Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics

Peter Schorsch

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

Carlos Beruff already playing calendar games with Constitution Revision Commission

What’s wrong with this picture?

Carlos Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that will undertake rewrites of the state’s governing document, says the first hearings for public input will be next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County.

Did you catch it? 

Let me give you a hint: Five of the commission’s members, including the House Speaker Pro Tempore, are current members of the Legislature. Many others are intricately involved in The Process. 

And, well, we’re in the middle of the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t end until May 5th. 

So, does Beruff – the Manatee homebuilder who lost a U.S. Senate bid to Marco Rubio last year – expect the lawmaker members not to attend those early CRC hearings? 

Or conversely, does he expect them to miss important meetings at the Capitol during session?

Here’s the more realistic answer: He hasn’t even considered any of that before he rushed to start setting up hearings. 

Indeed, why the rush? Why not take the time to give ample notice to members of the public in those areas who might want to attend the hearings?

As one person told me, “Beruff is trying to run a railroad when he’s never even been a passenger on a public policy train.”

Bottom line for now: This kind of ignorance doesn’t bode well for a process that will affect the live of Floridians for years to come.

*          *          *

Updated Thursday by Jim Rosica, Tallahassee correspondent — House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he had not spoken to Beruff about the public hearing schedule.

His next comment suggested that the three commission members who belong to the House GOP caucus won’t be asking for excused absences during session.

“When you have a once-every-20-years, august body, dealing with something of the highest impact as our constitution, and you only have a limited number of members – 37 – and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one-sixth (of them), I don’t think that’s a good start,” Corcoran said.

The others are Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican; all five were appointed by the speaker.

Questionable practices, fraud, hidden costs: The dark side of Florida’s solar industry

Florida’s solar industry has embraced a comfortable narrative – they are the small-business “little guys” facing giant corporations, which care little about consumers and renewable energy.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. And it reveals a dark side to sunny solar.

For example, The Daily Caller is reporting on an investigation by the Treasury Department into potential fraud by solar panel companies – many receiving three years of taxpayer cash — in a case that could have “two-and-a-half times” the reach of Solyndra, the scandal that dogged the early years of the Obama administration.

Republicans senators are calling on Treasury Inspectors General Eric Thorson and J. Russell George to offer updates on the investigation into solar companies inflating market value of their products to bolster taxpayer funding.

According to a letter to Treasury officials from Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: “The Department recently indicated that applicants included ineligible costs or otherwise overstated the value of their solar energy investments by claiming approximately $1.3 billion in unwarranted cash grants.”

Murkowski and other Republicans have been waiting for results of the investigation, scheduled for release back in June 2015. For more than three years, federal officials investigated potential fraud by solar companies.

“Based on the information available,” Murkowski wrote in November, “we remain concerned that the 1603 cash grant program and the administration of the investment tax credits lack sufficient transparency, oversight and enforcement to protect taxpayers.”

In addition to the Treasury investigation, a recent New York Times article and reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel exposes Florida’s solar industry for what it truly is – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations engaging in highly questionable business practices to prey on consumers.

SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea, a 20-year lease to sign up for its solar panels.

However, SolarCity has employed practices that echo big-bank mortgages that led to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.

Sun Sentinel reporter Ron Hurtibise uncovered other programs throughout South Florida that have cropped up over the past two years, giving consumers, particularly those elderly or disabled, a chance to finance major improvements – such as solar panels – for up to 20 years with no money down and no credit checks.

Unscrupulous contractors target many of these Floridians with promises that solar panel rebates that would “pay for themselves.”

Later, those consumers learn they have been scammed, and are ineligible for such reimbursements.

NYT journalists Danielle Ivory and Diane Cardwell also found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity sent paperwork to the government.

The situation got to the point where Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, an attorney for SolarCity, was forced to file documents with a New York State Court asking for an extension. The company was, as the Times reports, “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”

A statement from SolarCity representatives clarified Gangat’s statement, saying that there were only 139 cases out of “more than 305,000 installed customers.”

Either way, the figures pose a problem: If the attorney (who SolarCity pointed out was not an employee) cited incorrect figures in his filing, he would be subject to ethical disciplinary action. On the other hand, if the number of cases is indeed “in the thousands,” SolarCity – now owned by automaker Tesla – could face a “threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors.”

To consumers, the basic premise of SolarCity is simple, install solar panels and save on electric bills.

The company offers to pick up installation costs, an average of $25,000 to $30,000, and charge customers a flat rate for electricity produced by the panels, usually at rates 10 to 15 percent below that of utilities.

Customers get cheaper power; SolarCity gets regular monthly payments.

But in the past few years, SolarCity lowered requirements for entry into the program – using a cutoff 650 FICO score, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

As Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian, told the Times: “For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point.”

Relying on a single credit score – one that could change for the worse at almost any time – calls into question SolarCity’s business practices, especially considering the expensive hardware that will be sitting on foreclosed homes, which could number in the hundreds (or even thousands).

Adding to the confusion are courts that will have a difficult time determining the true ownership of installed solar panels.

Of course, SolarCity is not the only solar company facing these problems, but it is one of the largest.

“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” Connecticut attorney Christopher McCormick said. After a decade representing banks, McCormick now works with homeowners facing foreclosure.

“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he told the Times. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”

In addition to McCormick, several groups have formed to educate the public on the dark reality of the solar industry.

One such website – MakeSolarSafe.com – says its goal is to “share the truth about solar energy” and help policymakers make “well-informed energy policy decisions.”

The group reveals the downsides of “net metering,” reimbursements to solar rooftop owners for electricity generation they return to the grid, which results in “a great deal of hidden cost.”

According to the website: “Customers leasing rooftop solar systems are often unaware of additional maintenance costs for which they are responsible. In fact, they are often required to purchase additional maintenance agreements with the company they are leasing from. Average panel cleaning costs can be as much as $20 per panel, costing customers with large photovoltaic systems as much as $700 per year for cleaning.”

Another hidden cost of solar power is the maintenance of the shared electrical grid, by way of increased voltage and stress throughout the power infrastructure.

Since solar energy is by nature intermittent, the introduction of solar-based electricity often causes spikes to the entire system, leaving consumers (including those not using solar) to pay the increased maintenance costs.

Massive solar corporations, questionable business practices, thousands of foreclosures and hidden costs for consumers — it is far from the “little guy” image solar groups such as Southern Alliance for Clean Energy portray the industry in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida.

 

The Delegation – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State – 3.23.17

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is undergoing CPR in the House of Representatives. Several “doctors” are treating this patient and according to some on the inside, the prognosis is not good.

Florida Democrats and the rest of their colleagues around the country considered this legislation dead the day it was born. While the passage of the Affordable Care Act was an all-Democrat affair, the GOP must whip up enough of their own to move forward.

Apparently that is a tall order. Despite a 44-seat advantage (with 5 vacancies), there may not be enough like-minded Republicans to get the job done. President Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill has had only limited success.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus aren’t budging in their opposition and want to start over. They may get their wish if the block of least 30 Republicans stay together. Among those Florida Republicans acknowledging opposition are conservatives Bill Posey and Ted Yoho. There is no official word from Ron DeSantis.

Also pledging a “no” vote in the bill’s present form, is moderate Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a swing district. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo both voted for the bill in committee, but want improvements.

On Thursday, one of two things is likely to happen. Either significant changes will have been made overnight to attract enough support to pass it, or a postponement of the vote will be postponed. Neither Trump nor Ryan will want to endure a huge defeat, effectively killing the bill.

Late Wednesday came word of an “agreement in principle” between the Freedom Caucus and the President. Will that get it done?

We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Russian elite invest $100 million in Trump properties in South Florida – A Reuters review found that 63 Russians invested a combined $98.4 million in seven Trump-branded properties in South Florida.

Each of the individuals have either a Russian address or passport, including a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics.

During a news conference last month, President Donald Trump said he owns “nothing in Russia” and “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”

The White House didn’t answer Reuters’ questions directly, instead referring the news organization to the Trump Organization, the chief legal officer of which said the scrutiny of the business deals was misplaced.

“I can say definitively that this is an overblown story that is media-created,” Alan Garten said. “I’ve been around this company and know the company’s dealings.”

Trump received commissions for the initials sales in six of the seven Sunny Isles properties, totaling between $20 and $80 million.

According to a filing during his presidential campaign, Trump received between $100,000 and $1 million from a business called Trump Marks Sunny Isles I LLC, the company holding the Trump International Beach Resort, a hotel and condominium complex.

The most popular library in Florida — The main branch of the Palm Beach County Library System has become a hot spot for national reporters covering President Trump, reports Kristina Webb with the Palm Beach Post.

Located on Summit Boulevard across from Trump International Golf Club in suburban West Palm Beach, the library has become the weekend holding spot for members of the traveling press pool as they wait for Trump to finish with his visit to the club. While visitors to the library can be found mulling the shelves, when the president goes to the club, white vans that carry the pool head to the library.

Members of the press can stay in the van or go into the library to work in study rooms or an 80-seat meeting room. Journalists are allowed to go inside before the library branch opens, and the White House Executive Office of the President reserves a boardroom, paying $150 for each use.

But having the press pool hanging out among the stacks doesn’t necessarily make for good press. Webb reported the press pool is “discouraged about talking about their experiences,” and none of the recent poolers she reached out to would talk about their experience at the library.

Another Trump tax? — Palm Beach County Commission Steven Abrams is asking county staff to look into whether the county can use bed tax revenue to defray the cost President Trump’s frequent visits to his Mar-a-Lago mansion, reports Wayne Washington with the Palm Beach Post.

Abrams asked County Attorney Denise Nieman and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to see if money from the tourist development tax — the 6 percent tax on hotel stays — could be used to defray the costs of Trump’s trips. Abrams highlighted a section of the law that addressed how money can be used, which says counties located on the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic may use “up to 10 percent of tax revenue received … to reimburse expenses incurred in providing safety services including emergency medical services … and law enforcement services, which are needed to address impacts related to increased tourism and visitors to an area.”

