Ryan Ray – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

Matt Gaetz qualifies by petition in CD 1

Rep. Matt Gaetz says his campaign has rustled up enough petitions to qualify for the 1st Congressional District ballot, well ahead of a late June deadline.

Gaetz put out a statement to mark the occasion.

“I want to thank the enthusiastic army of volunteers who helped us collect petition signatures across Northwest Florida. We are running a grassroots campaign, and by collecting thousands of petitions to qualify for the ballot, it is clear our message to fight Washington and restore America with clear, Constitutional principles is resonating with fellow conservatives,” Gaetz said.

“The 2016 election is critical to our nation’s future. We must build a wall to stop illegal immigration, fight radical Muslim terrorism with all we have, balance the budget, protect our veterans and military families, and stand up for our Second Amendment rights. I look forward to the campaign ahead and sharing our message for bold conservative reform,” Gaetz continued.

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, is squaring off against Milton Sen. Greg Evers in a GOP primary, where the race will almost certainly be decided, due to the district’s deep-red bent.

The benchmark for qualifying on the ballot is 2,298 signatures. Congressional candidates have until noon on June 24 to submit the signatures to the state for verification.

The announcement that Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller will retire after 2016 set off a scramble to replace him.

Among more than a half-dozen electoral maneuvers, Gaetz himself dropped out of a Senate race to replace his father, former Senate President Don Gaetz, in another western Panhandle seat in order to run for Congress.

The CD 1 seat was held by MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough from 1995 until 2001.

Mary Thomas hits Obama admin bathroom directive in new radio spot

A day after GOP primary opponent Neal Dunn went on TV attacking Obamacare, Mary Thomas released a new radio hit bashing the administration over its recent directive on gendered bathrooms.

As first reported by POLITICO Florida, the one-minute radio spot features Thomas calling the new directive “outrageous.”

“Men should use the men’s room, women should use the women’s room. It’s just common sense,” says Thomas.

The ad opens with an ominous-sounding voiceover proclaiming an urgent “alert about our public schools.”

“The Obama administration just ordered all public schools to allow boys who identify as women to use the same bathrooms as girls,” a narrator warns. “If we don’t comply, Obama will cut school funding.”

Thomas, a former Rick Scott administration attorney, is not alone in staking out a socially conservative position on the so-called “transgender debate.” Former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia Tweeted Wednesday morning that the “unconstitutional decree on school bathrooms” should be ignored.

Thomas and Sukhia are facing off against Panama City urologist Neal Dunn and Tallahassee businessman Jeff Moran. Thomas has attacked Dunn, the frontrunner according to early polling, as too liberal for the conservative-skewing 2nd Congressional District. The seat was redrawn as part of a landmark 2015 redistricting decision, forcing incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to decide against a reelection campaign.

“You can’t hide your liberal record, Neal,” Thomas recently intoned at a March candidates’ forum in Panama City.

Thomas has accused Dunn of lobbying on behalf of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in his capacity as an advocate for the Florida Medical Association. Dunn denies the charge and says he would vote to repeal the law.

Thomas has arduous path if she is to portray herself as the most socially conservative candidate. Sukhia flew to Washington, D.C. to intervene in the infamous Terri Schiavo debate and has long supported anti-pornography and anti-abortion initiatives at the state and federal levels.

Neal Dunn drops anti-Obamacare ad in CD 2 race

Republican candidate Neal Dunn will again take to the airwaves for another round of early communication with voters in the 2nd Congressional District.

The Panama City urological surgeon ran another ad, his second of the 2016 cycle. No other CD 2 candidate has yet advertised on television in what is shaping up to be an intense GOP primary.

Donning surgical scrubs, Dunn calls the Affordable Care Act “a total disaster,” saying it kills jobs and takes discretion away from doctors and patients.

“If you want to end Obamacare, send a doctor to do the job, not another politician,” says Dunn in the ad. “Because, health care works best when patients and doctors decide.”

“For the past 25 years, I have practiced medicine in North Florida,” said Dunn. “I know what works in our health care system and what doesn’t.

