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News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Enterprise Florida marketing takes hit

Florida’s business-recruitment agency isn’t giving up on marketing to executives just because its budget has been slashed.

But it might not market to as many.

In scaling back marketing efforts after a cut in state funding, the public-private Enterprise Florida has outlined a $3 million marketing plan for this fiscal year that will reduce national newspaper ads and limit what the agency does at Major League Baseball spring-training games and with NASCAR.

Joe Hice, who is leaving his position as Enterprise Florida’s chief marketing officer in September, said the agency is waiting for the 2018 spring training schedule to determine what cities, and thus what visiting executives, to focus on for the Grapefruit League games.

Also, while the intent is to keep up appearances at the Daytona 500, Enterprise Florida would like to be able to end its ties at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“Those are rather expensive events,” Hice told members of the agency’s Strategic Partners & Policy Committee meeting Monday at The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. “We think they’re bucket list events. People want to come to those events, so we’d like to continue to do it. But we’d like to get them (Daytona) to help us out with the events.”

Other “bucket list” events remaining on the marketing schedule include The Players Championship, a golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, and the September 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota.

The Legislature during a special session in June created an $85 million funding pool for regional business-recruitment efforts called the “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.”

That came after House leaders pushed during the regular session to eliminate Enterprise Florida. While the Senate refused to go along with the elimination, lawmakers eventually settled on a $16 million budget for the agency, down from $23.5 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

To handle the cut, the marketing program took the biggest hit, falling from what had been $10 million a year, of which $8.5 million came from the state.

“Just realize, our $3 million budget is going up against a $140 million budget from New York, a $110 million budget from California, a $50 million budget from Texas and a $30 million budget from Georgia,” Hice said.

Hice said the agency, which has faced a couple years of downsizing, has been able to roll over some of the marketing money from the past year.

Still, marketing will need to be more direct.

Enterprise Florida is setting aside $400,000 for ads with national newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, down from more than $1 million a year.

Don’t expect full page ads that could run in six figures, Hice said. Instead, the focus will be digital ads.

Another $400,000 is slated for marketing partnerships with Florida’s rural counties, which could double that pot.

Also, $350,000 is to be targeted through airline clubs and with fixed-base operators at regional airports, where corporate executives depart and arrive in private planes.

“In the earlier research that we’ve done, we found that 60 percent of every corporate executive that we interviewed had visited Florida at least once within the past two years,” Hice said. “So, we know they’re getting here by plane for the most part. So, let’s reach them when they’re coming into the state with a business message, but maybe when they’re coming in for a vacation.”

The marketing also includes $300,000 for social media outreach, through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and $100,000 for print and video production.

Hice, who was hired by the state agency in 2015, is leaving to be chief marketing officer at the University of South Florida, where he will also teach branding and strategic communications.

Republished with permission of News Service of Florida.

Bill seeks to add police to hate crimes law

Hate-crime protections would be extended to law-enforcement officers and other first responders under a measure reintroduced Monday by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

Under the proposal (SB 178), criminal penalties would be increased when “crimes evidencing prejudice” are committed against law-enforcement officers or other emergency workers.

As an example, first-degree misdemeanors would be upgraded to third-degree felonies in such cases. Tougher penalties are already in place to deal with hate crimes based on race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status or advanced age.

Garcia’s proposal also would extend the protection based on a victim’s sex or creed.

The bill is filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

Garcia proposed a similar measure for the 2017 session, but it did not get heard in committees.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Pete Antonacci takes cues from Rick Scott, Enterprise Florida board

Expect little change in direction of the state’s business-recruitment agency under its new management.

Pete Antonacci, a former general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott who was appointed last month as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, said Monday he intends to maintain the goals of the agency’s board, which is chaired by the governor.

“My agenda tends to be the board’s agenda and the governor’s agenda, and that is to do what you all do, which is to make your communities in Florida a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Antonacci said.

Antonacci was appearing at a meeting of the Stakeholders Council, which kicked off two days of Enterprise Florida committee and board meetings at The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. The board will meet Tuesday.