In February, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated the costs related to Trump’s visits have reached about $1.4 million.

Abrams’ idea marked the second suggestion to emerge in about a week to fill the hole Trump’s visit will make in the budget. Commissioner Dave Kerner has suggested assessing the owner of Mar-a-Lago a tax tied to special benefits provided by the county.

Alex Acosta has Senate confirmation hearing — The Florida International University Law School Dean and President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor, answered questions on Wednesday from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Acosta “frustrated Democrats” on the committee, but received “strong support” from committee Republicans.

“I have no doubt you’ll be confirmed,” said Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the Committee Chairman. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Latino in Trump’s Cabinet.

Acosta related his experiences as the son of Cuban immigrants, and pledged to push for increased opportunities and enforce workplace safety rules.

“Helping Americans find good jobs, safe jobs, should not be a partisan issue,” he said.

Signing NASA bill, Trump calls sending Congress to space ‘great idea’ – At a signing ceremony for $19.5 billion in NASA spending, as well as adding Mars exploration to the agency’s mission, The Associated Press reports that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz offered a helpful suggestion.

“You could send Congress to space,” Cruz said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “What a great idea that could be,” Trump shot back.

Cruz and Sen. Nelson – who has actually been to space – co-sponsored legislation funding the space agency, the first in seven years.

Days until the 2018 election: 593.

CVA Florida launches second wave of direct mail targeting Nelson over Gorsuch – As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch this week, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) is dropping a second round of direct mail in Florida, asking citizens to urge Sen. Nelson to confirm Gorsuch without delay. So far, Senator Nelson has failed to support Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination – despite having supported Gorsuch’s nomination to the Tenth Circuit Court in 2006. Here is a shot of the mailer:

Rubio spends weekend on official business in Middle East — The Miami Republican spent several days in Middle East, visiting Lebanon, Jordan and Israel as part of an official visit conducting oversight of United States programs abroad.

Rubio, a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, posted updates on his official Facebook page.

During his visit to Lebanon, Rubio met with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and government officials to discuss regional security. He said he stressed the importance of cracking down on Hezbollah, and discussed ways to addressed Hezbollah’s “threat to regional stability, and the necessity of helping to build the capability of Lebanese Armed Forces to confront terrorist threats.” He also visited the Beirut Memorial, a tribute to the 241 U.S. service personnel who lost their lives in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.

Sen. Rubio met with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri during his trip to Lebanon.

Rubio then visited Jordan, marking his second official visit as a senator. While there, he assessed the impact the U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act was having and tried to see what more can be done to advance the United States’ interests in the region. He also met with Americans service in Jordan, “thanking them for the work they do to advance U.S. interests, our strategic relationship, and security in the region.”

Rubio concluded his official tour of the Middle East on Sunday with a visit to Israel. It was his second trip to the country as a senator, and his third overall.

“From the moment one sets foot in Israel, the evidence of freedom, progress and tolerance are evident everywhere, as Israel continues to be an oasis of democracy and free enterprise in a tumultuous region plagued with difficult security, foreign policy and economic challenges,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Rubio visited the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, before later visiting the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The country, he said, “remains a shining example of what free people can accomplish anywhere in the world, and the impact that unwavering American support and smartly targeted U.S. international assistance can have in advancing our interests and values abroad.”

More than 90 percent of Florida ACA enrollees get subsidy — More than nine out of 10 of the 1.76 million Floridians who signed up for a plan from healthcare.gov this year qualify for a tax credit, reports Christine Sexton of POLITICO.

There are enrollees in each of Florida’s 67 counties. Miami-Dade, the largest by population, had 387,848. Liberty County had the least: 214.

The average Florida enrollee got a $360 subsidy for plans costing an average of $84 a month.

The bulk of Florida enrollees earns between $12,060 and $18,089 a year, putting them between 100 and 149 percent of the federal poverty line. The next bracket, 150 to 200 percent of the poverty level, made up a quarter of enrollees.

Those making between one and four times the poverty level are eligible for tax credits through the ACA. The majority — 85 percent — of Florida enrollees chose the silver plan from the platinum, gold, silver, bronze and catastrophic plan levels.

DSCC trashes GOP health care plan in TV ad — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a television ad Wednesday blasting the American Health Care Act as a “wealthcare” bill that will raise health care costs for older Floridians.

The nearly wordless ad portrays a couple selling their property before a final shot of them next to a child in a hospital bed with the line “What will the Republican health care bill cost you” across the screen.

The ad is the DSCC’s first of the 2018 cycle.

Alongside the ad, DSCC announced it had launched FightWealthCare.com, a website where voters can learn and share information on the AHCA, including Florida-specific information on how the bill will increase health care costs for Florida families.

The website says a 60-year-old Floridian would pay another $3,420 a year if the bill passes, while a 45-year-old Floridian would pay another $1,082 a year.

“The Wealthcare Plan would do three things: put big insurance companies ahead of Americans’ healthcare, cause seniors and working people to pay more for less care, and make it tougher for middle class families to do something as basic as seeing their doctor,” said DSCC Chairman and U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen in the press release.

Paulson’s Principles via Dr. Darryl Paulson

Republicans attempting to “repeal and Replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with their more market-friendly plan. They have been greeted at town halls by raucous and rude constituents who have urged Congress to “improve, not replace” the ACA.

The hostile audiences are reminiscent of what Democrats faced seven years ago after the ACA was adopted. The anger of the Tea Party activists led to the Republican takeover of both houses of congress.

Republicans point out their plan will cut the federal deficit by $337 billion over the next 10 years. Democrats counter that the plan would substantially reduce the numbers of Americans with health coverage.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 24 million Americans would lose their health care by 2026, wiping out all the gains under the ACA. The ranks of the uninsured would increase to 19 percent from the current 10 percent.

The CBO calculates that premiums for young individuals would decrease by 20-25 percent, while premiums for seniors would increase by a similar amount. The ACA covers 1.7 million Floridians, more than any other state; 454,000 Floridians would find a jump in premiums.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represents Miami, opposes the Republican plan because too many of her constituents would be adversely affected. Another Republican, Ron DeSantis also opposes the Republican plan. He contends that it does not go far enough in overturning the ACA.

The most recent town hall was held in Sarasota, home of Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan. All 1,700 seats in Van Wezel Performing Arts Center were filled, and another 800 listened outside via loudspeakers. Over 5,000 RSVP’d to attend.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis faced angry constituents, mostly Democrats, in his Pasco County town hall. Bev Ledbetter, a member of the Pasco County Democratic Executive Committee, warned Bilirakis to listen to his constituents and “vote according to the directions that we have expressed.”

Does following the will of constituents mean following the views expressed at the town halls, dominated by Democrats, or following the views of the electorate who voted for Bilirakis and Trump in November?

“Democracy” and “representation” mean different things to different groups.

Delegation asks DOD to put aircraft carrier in Mayport — The Florida delegation does not agree on much, but if it comes to bringing an aircraft carrier to home port in Florida, they are a choir totally in sync. Sens. Bill Nelson and Rubio wrote, and all 27 Members of Congress signed, a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and interim Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to carry out improvements to the Mayport Naval Station with the ultimate goal of bringing a carrier to the region.

Florida’s request is not seeking a policy change. In fact, they are asking for the Defense Department to do what it said it would do seven years ago. DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published in 2010, said “to mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster, the U.S. Navy will homeport and East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida.”

The letter implored the Navy to “no longer defer resource allocations needed for Mayport to continue its service to the carrier fleet.”

The Jacksonville region has been without a carrier since the USS John F. Kennedy was decommissioned in 2007.

Gaetz announces support for revised AHCA – Explaining his support for the amended bill, Gaetz said “Even though the original was a huge improvement over Obamacare, we needed to make a few key changes to it, so it would be even better for the American people. Obamacare was essentially an expansion of the Medicaid program, so allowing Medicaid to expand for several more years didn’t make sense,” Gaetz said. “Commonsense, conservative solutions — stopping the runaway expansion of Medicaid, and allowing states to implement work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults — help keep costs down for the American people. The 2016 elections showed that people wanted real, substantial reform, and we heard that message loud and clear. With the new changes, the bill is even better for the American people, and doing right by the people is my highest priority.”

Rutherford DHS spending reform bill passes House – When Rep. John Rutherford campaigned for his Jacksonville-based seat, the former Jacksonville sheriff’s own unique value add was his understanding of security issues – including handling the sheriff’s office budget for a dozen years.

In that capacity, he learned about the danger of cost overruns – and he brought that knowledge to bear with a bill that passed the Congress without objection last week.

HR 1294, the Reducing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acquisition Cost Growth Act, seeks to stop wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars by agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Congressman Rutherford said the bill’s passage is “great news for preventing wasteful spending at the Department of Homeland Security. Department of Homeland Security’s acquisition programs represent hundreds of billions of dollars in spending, but they repeatedly face cost overruns and schedule delays.”

Lawson talks roundball with Roll Call – Rep. Al Lawson has a unique value add among Congressmen. He’s the first one since Sen. Bill Bradley to play professional basketball, and so it was that Roll Call took advantage of the March Madness hook to talk hoops with the North Florida Democrat this week.

A highlight: the subtle jab at Wilt the Stilt.

“I went to the Indiana Pacers in the [American Basketball Association] and when I got hurt, I got released. I went to the San Diego Conquistadors, at that time, in the ABA. Unfortunately, I was cut by [former San Diego coach] Wilt Chamberlain who only came to practice one day a week,” Lawson said.

From there, another team and another issue emerged.

“I signed a contract with Atlanta and trained for about a year with Atlanta and we ended up in a contract dispute. I filed a lawsuit for a million dollars. It went about three years before the lawsuit was settled and we won the lawsuit and Atlanta offered me a chance to go back, but at the time, I had started coaching basketball at Florida State as an assistant coach.”

Lawson punted on picking a national champion this year – since his original pick, Florida State, was bounced from the tourney last weekend.

However, he did give his favorite song: the soul classic “La-La Means I Love You,” by the inimitable Delfonics.

