Phil Ammann, Author at Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.

Heather Fitzenhagen highlights Session wins for Southwest Florida

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen is offering her Southwest Florida constituents a list achievements of the 2017 Legislative Session, which ended May 8.

During the last two weeks of Session, the Fort Myers Republican said in an email that lawmakers spent a majority of time on House floor debating the state’s “Tax Package” and the upcoming budget, which is now on its way to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.

“I am proud of the unified approach we took in the Florida House to solve important issues that affect everyday Floridians,” Fitzenhagen writes.  “We helped to pass meaningful tax cuts, including an increase in the Homestead Tax Exemption, which is projected to save Floridians about $644.7 million.  Additionally, we protected our beaches and waterways and supported Florida’s future by voting to increase K-12 spending.”

Most importantly for Fitzenhagen, lawmakers fulfilled their constitutional requirement by passing “a balanced $82.4 billion fiscally responsible budget.”

Fitzenhagen then offered a brief glimpse of some of the budget that will directly benefit her House District 78, which covers Fort Myers, parts of Lehigh Acres and Estero.

In the Agriculture, Natural Resource and Transportation budgets, Fort Myers Billy’s Creek Restoration would get $775,000; Good Wheels, Inc. is slated for $225,516 for route scheduling software. The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida would get $400,000, and the Lee Board of County Commissioners UF/IFAS gets $74,319.

The City of Fort Myers Community Violence Reduction Initiative will also get $350,000.

As for higher education, the budget gives Florida Gulf Coast University $15 million for a new classroom and lab building, $1.5 million for a new Honors College and $1 million for new degree programs. FGCU’s WGCU public media station also would receive another $1.8 million for a transmission tower replacement.

Florida Southwestern State College gets $6.3 million For The final phase of renovations to the Lee County campus.

Other budgetary highlights include:

General Government Budget

Centennial Park Playground Equipment Replacement — $228,000
Fort Myers Gulf Coast Multi-Use Trail Feasibility Study — $600,000
McCollum Hall Preservation — $500,000

Health and Human Services Budget

Ft. Myers Salvation Army — $165,000
SalusCare (Lee Mental Health) — $750,000
Saluscare (Reach Institute Behavioral Health Services) — $442,709
Southwest Florida Autism Center    $62,000

Fitzenhagen also praised the budget for returning $1.3 billion to Floridians, which include a tax-cut package of back-to-school sales tax holiday, sales tax exemption for boat trailers for the Edison Sailing Center, a reduction in the business rent tax, among others (HB 7109).

As Chair of the Florida Legislative Women’s Caucus, Fitzenhagen also helped pass a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products.

Fitzenhagen also highlighted a few of the most important bills passed to help Southwest Floridians, including SB 10, the much-heralded bill establishing “options for creating additional water storage” south of Lake Okeechobee.  A priority of Senate President Joe Negron, the bill would allow for the construction of a water storage reservoir south of Lake O, to hold runoff water and help prevent algae blooms in nearby estuaries.

Another success was HJR 7105, which seeks to increase the Florida homestead exemption from nonschool property taxes by $25,000 in assessed value between $100,000 and up to $125,000.

“Voters deserve to decide to implement the extension and give homeowners this tax relief,” Fitzenhagen wrote.

Fitzenhagen also praised the passage of landmark ride-sharing regulation (HB 221), which creates a statewide framework companies like Uber and Lyft, creating a “more competitive and predictable marketplace to ultimately benefit consumers.”

Other bills include the Murder Witness Confidentiality (HB 111), creating a public-records exemption for identifying information about murder witnesses. Fitzenhagen also applauded the Newborn Screen Legislation (SB 1124), designed to ensure “all newborns are screened, tested, and diagnosed as early as possible; providing patients to the earliest access to lifesaving therapies, saving money and lives.”

Jacksonville Bold — 5.19.17 — It was a very good year?

The ongoing Corrine Brown drama pushed our legislative roundup back a week — but given the drama that ensued this week regarding what the Duval Delegation accomplished, that’s just as well.

Boils down to this: the legislators think they brought home the bacon, and some in City Hall believe that they brought home crumbs.

As you will see below, the drama came to a head Tuesday, when a Jacksonville City Councilman published a letter in the Times-Union dripping with delegation disses … just before doing an event with Gov. Rick Scott with delegation members who contend otherwise … and told us their thoughts on the councilman’s comments.

We have that in here, and more, along with deep-dive interviews with most delegation members and a few other notable stories …

NE FL Delegation finds money for local asks

The indispensable Tia Mitchell went through Northeast Florida Legislative Session asks in the Florida Times-Union and found some success — especially given that most delegation members were new to Tallahassee and The Process.

Of 37 projects with asks of over $1M, locals got some money for 22 of them.

“In my mind, we are just getting started based on the leadership and potential of our delegation,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, a Clay County legislator who carried one Jacksonville bill successfully in 2016 (the state legislation allowing for a pension reform referendum), and got spiked this session on a $15M request for state money for Jacksonville septic tank removal.

Travis Cummings carried a request for septic tank remediation money, but no dice for Duval this session.

There is room for pessimism, even in Mitchell’s breakdown: many of the requests may have gotten some money … but not everything they wanted.

St. Johns River State College Palatka campus renovations, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, got just $4M of a $16.1M ask.

And the North Florida School of Special Education expansion project, sponsored by Cummings, got just a quarter of a $2M ask.

Still … it’s a start.

Matt Schellenberg says Duval Delegation brought home ‘crumbs’

Jacksonville City Councilman Schellenberg went on the record to grouse about the Duval Delegation — a favorite off-record game among some in Jacksonville’s City Hall.