Antonacci was formally named president and CEO on July 24 after two years at the helm of the South Florida Water Management District.

Antonacci’s first day with the public-private Enterprise Florida was Aug. 2, but he noted Monday’s meetings were essentially his first day “on the ground” with the agency.

“I don’t come with any particular agenda except a desire to learn,” Antonacci said. “As you know, this is my first day in the economic development world. So you have much to teach me, and I have a great deal to learn.”

Antonacci, who has been offered a salary of $165,000 a year, said he’s been working with staff to get up to speed on the inner workings of the agency.

In making the hire, Enterprise Florida Vice Chairman Stan Connally, who is also chairman, president and CEO of Pensacola-based Gulf Power, noted in July that Antonacci may not be experienced in business recruitment but that the water-management district executive director has proved to be a “quick study.”

Enterprise Florida had been working under interim director Mike Grissom since March, following the abrupt departure of Chris Hart from the top position.

Hart, the former leader of CareerSource Florida, was hired in November as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida but left the position in March.

Hart pointed to a difference of opinions with Scott on the future of the agency at a time when House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, was pushing to eliminate Enterprise Florida.

Rather than meet Scott’s request for $85 million for incentive money that could be offered to individual companies, the Legislature created the “Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund,” which set up a similar-sized pool of money for infrastructure and job-training programs to help entice businesses to Florida.

Antonacci comes in with a long history with Scott.

In March 2012, Scott appointed Antonacci to complete the term of Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, who had left for a job in the private sector. After Dave Aronberg was elected to the state-attorney job later that year, Antonacci became Scott’s general counsel.

Antonacci served as Scott’s general counsel until early 2015.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

House sets schedule for September committees

Major policy committees will be first up when the House starts holding committee meetings in September to prepare for the 2018 legislative session, according to a tentative schedule posted online.

The House and Senate will hold committee meetings Sept. 12 through Sept. 14.

The House’s tentative schedule indicates the Commerce Committee, the Government Accountability Committee, the Education Committee, the Health & Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee will hold the first meetings Sept. 12.

The Appropriations Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are scheduled to meet on Sept. 14. Time also has been set aside during the three days for more than two-dozen other committees and subcommittees.

The 2018 session will start in January.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Democratic candidates vow to back anti-discrimination law

Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged Saturday to support legislation that would prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.

Despite support from the business community, the legislation, known as the “Competitive Workforce Act,” has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Also, a call for Gov. Rick Scott to use his executive power to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies has gone unheeded.

“If you elect me governor, you won’t have to wait any longer,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“Florida is too big, too proud, too diverse a state for our politics to reflect an error of yesteryear, yesterdecade, yestercentury,” Gillum said during a caucus conference in Tallahassee.

Candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said passing the anti-discrimination law is both morally and economically right for the state.

“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable here, everyone is safe here, everyone is protected here,” King said.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee said she would work to “stop discrimination in its tracks.”

“We’re going to protect every Floridian, no matter what color their skin is, where they come from, or who they love,” Graham said in a prepared text of her speech Saturday night to the caucus.

All three candidates said, if elected in November 2018, they would sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state agencies.

Two candidates talked about how ending discrimination was personal for them.

King talked about the discrimination faced by his older brother, David, growing up as a gay man in the South. He said his brother, who moved to California, took his own life at age 30 after battling depression and mental illness.

King said his brother’s experience has compelled him to make anti-discrimination initiatives a centerpiece of his campaign and underscored the importance of speaking “with moral clarity on these issues.”

“I promise you I will,” King told the caucus. “I will give it my best shot.”

Gillum said his older brother, Terrance, faced similar discrimination as a young gay man in Gainesville, moving to California as soon as he could “so that he could live and be himself.”

Gillum said throughout his 15-year public career he has spoken out for LGBT issues.

“Not only because it’s the right thing to do but it was my little way of showing my big brother that I saw him,” he said.

Graham recounted her support for marriage equality during her successful 2014 campaign for Congress in a North Florida district that covered some of the most conservative regions in the state. She said it was one of the first questions a reporter asked her in a Panama City stop.