Murphy, Soto senior staffers take overseas trip to Israel — At least two chiefs of staff from the Florida delegation have taken their first overseas trip to Israel. Brad Howard, chief of staff to Stephanie Murphy and Christine Biron, chief of staff to Darren Soto, traveled to Israel.

The travel sponsor was the American Israel Education Foundation, who funds the trips to “help educate political leaders and influentials about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through first hand experience in Israel” according the group’s mission statement.

The group spent $636,000 on such travel in 2016. Soto and Murphy did not travel with their staffers and both offices reported the trips.

Gus Bilirakis questions officials on opioid crisis – During a Tuesday congressional hearing, CD 12 Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis questioned officials about the growing threat of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is orders of magnitude more potent than morphine or heroin.

“Opioid abuse in Florida and across the nation has taken a toll on our families and our communities. While most people know about the risk of drugs like OxyContin and heroin, as we discussed at today’s hearing, fentanyl is a lesser known, but extremely potent danger. I will continue to work in Congress to see that local communities and law enforcement have the tools they need to tackle this crisis head on so we can prevent addiction and save lives,” Bilirakis said in a statement.

According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, fentanyl-related deaths have doubled since 2015, and Tampa Bay-area counties have seen a similar spike.

Bilirakis has supported measures to combat the opioid epidemic, including supporting the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the Jason Simcackoski PROMISE Act, which ensures safer opioid prescribing practices for veterans.

Crist files first bill in Congress; seeks tax cuts for seniors — The St. Petersburg Democrat this week filed his first piece of legislation with the bill targeted toward “protecting seniors’ earned benefits and strengthening Social Security.” The 11-page Save Social Security Act would provide tax relief to “nearly 80 percent” of seniors while “increasing the solvency” of the 72-year-old Social Security program.

“I came to Congress to fight for the over 170,000 Pinellas seniors I am honored to represent,” Crist said in a news release. “This legislation is fully paid for many times over.”

One of the key components of Crist’s proposal would “scrap the cap,” of income subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, those earning more than $127,200 are not taxed for amounts above that figure. Crist claims lifting the cap would bring in more revenue than the tax cut would return to seniors.

Happening Friday:

Castor worried Trump budget will hurt USF, Moffit – When asked what might be the worst part of Trump’s proposed federal budget, Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget).

Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat told FloridaPolitics.com’s Mitch Perry. “For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future.”

Florida seeks to relocate military planes to MacDill AFB — A bipartisan group from the Florida delegation is asking the Air Force to relocate a dozen KC-135 air tankers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. In a letter led by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney, the group is asking Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow to shift the aging tanker fleet from McConnell Air Force Base in Nebraska to MacDill in.

“MacDill Air Force Base is a natural and strategic location for an expanded Air Mobility mission because it serves critical Air Force missions along the eastern seaboard with a vital orientation toward the Central Command area of operation (“AOC”) in the Middle East, and toward the Western Hemisphere,” the letter said.

 McConnell is set to receive newer KC-46 tankers later this year, setting the stage for phasing out the KC-135.

Also signing the letter were both U.S. Senators from Florida along with Congressional Republicans Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross and Gus Bilirakis, as well as Democrat Charlie Crist.

ABC applauds Ross for introduction of construction bill —The national construction trade association is congratulating Ross for his decision to sponsor a proposal (HR 1552) that ensures controversial project labor agreements can’t be mandated on taxpayer-funded projects.

“The Fair and Open Competition Act will create more construction jobs and help taxpayers get the best possible construction project at the best possible price by increasing competition, reducing waste, and eliminating favoritism in the procurement process,” said Ben Brubeck, the vice president of labor, regulatory and state affairs in a statement. “This important bill will create a level playing field where more qualified contractors will compete for public construction contracts because the government cannot encourage or prohibit project labor agreements.”

Ross introduced the Fair and Open Competition Act on March 15. The bill, which has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is the House companion of a bill (S. 622) introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake on March 14.

U.S. Chamber presents award to Buchanan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented the Sarasota Republican with a “Spirit of Enterprise Award” for his legislative record of creating jobs and growing the economy, the CD 16 Republican announced Tuesday.

“The Spirit of Enterprise Award recognizes those members of Congress who have done what’s right for our friends, family, and neighbors running businesses across the country,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Buchanan accepts the Spirit of Enterprise Award from Suzanne Clark, senior executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The group said Buchanan earned a 92 rating last year based on his votes “to grow jobs, rein in abusive regulations and support American manufacturing.”

“As a businessman myself, I know how critical our local businesses and employers are to sustaining a successful and thriving economy,” Buchanan said. “When small businesses succeed, the American people succeed. I look forward to championing pro-growth legislation this year.”

T. Rooney, Ros-Lehtinen take different approaches during Intel Committee hearings — The Okeechobee Republican used his 15 minutes to focus questioning on national security during Monday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Rooney’s concern about leaks and re-authorizing an important intelligence tool (called Section 702) were ultimately dwarfed by revelation of an ongoing FBI investigation on the “Russia connection.”

While Rooney did not defend former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, he had both FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers state that leaks releasing Flynn’s name as part of foreign surveillance was both dangerous and a crime.

Rooney fumed at whomever in the intelligence community leaked classified documents surrounding Flynn saying “we’re all going to be hurt by that.“

Ros-Lehtinen’s questioning centered on the possible Russian involvement with the 2016 elections. The Miami Republican, while noting bipartisan agreement on the damage leaks can do, said “there’s also bipartisan agreement on getting to the bottom of the Russian meddling in our election, which must remain the focus of this investigation and yours.”

F. Rooney gives California congressman bird’s eye view of Everglades — The Naples Republican took Rep. Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, on a tour of the Everglades and several appropriations projects over the weekend.

On Saturday, Rooney took Calvert, a California Republican, on a helicopter tour of several Everglades projects, including the C-43 reservoir near LaBelle, culvert replacements, and de-channelization projects near the Kissimmee River. The two men also flew over conservation areas south of Lake Okeechobee.

Rep. Rooney and Rep. Calvert took a helicopter tour of CERP projects on Saturday.

The freshman congressman made the environment and water quality a priority during his campaign, and has been advocating for the Everglades since taking office. He was among those who called on President Donald Trump to support Everglades Restoration projects earlier this year, and has been meeting with members of Congress about funding for future projects.

Calvert told the Naples Daily News on Saturday he was “willing to work with Congressman Rooney to find out how effective we can be and to find out the best way we can get these projects done.”

Rooney, who served former ambassador to the Holy See and was a top Republican donor prior to running for Congress, said bringing Calvert down to South Florida was a good first step in generating interest among his colleagues in Everglades restoration.

“I think the trip was successful,” said Rooney. “It’s hard to comprehend. If you haven’t seen (the Everglades), it’s like a wet wheat field.”

Hastings hosts event to bring attention to consumption of dogs and cats — On Tuesday, the veteran Palm Beach Democrat shared a dais with former 90120 actress Shannen Doherty and other panelists to talk about an event near and dear his heart. The topic was the consumption of cats and dogs by humans.

The event highlighted the legislation Hastings and Republican Vern Buchanan are co-sponsoring to eliminate the practice.  “It is long overdue for Congress to unify animal cruelty laws across our country to explicitly ban the killing and consumption of these animals.”

Doherty is well known in the entertainment industry as a strong advocate for animal rights and protections. Buchanan dropped by the Tuesday event to support Hastings’ efforts saying the issue “is one of the things we agree on.”

Hastings has urged President Trump to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the latter visits Trump in south Florida next month. China is well known as a large consumer of dog meat and actually has a “Dog Meat Festival” in one area of the country.

Deutch blasts Trump budget in op-ed – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch penned an op-ed for The Hill Monday calling out President Donald Trump’s budget for betraying “fundamental American values that have propelled our leadership in the world and enhanced our safety within our borders.”

Deutch, who represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, said Trumps proposed slashing of the international affairs budget “would compromise American safety and security and handicap us economically.”

“It’s important to remember that we are not talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, or even 5 percent of the federal budget,” he writes. “The international affairs budget makes up just one percent of the government budget. The dollars we spend in these capacities are not handouts or blank checks to any country that asks; they are essential complements to a robust defense strategy.”

The congressman follows up by invoking the sentiment of 121 retired American generals who argued that “many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”

Deutch closed out his piece by calling on members of both parties to come together to support international affairs funding.

Diaz-Balart says he didn’t trade AHCA vote for Cuba policy reversal — South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said a New York Times report claiming he agreed to vote for the American Health Care Act in exchange for President Donald Trump’s promise to reverse policies toward Cuba is false.

“Once again, the New York Times is categorically and factually incorrect in their reporting,” he told POLITICO Florida in an email. “If they had done their basic journalistic duty and placed a simple, 30 second call to my office, they would have known their facts were wrong.”

The Times said a White House official told them Diaz-Balart wanted to ensure Trump would keep his campaign promise to reverse former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy toward Cuba.

Earlier this year, the congressman slammed the Obama administration for ending the wet-foot/dry-foot policy for Cubans looking to come to the United States.

Diaz-Balart voted for the AHCA when it came through the House Budget Committee, though he said that doesn’t mean he will vote for it in the when it comes to the House floor Thursday.

Curbelo invites EPA Administrator to Florida to see effects of climate change — The second term Republican has admonished EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for recent comments on the effects of carbon dioxide on climate change. Curbelo reacted to Pruitt’s recent comments minimizing CO2’s role and thinks the administrator should see for himself.

In a recent letter, Curbelo told Pruitt “your statements contradict the conclusions not only of our best scientists, but of your own agency.” He wrote the administrator should “reevaluate your comments.”

This week he invited Pruitt to come to south Florida to “see the effects of sea level rise, first hand.”

Curbelo is the co-chair of the House’s Climate Solutions Caucus. On Tuesday, he was named to a list of 50 Emerging Green Leaders.

Democrats targeting Ros-Lehtinen ahead of 2018 – Democrats may be eyeing the Miami Republican’s seat for a potential flip in 2018, after the longtime lawmaker came out against the Republican bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act.

