, facing deportation” via Candice Norwood of POLITICO — The Trump administration announced in November that TPS — a humanitarian immigration program for migrants from 10 countries facing conditions that prevent them from returning safely — will end for about 59,000 Haitians currently living in the U.S. This decision could force … more than 32,000 other Haitians in Florida to leave by July 2019. In Haiti’s case, the country has not recovered from the 2010 earthquake; an estimated 2.5 million people still need humanitarian aid, according to a United Nations report. Family separation is a huge concern for Florida’s Haitian community and advocacy groups. Haitian TPS recipients in Florida have an estimated 18,800 U.S.-born children. Legislative solutions … include the ESPERER Act … introduced by South Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and co-sponsored by seven other Florida lawmakers. Another is the ASPIRE-TPS Act … submitted by New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke and co-sponsored by 14 others, including Florida Reps. AlceeHastingsFrederica Wilson, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

— DARKNESS —

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority says the island is producing 65-70 percent of normal output.

But that doesn’t tell us much.

The figure reported by The Associated Press and The New York Times is hard to peg to households because the system that measures how widely power is distributed is broken.

Also affecting this statistic are the critical facilities like hospitals and water treatment plants that were energized first after the storm. They consume a lot more power than a household, skewing the perception of the reported figure.

The remote areas of the island, such as the mountainous town of Morovis near the center of Puerto Rico, are mostly without power. The AP reported that there are 30,000 living without electricity in Morovis. Just three days before Christmas, families waited in line for “two hours under the searing sun for their twice-a-week handout — 24 bottles of water and a cardboard box filled with basic foods such as tortillas, canned vegetables and cereal.”

— Military.com reports that even the Army Corps of Engineers agrees it cannot be determined how many households are without power.

— NYT reports that most of the island should have power by the end of February. But, recall: Gov. Ricardo Rossello promised in Oct. to restore 95 percent of electricity by mid-Dec.

— Top power restoration engineer at the Corps on what’s taking so long: “The sheer amount of work.”

— Full restoration of power on the island? Not until May, according to the Corps.

— OPINIONS —

Florida Politics’ 2017 politician of the year: Richard Corcoran via Joe Henderson — “Basically, if you liked his performance in 2017, you will love it in 2018. And if you didn’t, well, buckle up.”

Sunshine State News list of winners and losers in Florida politics — Winners: Scott, Rachel Perrin Rogers, Carlos Curbelo, Ted Deutch, POLITICO Florida, Francis Rooney, Taddeothe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Losers: Jack Latvala, Frank Artiles, Alex Diax de la Portilla, Anitere Flores, Daphne Campbell, Ana Rivas Logan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Stephen Bittel, Ritch Workman.

Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith’s winner and loser of 2017 in Florida politics — Winner of the year: Corcoran; Loser of the year: The Florida Senate; Runner-up winners: Scott, Nelson, Marco Rubio, Perrin Rogers, Jimmy Patronis, Brian Ballard/Susie Wiles, John Morgan, Taddeo, Gaetz, DeSantis, Mar-a-Lago, Florida’s image; Runner-up losers: Florida political parties, Stephen Bittel, Rick Baker, State Sens. Latvala, Jeff Clemens, Artiles, Andrew Gillum.

Support health centers that serve communities and save state money” via Andrew Behrman for Sunshine State News — It’s no secret that being able to access affordable, quality health care is critical to maintaining good health and enjoying a prosperous life. In Florida, our community health centers fill the role of providing comprehensive primary and preventive care to every patient, regardless of their ability to pay. And by helping to keep these patients out of hospital emergency rooms, we are able to save the state millions of dollars every year. With Florida’s legislative session just around the corner, it is crucial that our elected officials remember the essential services provided by Federally Qualified Health Centers and protect current funding levels that keep these centers operating. This is necessary, so they can continue to serve our growing patient population of more than 1.45 million patients every year. As president and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, I have seen firsthand the impact these centers have in every community. Some individuals, including those who are uninsured or on Medicaid, can’t afford comprehensive primary care services. That’s why our centers provide critical medical care to ensure that all Floridians have the chance to maintain their health and well-being.

— MOVEMENTS —

State reopens search to fill PSC post — Florida has renewed a search to fill a spot on the state’s Public Service Commission, after appointee Workman withdrew after a sexual misconduct allegation. The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council set a Jan. 12 application deadline for the utility-regulatory job. Gov. Scott appointed Workman, a former state House member, in September to the $132,000-a-year post. The appointment was scheduled to begin Jan. 2, with Workman subject to Senate confirmation after that. But Workman withdrew when Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers said she would not put his appointment on her committee’s agenda because of what she described as “abhorrent” sexual behavior toward her last year. Workman, a Melbourne Republican, insists he does not recall the incident. His withdrawal and the process of selecting a replacement means the PSC will start 2018 with four of its five seats filled, with the end of longtime Commissioner Ronald Brise‘s term.

Open Tallahassee judgeship gets a dozen applicants” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — When it comes to applying for a judgeship, the third time could be a charm for Alan Abramowitz. Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office, is one of 12 applicants for a Tallahassee-area circuit judge seat opening because of the retirement of Charles A. Francis. Abramowitz has applied to become a judge twice before. Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

Cori Henderson will be in charge of evaluating Deepwater Horizon settlement claims.