Smart move? The jury is out. Schellenberg — the city’s representative to the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties — got pilloried by two State Senators (Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean) that he lobbied in Tallahassee.

Matt Schellenberg said publicly what many say in private, and took his lumps this week.

Mayor Lenny Curry also rejected the premise that the delegation isn’t getting the job done.

And Rep. Jason Fischer — who Schellenberg called out in an interview for leaving the School Board early in 2016 to jump to the state House — likewise pushed back.

Schellenberg wouldn’t rule out a 2018 primary challenge to Fischer when we talked to him, setting the stage for a rare contested primary in NE Florida.

However, Fischer would be the one with every advantage: the mayor’s backing; the mayor’s political team; and money coming in from political committees hither and yon.

With many measures making it to the final budget, the Governor’s veto pen serves as their primary impediment.

Bean pointed to “little bills” with big impact and a “huge pass rate … underneath the radar screen,” such as a push for the shared use of school playgrounds, the ‘keys to independence’ bill helping foster kids drive, the ‘disaster prep tax holiday,’ and others.

A big bill with impact, meanwhile: SB 476, a bill Sen. Bean filed at the request of Gov. Scott, which amends and expands existing statute regarding terrorism.

The bill creates a more expansive definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in the wake of the Pulse massacre in June.

Additionally, the measure explicitly prohibits “using, attempting to use or conspiring to use” training from a “designated foreign terrorist organization.”

Session ‘best ever,’ enthuses Aaron Bean

Bean noted that this was, perhaps, the “best ever … one of the most successful” sessions of the 13 he’s been involved.

Aaron Bean was ebullient about the Legislative Session.

Bean pointed to local approps wins, including money for ShotSpotter and the state match on the COPS Grant from the feds, which will allow Jacksonville to hire more police officers.

“We had one of the best sessions in history,” Bean said.

Among Bean’s accomplishments: Neptune Beach can look forward to $400,000 for stormwater culvert improvements on Florida Boulevard: Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd (who seems to be moving into the House Leadership discussion, based on scuttlebutt) put in the work there.

Rob Bradley and ‘political capital’

For Sen. Bradley, the 2017 session was a big one. The budget includes $13.3M for the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes — an issue we spotlighted earlier in the Session.

$5M of that is recurring, ensuring that the project to replenish the lakes may happen at long last.

“People have been talking about restoring the Keystone lakes for as long as I can remember, but nothing ever happened. We finally have a plan and the financing to implement it,” Bradley asserted.

For the Keystone Lakes, help is on the way … thanks to Rob Bradley.

Bradley carried one of the most important and controversial bills of the session: SB 10, which allowed for the building of reservoirs to shore up Lake Okeechobee. That, of course, was a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

“It was a year for bold action in the environmental policy arena. The president and I worked together. I managed his audacious Everglades bill, and he supported our audacious plan to fix the Keystone lakes. There’s a reason why both of those projects had never been done: they are expensive and require a ton of political capital. This year, the stars aligned and both happened,” Bradley added.

Clay Yarborough talks rookie year

Yarborough, a former Jacksonville City Council President, appraised the Legislative Session as a win for Jacksonville.

“Glad we could get some things for Jacksonville,” Yarborough said.

Indeed, Yarborough himself brought home the bacon, with two priority projects: $1.1M from the State Transportation Trust Fund is provided for the installation of pedestrian signals, refuge islands, sidewalks and street lighting and $1.231M for Crosswalk Countdown Traffic Signal Heads Installation.

Clay Yarborough brought home money that could save lives.

We asked Yarborough — one of the most concise quotes in local politics — for what he saw as his biggest accomplishment and the biggest surprise of the session.

“Biggest accomplishment: Working with Sen. Travis Hutson to tighten the law on sexual predators (HB 327/SB 336). Biggest surprise: How fast things can move at the end of the session.”

Tracie Davis talks Dozier apology, relationship building

Rep. Davis was the least likely member of the Northeast Florida Delegation to be in Tallahassee. That said, despite Davis’ unlikely arrival in the House, she was characteristically reflective as to the value of the experience that almost didn’t happen.

Davis described her first Legislative Session as being “significant and exciting to be honest … specifically being a freshman in the minority party.”

The bill with the most emotional resonance for Davis “the FL House apology (HR 1335) to the men that suffered at Dozier and Okeechobee reform schools,” which “will always reign supreme for” Davis.

The Dozier School ruined many lives … and ended too many others.

“So honored and grateful to have played a leading role with Sen. [Darryl] Rouson and Speaker [Richard] Corcoran then to have all of my colleagues unanimously support and participate with the apology that day was emotional and phenomenal,” Davis asserted.

Davis, despite being a Democrat in a GOP town, feels she has room to maneuver — and collegiality creates that room.

“I felt that building relationships with my colleagues across the aisle was going to be key for any success. The surprise for me was that those relationships happened easily … The relationship building helped me develop friendships, share perspectives, and get bills moving the House (which is not an easy task).”

Jason Fischer extols ‘balanced budget’

When asked to evaluate the Session, Fischer — who has been talked about as a potential Speaker down the road — had a more holistic read than some.

“We gave our citizens much-deserved property tax relief and a balanced budget,” Fischer told FloridaPolitics.com. “Families work hard for their money; Government should take less and do more!”

Fischer has some specific appropriations accomplishments: $350,000 for the LaSalle Pump Station project.

Jason Fischer is rumored by some to be on a path toward House leadership.