“After voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act at least sixty times without a replacement plan – including as recently as January – it’s clear that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen makes her decisions in Washington D.C. based on political calculation and self-preservation, not what is best for the people of South Florida,” said Javier Gamboa, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The statement was in response to Ros-Lehtinen’s announcement she wouldn’t back the Republican health care bill last week.

The South Florida lawmaker is also under attack from the left-leaning American Bridge PAC, which has put out a digital ad urging the congresswoman’s constituents to demand she back an investigation into Russian campaign interference.

Ros-Lehtinen pushed back against that ad, saying the Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, has been investigating Russian activities since before the Trump administration took office.

Trump lost Ros-Lehtinen’s district 39-59 in November, while the congresswoman found herself in a more competitive race than she is used to. She won with 54.9 percent while Democrat Scott Fuhrman claimed 45.1 percent. In 2014, she won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Club for Growth running digital ad in Ros-Lehtinen’s district — Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is one of 10 lawmakers being targeted by conservative group Club for Growth in a new digital ad series against the American Health Care Act.

 The “Reject RyanCare” ads say the Republican health care plan is “doubling down on disaster” and urges lawmakers to vote against the bill, which is expected to be on the House floor Thursday.

“Republicans promised a bill that would stop Obamacare’s taxes and mandates, and replace them with free-market reforms that will increase health insurance competition and drive down costs,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “RyanCare fails on those counts, and that’s why the Club is letting millions of constituents know that their Representative should reject RyanCare.”

Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald last week that she was against the AHCA because “too many of my constituents will lose insurance, and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.”

Other GOP lawmakers targeted by the group include New Jersey’s Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur, New York’s Peter King and John Katko, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick and Charlie Dent, Virginia’s Rob Wittman, Nebraska’s Don Bacon and California’s Darrell Issa.

Republican group launching digital ads in two Florida congressional districts – Republican U.S. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo have some positive digital ads coming their way, courtesy of right-leaning group American Action Network.

The South Florida representatives are two of 29 incumbents targeted by American Action Network’s $10 million ad buy, which is in support of the GOP health care bill.

“Republicans are keeping their promise with a new plan for better health care, more choices and lower costs,” the ad narrator states. “No more big government penalties or job-killing mandates. New tax credits to make insurance cheaper and real protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

Curbelo’s version of the ad then urges viewers to call his office to thank him for supporting the American Health Care Act.

Ros-Lehtinen’s version of the ad has not yet been uploaded by the American Action Network, though last week she came out against the Republican health care bill, saying it would leave too many in her district uninsured.

Marty Fiorentino, the president of The Fiorentino Group in Jacksonville, spent the past few weeks shuttling back-and-forth to Washington, D.C. to help Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a longtime friend, get things up and running at the federal agency. A transportation expert in his own regard, we caught up with Fiorentino to talk about his relationship with Chao and transportation issues on the horizon.

FP: Tell me a little bit about your history with Secretary Chao.

MF: During the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, I served as counselor to the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, who was Elaine Chao. After moving back to Florida, we remained friends over the years. She later became head of the Peace Corps, President of the United Way and Secretary of Labor for 8 years under President George W. Bush. She was named Secretary of Transportation by President Trump. She asked me to come up to Washington to assist her as things got up and running at the Department of Transportation and I was honored to help.

FP: From an outsider’s perspective, the Cabinet confirmation process seemed to be tumultuous. As someone on the inside, what was it like working with Secretary Chao through the transition?

MF: Actually, Secretary Chao’s confirmation process was relatively uneventful. She is well known by the Senate and has had a distinguished career of public service. In fact, she was one of the first cabinet members confirmed by the Senate.

FP: How do you think the Secretary will work to implement the president’s campaign promise for massive infrastructure spending?

MF: The President has made infrastructure funding one of his highest priorities. An interagency group has been established at the White House led by the National Economic Council to develop a national infrastructure plan. Transportation issues cut across numerous departments and involve everything from pipelines and broadband to the energy grid, roads, bridges, ports, airports, permitting and public-private partnerships and finance. It involves Treasury, Energy, EPA, DOD, OMB, Interior, Commerce and, of course, USDOT. The Secretary has a working group that meets internally and weekly with the White House to develop this plan and DOT will have a big part in implementing it.

FP: As a Floridian, what infrastructure projects do you think should be a top priority for Secretary Chao and President Trump?

MF: Florida of course! Actually, the time it takes to permit transportation projects is a terrible economic burden and job killer. If we can shorten that process it will unlock a lot of economic prosperity and expedite long needed transportation projects that are under design and development. Governor Scott has been to Washington and Secretary Chao and I had lunch with him. He was a strong advocate for Florida’s highway, rail, port and airport projects. Personally, I think the Governor has been spot on with his early support of Florida’s seaports and willingness to put the state’s money behind them.

Former Trump campaign manager’s lobbying firm signs Florida clientCorey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s first campaign manager during the 2016 cycle, has picked up a few more clients for his lobbying firm Avenue Strategies.

Among the new clients is Big Cat Rescue, a Tampa-based sanctuary that rescues abused an abandoned big cats.

The sanctuary has more than “80+ lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.”

The group also advocates for ending the abuse of big cats in captivity and preventing extinction of big cats in the wild.

Avenue Strategies picked up the new client through its recent firm addition and fellow Trump campaign veteran Jason Osbourne, who also brought along Community Choice Financial Inc. and Red Horse Corporation.

Tampa City Council members went to Washington last week. It wasn’t a great time — Last week, three members of the Tampa City Council attended the annual Congressional City Conference hosted by the National League of Cities in Washington, the first to be held in the Trump administration.

It was not a rollicking time.

“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” says Council Chair Mike Suarez. 

The sessions took place as President Trump was unveiling his “hard-power” budget, which includes sizable cuts in domestic spending, featuring reductions that would target transportation funding, community development, and public housing.

“The President’s budget and direction is an assault on Community Block Grants program which will severely hamper the City’s ability to provide help to our citizens,” says Suarez, who adds that the proposed budget would also seek a half-billion reduction in TIGER grants, the economic recovery infrastructure program launched by President Obama that has provided more than $5 billion for more than 400 road, rail, port, and transit projects in the U.S., including Tampa’s signature Riverwalk.

Like Suarez, Councilman Harry Cohen has attended previous League of Cities events in D.C. He says this was one was demonstrably different than in the previous administration.

“During the Obama years, the administration spent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials across the country,” he says. “We heard from Vice President Joe Biden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker was Attorney General  Jeff Sessions – who ultimately canceled. Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”

Councilwoman Yolie Capin was attending her first League of Cities event. She says it might be her last.

“It was expensive and what I got out if it is that it was all pretty bad news,” she says.

Capin says the fact that Sessions was the only cabinet official scheduled to appear and ultimately cancelled reflected what Trump thinks of city governments.

“It let me know that we don’t mean a whole lot to this administration,” she said. “We’re pretty much on our own. That’s what I got from it.”

Suarez sat on a panel that discussed the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.

The Council Chair says he still holds out on the president’s touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But with health care on the agenda and tax reform coming up later this year, many analysts say that it’s doubtful to happen this year.

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor told SPB earlier this week.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said the White House will uphold Trump’s pledge for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending through an unspecified “infrastructure package” to be released later this year.

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Sunburn for 3.23.17 – Pepi’s sweet spot; Cruz’ talking points; whiskey & Wheaties coming together; Semblers spotted; Congrats Matt Hunter!

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

THERE ARE NO SWEET SPOTS THIS SESSION

It’s that time: Heading toward the end of the Legislative Session’s third week, the Capitol cognoscenti like to handicap which bills are going to be part of the budget calculus.

No doubt one will be this year’s gambling legislation, ready for the floor in the Senate (SB 8) and heading to the Commerce Committee in the House (HB 7037). A hearing there hasn’t been scheduled.

Indeed, the issue of gambling is getting to be like abortion—no middle ground. The chambers are again at odds, the House looking to hold the line on games of chance, and the Senate in favor of expanding slots and card games.

Stuck in the middle is the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A new blackjack agreement depends on some form of legislation passing, with the state expecting $3 billion in revenue share over seven years.

Otherwise, the Tribe can offer cards till 2030 without having to pay the state a dime. (They are still paying the state a cut of the blackjack take each month, however, as a “sign of good faith.”)

The Tribe sent a letter to the Senate, objecting to its bill and saying it “would require higher payments … (and) would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida.”

And an advisory letter from the federal government’s top Indian gambling regulator said the feds would be “hard-pressed” to approve the proposed new blackjack agreement as is.

Now House Commerce Committee chair Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican, is the man in the hot seat. The House’s point man on gambling said he’s been in “constant” but informal communications with the Tribe.

“They told me they were going to write a letter; I wasn’t blindsided by that,” he said in an interview after Wednesday’s floor session. “They do think our bill is a lot closer to where they’d like to end up. But it’s not perfect (for them). We don’t give them roulette or craps.”

With a plethora of competing interests pulling on both chambers, including the Tribe and the state’s pari-mutuels, Diaz admits “there is no sweet spot.”

Diaz also noted that under President Trump, there’s new leadership at the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates Indian gambling. Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL, now is secretary.

“So there’s a new interpreter” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, he said. “Now, I don’t know what the new (leadership) at Interior will accept or not accept, but I know what can and cannot pass the House, and that’s what I’m working on.”

But Diaz, keeping hope alive for a 2017 deal, says there’s “varying degrees of recalcitrance on gaming” in the Legislature. “There’s a lot of people in the middle. And they’ll vote based on what their gut tells them.”

But don’t expect a reckoning until the final week, he said.

“Gaming is one of those bills that’s left for the end,” Diaz said. “Even in a best case scenario, if there’s some reasonable middle ground, if it exists, and the Seminoles would sign off on it, it’s not going to pass next week. It’s too important to too many people, and it has too many repercussions for the budget. There’s a lot of money at stake.”

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 10; NFL Draft – 35; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 42; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 42; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 163; Election Day 2017 – 228; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 266.