“I proudly told him if one of my sons or daughter were gay, if one of your children were gay, I would want them to be happy, and that means supporting them no matter who they want to marry,” Graham said.

King, who is an affordable-housing developer, said he will also stress an economic message in his campaign.

“I don’t believe a Democratic candidate is going to win in 2018 if we don’t win the economic debate, if we don’t convince folks that this party has a vision and has a plan to lift up people and make this a more fair, homegrown economy,” King said.

He said he would work to improve affordable housing, expand health-care coverage and support public schools.

Gillum said Democrats need a “bold” message on issues like discrimination, climate change and health care and need to advocate it statewide.

“We have to give voters a reason to choose us. It’s not going to be by capitulating. It’s not going to be by Republican-lite,” Gillum said. “We have to offer a different, bolder vision.”

However, Gillum acknowledged that his campaign has been hindered by an ongoing FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, although he said he has been assured he is not a target of the investigation and is fully cooperating with federal investigators.

“I’m 1,000 percent confident that when the facts are all the way known I will be removed from under this cloud,” Gillum said.

Graham said she has proven her political viability by winning election to a North Florida congressional seat, while not wavering on traditional Democratic issues. Graham did not run for a second term in Washington after the district was redrawn and became a Republican stronghold.

“I stood up for my values on marriage equality, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the environment — and you know what, not everyone agreed with me, but they knew I said what I believed and believed what I said,” Graham said.

She also said she followed through on her campaign promises once in office. “Folks aren’t used to public servants actually doing what they say,” she said.

Terry Fleming, president of the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said the group has not endorsed a candidate but will consider it after the candidates formally qualify next year.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.

Conviction upheld in Tampa Bay terror plot

A federal appeals court Friday upheld the conviction and 40-year prison sentence of a man convicted in a plot to carry out terror attacks in the Tampa Bay area as “payback” for the death of Osama bin Laden.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by a lawyer for Sami Osmakac, who was arrested in January 2012 in a hotel parking lot after loading a car bomb — non-functional because it was supplied by an undercover FBI agent — into the trunk of a vehicle. Before the arrest, Osmakac also had made a “martyrdom” video in a hotel room.

“Osmakac said (in the video) that the attack was `payback’ for killing Osama bin Laden,” said Friday’s 44-page main opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Frank Hull and joined fully by Judge Stanley Marcus. “Osmakac also said that he was coming for American blood, that he had led a life of terrorizing non-Muslims, and that other Muslims needed to `wake up.’ “

Judge Beverly Martin wrote a brief concurring opinion.

Osmakac, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in what is now Kosovo, began drawing attention from the FBI as early as 2010 because of what Friday’s ruling described as a “commitment to Islamic extremism.” The FBI recorded numerous conversations involving Osmakac from November 2011 to January 2012 and used a confidential source, along with the undercover agent.

During the investigation, Osmakac discussed potential targets such as a gay nightclub, Tampa Bay bridges and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, according to the ruling. Along with supplying the car bomb, the undercover agent also provided non-functional grenades, an AK-47 automatic rifle and a suicide vest.

A jury in June 2014 found Osmakac guilty of committing one count of attempting to use weapons of mass destruction and one count of possessing an unregistered firearm. A U.S. District Court judge later sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

The appeal focused, in part, on whether Osmakac had been improperly denied access to materials related to the FBI surveillance. Authorities received approval for the surveillance under a law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Under the law, authorities submit applications to a FISA court to receive approval for conducting surveillance or searches. Prosecutors did not provide some FISA materials to Osmakac’s attorney because the documents contained classified information, Friday’s ruling said.

The appeals court said it reviewed the materials and concluded that the issue was handled properly.

“After that careful and thorough review, we readily find that all of the FISA statutory requirements are satisfied, that the FISA-derived evidence in this case was legally acquired, and that the FISA surveillance and searches were made in conformity with the FISA court’s order of authorization and approval,” the ruling said. “The FISA materials are very clear and well-organized, and disclosing them to Osmakac is not `necessary’ to assess the legality of the searches or surveillance.”