And $250,000 for a driverless shuttle program that will go to Baptist Health.

The money will go for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.

Fischer extolled the Duval Delegation, saying the group “worked together really well,” was “very cohesive,” and focused on “doing what’s best for Jacksonville.

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment this session: the passage of a “civil remedies for terrorism” bill.

Ron DeSantis for Governor?

One of the stories worth watching this year: will DeSantis run for Florida Governor?

Conversations DeSantis is having about the race are the kind of stakeholder talks one would expect in the pre-candidacy phase — “open” conversations with local, state and national figures.

Ron DeSantis is getting happy feet to leave the House again, claim those in the know.

Those conversations reveal a “real hesitation about Adam Putnam,” we are told.

DeSantis has a lot of positives: fundraising prowess; a place in the Fox News Channel guest rotation; youth and eloquence.

Despite representing an area to the south of Jacksonville, his roots are deep locally: wife Casey DeSantis has been on-air talent on local television in this market for years now.

Northeast Florida has wanted a House Speaker for a while. But — ironically enough — the Governor’s Office is probably more within reach … should DeSantis decide to run, a campaign that would launch late in the summer.

Adam Putnam brings roadshow to Jax Beach

We were the only outlet in the room when Putnam made his play for Jax Beach voters.

Results were mixed.

Putnam served up the material that had been heard statewide, a pitch of Florida exceptionalism and requisite haranguing of “bureaucrats.”

Ander Crenshaw and Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves watch their candidate, Adam Putnam.

But when it came to specifics of local interest, Putnam didn’t offer much, opting instead for shopworn hokum.

He mentioned JAXPORT, Mayport and “the river.” Great.

But for those who might want an actual Northeast Florida candidate, it’s unclear if Putnam delivered — or can deliver — enough to stop some donor class dithering.

On the road, Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and his son, Hughes, stopped at Dreamette in Jacksonville for shakes and freezes.

Moody’s dings Jax pension reform

Jacksonville got its pension reform package through, yet bond rating agency Moody’s asserts that it’s not all peaches and crème.

The write-up boils down to six words: “buy now, pay later, assume risks.”

Buy now, pay later.

The biggest poison-pen moment: “Jacksonville’s reliance on future revenues, rather than current contributions, to address its pension underfunding will continue to negatively impact our key credit metrics related to its pensions … because we do not consider future revenues as pension assets — while city contributions are going to be reduced.”

Policy makers considered these risks, as the discussion got less heady and more sober as the final vote approached. The defined contribution reforms and the one-half cent sales tax are correctly seen as “tools in the toolbox.” Not panaceas.

Still, it’s reasonable to conclude Jacksonville may already be at its ceiling regarding bond ratings, if Moody’s report is any indication.

Dick Kravitz talks SOE gig

Former Jacksonville City Councilman and State Legislator Kravitz may have gotten spiked in his run last year for State House. However, Kravitz is still on the public payroll, as the Jax Daily Record reports, working for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections under old friend Mike Hogan.

Part of his role: helping with lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.

Dick Kravitz ran for State House as an SOE employee in 2016. Conflict of interest? Or just how the game is played?

“There are some people in the Senate that I served in the House with for eight years. It’s about personal relations, so it’s easy to get appointments, and there’s a lot of trust among us,” Kravitz said. “I tried to add to what the paid lobbyists were doing and help out a little to promote some of the bills.”

With session wrapped, Kravitz is helping run student elections at local schools. No word on whether or not he is debriefing them on the dark arts of robocalls and shadowy consultants.

AppointedDavid “Hunt” Hawkins and Thomas “Mac” McGehee to the Florida State College at Jacksonville District board of trustees.

Questions arise over health of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison

Ahead of next month’s CSX shareholder vote on his compensation, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the 72-year-old Harrison often works from home and occasionally uses oxygen because of an undisclosed health issue

Harrison told reporters that doctors cleared him to work, and he believes he can lead the turnaround he began in March at CSX.

“I’m having a ball, and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the WSJ. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”

CSX Executive Vice President Frank Lonegro said Harrison remains fully engaged. Lonegro spoke at a Bank of America Merril Lynch conference, and he said using oxygen hasn’t slowed Harrison.

“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen. I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen and they were equally as blunt and equally as effective,” Lonegro said. “So, no question about who’s in charge and no question about how engaged he is.”

CSX shareholders will vote early next month on whether the Jacksonville-based railroad should pay the $84 million in compensation Harrison forfeited when he left Canadian Pacific railroad earlier than planned. Harrison has said he will resign if the compensation isn’t approved.

Jacksonville Zoo Endangered Species Day

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is celebrating the 12th annual Endangered Species Day, free with Zoo admission, including school groups. Events include extra keeper chats with special collector cards. Collect all 10!

Keeper chat times:

— Penguin Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. at the Penguin exhibit in Play Park (African Penguin card).

— Gorilla Chat — 12 p.m. & 3:30 p.m. at the gorilla exhibit in the Great Apes loop (Gorilla card).

— Manatee Chat — 10 a.m. & 12 p.m. at the Manatee Critical Care Center in Wild Florida (Vaquita card).

— Whooping Crane Feeding/Chat — 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. at the Whooping Crane exhibit in Wild Florida (Whooping Crane card).

— Wild Florida Chat — Times TBD at the Wild Florida Pavilion in Wild Florida (Western Pond Turtle, Sea Turtle cards).

— African Plains — 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Africa Boardwalk near Main Camp Train Station (Black Rhino and Cheetah cards).