RICK SCOTT CALLS OUT RICHARD CORCORAN, PINELLAS LAWMAKERS via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Scott‘s tour defending his key agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, landed him at Allen Sports Center in Seminole, where 75 business officials greeted him. “It’s shocking to me that the House of Representatives and many of your local House members voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida and limit Visit Florida,” Scott said. “I mean, this is about people’s livelihood and their jobs.” … he read from a sheet of paper, where the names of the House members who voted against his agencies were written in black marker. The names that Scott mentioned: House Speaker Corcoran, and local Reps. Chris LatvalaChris SprowlsLarry Ahern … Jamie Grant … Amber Mariano and Danny Burgess.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a roundtable discussion with business, economic development and tourism leaders about Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida at 9 a.m. at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, 1842 Patterson Ave in DeLand. Scott will then highlight his K-12 education budget during a press conference at 2 p.m. at Coral Way K-8 Center, 1950 13th Ave in Miami.

— “Tourism advocates raise specter of Rick Scott’s veto in Visit Florida fight” via Florida Politics

CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE BETWEEN SCOTT AND CORCORAN, GROUP FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – A 187-page bill passed by the Florida House earlier this month that kills two dozen tax credits includes a clause that wipes out the Florida Defense Alliance, a mostly volunteer advocacy group created in the 1990s to work with local communities to protect the state’s 20 remaining military installations, including MacDill Air Force Base. … The fact that the Alliance could be in jeopardy is surprising to Tim Ford, CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, a nonprofit that helps communities protect their bases. … Florida House spokesman Fred Piccolo said the Florida Defense Alliance is redundant. He said the House is leaving alone the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which gets $2 million a year from the state to help the state respond to needs of military installations. (Click on the link below to watch a video of Scott making a defense of the Defense Alliance.)

DEMOCRATIC TALKING POINTS: SIDING WITH CORCORAN TO ABOLISH ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IS GOOD POLITICS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – House Democrats are circulating a new set of talking points making the case that it’s good politics to side with Corcoran in his feud with Gov. Scott over economic development … The new talking points make the explicit case that the vote will have implications for 2018 when Scott is expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat’s only statewide elected official. “A vote against HB 7005 is a vote for the governor’s agenda and hurts Senator Bill Nelson,” read the talking points. Minority Leader Janet Cruz… said that the talking points were created so members knew her position on the bill, not to pressure them to vote a specific way. “Decisions in the Democratic Caucus are not made from the top-down,” said Anders Croy, the communications director for the House Democratic Office, in a statement. “However, many members had questions about the conversation and underlying issues surrounding the vote on HB 7005 that they brought to Leader Cruz individually.

BUSINESS GROUPS JOIN FORCES TO OPPOSE SENATE TAX PROPOSAL via Florida Politics – Eight of the state’s leading business organizations — including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida United Business Association — sent a letter to Sen. Anitere Flores on Wednesday urging here to “support lowering the sales tax currently charged on all business leases without removing the insurance premium tax credit as proposed.” … (E)liminating the insurance premium tax credit as a way to reduce the business rent tax does not solve the problem. In fact, it will likely make the problem worse as insurance companies increase insurance premiums on all Florida insurance holders, including homeowners and business owners,” the letter reads. “In Senate Bill 378 you are effectively swapping a tax cut for a tax increase that will end up costing Floridians more in the end.”

SENATE BEGINS DISCUSSION OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA IMPLEMENTING LEGISLATION via Florida Politics — Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida. Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds. Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon. “We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

SPOTTED: Ambassador Mel and Betty Sembler, along with lobbyist Alan Suskey, visiting with several lawmakers on Wednesday on behalf of Drug Free America.

BY TWO VOTES, HOUSE ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ BILL CLEARED FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – In another squeaker, the House version of a bill to allow retailers to sell liquor in their main stores cleared its last committee by just two votes. The House Commerce Committee on Wednesday OK’d the legislation (HB 81) on a 15-13 vote. It’s now ready to be considered by the full House … “Any time you have an issue that revolves around alcohol, you’re bound to expect it to be somewhat controversial for some of the members,” bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, told reporters after the hearing … Avila amended the bill to make it nearly identical with the Senate version (SB 106), which goes to a final vote in that chamber Thursday.

LAWMAKERS AIM TO CREATE JOBS BY CUTTING OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING RED-TAPE via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – If you want to earn money or start a business in dozens of job categories, Florida requires a state approved license – and they don’t come cheaply. A bill that would rollback red-tape for nearly two-dozen professions passed an important House appropriations subcommittee … The bill was approved with bipartisan support, 12-2. “We’re trying to lower barriers in order to create jobs,” said Rep. Halsey Beshears, the bill’s sponsor. The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, pegs Florida as the fourth most restrictive state in the country with respect to occupational licensing regulations. In a study called License to Work, it identified 45 of 102 low-and-moderate income jobs as having burdensome licensing requirements. “Occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise,” the nonprofit firm says. “Instead, they are imposed simply to protect established businesses from economic competition.”

MOVE TO CURTAIL PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS ADVANCES via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – Rep. Scott Plakon’s HB 11 would almost certainly result in decertification of chapters of groups representing a wide range of workers from university professors to school bus drivers. Plakon said his bill is simple. Two pages long. And that it is about democracy. If fewer than 50 percent of eligible workers refuse to become dues-paying members then the union can no longer represent the workers in collective bargaining. A United Faculty of Florida chapter sent out an alert stating if the bill becomes law it would put academic freedom at risk and UFF would lose the ability “to ensure equity in terms of course work.” Frank Watson, the Florida Education Association lobbyist, pointed out what he saw as a flaw in Plakon’s logic. He noted that in 1980, Ronald Reagan claimed the presidency in a landslide with 60 percent of the vote. That actually translated into only 27 percent of eligible voters, said Watsons, whose union represents public school employees.

— “Bill banning steroids for greyhound headed to House” via Florida Politics

— “House committee sends pair of ethics bills to chamber floor” via Florida Politics

— “Linda Stewart pushing ‘Orlando United’ speciality license plate” via Florida Politics

— “Senate bill to increase Supreme Court reporting requirements clears second committee” via Florida Politics

— “Senate committee approves bills on beaches, plastic bags and Indian River Lagoonvia Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

— “With little debate, Senate advances Greg Steube’s courthouse carry gun bill” via Florida Politics

JOE NEGRON ADDS TO COMMITTEES’ STRENGTH DURING DOROTHY HUKILL’S RECOVERY via Florida Politics – While Sen. Dorothy Hukill recovers from cervical cancer, Senate President Joe Negron has named additional members to committees on which she serves. In a memo dated Tuesday, Negron said Sen. Anitere Flores will help out in the Education Committee, which Hukill leads. “Sen. Hukill will remain the chair of the Committee on Education,” Negron aide Katie Betta said. “Under the Senate rules, the chair designates a senator on the committee to serve in her absence on a week by week basis.” Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala takes a seat on the budget Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will serve on the Health Policy Committee. And Ben Galvano will sit on the Transportation Committee. The appointments take effect immediately, Negron said. “I appreciate your willingness to take on this additional responsibility on behalf of the Florida Senate,” he wrote. “Sen. Hukill is still on all of these committees,” Betta said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Sen. Perry Thurston, the chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, will discuss State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision regarding the death penalty and Gov. Rick Scott’s interference with her prosecutorial independence during a press conference at 8:30 a.m. on the plaza level of the Florida Capitol.

***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***

FLORIDA AMONG THE BIGGEST POPULATION GAINERS LAST YEAR via Mike Schneider of the Associated Press – Three metro areas in Florida were among the nation’s 10 biggest gainers in population last year, and another three Florida metro areas were in the top 10 for growth rates. Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday show that the Tampa area had the nation’s fifth highest population gain from July 2015 to July 2016, adding more than 58,000 residents.

South Florida, stretching from West Palm Beach to Miami, had the nation’s seventh highest gain, adding about 48,000 residents. The Orlando area added almost 47,000 residents, placing it at No. 8. The Villages retirement community northwest of Orlando had the nation’s highest growth rate last year at 4.3 percent.

Fort Myers had the fifth highest at 3.1 percent. Punta Gorda’s 3 percent rate placed it at No. 8.

STATE INVESTIGATING WHETHER GRAD RATES WERE MANIPULATED via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – Commissioner Pam Stewart said that late last year the state began taking a closer look at students in 10 counties who were switching to alternative schools in their senior year but now the probe has been expanded statewide. The investigation will look at all students who were in the 12th grade but somehow weren’t included in data used to determine graduation rates. The disclosure of the investigation is unusual, especially since Florida leaders, including Gov. Scott, have continually touted the state’s rising graduation rates over the past few years. The state’s graduation rate was reported at 80.7 percent for the school year that ended in the summer of 2016. The rate was just over 59 percent in 2004 while Jeb Bush was governor and the state was pushing ahead with sweeping changes that ranked schools based on student performance.

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION SCHEDULES FOUR STOPS IN STATEWIDE TOUR – Chairman Carlos Beruff announced the committee would hit the road beginning next week for the first four stops in the commission’s “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour. “I am proud to announce our ‘Floridians Speak, We Listen’ tour, where we will get input from Florida families on the issues that matter to them,” said Beruff in a statement. “This historic process gives Florida voters an opportunity to change the framework of our government and I encourage all interested Floridians to attend a public hearing and make their voices heard.” The commission will hold its first public hearing at 5 p.m.Wednesday at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center at the University of Central Florida, 12676 Gemini Blvd. N in Orlando. Members will travel to the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, 10975 SW 17th St in Miami for a public hearing at 5 p.m. on April 6. They’ll stay in South Florida, attending a public hearing at 9 a.m. on April 7 at the FAU Stadium Recruiting Room at Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton. A public hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at the University of West Florida, 82 Service Road in Pensacola on April 12.

CARLOS BERUFF ALREADY PLAYING CALENDAR GAMES WITH CRC via Peter Schorsch

Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that will undertake rewrites of the state’s governing document, says the first hearings for public input will be next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County.

Did you catch it?