The new 30-second spot will air in the sprawling CD 2, a recently redrawn seat that spans from Bay County in the west all the way to the Big Bend area, south and east of Tallahassee.

An earlier ad released in April focused on the Dunn’s military service in the U.S. Army and wholesome personal profile.

Dunn is running against former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia, former Scott administration attorney Mary Thomas and Tallahassee businessman Jeff Moran for the GOP nomination in CD 2.

Since seeing radical changes which forced incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham out of the previously competitive seat, the next CD 2 representative will all but certainly come out of the Aug. 30 primary.

See the full ad below:

David Jolly ‘speaks the truth’ on fundraising reform

U.S Rep. David Jolly‘s quixotic “Stop Act” proposal to bar sitting members of Congress from raising money on the job may have gotten him in hot water with some in his party, but it also seems to have won him some admirers in the press.

The plan at least “deserves a look,” writes Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.

Jolly speaks the truth. Lawmakers know what needs to be done to clean up the corrupt system — but nothing happens. Democrats talk about overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on politics. But that ultimate fix isn’t happening soon …

That’s why Jolly’s idea deserves a look. He calls it congressional reform, not campaign finance reform. The goal: the get lawmakers to spend more time lawmaking.

“We’re here three days a week, and half your time is spent raising money,” he said. “In the face of growing crises around the globe, you’ve got a part-time Congress.” This, he said, “is a first-rate scandal.”

Milbank says the idea has gotten flak from both sides of the aisle, with Republicans saying they don’t want to end the gravy train which finds them with cash advantages over Democrats more often than not, and liberals saying the act doesn’t go far enough, because congressional staffers would still be able to do their members’ “dirty work.”

But Jolly, a former lobbyist and longtime staffer to the late congressman C.W. Bill Young, continues to agitate. He said he’s not paying his $400,000 in dues to the NRCC, and he said “I don’t buy the notion” that he needs more sponsors before House leadership grants a hearing on his bill.

Jolly is a potential ally of Democrats on campaign finance reform, saying Citizens United “could be revisited” and “we can do better.” Until then, surely more members on both sides can see the virtue of his cause. “You think you get elected to represent 700,000 people,” he said. “But you actually got elected to be one more marble on our side of the aisle to keep the majority, and to do that you’ve got to raise $2 million — and that makes members angry.”

Or at least it should.

Matt Gaetz challenges Democratic congressional opponent to debate over cross on public land

Rep. Matt Gaetz is known for his combative debate style on the floor of the Florida House. Now, he says he’d like to take it to the congressional campaign trail.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican and 1st Congressional District candidate challenged Democratic opponent Amanda Kondrat’yev to a debate over the Bayview Park Cross, a religious symbol which has sat on public land in Pensacola for five decades.

Kondrat’yev, a left leaning self-described “Berniecrat,” objects to what she says is a violation of the legal principle of separation of church and state. She is one of a number of complainants named in a federal lawsuit led by humanist and secular groups filed earlier this month which aims to remove it.

Gaetz said Monday her objection to the large white cross which commands the landscape at Pensacola’s Bayview Park is wrong and out of step with the voters of CD 1 — and he’d like to prove it in a formal debate with Kondrat’yev at the site of the cross.

“Religious freedom is one our most basic rights as Americans. I hope Mrs. Kondrat’yev will accept my challenge and join me in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate in front of the Bayview Park Cross to provide the public with a full and meaningful discussion of this important issue,” said Gaetz.

“The Bayview Park Cross has been an important part of the Pensacola community for over 50 years. In Northwest Florida, we have a deep and abiding faith in God, and we enjoy exercising our right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Now, our religious liberty is under attack by far-left liberals like Amanda Kondrat’yev, who filed a lawsuit to remove the cross at Bayview Park. I believe this lawsuit is outrageous and challenge Mrs. Kondrat’yev to a debate in front of the Bayview Park Cross,” Gaetz continued.

The debate would give Gaetz a chance to display his oratorical chops before a broader audience than his state House District 4 constituency, which lies in the eastern half of CD 1.