— Elephant Chat — 12:30 p.m. at Elephant Plaza on the African Boardwalk (Asian Elephant card).

— Stingray Chat — Times TBD at Stingray Bay (Sharks card).

Armada lose to Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-0 in St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rowdies cruised into the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada U23s at Al Lang Stadium Tuesday night.

The Open Cup is a knockout tournament featuring teams from all levels of the American soccer system, including qualifying amateur clubs.

Kyle Porter, Alex Morrell and Martin Paterson scored the goals for Tampa Bay as the Rowdies moved on in the competition.

“I thought it was a really, really professional performance by the team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We went out and got the job done, which was to win the game and get into the next round. … The game is done and dusted, and we have games coming up in the league, so we’ll shift our focus to that now.”

Playing an opponent from the fourth-tier NPSL, the Rowdies didn’t have to wait long to claim a lead.

With the ball at his feet on the right sideline, Porter spotted Jacksonville goalkeeper Juan Fajardo off his line and took an audacious shot that Fajardo got a touch to, but couldn’t keep from going over the line for a 1-0 Rowdies lead in just the third minute.

Up a goal, the Rowdies dominated the remainder of the first half but didn’t double their lead until the 43rd minute when Morrell stole the ball off an Armada U23 defender and raced toward goal before beating Fajardo from a sharp angle for a 2-0 lead.

“Luckily, the guy had a bad pass, and I picked it off,” Morrell said. “I made the most out of it and scored on my old keeper from college. That was nice.”

Paterson finished the scoring in the 68th minute, tapping in a low cross from Darwin Jones for his second goal of the season in all competitions.

The result was never really in doubt, particularly after Jacksonville was reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute when Dener Dos Santos was shown a red card. The Rowdies took six shots on target and didn’t allow one from Jacksonville.

It was Tampa Bay’s seventh clean sheet in 10 matches in all competitions.

Jacksonville University Golf earns 1st NCAA Championship berth thru playoff

Before this season, Jacksonville had never qualified for the NCAA Championship in men’s golf. That changed this week as the Dolphins defeated Northwestern in a playoff to grab the fifth and final NCAA Championship berth out of the NCAA Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Regional.

Golfweek reports that after Jacksonville and Northwestern had finished at 19 over, the Dolphins, which carded the final round of the day (1-over 289), and Wildcats each shot two over using a play-five-count-four format on the par-4 18th hole.

The teams then moved on to the par-4 10th hole. Jacksonville’s first three players combined to go one over while Northwestern’s two players in the first group went one over. In the second group, Jacksonville’s two players shot even par and Northwestern, which had a player hit a drive out of bounds, conceded defeat.

Jacksonville began the day in seventh place and didn’t get off to a fast start on the back nine. However, the Dolphins’ four counting players combined to shoot two under on the front nine. Raul Pereda birdied Nos. 4-7 as part of a 1-over 73. Davis Wicks’ closing 71 led the team.

 

Chris Sprowls looks back on successful 2017 Session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the history books (for the most part), Florida lawmakers are beginning to take stock. And Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is no different.

Sprowls offers his own post-Session review, in an email to supporters highlighting some of his major legislative actions in the House over the past year.

At the top of the list is HB 221, the landmark ride-sharing legislation co-sponsored by Sprowls and recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure creates a statewide standard for companies like Uber and Lyft, which Sprowls says “ensures safety, convenience, and consistency.”

“I am proud of this bill because it guarantees that anyone in Florida has access to this convenient transportation option should they choose it, in addition to providing an extra source of income for many Floridians looking to make ends meet.

Inspiring Sprowls to bring the bill were conversations with Floridians “who love driving for rideshare companies,” particularly for its flexibility in work times — perfect for people such as single parents, veterans, college students and others.

HB 221 opens the market for ride-sharing jobs, as well as offering a “convenient mode of transportation for Floridians and vacationers alike.”

Most notably, this bill can be a template for ride-sharing bills across the country, Sprowls says.

Another legislative success were reforms to Florida’s death penalty statute, ensuring the state has a “working death penalty law.”

In October 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional — throwing the process into legal ambiguity, putting capital cases in a state of limbo.

Sprowls, a former state attorney, saw this legal instability as a disservice to all involved. HB 527 fixed the state death penalty statute, bringing the law in-line with Constitutional requirements.

Sprowls also introduced legislation to honor Officer Charles Kondek, killed December 2014 in the line of duty.

“Officer Kondek had a decades-long career serving our community,” Sprowls writes, “and it is only fitting that we rename a portion of Alternate 19 so that we always remember his service, sacrifice and legacy.”

The “Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway” is at U.S. 19A/S.R 595 between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line in Pinellas County.

Sprowls was also among the lawmakers sponsoring a formal apology to the Groveland Four from the 1940s, as well as to the Dozier Boys who suffered torture and abuse at the Dozier School for Boys.

“It was an honor to have the families of the Groveland Four, and the remaining survivors of the Dozier School in Tallahassee a few weeks ago to hear their stories and witness the closure they have so long awaited,” Sprowls writes.

Other victories for Sprowls in the 2017 Session were in ethics and government spending reforms, including passage of sweeping ethics changes and a lobbying ban that is the strictest in the country.

Similarly, Sprowls takes sides in the fight over incentive program funding, touting his support for a state budget which puts an end to “state-funded corporate welfare.”

“Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” he writes, “and Enterprise Florida was using your tax dollars to subsidize the operations of large businesses.”

Sprowls, who is in line to be House Speaker in 2020-22, notes that Enterprise Florida has seen a $1.2 million increase in payroll without showing similar gains in job creation.