Let me give you a hint: Five of the commission’s members, including the House Speaker Pro Tempore, are current members of the Legislature. Many others are intricately involved in The Process.

And, well, we’re in the middle of the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t end until May 5th.

So, does Beruff – the Manatee homebuilder who lost a U.S. Senate bid to Marco Rubio last year – expect the lawmaker members not to attend those early CRC hearings?

Or conversely, does he expect them to miss important meetings at the Capitol during session?

Here’s the more realistic answer: He hasn’t even considered any of that before he rushed to start setting up hearings.

Indeed, why the rush? Why not take the time to give ample notice to members of the public in those areas who might want to attend the hearings?

As one person told me, “Beruff is trying to run a railroad when he’s never even been a passenger on a public policy train.”

AT CHAMBER GATHERING, A VIGOROUS DEFENSE OF ECONOMIC INCENTIVES via Florida Politics – Florida is, too, open for business, representatives of the state’s economic development arm and business leaders insisted during a panel discussion organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. “We’re a high performing business that’s open for business. We’ve just temporarily shut down the marketing and sales department. What we’re trying to do is make sure that’s not a permant situation,” said Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO. … The mere debate has already served notice that Florida is withdrawing the welcome mat. Mike Grissom, interim director of Enterprise Florida, said the office recently lost a key prospect over fear of “instability in government.”

OP-ED – VISIT FLORIDA PUTS PANDHANDLE GEMS ON MAP via Adam Putnam for the Pensacola News-Journal – Agriculture and tourism have grown up together in our state. I guess you could say Ponce de Leon might’ve even been the first tourist when he set about looking for the Fountain of Youth. Tupelo honey, roadside stands, orange blossoms and world-class fishing continue to enchant visitors to Florida. So it shocks me that a move is afoot to end support of tourism promotion and the business it generates for all our local businesses. Last year, more than 112 million visitors came to Florida and spent $109 billion during their time in the Sunshine State. These dollars are spent at hotels, restaurants and attractions, among other Florida businesses, where more than 1.4 million Floridians are employed. This record was, in part, achieved by the reputation of our white, sandy beaches, family-friendly attractions and warm hospitality. But many of Florida’s destinations would have remained unknown without the advertising and promotions by the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, under the focused leadership of Governor Scott. Visit Florida has helped put the gems of Northwest Florida on the radar of curious tourists looking for lesser known places to explore and enjoy while recharging their batteries during their annual vacation. Places like the Perdido River Paddling Trail and Pensacola Beach Boardwalk don’t always come to mind when families are brainstorming where to go. These destinations are highlighted as go-to places by Visit Florida’s promotions, along with many other special, yet lesser known parts of Florida.

CHAMBER LAMENTS THE RISE OF TRIAL BAR’S INFLUENCE WITH LEGISLATURE via Florida Politics – The business community believes trial lawyers hold the upper hand in the Legislature for the first time in years. The business community is not happy about that. “Their bills are on rocket fuel and are moving through the process,” Mark Delegal, a partner at Holland & Knight, said during a panel discussion at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual Capitol Days symposium. … “This prejudgment interest bill symbolically represents the turning of the tide, and the ongoing march of the trial lawyers to decrease the already low, 44th, ranking we have in legal climate in the United States,” Quentin Kendall of CSX Transportation said.

DOCTORS IN THE HOUSE –  The FMA welcomed a diverse group of residents and fellows (physicians in training) from over a dozen different residency training programs to Tallahassee Wednesday. These young physicians talked to legislators about the importance of graduate medical education funding. They also addressed scope of practice issues and educated lawmakers on the extensive hands-on training they receive as opposed to lesser trained health care professionals.

TWEET, TWEET:

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians. PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

DOE ‘STAR’ BRIAN DASSLER MOURNED via Ryan Dailey of the Tallahassee Democrat – The death of 38-year-old Dassler in the early hours of Tuesday morning has many in the state department of education mourning the loss of a public education superstar who had an “unrivaled passion for students.” Dassler, DOE’s deputy chancellor of education, had dedicated his entire life to education, particularly on students’ progress. Tallahassee Police Department spokesman Officer David Northway said Dassler died of natural causes. At Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart spoke at length about her colleague and friend. Dassler was scheduled to be recognized at the meeting for logging 50 hours as a mentor to students in the last half of 2016. He had come to DOE from New Orleans, where he was the founding principal of a charter school and the chief academic officer for Louisiana’s Arts Conservancy.

ERIN ROCK NAMED INTERIM DMS SECRETARY via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott appointed Rock, currently chief of staff for the Department of Management Services (DMS), to serve as head of the department effective March 31 until a replacement is hired. Former Secretary Chad Poppell quit earlier this month “to pursue interests in the private sector,” the department said. “Erin has played an integral role in managing the daily operations of DMS and keeping the cost of government down for taxpayers … I am confident she will continue her great work as Interim Secretary,” Scott said in a statement. Before becoming chief of staff last May, she was Deputy Secretary for Business Operations. Rock has worked in state government since 2003.

MICHELLE SUSKAUER ELECTED PRESIDENT-ELECT DESIGNATE OF THE FLORIDA BAR via Florida Politics – West Palm Beach attorney Suskauer has been chosen as president-elect designate of The Florida Bar, according to a Wednesday press release. Suskauer, 50, is a criminal defense attorney in a two-lawyer office in West Palm Beach. She’s married to Judge Scott Suskauer of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County. She prevailed over Lansing “Lanse” Scriven, of Tampa, receiving 12,993 votes to Scriven’s 10,188 votes in the first contested election for Bar president since 2011. Suskauer will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s annual convention in Orlando on June 23, when current President-elect Michael J. Higer of Miami becomes president. Suskauer will begin her term as Bar president in June 2018.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Melissa AkesonMatthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Children First Specialty Plan

Jason Allison, Foley & Lardner: CA Technologies; Conduent, Inc. and its Affiliates; Palm Beach County Tax Collector

Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: South Florida Regional Transportation Authority; Whitaker Contracting Corporation

Katie Flury, GrayRobinson: Target Corp.

Christopher Hagan: City of Lake Worth; Richard Woodward

Mike Haridopolos: Mutualink, Inc.; REFG

Nick IarossiAshley KalifehRon LaFace, Capital City Consulting: Indivior, Inc.

Dean Izzo, Capital City Consulting: Pure Storage, Inc.

Lila Jaber, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart PA: Promise Healthcare, Inc

Jessica Janasiewicz, Mixon & Associates: Florida Academy of Physician Assistants; Independent Funeral Directors of Florida

Allison Mawhinney, GrayRobinson: Modern Canna Science, LLC

Bob Pritt, Roetzel & Andress: Glades Correction Development Corporation

JONATHAN KILMAN OF FOLEY & LARDNER ON FAILURE, REVENUES, AND HIS ADVICE TO ASPIRING LOBBYISTS via Patrick Slevin of SL7 Consulting — Kilman, the co-chair of Foley & Lardner’s Florida public affairs practice, sat down with Slevin on March 22. The two men talked about everything from attracting talent and growing the practice to what advice Kilman, a Harvard Law grad, would give to aspiring lobbyists. On failures: … “As I’ve learned to embrace my flaws and not be ashamed of them, my friendships and professional relationships have become stronger. I have no regrets because of the wisdom I’ve gained since that acceptance.” … On whether quarterly revenue rankings matter: “As a lobbying practice within a law firm, we generate significant revenue in ways unavailable to a lobbying boutique. It’s a different business model that gives our clients an integrated offering of government relations and legal services, which has been very successful for us. Using lobbying revenue reporting is a short-sighted benchmark that doesn’t make much sense in measuring our firm’s success.” … On advice to aspiring lobbyists: “(T)here is no one single path to success as a lobbyist. The character trait that matters most is grit. Luck can certainly play a role but I don’t know any great lobbyist who has succeeded for long on luck alone.”

GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Italian is the day’s lunch fare at the Governors Club Thursday with tomato basil soup; roasted eggplant salad; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; Caesar salad – hearts of romaine, parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, Caesar dressing – shrimp bucatini Pomodoro; roasted garlic chicken; parmesan garlic risotto; cauliflower & plum tomatoes and eggplant parmesan.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sen. Kelli Stargel. 

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 3.22.17

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

SESSION (2018) IS COMING — The Florida Senate released the dates of the 2018 Legislative Session on Tuesday. The annual 60-day session is scheduled to convene on Jan. 9 and will end on March 9. Gov. Rick Scott in 2016 signed into law a measure that would move the 2018 Legislative Session up to January, following the same timeline as the 2016 Legislative Session. The Florida Constitution requires the Legislature to begin on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March in even number years, but allows the Legislature to set the dates in even number years.

IS THE FORECAST PARTLY SUNNY OR PARTLY CLOUDY?

Are Sunshine State lawmakers hanging a “Gone Fishin’” sign on Florida’s economy?

It may seem silly, but the question of whether Florida is “closed for business” has dominated discussions during the first few weeks of — not to mention the weeks and months leading up to — the 2017 Legislative Session. And you can expect that question to drive the day at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Capitol Days.

The second day of the conference kicks off at 9 a.m. with a panel discussion featuring Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Chamber; Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; and Mike Grissom, the interim president and CEO of Enterprise Florida. The topic: “Is Florida Closed for Business?”

The discussion will come on the heels of a presentation Monday from Jerry Parrish, the Chamber’s chief economist, who forecast the state will create 190,00 jobs in 2017, down from 244,400 jobs in 2016. While job creation peaked in April 2016, Parrish indicated uncertainty in the Legislature could be having an impact.

“The signals they’re sending to Florida businesses is that we’re not going to compete anymore,” he said during a presentation Monday. “Few recruiters and companies are looking at Florida because of the rhetoric right now. If you’re not investing private dollars in this state, you’re not going to create as many jobs.”

The state needs 800,000 net new jobs by 2020 and 2 million new jobs by 2030 to deal with the growing population, according to the Florida Scorecard. Parrish predicted it will become more difficult to create jobs in the coming years, and warned now was “not the time to abandon our proven economic development program.”