Debate or none, Kondrat’yev faces long odds in assuming the reins from retiring U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, who is serving out his final term. The western Panhandle seat features one of the most GOP-leaning electorates in Florida, with President Barack Obama garnering less than a third of the vote there in 2012.

Gaetz faces Milton Sen. Greg Evers in a heated Republican primary to replace Miller. The August GOP primary will almost certainly decide the district’s next representative.

Takeaways from Tallahassee – From the “gambling boys” to Justin Trudeau

As he gets ready to “go home,” as departing legislators like to say, outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner has no regrets or hard feelings.

He did have choice words regarding lobbyists for gambling concerns, however: They “just get greedy.”

Gardiner, an opponent of gambling expansion, recently sat down with Capital Correspondent Jim Rosica for an “exit interview.” He leaves office later this year. More of the interview will appear in the summer edition of INFLUENCE magazine.

“That world, that part of it, I won’t miss,” said Gardiner, an Orlando Republican. “I won’t miss the gaming side. Not a world I’m drawn to.”

“I don’t have anything personal against them,” he added, referring to gambling lobbyists. “It’ll be fun to watch on the sidelines.”

Gardiner countered rumblings that he had blocked this year’s attempt to overhaul the state’s gambling laws.

That’s just a complete fabrication,” he said. “Now, what I had indicated to the gaming boys was, ‘If you get a bill to my desk, I won’t block it and it will go to the floor.’ “

Gambling bills died as lawmakers rejected a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow them continued exclusive rights to blackjack in return for a $3 billion cut over seven years.

“The reality is, they never got a bill to my desk,” Gardiner added. “They didn’t have the votes. But rarely will you find a lobbyist who will say that something is their fault. They’re not going to tell their client they dropped the ball.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Ryan Ray, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

(Un)popularity contest — Gov. Rick Scott has never been the most popular guy at the party, but a new Quinnipiac University survey showed Scott’s poll numbers haven’t improved with time. The Quinnipiac University poll showed 49 percent of voters disapproved of the job he was doing. The Naples Republican fared slightly better in a Morning Consult survey, which found Scott had a 49 percent approval rating; with 41 percent of Floridians saying they disapproved.

Get prepared — With the summer heat and rains upon us, Gov. Scott traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge federal lawmakers to lend a hand to fight the spread of Zika. As of Thursday, there were 112 cases of the virus in Florida. Scott called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to send 5,000 Zika preparedness kits to Florida; and has repeatedly told officials they need to prepare for the virus like a hurricane. They appear to be listening; on Thursday, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio proposed spending $1.9 billion to fight the spread.

Change is coming – A month-long review of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, found that the organization could save $6 million by a series of cuts and an overhaul of the organization. Among other things, the agency has been advised to cut 27 positions and shift the VISIT Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation to the Department of Economic Opportunity. The Enterprise Florida Board of Directors also approved a severance package for outgoing CEO Bill Johnson. He’ll get $132,500 and his last day is June 24.

It’s settled — The battle over the Broward Bridge is over. The state’s Department of Corrections and Bridges of America reached a settlement, after the state announced it planned to end the transitional program in Broward County. The settlement stipulates that inmates participating in Broward Bridge will be placed in appropriate facilities elsewhere in the state. Future inmates will be at Turning Point Community Release Center in Pompano Beach. The two sides also signed a new, two-year agreement to keep Bradenton Bridge open in Manatee County.

Worth the gamble? — The Seminole Tribe of Florida went all in this week when it asked a federal court judge to block the release of any information related to the deposition of its chief executive. A copy of the deposition was turned over to POLITICO Florida through a public records request. But on Friday, after the online news organization published details of the deposition, including comments that Seminoles made $2.4 billion last year, the Tribe dropped its bid to block the release of the information.

Gov. Scott tapped his former top environmental lawyer for a spot on the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission.

Varn

Varn

But Craig Varn might not have a lot to do as a member: The commission cancelled every one of its monthly meetings so far this year.

Scott named him to the commission on Tuesday.

Varn, 47, was general counsel at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The all-volunteer commission represents “agriculture, the development industry, local government, the environmental community, citizens, and members of the scientific and technical community,” its website says.