While Enterprise Florida was intended to be a public-private partnership, Sprowls says that it is indeed funded 90 percent by taxpayers.

“We as a Legislature are tasked with ensuring your hard-earned money is spent wisely and efficiently,” he writes. “Enterprise Florida’s use of your tax dollars was neither.”

Senate Democrats could help block budget veto override – with caveats

Senate Democrats are ready to work with Gov. Rick Scott should he veto the massive education reform bill pushed by House leaders in the final days of the 2017 Session.

Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald reports that Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon is prepared to help prevent an override of Scott’s veto, under the right circumstances.

A chorus of voices are calling Scott to veto HB 7069 — as well as the entire K-12 budget.

If that happens, the 15-member Senate Democratic caucus will be crucial to preventing the Republican-controlled Legislature from overriding a veto.

“We have to have a reason to override,” Braynon told the Herald about his Democratic colleagues. “It would depend on what the veto message looks like and if his vetoes include a bunch of things that matter to Democrats, then we’re not going to override. We’re willing to come back and work.”

Twenty-Six Senate votes are needed to override the governor’s veto, and as Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala publicly saying he would support a veto — and the three Republican senators who voted against HB 7069 — Senate Democrats could very well prevent an override if the voting bloc holds firm.

“We’re not against funding VISIT Florida,” Braynon said. “If the Republicans ask for an override of 7069, we’re not going to do it. If they want an override of the whole budget, we will withhold our judgment on overriding until we see what happens.”

Rick Scott announces seven state board appointments

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced seven appointments and reappointments to a variety of state boards.

Florida Real Estate Commission

Scott began by naming Randy Schwartz to the Florida Real Estate Commission, a seven-member board that administers and enforces real estate license law.

Schwartz, 67, of Winter Springs, is a private practice attorney. He fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Florida Citrus Commission

Scott then reappointed Francisco Pines to the Florida Citrus Commission, a nine-member panel to represent citrus growers, processors and backers.

Pines, 41, of Miami, is the co-owner of Pines Ranch, Inc. and a managing partner at Francisco J. Pines, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from St. Thomas School of Law. Pines is reappointed for a term beginning ending May 31, 2019.

District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College

Scott next appointed Samuel Garrison to the District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College.

Garrison, 40, of Fleming Island, is an attorney at Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison, P.A., and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney of the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University and his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Garrison succeeds Cranford Coleman for a term ending May 31, 2018.

District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville

Scott announced one appointment and one reappointment to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville, a nine-member board of appointees.

David “Hunt” Hawkins, 58, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stein Mart, Inc., and previously served as a member of the program advisory council to DECA, Inc. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and his master’s degree from the University of West Florida. Hawkins succeeds Thomas Bryan for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Thomas “Mac” McGehee, Jr., 57, of Jacksonville, is the executive vice president at Mac Papers, Inc., and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He is reappointed for a term also ending May 31, 2019.

All the above appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

finally, Scott reappointed Dr. Peter A. Wish and John Stafford to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, the public agency that operates and manages the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Wish, of Sarasota, is the president of Gulfcoast Healthstyle Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in psychology from Boston College. Wish is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Stafford, of Sarasota, is a former chairman of the board for FCCI Mutual Insurance Company and previously served on the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children. He is reappointed for a term also ending Nov. 17, 2020.

 

Florida retailers expect record breaking Mother’s Day in 2017

Florida retailers believe moms will get a lot of love this year, as consumers are set to spend record numbers for Mother’s Day in 2017.

According to the Florida Retail Federation (FRF), consumers will spend more than ever on gifts for Mother’s Day this year, reaching $23.6 billion. The state’s leading retailer trade association expect a whopping $186.39 per mom on average this year, up from last year’s $172.22 average.

“We are extremely encouraged by the record high projections for Mother’s Day shopping this year which not only shows the great appreciation we have for moms but also the overall confidence of our consumers and strength of our economy,” said Florida Retail Federation CEO and President R. Scott Shalley. “Florida’s retailers are constantly rising to meet the demands of their consumers and that will be no different this year as they are preparing for this very exciting and busy holiday.”

A review from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, show per-person spending in 2017 will be the highest in the survey’s 14-year history.

Estimates say shoppers will spend $5 billion on jewelry, $4.2 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch, $2.6 billion on flowers, $2.5 billion on gift cards, $2.1 billion on clothing, $2 billion on consumer electronics, and $1.9 billion on personal services.

The most significant increases from last year are in jewelry spending, which is up 19 percent, and personal services, up 15 percent.

Shopping habits also differ based on the age of both the consumer and the recipient.

For example, the survey shows “gifts of experience,” such as concert tickets, will have a 28 percent rise — with nearly half the consumers surveyed under 35 years of age plan on giving such a gift.

Thirty-five percent of consumers will shop at department stores; 31 percent will head to specialty stores such as florists, jewelers or electronic stores; 24 percent will shop at a small local business. Thirty percent of consumers expect to buy online, up from 27 percent last year.

The survey asked 7,406 consumers about Mother’s Day plans, conducted April 4-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 points.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.12.17 – Fantasia

Big political news of the week, maybe: State Rep. Jay Fant decides to run for Attorney General.

A bold move — given he’s running from Jacksonville (not a hotbed of votes), and that he’d downplayed his attorney experience up until now.

Fant went statewide Tuesday, talking to the press in Tallahassee, Tampa and Orlando, before heading home to Jacksonville to close the night.

Statewide, Fant preached the gospel of Pam Bondi: Hosannas galore for the Attorney General, even when it came to her handling Trump University.