Expect experts to weigh in on how issues like insurance, legal and regulatory reform will impact job growth during panels scheduled throughout the day. The tourism industry’s impact on the state’s economy will be the topic of a panel discussion at 2:15 p.m. featuring Ken Lawson, the president and CEO of Visit Florida, and Carol Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

And don’t think about sneaking out for an early happy hour: CFO Jeff Atwater, who is stepping down at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session, is scheduled to give a keynote address around 4 p.m.

— Trial lawyers are on the march’ and Florida Chamber’s ‘Capitol Days’ are more like ‘Dreary Days’ “ via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

FORECAST: FLORIDA JOB CREATION SLOWING DOWN THIS YEAR via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times – Jerry Parrish, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s chief economist, forecasts that Florida will create 190,000 new jobs in 2017, down from the 244,400 jobs created last year. Parrish told a group during the chamber’s Capitol Days event in Tallahassee that job creation in Florida peaked in April 2016. But uncertainty in the Florida Legislature — including the shaky fate of the state’s economic development organization Enterprise Florida — is tipping the scales. “The signals they’re sending to Florida businesses is that we’re not going to compete anymore,” Parrish said during the reveal of the chamber’s 2017 Florida Scorecard, an annual review of business analysis for the state. “Few recruiters and companies are looking at Florida because of the rhetoric right now. If you’re not investing private dollars in this state, you’re not going to create as many jobs.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a round table with business owners, economic development leaders and tourism officials to discuss Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida at 9 a.m. at Allen Sports Center, 6585 Seminole Boulevard in Seminole.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

SMALL WORLD: ENTERPRISE FLORIDA AND RICHARD CORCORAN’S LAW FIRM via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Clearly, Enterprise Florida is no fan of Corcoran, so it may come as a surprise that the agency has repeatedly given legal work to Broad & Cassel, the law firm that employs the House speaker. Enterprise Florida has done about $235,000 in legal work with Broad & Cassel over the past three years, the agency said. “Enterprise Florida hires legal counsel on a case-by-case basis, depending on a wide range of factors,” spokesman Nate Edwards said. Edwards said the hiring of an outside law firm is a business decision made by EFI’s chief operating officer or vice president for administration, not by its board of political appointees, which is chaired by Gov. Scott, who for months has criticized Corcoran and other House members for wanting to destroy an agency that is critical to job creation. In a speech in Pensacola Friday, Corcoran called Enterprise Florida a “pay to play” operation where board members’ companies get incentive money.

SENATE TAX CUT PROPOSAL OK’D — WITH ONE BIG SWITCH via Florida Politics – A tax cut that would have helped a broader swath of Floridians, including the middle class and working poor, was changed Tuesday to instead benefit the state’s business owners. With no debate, the Senate’s Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee cleared the bill (SB 378) by a 4-0 vote. As initially proposed by Miami-Dade Republican Anitere Flores, it would have paid for a cut in the state’s communications services tax (CST) on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers. The plan has been a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican. But the panel approved an amendment—brought by Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who chairs the panel—to reduce the tax that businesses pay on their commercial rents, a cut that Gov. Rick Scott has long called for. “She felt strongly about it,” Flores said later. “It’s her committee.”

REDISTRICTING-RELATED BILL OK’D BY SENATE via Florida Politics – The Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases. The legislation (SB 352) was approved without debate 24-14, sending it to the House. Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, has said the plan “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates. It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” according to a bill analysis. The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

***The Florida Health Care Association knows how legislators can save taxpayers $68.2 million per year in unnecessary spending, while safeguarding the highest level of care for Florida’s frailest residents. Learn more here.***

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL CLEARS WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE ON 11-7 VOTE via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – … for legislation that would extend Indian gambling in Florida but otherwise restrict the growth of the industry in Florida. Rep. Mike La Rosa … Argued the bill is key to negotiating a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe. “I think they’re trying to get the best deal. That may mean other games or, of course, paying less revenue. At the end of the day, we’re representing our constituent base here in the state of Florida. We’re going to get the best deal for them,” La Rosa said. La Rosa chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5. The next stop is the Commerce Committee. The debate pitted members skeptical of gambling against those who see it as expanding jobs and the economy.

DUI IGNITION INTERLOCK BILL PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE via The Associated Press — A bill that would require an ignition interlock device on someone’s vehicle after their first drunken driving conviction has passed its first committee in the Florida House … HB 949 passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee … It must go through two more committees before reaching the House floor … The interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The current law makes it mandatory for six months for a first offense if the person’s blood alcohol content is higher than 0.15 percent or a minor is in the vehicle. The devices are also mandatory for multiple DUIs. There are approximately 9,000 interlock devices active in Florida at any given time.

CRITICS: BILL TO IMPLEMENT SOLAR TAX BREAKS HAS BECOME A VEHICLE FOR SOLAR BARRIERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The bill, HB 1351 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, was passed unanimously by the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee … but only after several legislators expressed reservations and members of the solar industry warned that a long list of “consumer protections” in the bill will actually serve to keep legitimate companies from doing business in Florida. In addition to authorizing language that prohibits tax assessors from increasing the taxable value of a home or business because of a solar installation, Rodrigues added language he said he modeled off an Arizona law that he says will provide consumer safeguards against “bad actors” in the solar industry. He acknowledged that there are no problems with solar industry installations today in Florida but, because removing the tax barriers will result in “an uptick” in new solar expansion, “the time to do it is now rather than waiting until consumers are taken advantage of.”

BREEZING THROUGH COMMITTEE: WELFARE DRUG TESTING, DCF TAKES BACKSEAT IN WALTON COUNTY via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – Among several bills heard by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee were two dealing with applicants of temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) and child welfare investigations. Sen. Jack Latvala introduced SB 1392, a bill that would require applicants with felony drug convictions within 10 years from the time of the application would be made to submit to a drug screening before being approved for those benefits. The bill also would include individuals with a “history of arrests for drug-related offenses,” Latvala said. There was no opposition to the bill from the public or committee members. In a separate bill — SB 1092, Sen. George Gainer has proposed DCF to take a back seat to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office in all child welfare investigations. If voted on favorably on the Senate floor … Walton County would become only the seventh county out of Florida’s 67 to dish such serious responsibilities to a law enforcement agency.

— Physician assistants required to report to state under bill approved by House health care panel” via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida

SOME LAWMAKERS WORRY CHILDREN WILL SUFFER UNDER NEW FLORIDA WORK-FOR-WELFARE BILL via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A bill approved by a Florida House committee would increase penalties for Floridians receiving food stamps and cash aid that have not met obligations to find work. HB 23 would return those penalties to levels before the 2008 Great Recession. Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle, who sponsored the bill, said he saw an advertisement on Craigslist “to sell a (food stamp) $100 card for $50 to buy drugs, alcohol, you name it.” For those individuals already on the edge and legitimately reliant on state assistance, the sudden loss of it can be a disaster, said committee member Rep. Daisy Baez, who previously worked in health care but now works as a social worker outside her role as a lawmaker. She asked Eagle what a family of four received in cash aid per month through the TANF program. The bill’s creator didn’t know.

ANDREW GILLUM: GOP PLAN TO RAISE FOOD STAMP ELIGIBILITY ‘INHUMANE’ via The Associated Press – The Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate is pushing House Republicans to drop an idea that could take away food stamps for about 229,000 Floridians. Gillum held a news conference and then dropped off a petition at House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s office that asks lawmakers to maintain current food stamp eligibility rather than making it harder to receive assistance. A House bill would limit food stamps to families that earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty limit or $2,633 a month for a family of four. Families who earn twice the poverty limit are now eligible for food assistance. Gillum told reporters it would be “inhumane” to remove the assistance. He noted that his family relied on food stamps when he grew up.

— “The social gospel of Andrew Gillum” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

— “Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos endorse Andrew Gillum for governor” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “At gathering of progressives in Tampa, Andrew Gillum says Democrats won’t win in 2018 by being ‘Republican lite’” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

MOVEMENT TO ALLOW LIQUOR SALES IN GROCERY STORES GAINS TRACTION via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – Senate Bill 106, known informally as the “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation, is scheduled for a floor vote … A companion measure in the House, HB 81, is scheduled for its final committee stop … The bills remove provisions in state law that require liquor to be sold in separate, standalone stores. “This is something that was put in well over 80 years ago at a time when things were very, very different,” state Sen. Anitere Flores … said, calling the existing law archaic and antiquated. “The question now becomes has this outlived its purpose.” The parent companies of Wal-Mart and Target stores are among the businesses backing the proposed legislation, saying it would create a convenience for modern shoppers. Publix Super Markets and the ABC Fine Wine & Spirits chain are opposed, saying it would create an unfair business advantage for big-box stores while also making alcohol more accessible to underage drinkers. The measure has received wider support in the Senate, where primary sponsor Flores is the second-in-command.

POLL: VOTERS GIVE SCOTT, LEGISLATURE POOR MARKS ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA; WANT DISPENSARY LIMITS via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Scott and the Florida Legislature are getting poor marks from voters who believe the state has been too slow in implementing a new medical marijuana law overwhelmingly approved at the ballot box in November, according to a new poll. The survey of 800 Floridians who said they cast ballots in 2016 … also found that voters want medical marijuana dispensaries limited and are almost evenly divided on whether marijuana should be legalized outright. Among those who said they were among the 71.3 percent who voted for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, there was support for limiting the medical marijuana centers — with 54 percent agreeing with the statement that they cast their yes vote based on the understanding that “the state would only allow a limited number of outlets or dispensaries where it is sold.” Only 30 percent said they wanted “an almost unlimited number” of medical marijuana dispensaries.