“The Commission sets standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment based on sound scientific and technical validity, economic impacts, and risks and benefits to the public and Florida’s natural resources,” it says. “Most issues that go before the ERC relate to air pollution, water quality and waste management.”

That is, when the body gets together, which hasn’t been at all this year.

All of its monthly meetings from January to June have been cancelled, its website shows. There’s no meeting scheduled for July. And the August meeting is set as “TBD,” or “to be decided.”

Farewell to Quinton Greene.

The lobbyist reports he has retired this year after almost four decades and is to moving to Coronado, Panama‎.

“Have a gorgeous place on the Pacific and a beautiful view of the mountains,” he writes.

Greene most recently was registered to lobby for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association and Southwest Florida Enterprises, a gambling concern.

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state’s child welfare agency, on Monday announced two new additions to its top ranks.

JoShonda Guerrier was named Assistant Secretary for the Office of Child Welfare and Jeri Flora Culley will become Assistant Secretary for Economic Self-Sufficiency, Secretary Mike Carroll said in an email.

“JoShonda and Jeri have been proven leaders and I am thrilled to see each of them begin serving in an increased leadership capacity,” he said. “As an organization committed to learning and improving to better serve vulnerable Floridians, strong leadership is key to that success and both have demonstrated their commitment to our sacred mission.”

The moves come in the wake of a 133-page internal review released last month, showing how DCF employees reported feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

The first challenge, that report suggests, is “the broader issue of role confusion among” the department’s child protective investigators, case managers and lawyers. In other words, each group doesn’t always know what its job is and isn’t.

Guerrier has been Director of Child Welfare Strategic Projects in DCF’s Office of Child Welfare since May 2014, DCF’s email said.

Love to cruise? Then Florida’s ports are the place to be.

According to the annual report produced by the Florida Ports Council, Florida has the top three cruise ports in the world.

“Welcoming more than 15.2 million passengers in 2015, Florida seaports are the world’s busiest cruise ports,” according to the annual report. “They account for close to two-thirds of all U.S. cruise embarkations. Home to the top three cruise ports in the nation (and the world), the state is also the center of most aspects of an industry that generates tens of thousands of jobs and billions in spending annually in Florida.”

The report found while passenger counts fell about 2 percent in 2015, the Miami port saw an additional 100,000 multi-day passengers in 2015. Jacksonville and Key West also saw modest increases, the report found.

The annual report provides data on cargo and cruise activities at Florida’s seaports. It also provides international trade data for Florida.

In 2015, the state’s seaports moved 3.5 million containers and $49.8 billion worth of containerized cargo. Container tonnage also grew by 6.6 percent, with nine of the 10 ports seeing increased tonnage.

“The growth in container cargo around the state confirms that the global business community and U.S. businesses are recognizing the benefits of using Florida seaports to move their goods. We are also seeing gains in other cargoes and niche businesses, which highlights the diversity of our port assets.” said Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “With the continued commitment by the Governor and Florida Legislature to seaport infrastructure, we expect those numbers to continue to gain momentum and bolster Florida’s economy overall.”

Photo courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office.
Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.

Hurricane season is just around the corner, and Sen. Marco Rubio stopped by n the National Hurricane Center in Miami to make sure Floridians get prepared.

“With the 2016 hurricane season fast approaching, it’s important to remind Floridians about the importance of getting their home, business and insurance records in order and their contingency plans ready, just in case,” said Rubio in a statement. “Keeping our families safe and prepared in the event of storm is paramount.”

Rubio visited the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Monday, where toured the facility and met with officials about the upcoming hurricane season.

Last year, Rubio introduced the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act of 2015 as a way to improve guidance for hurricane tracking, intensity and storm surge forecasts. The legislation codifies the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Fore Improvement Project.

Rubio is expected to chair a commerce committee hearing on hurricane preparedness later this month.

The Atlantic runs June 1 through November 30.

Speaking of hurricane season: The fund that helps private insurers pay out claims after a hurricane is in the best shape it’s ever been before a storm season.