The press was mostly respectful … though the tweet from Capitol reporter Troy Kinsey comparing Fant to evangelist Joel Osteen may have bordered on irreverence.

Then Fant came home to close the night out. Our source on hand said that no important NE Florida Republicans were there. No Lenny Curry. No state House colleagues. No City Councilors.

Curry, we understand, may just sit on his hands in this one. His political committee hasn’t put any money into Fant’s committee, “Pledge This Day,” which has $75,000 on hand.

Locals, we hear, are excited to have a candidate from NE Florida running statewide. But is Fant the right candidate from the area?

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — a fundraising powerhouse — is considering the race. Heck, some say Sen. Rob Bradley should give it a go.

Fant’s hill to climb: all at once, and quickly, he has to get his money right, prove gravitas, and boost name ID — hard to do with only $75K banked.

Fant’s ‘Tia Talk’

Tia Mitchell talked to Fant for the Florida Times-Union. The quotes were interesting …

“Defending the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law is something that can keep me up at night and get me out of bed in the morning,” Fant said Monday.

“The Legislature has been a wonderful experience, but I’m more of someone who likes to administer public policy for an organization, as opposed to standing on the soapbox and screaming all the time, which is what we have to do in the Legislature,” Fant added.

Jay Fant’s the odd man out in the House. How will he do running statewide?

So Fant is interested in “enforcing the rule of law,” rather than making laws — an important point.

“Culturally, there seems to be a lot of pop culture bent against law enforcement, kind of neo-1960s dismissal of our law enforcement people,” he said. “I think that’s a harmful trend, and I hate to see people go after our guys and girls in the blue.”

Is this for real?

Fant connects with Raymond Johnson

Fant’s special announcement was less notable for the announcement — made to the donor class months ago — than for the event’s controversial hypeman: Raymond Johnson.

Of all the hypemen in the world, why did Jay Fant pick this guy?

Johnson is known for virulent anti-homosexual rhetoric, which has even been an embarrassment to fellow Republicans.

Fant’s campaign asserts that Johnson is “not a hire.” Fine. But why was he the point of contact for the launch for his campaign?

Al Lawson has ‘favorite son’ town hall in Gadsden County

U.S. Rep. Lawson may have a learning curve in “Dirty Duval.” But he is golden, a “favorite son” in Gadsden County, according to the Havana Herald.

Highlights? There was some new info from his town hall last week.

Al Lawson was received warmly in the western part of the district. Quelle surprise.

Georgia Rep. John Lewis has been mentoring freshman legislators, Lawson said.

“He is truly there to help us get a chance to congregate as freshmen,” he said.

Lawson also discussed food deserts and nutritional deprivation, noting that some school students are hurting so bad for a decent meal that “kids on Fridays put food in their backpacks because they might have no other food on weekends.”

As you can see below, hunger was also a theme in a Jacksonville appearance.

Lenny Curry committee makes it rain in April

April was a big month for Jacksonville Mayor Curry, as he was making the final sale of his pension reform to the Jacksonville City Council.

To that end, his political committee [“Build Something That Lasts”] spent big: $122,000.

The wins keep coming for Lenny Curry.

Of that money, $100,000 went to ad buys — which facilitated an effective television ad that drove people to call the Jacksonville City Council and show support.

The ad worked: pension reform passed without a no vote.

Curry secured $55,000 of donations in April, with Tom Petway, Michael Munz and John Rood giving.

The committee has roughly $230,000 cash on hand, and with Curry staying put in Jacksonville after withdrawing from the CFO search, he will have time to replenish the coffers.

Paul Renner delivers big for Flagler, St. Johns dune restoration

When Flagler County commissioners recently workshopped an update on recovery from Hurricane Matthew, concerns arose over money appropriated by the Legislature.

More specifically, what was not being appropriated.

“I’m hearing we might not even come close to the $10 million we were hoping for,” Commission Chair Nate McLaughlin told FlaglerLive.com.

However, Republican state Rep. Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County, came to the rescue. By the end of the 2017 Session, Renner secured $13.3 million for emergency repairs in his district.

Paul Renner comes through with $13.3 million for emergency dune repairs in Flagler, St. Johns (Photo: Flagler Live)

But the money came with the catch, as far as Flagler is concerned: it would have to be shared between Flagler and St. Johns counties, leaving a certain uncertainty over how the Department of Environmental Protection will split the amount. The DEP oversees administering the money and of some of the beach-restoration work for Hurricane Matthew repairs, after the storm sheared off enormous chunks of beach sand and dunes in Flagler County.

“DEP will administer that based upon the county’s needs,” Renner said in an interview. “So, we believe that that in combination, with the possibility of some funds from the main beaches budget, will be adequate to cover the entirety of the local match in Flagler County.”

Laura Street Trio, Barnett Building in play

Good news for those wanting downtown development to continue on the upswing! The Florida Times-Union reports that Curry is committed to the renovation of the properties, and the city is willing to put in $9.8M in incentives to make that happen.

With pension put to bed, next is downtown dev.

“With a keen focus on increasing economic development throughout the city, building public-private partnerships, and ensuring a return on the city’s investments to taxpayers, my administration has been able to successfully negotiate a redevelopment agreement where others have stalled and failed,” Curry asserted.

“Any redevelopment project I present to City Council will reflect a return to taxpayers,” Curry added. “This one is no exception.”

City incentives are “part of $78 million worth of work to turn the buildings into a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, rooftop bar, bank and bodega market,” the T-U report added.

All of this would be done within about three years.