David Altmaier focuses on `assignment of benefits’ changes

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet this week that his office will continue to push lawmakers during the 2018 Legislative Session to address an insurance practice that critics argue is driving up rates.

The practice, known as “assignment of benefits,” has drawn attention in recent years because of property-insurance claims involving water damage in homes. But it also has started to draw scrutiny because of claims for damage to auto windshields.

“We are aware of situations in which consumers are told that there is a crack in their windshield, and `we can replace it right here in the parking lot for you. We just need to sign this form please,’” Altmaier said during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. “What this is is an assignment of benefits. They replace the windshield, and there is a dispute between the windshield company and the insurance company that goes to litigation. It begins to start to drive costs up.”

Insurers have repeatedly blamed assignment of benefits for increased homeowners’ insurance premiums. They argue the process has been abused by some contractors and law firms, spurring litigation and higher costs.

But contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys contend the process helps force insurers to properly pay claims. Lawmakers this spring could not agree on changes to the practice.

“We believe that over the past several months and the past couple of years, we have accumulated a lot of very compelling information that would demonstrate that this is certainly an issue for our policyholders,” Altmaier said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Senate committees to meet three days in September

Starting to prepare for the 2018 Legislative Session, Senate committees will hold meetings over three days in mid-September, according to a tentative schedule posted online.

The meetings are slated to start the afternoon of Sept. 12, with time set aside that day for the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, the Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee, the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, the Commerce and Tourism Committee, the Criminal Justice Committee and the Education Committee.

The meetings will run through the afternoon of Sept. 14, with seven appropriations subcommittees slated for the final day.

Also, the tentative schedule indicates the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, made up of House and Senate leaders, will meet Sept. 13.

The 2018 Session will begin in January.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Cities face ‘all or nothing’ choices on medical marijuana

Florida cities and counties are in a dilemma about pot.

State lawmakers approved regulations in June that left city and county officials with a Hobson’s choice about the sale of medical marijuana in their communities.

Local governments can either impose outright bans on medical-marijuana dispensaries or allow unlimited numbers of marijuana retail outlets, under an “all or nothing” approach approved during a special legislative session.

Dozens of cities have approved or are considering temporary moratoriums on medical-marijuana dispensaries, but it’s unknown exactly how many local governments have acted on the issue, because nobody – including state health officials – is officially keeping track.

Marijuana operators’ search for retail space has bloomed after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November that legalized marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions.

The scramble for retail outlets is expected to intensify as the number of marijuana operators continues to increase, and as local governments seek ways to restrain the sales of cannabis in their communities, at least for now.

As another result of the legislation approved during the June special session, state health officials recently authorized five new medical marijuana operations, on top of the seven businesses already active in the state. Five more are supposed to come online in October.

Nearly 72 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment last fall, making it difficult for local officials to close the door completely on the sale of medical cannabis.

But while saying they respect the will of voters, many local officials also want the power to regulate the number of dispensaries, and where the businesses can be sited, something that’s essentially off the table in the new state law, which requires local governments to treat medical marijuana distribution centers in the same way pharmacies are handled.

Most cities and counties don’t have special regulations regarding pharmacies, but instead treat them like other retail, or “light commercial,” businesses.

While some communities contemplate new zoning rules for pharmacies, a move that also could curb the development of marijuana dispensaries, others are focused on the cannabis retail outlets.

For example, St. Augustine Beach commissioners last week approved a moratorium barring medical-marijuana dispensaries from opening in the waterfront community.

“I think the main reason was just wanting to see how the situation is going to shake out and what sort of problems might occur with the sales of this stuff. There was no particular anxiety over it, but I think it’s a fear of the unknown,” said Jim Wilson, a lawyer who represents the city. “We’re a small community, and we’d rather see how this works elsewhere before we connect into it. It may work out fine later on.”

But Sen. Rob Bradley, who has been a key player in the creation and passage of the state’s medical-marijuana laws the past three years, said the new regulations were meant to encourage competition in the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry.