The Associated Press reported this week the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund will have $17.4 billion available this year. It marks the first time the fund has had more money than it would need to pay out if a storm hits the state.

The growth is due in large part to the fact that Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since Wilma in 2005.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam isn’t yet sanguine about the future of Florida citrus.

He reacted Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest crop forecast for 2015-16.

The feds now expect 81.1 million boxes of oranges, up from 76 million boxes last month, according to Putnam.

A so-far incurable disease called citrus greening is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

That still “represents a decline of nearly 70 percent since the peak of production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season,” Putnam said in a statement.

“The long-term future of Florida citrus, and its $10 billion annual economic impact, depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening,” he added.

Putnam, who comes from a family-run citrus growing business, “helped secure more than $24 million in state funding to continue critical research and support Florida’s citrus industry,” according to a press release.

Changes are coming for Citizens Property Insurance policyholders.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation recently approved a set of contract changes for Citizens regarding loss reporting, use of emergency services, and the nature of permanent repairs. The changes were approved in hopes of combating abuses of insurance contracts that are reducing consumer control, complicating claims, and increasing rates, particularly in South Florida.

“Protecting our policyholders after a loss remains the focus at Citizens,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of Citizens Board of Governors, said in a statement. “These changes will not affect our commitments to policyholders, but will help control costs, protect surplus and make sure we are ready when our customers need us most.”

Changes take effect beginning July 1, 2016. Existing Citizens policyholders will begin receiving notices later this month informing them of the coverage changes that will take effect when their policies renew. New policyholders will be informed of the changes when they apply for coverage.

Policyholders can Call Citizens First at Citizens’ toll-free claims hotline 24/7 at 866-411-2742 if they have more questions.

Congratulations, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The Fort Myers Republican has been appointed to the 2016 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s executive committee. The committee is made up of Republican state legislative leaders, and aims to strengthen the Republican Party in state Legislatures across the United States.

“The RLCC has been an incredible resource to me throughout the years. As my colleagues and I strive to grow and strengthen the party in each of our states, they have helped advance Republican leadership at the state level,” she said in a statement. “This leadership is key to growing our economy, ensuring fiscal responsibility, and promoting individual liberty. I’m honored to be able to work with (2016 chairman) Speaker (Joe) Straus, (vice-chair) Speaker (Mike) Turzai, and the rest of the 2016 Executive Committee to move our country in the right direction which starts in the states.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is also on the 2016 executive committee.

Imagine spending 50 years in the Florida Air National Guard.

Maj. General Douglas Burnett doesn’t need to, he lived it.

Gov. Scott honored Burnet with the Governor’s Medal of Merit on Tuesday. The award aims to recognized United States Armed Forces, Florida National Guard, or United States Reserve service member who has demonstrated exceptional military service to Florida and the nation.

“I am honored to recognize Major General Burnett with the Medal of Merit for his more than fifty years of military service in the Florida Air National Guard,” said Scott in a statement. “I would also like to thank him for serving as Florida’s Adjutant General for nearly 10 years. Throughout his career, Major General Burnett has worked tirelessly to keep Florida families safe and we are incredibly grateful for his sacrifices to defend freedom.”

Burnett served in the Florida Air National Guard from 1963 until 2010. He served in various leadership positions over the years, and began as a fighter pilot in 1969. He ended his Adjutant General of Florida from 2001 to 2010.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office
Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Next time you’re in Jacksonville make sure to give Nat Glover a pat on the back.

Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet honored Glover with the Great Floridian award for his dedication to higher education and the Jacksonville community.

“Nat is committed to making sure Florida students have the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” said Scott in a statement. “We are also thankful for his more than 50 years in law enforcement and keeping the families in Jacksonville safe.”

Glover, a Jacksonville native, served in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for more than 50 years. In 1995, he was elected to serve as Jacksonville’s sheriff, the elected first African American sheriff in Jacksonville in over 100 years. He served in that role until 2003. Glover has also provided $250,000 to help create a scholarship fund for deserving low-income students in the Jacksonville community.

“I have dedicated many years of my life and career to providing opportunities for Florida’s students to succeed and attend college,” said Glover in a statement. “I hope my life inspires others to invest in their communities and support our state’s young people.”