School Board, Nikolai Vitti rail against HB 7069

Newsflash: the Duval County School Board and the state Legislature are sideways on education reform, with board members and outgoing Superintendent Vitti messaging hard against changes Monday before the legislature approved the bill, as WJXT reports.

On his way out, Nikolai Vitti is getting political. Interesting play while packing the moving van.

“Not only are we underfunded for infrastructure, but we will see less funding and an acceleration of funding to charter schools,” Vitti said. “This “reform” is — I call it reform because that’s what the Legislature is calling it — it’s not reform. It’s hijacking of the legislative process to favor charter schools. In other words, to favor the few over the many.”

The controversial bit of the bill: the “Schools of Hope” program, incentivizing charter schools taking on students from failing schools — and upsetting the funding formula.

Police Union 1, ‘F— the Police’ 0

In the wake of a springtime clash between anti-Trump protesters and Jacksonville police officers, a very public clash soon ensued on Facebook between Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominee Leslie Jean-Bart and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona.

“F— the police”: a bridge too far for Jacksonville’s City Hall

That clash — which involved, among other things, Jean-Bart defending protesters using the inflammatory phrase “f — the police” by posting that “Also, F*** the Police is protected free speech. I’m not going to condemn it because there is no reason to do so” — has now reached the denouement.

And it appears Jean-Bart will not be moving toward the Ethics Commission anytime soon, with the City Council withdrawing the bill that would put her on.

The nomination was withdrawn at the request of its sponsor: Public Defender Charles Cofer.

In the words of Ice-T: “Freedom of speech … just watch what you say.”

Save the date: Florida Foundation for Liberty is hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Renner Thursday, May 25. Reception begins 5:30 p.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr. #3500, in Jacksonville. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or katie@kballardconsult.com.

UF Health North cuts ribbon on new inpatient hospital

UF Health North unveiled its new inpatient hospital, as UF Health leaders and community members took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

 

The second phase of UF Health North is another step closer to reality

The 92-bed tower is connected by walkways to the current medical office complex, the heart of the campus, which has been open since 2015. The new hospital consists of five floors, four for patients with all private rooms.

There is a 20-bed unit dedicated to labor and delivery and other women’s services, a 24-bed floor dedicated to the intensive care, two 24-bed floors devoted to general medical inpatients, and one floor of administrative services, a chapel, a cafeteria and more.

Night at the Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be in a whole new light with Night at the Zoo events from 6:30-10 p.m. Live music, food trucks, cash bars, and visitors will have a chance to see animal exhibits until 8:30 p.m. on June 23, July 14, July 28 and August 11.

There will be animal encounters, keeper talks, bounce houses and more. Tickets for members are $5/adults and $3/children (3-12); nonmembers are $10/adult and $5/children (3-12). Child 2 and under: free (but still require a ticket) Tickets are available by pre-sale, online purchase only.

JAXPORT adds Hans-Mill Corporation

Hans-Mill Corporation, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of metal and plastic household products, is opening a state-of-the-art manufacturing center near the JAXPORT North Jacksonville marine terminals.

The 121,000-square-foot facility IS for manufacturing, assembling and distributing stainless steel trash cans and plastic household products sold at major retailers around the world.

Hans-Mill will use JAXPORT to import materials used in its manufacturing process from Asia, as well as for the import of finished goods for U.S. distribution. In addition, the company has been granted permission to operate within JAXPORT’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64. The facility, which already serves as the company’s headquarters, stands for an $11 million investment in Northeast Florida, creating 23 new, direct jobs.

Shrimp Story

Some good news for fans of minor league baseball in Jacksonville, from First Coast News.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are showing a 73 percent YOY increase in attendance — a validation of the once-controversial and once-derided change of the team’s name from the Suns.

Crustacean Nation has a posse, with new branding driving interest.

Purists balked. But with new promotions and a new look, baseball is juiced once again at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

That’s the biggest increase in turnstile traffic in minor league baseball. The second biggest has a local connection as well: the Columbia Fireflies. The South Carolina A club features Tim Tebow at the plate, and casual fans at the gate, with a 43 percent uptick year over year.

Armada remain undefeated thanks to late equalizer

The Jacksonville Armada FC recorded a late comeback to draw with the New York Cosmos Saturday night. In the 95th minute, Zach Steinberger nailed a clutch goal to give the Armada FC (2W-4D-0L) a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos (2W-3D-1L) after trailing from the 23rd minute onward.

Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that New York’s early goal came courtesy of Javi Marquez. Jacksonville goalkeeper Caleb Sewell-Patterson had a great game once again making key saves to keep the Armada within striking distance.

“That performance was the best performance I’ve ever seen from the Armada against the New York Cosmos, who are one of the best teams in the NASL over the past few years,” said head coach Mark Lowry. The Cosmos have won 3 of the last 4 NASL Championships.

A goal by #6 Marquez in the 24th minute has the New York Cosmos up by one (Photo: Facebook).

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Armada Midfielder Kevan George. “We’re a team. Our chemistry and grind from preseason is what brought us to this point. Are we surprised that we tied the game? No, we knew we had it in us. We just have to keep going and get wins.”

Jacksonville faces North Carolina FC in NASL play Saturday. The Armada will be looking to continue its undefeated run and jump back into first place with a win. Jacksonville has drawn four straight games.

Meanwhile, the Armada FC learned who they’d face in next week’s US Open Second Round. Miami United will be the opposition after a late winner sunk Boca Raton FC. Local playing legend Nacho scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute for Miami in a game where Boca Raton recorded the majority of chances, particularly in the second half. Miami’s goal against the run of play was impressive and showed the side could counterattack well, something Lowery and the Armada FC will have to account for in next week’s matchup.