Cori Henderson selected to evaluate Deepwater Horizon settlement applications” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Henderson, who’s also a former legislative aide to state Sen. Tom Lee among others, was picked to be program administrator for Florida Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., the corporation created by the state Legislature to oversee distribution of 75 percent of the Deep Horizon lawsuit settlement money, which will exceed $1 billion for Florida, along areas of the Gulf Coast. Distributions could start being approved as early as Jan. 29. Florida will receive $2 billion over an 18-year period. She’ll evaluate and rank economic recovery project applications for the first $300 million available from individuals, organizations and local governments responding to losses suffered because of the massive soil of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, much of it washing up on beaches from Florida to Texas.

New and renewed lobbying registrations

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Galleon Condominium Apartments

Colleen Castille, Colleen Castille: Destin Fishing Fleet

Marnie GeorgeJames Magill, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Thomas Albert Kennedy

Allison Liby-Schoonover, Metz Husband & Daughton: Curaleaf Florida

Chris Spencer, GrayRobinson: ISF

— FLORIDIAN OF THE YEAR —

Tampa entrepreneur Kiran Patel has made hundreds of millions of dollars growing and selling health care companies. Together with his wife, he has given more than $240 million over the years to support the arts, education and health care in Florida.

— ALOE —

Airbnb visitors to Florida surge 75 percent in 2017” via the Tampa Bay Times — If its latest guest numbers are any indication, Airbnb is here to stay. The California-based hospitality giant counted 2.7 million guests in Florida this year, a whopping 75 percent increase over last year’s guest pool. For the 40,000 Airbnb hosts in Florida, that came out to a combined $450 million earned over the year. Hosts typically make about $6,700 annually. Hillsborough is one of six counties in the state that inked tax agreements with Airbnb this year to collect and pay bed and sales taxes on bookings. Other counties include Polk, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, Broward and Leon.

Artificial lagoon in St. Johns community will be the largest man-made water feature in U.S.” via Andrew Warfield of the Jacksonville Daily Record — Beachwalk’s Crystal Lagoon is filling up. The developer of the Beachwalk community in St. Johns County has begun filling the 14-acre Crystal Lagoon centerpiece of the multiuse development. Within the first week, 2 million gallons have poured into the water amenity. Set against a white lining, the lagoon is taking on the natural turquoise hue that will deepen into a “Caribbean” blue as it approaches its 10-foot depth. When completed, Beachwalk’s Crystal Lagoon will be the largest man-made water feature in the U.S. The lagoon will be maintained with water treatment technologies similar to those used in municipal water systems.

Beachwalk’s Crystal Lagoon is no longer an artist’s rendering; it is beginning to fill up.

Disney World’s Trump robot has been the object of ridicule. Here’s what would make it better” via Michael Cavna of The Washington Post — Perhaps it’s time to send in the clowns of satire to fix this little fiasco. “Besides the obvious complexion inconsistency, his hairline — or how it’s coiffed — isn’t low enough,” says Ann Telnaes, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning political animator. Plus, “His eyes are too large,” she adds, “and they’ve obviously taken off quite a few pounds” from his frame. Matt Davies, Newsday’s Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, agrees that the key is the hair. “The animatronic version’s woolen helmet is wrongly placed,” he tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “I draw Trump with his hair swooping down over his eyes.” Mike Luckovich, the Pulitzer-winning veteran for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, finds Disney’s design flaws closer to the center of Trump’s countenance — as well as the ineffable nature of persona. “The reason it misses so bad is because it’s hard to capture mania in a robot,” Luckovich says. “Plus, I think his upper lip is too close to his nose. Trump also has tiny slits for eyes. The robot’s eyes are too open.”

What Michelle Todd is reading — “Terroir Alert! Champagne is expanding and tempers are popping” via Matthew Dalton of The Wall Street Journal — An invisible line separates the backwater town of Ventelay, France, from the bubbly opulence of Champagne. For the first time in nearly a century, France is considering an expansion of the Champagne region. 40 towns [have been] proposed for inclusion in Champagne’s new terroir by the National Institute of Origin and Quality, or INAO, France’s regulatory agency that rules on such matters as whether a moldy sheep’s-milk cheese is truly Roquefort or a bottle of red is a proper Bordeaux. … There are currently 319 [municipalities] with the distinction. The final lines of the new Champagne map likely won’t be drawn until 2021 … experts are now examining hundreds of thousands of properties in secret.”

Happy birthday from over the holidays to Rep. Chris Latvala, fmr. Senator Mike BennettHolly Brooks, Brian Crowley, Mike Danish, Charlie Dudley, Nick Duran, CoreMessage’s Jennifer Fennell, Joe Hice, Natalie Kato, Brock Mikosky, Joel Ramos, Jack Skelding, Hill+Knowlton’s Ali Spiegel, Corey Staniscia, Nancy Texeira, Eddie Thompson. Celebrating today is our friend Erin Mitchell.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, Florida Politics, Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of the quarterly INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, SaintPetersBlog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.
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