While we’re on the topic of awards, Gov. Scott handed out a host of additional wards to Floridians during the May 10 Cabinet meeting.

Scott presented 10 educators — Virginia Brouillard of Seminole County, Angela Brown and Thomas A. Moncilovich of Broward County, Tami DeJames and Patricia Harvey of Martin County, Kyle Dresback and Kristie Gabaldon of St. Johns County, Kevin Hendrick of Pinellas County, Sarah Lawson of Clay County, and Guillermo Munoz of Miami Dade County — with the Shine Award. The award is given to teachers and administrators in Florida who make a significant contribution to the field of education.

Scott also recognized Wendy Kephart and Ken Lorber with the Champion of Service Award. The award is given to volunteers who make a difference in their community.

Kephart volunteers with New Horizons of Southwest Florida, which works with students to improve their math and reading skills. She launched a snack collecting project with the group, which has provided 6,000 snacks a year from the Naples community to New Horizons since 2012.

Lorber volunteers at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, a non-profit conservation organization which rescued more than 1,000 injured birds and released nearly 500 birds back into nature. He volunteers seven days a week, and last year logged more than 3,000 volunteer hours.

Scott also presented Mike Bettinger, the CEO of Bettinger Welding, with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award. The family owned welding business is based in Tallahassee and has specialized in creating ornamental handrails, gates, decorative artwork, and structural steel since 1976.

The governor also honored Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore, the co-founders of Fracture, Inc., with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award. The company was founded in Gainesville in 2008, and is a modern photo décor company that specializes in photo printing directly onto glass surfaces.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

First Lady Ann Scott wants students to go on an adventure this summer —a literary adventure.

The first lady kicked off the 6th annual Summer Literacy Adventure at the Governor’s Mansion earlier this week. The annual event encourages students to pledge to continue to read and visit their local libraries during summer break.

“As a mother and grandmother to four young grandchildren, sharing our family’s love for reading is very important to me,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to traveling across Florida and meeting students who have pledged to read this summer.”

The 2016 Literacy Adventure is a partnership between the first lady, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Florida Lottery. The first lady will hold events at state parks in the coming weeks to encourage students to read.

“The Summer Literacy Adventure is a great opportunity for Florida’s wonderful students to participate in reading activities throughout the summer at our state parks,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Need a concealed weapons permit? If you live in Hernando County, you can apply for one at the tax collector’s office.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week that local residents can apply for or renew their state concealed weapons permit at the Hernando County Tax Collector. The decision now makes Hernando County the 27th tax collector in Florida to offer the service.

“I am proud to partner with hardworking tax collectors across the state to offer Floridians a more convenient way to apply for or renew a concealed weapon license,” said Putnam in a statement.

The partnership allows tax collectors to receive applications, take fingerprints and photographs, and send information to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to process the request for a license. Since it was created, nearly 700,000 concealed weapon applications have been accepted by tax collector offices.

“As tax collector, I am committed to improving customer service, and processing concealed weapon license applications is an important service to many of our customers,” said Hernando Tax Collector Sally Daniel.

When it comes to state spending for early childhood education, Florida ranks toward the bottom.

A new report from the National Institute for Early Education found that Florida ranks 39th in state spending on early childhood education. In the 2014-2015, the state spent $2,304 per child enrolled in the state’s voluntary prekindergarten program. That’s down from 2006, when the report found the state spent $2,758 per student.

The national average is $4,489 per student, according to the report.

“State pre-K programs continued moving in the right direction during the 2014-15 school year with larger increases in spending, spending per child and enrollment then in the previous year and additional states meeting more quality standards,” the group said in the report. “However, state pre-K is still far from where it needs to be to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education during the year (or two) before kindergarten.”

It wasn’t all bad news though. According to the report, Florida ranks third in country when it comes to access for 4-year-olds.

The end (of stone crab season) is near.

The annual commercial and recreational stone crab season closes on May 16, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The last day fishermen can harvest stone crabs in May 15; and stone crab traps must be removed from the water within five days after the season closes.