The match will take place Tuesday, May 16, at Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium.

 

Gwen Graham works a shift with Operation New Hope, helping ex-offenders

Gwen Graham’s latest Workday focused on efforts to find affordable housing, workforce training and family reintegration for ex-offenders.

The newly announced Democratic candidate for governor worked Wednesday with Operation New Hope in Jacksonville.

“The ex-offenders I met today are working to put their lives back on track. They just want a second chance at becoming contributing members of their community — and Operation New Hope is giving them that chance,” Graham said in a statement. “Operation New Hope serves as an example for reintegration programs throughout our state and nation. Jacksonville is fortunate to have such a great organization, and I am fortunate to have spent the day working with them.”

As part of the Workday, the former North Florida congresswoman worked alongside Jarvis Guthrie, an ex-offender who now works with Operation New Hope as a recruitment coordinator. Guthrie spoke with Graham about the importance the program has had in his life.

“I am not a label of crime, but a product of second chances,” Guthrie said.

Founded in 1999, Operation New Hope placed more than 2,500 ex-offenders back into the workforce. The organization helped to “break the cycle” for as many as 7,200 children of ex-offenders, who are more likely to become offenders themselves. Operation New Hope also helped to build or restore 80 homes.

“Gwen has proven through her leadership that she has concern and care for all of Floridians,” said Kevin Gay, CEO and founder of Operation New Hope. “She understands Operation New Hope does more than help individuals — it’s an investment in our entire state’s future.”

 

Bay News 9 to launch new weekly Sunday roundtable with Florida’s opioid crisis

Allison Walker-Torres

Florida’s growing heroin opioid epidemic is the debut topic of “In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres” a new 30-minute public affairs program from Bay News 9.

In Focus will be a weekly roundtable beginning Sunday, May 14, at 11:30 a.m. on Florida’s Spectrum Networks Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando.

On her first show, Walker-Torres will discuss the opioid epidemic which led Gov. Rick Scott to recently declare a statewide public health emergency. She will be joined by Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Assistant State Attorney Dan Faggard to discuss what is being done and will need to happen to make progress on the crisis.

Part of the program will also feature a mother’s firsthand account of the effects of drug addiction on families; she had lost both her son and grandson to the epidemic.

During the show, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office will also air a special message.

In Focus will tackle one topical issue per week, and feature a weekly roundtable of newsmakers to provide a range of perspectives, including local officials and expert analysts. In Focus will re-air Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Channels 9, 1009 and Channel 1209 in Tampa.

Walker-Torres is a three-time Emmy-award winning reporter/anchor, who has been with Bay News 9 since 2007. After serving as weekend anchor desk at Bay News 9, she has become a full-time reporter/field anchor for Bay News 9, and a contributor to News 13 in Orlando.

Coral Gables plastic bag ban will force lawsuit — exactly as planned

As A-Team’s Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith often says: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

If current momentum holds, starting May 9, Coral Gables will become the first Florida city to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

It’s a move directly contradicting Florida law, which gives the state regulatory purview over the issue.

And Coral Gables’ ban, if successful, will no doubt provoke a lawsuit — exactly as planned.

Why? Among those happiest over the prospect of lawyering up — beyond trial attorneys, that is — are environmentalist groups, most notably the Surfrider Foundation.

Certainly, taxpayers will be less than enthused.

A lawsuit is one of two ways Surfrider sees Florida’s “ban the bag” movement going its way.

For Surfrider, Coral Gables in a lawsuit waiting to happen is fairly low stakes and low commitment, compared to traditional legislative channels.

In fact, Surfrider is so “stoked” about the prospect of having its day in Miami-Dade court that it offered to help with legal expenses.

With luck, one of Florida’s more activist judges will hear the case.

If not, well, it’s no big deal. Surfrider has a choice of 39 other Florida communities for legal provocations to ban the bag.

Eventually, they’ll win, right?

Surfrider, as with other similar activist groups, made its name by bringing lawsuit after lawsuit, litigating its way into the headlines.

But, remarkably, Surfrider does its work as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which is prohibited from engaging in significant direct lobbying — something Surfrider does while paying next to nothing to do so.

Nevertheless, Surfrider does not hide the fact it is openly playing lawsuit roulette in Florida.

Also, Surfrider continues its local and state campaigns, in Florida and around the country, to force product bans (think bags, straws, balloons, water bottles and Styrofoam), energy moratoriums and other prescriptive policies. This is accomplished with impunity as a tax shield, effectively subsidized by the communities and taxpayers it seeks to regulate.

Surfrider engaged a similar tactic when it targeted Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As reported by the New Hampshire Political Buzz website, the group’s clear playbook was to search out a community willing to contradict state statutes, thereby drawing a lawsuit.

Coral Gable’s bag ban — on which the City Council votes Tuesday — includes a regressive bag tax on any paper bags grocers continue to distribute to shoppers.

Violations of the ban and tax requirements will be met, after an initial grace period, with $50 fines, which could graduate to $500 fines for repeat mistakes.

What about taxpayers and business owners who don’t like the prospect of Coral Gables thwarting Florida’s regulatory framework, while repressing consumer choice and bilking taxpayers for even more money?

Activists promise THEY’LL GET USED TO IT.

And maybe, just maybe, if the inevitable lawsuit breaks favorably, it will embolden other Florida activists, giving them a green light to pursue similar bans and tax policies in communities throughout the state.

Just as planned.

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