“I would encourage our local partners to see the bigger picture here. We are bringing online several new licenses over the next year-and-a-half. It’s important for the long-term future of the medical marijuana industry that we have real competition among not only the incumbents but the new license holders,” Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and former prosecutor, said in a recent interview. “If local governments were allowed at this point in time to restrict in their communities the number of dispensaries to only one or two or three, that would provide an unacceptable advantage to the incumbents.”

Regarding local officials’ fears about what are disparagingly known as “pot shops,” Bradley said he thinks they may be uninformed.

“When I see some of the comments from local officials, I’m not sure that they’ve read the details of the law. We have strict limitations on advertising and signage, and all of these dispensaries are required to have a doctor’s office feel,” he said.

The new restrictions imposed by the Legislature, paired with a push by marijuana operators to open retail facilities, create “an awkward situation for a lot of cities,” said John Wayne Smith, a lobbyist who represents numerous cities and counties as well as the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

While local governments are largely focused on budget issues during the summer, they may turn their attention to medical marijuana later in the year, Smith predicted.

Others may wait for the Legislature to revamp the state law.

“I would say that it’s probably half-baked and this is probably an issue that is going to evolve and get tweaked over the next five to 10 years,” Smith said.

But the passage of the state-imposed prohibition on local governments’ ability to limit the number of retail outlets poses a problem for cities like Lake Worth, which authorized two medical marijuana dispensaries before approving a moratorium aimed at preventing others from opening.

It’s unclear, however, whether the new state law will require the city to open its doors to more dispensaries, an issue on which municipal lawyers are divided.

“By doing a nothing or all, and because we already have two, this is what you’ve done to my city. Everyone around me has a moratorium, but you’ve now told my city it’s a free-for-all,” Lake Worth City Commissioner Andy Amoroso told The News Service of Florida.

Amoroso stressed that he supports legalization of recreational marijuana and endorses the use of medical marijuana for sick patients. But he also emphasized that the state law “jeopardizes what our cities look like.”

Lake Worth is surrounded by other communities that have banned the sales of medical marijuana, meaning that retailers will likely target his city, Amoroso maintained.

Lake Worth officials need “to be able to control” what their 7-square-mile city “looks like,” Amoroso said.

“If I have medical marijuana on every corner, I can’t do that,” he said.

But Orlando city attorney Kyle Shephard said he believes a moratorium recently passed by his commission will allow the city to stop any more medical-marijuana retail shops from opening.

“Every city attorney may answer this differently, depending on their own local situation,” Shepard told the News Service.

Orlando adopted its ordinance allowing up to seven medical marijuana dispensaries before the state law (SB 8-A) was passed, Shepard said. The city believes that means its ordinance won’t be affected by the new law.

“If you didn’t get your rules on the books before SB 8 went into effect at the end of June, then you are sort of hamstrung,” Shepard said.

Orange Park council members recently advanced an ordinance that would prohibit pharmacies from opening in “light” commercial areas – something that wouldn’t affect any of the drug stores currently in operation, according to Mayor Scott Land.

The town council approved the new regulation in response to the state law, which the mayor called “an all or nothing, almost.”

“So instead of doing the all, a lot of people are going to probably choose the nothing,” he said. “I think it’s going to make it difficult for the dispensaries.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jimmy Patronis starts committee for possible CFO run

Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s new chief financial officer, said Wednesday he is starting a political committee but hasn’t decided if he will run for the Cabinet office next year.

“I’m really thinking about it,” Patronis said after a Cabinet meeting. “I’m praying about it, and I am talking to my family a lot. You know, I’ll make a decision real soon.”

As with other political committees, Patronis “Treasure Florida” committee would not be bound by limits on contribution amounts.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Patronis in June to finish the term of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who resigned to take a position at Florida Atlantic University.

Patronis, a Panama City Republican, served eight years in the state House before being appointed by Scott to the Florida Public Service Commission. He left the utility-regulatory panel when Scott appointed him chief financial officer.

Former Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring is the only candidate who has formally entered next year’s race for chief financial officer.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida

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