Don’t worry. You can still purchase stone crabs after May 16. Commercially harvested stone crab claws can be sold after the close of the season, but only if they were placed in inventory by a licensed wholesale or retail dealer before May 16.

Stone crab season will reopen on Oct. 15. The five-month closure helps conserve and sustain the stone crab population.

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

capitol directions - 5.14.16

Herald columnist says Genting getting ‘desperate’ over Miami-Dade casino

Florida’s never-ending casino wars are heating up again, in the press and in court.

In a scathing op-ed in the Miami Herald, columnist Fabiola Santiago threw shade at Genting, the Malaysian casino operator, over their recent move to sue Miami-Dade County and state attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, saying the move “smacks of desperation.”

“Somebody ought to tell Genting that Miami is not Malaysia or Bimini,” wrote Santiago.

In this country, courts don’t step in and legislate, nor do they pre-empt police and prosecutors from doing their jobs and enforcing laws. A frivolous lawsuit that will cost taxpayers money doesn’t buy you any friends either.

Santiago piled on over Genting’s “frivolous” lawsuit, which seeks to force the county to allow the group to run gaming operations at a site they claim they were promised they could.

The area, now a thriving arts district, is not territory poised to become gamblers’ row. But the Malaysian casino refuses to take no for an answer from local authorities, voters or the state.

After spending millions in political campaigns — and losing legislative battles to expand gaming in a way that would allow them to build the massive casino resort — Genting’s Resorts World Omni is suing Miami-Dade County and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to force the state to allow card games and slots in the old Omni mall space.

They’ve concocted a deal to get around a 2014 denial by state regulators to move a Gulfstream Park pari-mutuel permit to the Omni, and they’re asking a judge to declare it lawful — and to pre-empt police and prosecutors from filing criminal charges against what would be illegal Omni casino operators.

Really?

Enough already. Go away, Genting. Flip the land while it’s a boom market. The bust is always around the corner in South Florida’s storied real estate history. Take the money and run while you can.

Santiago accuses Genting of treating Florida like a second-rate tax haven where money opens all doors — a characterization not all would disagree with.

In Bimini, the Genting gambling invasion was easier to ram down islanders’ throats despite predictable damage to the ecosystem. But here, the cards are stacked against the company — despite promises of a jobs bonanza when, in reality, the industry is moving toward cutting labor costs with automation.

This might have all gone away quicker had our politicians stood firmly against turning Miami into Las Vegas.

But city keys were handed out and Genting threw money at political campaigns up and down the state. The idea could have died permanently after the state commissioned a $400,000 study that didn’t endorse the expansion of gambling and mega casino resorts as a good thing for the state. Genting threw around more money into campaigns. They clearly expected a victory — and for the last five years the issue has been brought up by lawmakers in some form of legislation, but it has never come to pass.

Faced with public backlash, the obliging mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade came around and said, no thank you. Even the governor and Florida Legislature, which couldn’t care less about the fate of South Florida as long as they’re raking in revenues from us, have spared us (for the time being) from the quality-of-life-changer that Genting’s gambling dreams mean for the city.

Santiago quotes Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez and a local investor, who essentially said Genting is way off base in trying to sue their way into running slots in Miami.

She ends her gleeful romp with a twist of the knife infused with a little local color.

Instead of adding to the clutter in our courts, Genting would do better to hire a babalao — a Santeria priest might be of help, Miami-style — to sell the land. The anti-gambling ghosts that presided over Miami in life are still roaming the town.

Loranne Ausley raises $19K in HD 9 race; GOP threat lags behind

Democrat Lorrane Ausley continued to lead the way in House District 9 fundraising for April.

Ausley brought in $14,355 through her campaign account plus another $5,000 through an affiliated political committee, according to new campaign finance data. Republican opponent Jim Messer raised $9,950, including a $7,500 personal loan, while a pair of other Democratic hopefuls raised negligible sums.

The April hauls bring fundraising totals to $317,471 raised so far for Ausley and $105,528 for Messer.

Ausley, a well-connected attorney and former lawmaker, represented the suburban Tallahassee district from 2001 until 2009, when she hit newly-enshrined term limits for state offices.

Messer, also an attorney by trade, is running on a moderate platform — including a raise for state workers, always a popular position in the Capital City — and pinning his hopes on a weak Democratic performance at the top of the ticket.

HD 9 is the most Republican-leaning House seat currently held by a Democrat, and it’s trending more conservative every cycle. Miami Rep. Manny Diaz, for instance, is among the handful of Republicans who hold less GOP-friendly seats.

The conventional wisdom says it’s only a matter of time before the Rs swoop in and take the seat.

Republican Peter Boulware put up a valiant fight against term-limited Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda in 2008, the last time the seat was open. Boulware lost by just 430 votes in a presidential year which saw President Barack Obama win by big margins in Tallahassee.

The question is, will Republicans be able to seize HD 9 before the statehouse pendulum swings back in Democrats’ favor, as most believe it will?

With Ausley tripling Messer in fundraising and likely setting up for another four-term tenure in the House, the answer is: probably not.

Tampa Bay Times settles suit with Jeff Greene

The Tampa Bay Times settled a libel suit filed against it by Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, the newspaper reported Thursday.

The terms of that settlement were not released.

“We have been in this legal standoff for nearly six years,” Times editor Neil Brown said in a statement. “The settlement represents our insurance company’s calculation of acceptable legal expenses.

“On the central dispute, the Times does not retract or correct our coverage, nor will we limit any future reporting,” he added.

Greene, a real estate developer, ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2010. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Greene claimed both newspapers derailed his Senate campaign with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht.

Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary.

One story insinuated that former boxer Mike Tyson — best man at Greene’s wedding — had used drugs on the yacht. The Times later ran a rare front-page clarification, with Tyson saying he did not use drugs on Greene’s yacht.

A Miami-Dade circuit judge dismissed Greene’s suit in 2012, saying he couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.

Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.

An appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.

Greene already settled last month with The Miami Herald, the Times’ co-defendant in the case. The terms of that arrangement also weren’t disclosed.

State officials: Medical cannabis expansion could add $11.4 million in revenue

A panel of state economists estimates a minor expansion in Florida’s fledgling medical marijuana regime could add up to $11.4 million in new tax revenue.

The Revenue Estimating Impact Conference met Tuesday for its annual post-Session hearing, where economists from the Legislature, the Governor’s office, and state agencies analyzed the likely fiscal costs and benefits of new laws approved during the 2016 lawmaking period.

The highest-profile bill considered by the panel was HB 307, an expansion of the state’s “Right to Try” act, which allows terminally-ill patients to try experimental medical treatments not yet approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The bill amends the law to include marijuana — in doses stronger than the low-THC Charlotte’s Web-style form approved for chronically ill children in 2014 — as a potential treatment.

The panel adopted estimates on three aspects of new revenue streams for the state stemming from new marijuana-related transactions around the state: new patients added to the pool of state-sanctioned cannabis purchasers, patients already using palliative treatments who may switch to cannabis, and sales taxes on devices the patients will use to consume cannabis.

Economists estimated between a quarter and half of all terminally-ill cancer patients using other end-of-life palliatives would switch to marijuana, amounting to some 1,000 patients, and around 5,600 more would use it if available.

Using prices from comparable products available in Colorado, the panel estimated the former group of new users would bring in $2-$7 million in tax revenue and the latter group would account for between $41,000 and $1.4 million.

The law stipulates patients are not allowed to smoke their medical cannabis, so economists predicted they would use vaporizers, which heat but do not ignite material. Sales tax revenues from those delivery devices would likely amount to between $98,000 and $3 million, according to the panel.

Under the new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in May, three organizations have already been selected to bring medical marijuana to market. The first deadline for dispensaries is in September, when Florida will mark its first-ever sale of cannabis for legal consumption.

The Right to Try act and the recent expansion dictates strict rules about who can use medical cannabis. A patient must see a doctor for at least three months before receiving a prescription, and must have a terminal prognosis of 12 months to live or less.

Nearly all those eligible under the new law will be cancer patients, the panel noted.

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