OP-ED – MEDICAL MARIJUANA IMPLEMENTATION FOR THE 29, 48 … OR 71 PERCENT? via Ben Pollara for Florida Politics – Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized. They do not. I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer: Who cares? Why are we even talking about this? Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass. Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution. In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana. That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana. It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.” We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually. The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Florida League of Mayors President Carol McCormack will hold a press conference to discuss the League of Mayor’s priorities for the 2017 Legislative Session at 8:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: A bipartisan group of lawmakers will join animal protection groups to call for the passage of bills to outlaw the use of anabolic steroids in greyhound racing at 12:30 p.m. on the fourth floor Capitol Rotunda. Sen. Dana Young, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Rep. Alex Miller are expected to attend.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS — Anti-fracking advocates will hold a press conference to urge lawmakers to pass a statewide fracking ban at 10:30 a.m. at Waller Park (in front of the dolphins) at the Florida Capitol. Sen. Jack Latvala, Sen. Gary Farmer, and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen are among those expected to speak.

HAPPENING TODAY — KEEP FLORIDA BEAUTIFUL HOSTS OUTREACH DAY AT FLORIDA CAPITOL — Keep Florida Beautiful and its affiliates will be hosting an education outreach event at the Florida Capitol. The organization is one of the state’s largest volunteer-based organizations dedicated to improving the state through litter prevention, increased recycling and beautification programs. Keep Florida Beautiful and local affiliates will have displays on the plaza level from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Jason Allison, Foley & Lardner: Electronic Arts, Inc

Erin Daly BallasJack CoryKenya Cory Public Affairs Consultants: Natural Health Options of Florida; Natural Therapeutics of Florida, LLC

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Children First Specialty Plan; City of Miramar; Molina Healthcare

Ron BookKelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery

Christopher Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: National Business Aviation Association

Lisa Hurley, Smith Bryan & Myers: Flagler County

Nick IarossiAndrew KetchelChristopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Florida Optometric Association

Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association

Corrine Mixon, Mixon & Associates: Osceola County School District

Sue Mullins, David Ramba, Ramba Consulting Group: City of Bradenton Beach

Ron Pierce, RSA Consulting: HomeAway

William Rubin, The Rubin Group: Florida Harbor Pilots Association

RICHARD BITER AMONG DOZENS APPLYING FOR STATE TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Biter is one of more than 80 applicants for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm. It would be a homecoming for Biter: He’s a former assistant secretary of the department. But he may not be on the short list. The Florida Transportation Commission, the advisory board that will interview applicants and nominate three candidates for Gov. Scott’s consideration, recently extended the application deadline to May 1. Other applicants include Alexander Barr, the department’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator for its Treasure Coast-South Florida district; and Phillip Gainer, its District Secretary for northwest Florida.

VOLUNTEER FLORIDA LAUNCHES #30UNDER30, HONORING EMERGING SERVICE LEADERS – April is Florida Volunteer Month and Volunteer Florida is launching #30Under30, a new initiative to recognize under-30 volunteers by highlighting one volunteer a day throughout the month. To nominate an outstanding volunteer, please email FVM@volunteerflorida.org with the following information: Volunteer’s name, address, a brief description of the way in which the volunteer serves (no more than one paragraph); a quote from the volunteer about why he or she volunteers; a quote from an employee or colleague who works with the volunteer on how he or she has impacted the organization/community; a high-resolution photo; and contact information about the organization with which the volunteer serves. The deadline for submissions is March 25.

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Wednesday’s Governors Club buffet menu is a taste of the Caribbean with conch chowder soup, yucca salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, tomato salad, carne asada beef, chicken ala plancha, BBQ grilled salmon, arroz con gandules and black beans.

NO LINES FOR PANDORA’S NEW FAST-CASUAL RESTAURANT via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Satu’li Canteen in the new Pandora – The World of Avatar land at will be the first Disney World restaurant to use the resort’s new Mobile Order system. Mobile Order is the newest innovation to save guests from waiting in line, the biggest complaint Disney receives. It will allow diners to select their choices via the My Disney Experience app instead of waiting in line for a cashier at the quick service restaurant. When guests arrive at the restaurant they will tap an “I’m here” button in the app, which will notify the kitchen to prepare the meal. Once the meal is ready, the diner will be alerted to pick it up at a designated window. Additional fast-casual and quick-service restaurants will begin offering Mobile Order later this year, according to Pam Brandon, food writer for the Disney Blog.

UNIVERSAL PLANS NEW HOTEL FOR WET ‘N WILD PROPERTY via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Universal Orlando has filed plans to build a 4,000-room hotel … The theme park began demolishing the 13-acre water park last month amid speculation by industry insiders that Universal planned to replace it with a hotel. Documents filed with the City of Orlando show Universal plans to develop the entire 64-acres that is split by Universal Boulevard. In addition to the hotel rooms, the plans show three parking garages — one on the east parcel where the water park stood and two on the opposite end where guest parking was located. The new hotel follows Universal’s desire to add more hotels near its theme park.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former Rep. Alan Williams, Sean Daly, Ash Mason, and Paul Mitchell.

Greg Steube called out by hometown paper for vacation rental bill

Republican Rep. Greg Steube was called out in an op-ed in his hometown paper, the Sarasota Herald Tribune, for his sponsorship of a bill that would preempt local governments when it comes to vacation rentals.

Steube’s bill, SB 188, would prohibit local laws enacted after a certain June 1, 2011, from barring or regulating vacation rentals, such as those found through online booking sites such as AirBnB.

Steube said the matter “boils down to a property right,” and that his attention was brought to the issue after he bought an investment property on Florida’s east coast, but was unable to rent it.

The Herald Tribune says his position neglects the rights of property owners whose homes are in residential zones.

“And what about the rights of homeowners who bought properties in neighborhoods zoned as residential but now face the prospect of being surrounded by houses that effectively serve as motel or hotel rooms, rented out a day or two at a time, sometimes to an unlimited number of occupants? What about their investments? What about their reliance on reasonable regulations,” the op-ed said.

“While legions of renters are respectful of their neighbors and provide welcome economic impacts, cities in Florida — especially beachfront communities in our region — have experienced downsides, including intrusive late-night noise, litter and parking problems. The increase in short-term rentals, fueled by the growth of online services such as Airbnb, have heightened local concerns. The character of communities is at risk.”

This paper labeled Stuebe’s bill as “Big Government Overreach” and also slammed the House version, HB 425, which it said goes even further by wiping out local regulations approved since 2011.

“This is a case of big state government butting into local affairs for no good reason,” the op-ed said. “As a Florida League of Cities spokesman told legislators considering the House bill, the local rental ordinances were developed with extensive public input and represent compromises among all the interests involved.”

While vacationers are valuable to the economy, permanent residents are, too, the paper said.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water

It seems like every year the Florida Legislature revisits the idea of decoupling, which is not a term to describe modern romance, but rather a gaming term. It’s what happens when venues operate a casino without the requirement to also run live horse or dog racing.

Seems simple enough; but every year, decoupling doesn’t pass because, inevitably, the gaming bill turns into a gambling train, and decoupling has to go along for the ride.

Ultimately, the two chambers can’t agree, and nothing passes at all.

Decoupling, though, has something for everyone, so it should be something all parties agree on — except for my friend Jack Cory — even during a contentious session.

 For the pro-growth crowd, it would have a positive economic impact on the communities where there is a casino that is forced to continue to run live dog or horse races because of this archaic law.

Look no further than the City of Miami Gardens for example.

The mayor there, Oliver Gilbert, has made the trek up to Tallahassee to implore legislators to seriously consider decoupling this Session, because, as he puts it, his city has “only one sit-down restaurant, virtually no shopping and little in the way of regular entertainment.” Yet, there is a parcel of land positioned on a major commercial thoroughfare that cannot be redeveloped because a horse track, mostly unused, occupies it.

He thinks that if the facility, Calder Race Course, had the ability to sell its land, but continue to operate its casino, the city could redevelop the land, infusing needed capital and adding jobs to a community that has a suppressed economy.

And, for the No Casinos crowd — with which I typically sympathize — who want to see reduced gaming in the state, decoupling may be the best to get rid of gaming.

Yes, these venues would still be able to operate their casinos, but decoupling would get rid of some horse and dog racing. And, oh by the way, while you have to be 21 years old to get into casinos across the state, you can go gamble at dog and horse tracks at just 18. So not only would decoupling reduce gaming, it would reduce exposing gambling to those under 21.

Beyond these positive benefits, while many gaming issues come with plenty of controversy, decoupling just isn’t one of them.

Aside from the thoroughbred industry claiming that it will be detrimental to Florida families — a red herring argument because the consolidation of thoroughbred racing has actually had a positive effect on the industry in South Florida — there simply isn’t much opposition to decoupling.

I get it, the reality is a lot of gaming policy won’t see the light of day this session — especially in the Florida House which remains staunchly opposed to the expansion of gaming — but, I would just say: Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water.

It’s just too simple and too much to agree on not to finally allow decoupling.

A look at Aaron Bean’s accuser, Carlos Slay

The Naples Daily News isn’t a usual go-to source on northeast Florida politics, but it dropped a blockbuster story about Sen. Aaron Bean on Monday.

The claim: “Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically.”

But equally blockbuster is the source of the story.

The crux of this complaint comes from Carlos Slay, a self-styled “public advocate” who lost a contentious race to Drew last year.

And as you will see further below, a man with serious anger management issues.

Last year, Slay shopped around stories about Drew and Bean.

He summarized a batch of emails he sent this outlet in October. All grammar and construction is as originally sent. And the narrative matches the conspiracy theory in the NDN piece.

“Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean are childhood friends. The e-mail obtained through a records request show that John Drew and State Senator Aaron Bean were working on creating a business opportunity that would allow each of them to make money,” Slay wrote.

“In the e-mails John Drew describes Senator Bean as the ‘salesman’ and John Drew as the ‘finance guy’ and John Daigle as the ‘creative guy’ and his wife Dr Catherine Drew as the ‘doctor’. They originally sought $600,000 in a special line item appropriation that would allocated to Florida Psychological and Health Care Associates which John Drew is described as President of the Board and is the business agent,” Slay added.

“According to the e-mails Senator Bean was suppose to use the presentation created by John Daigle to sell the www.celphie.org to the Florida Legislature and other states. It now appears that the website has been removed or taken down.  The details surrounding this was reported to the FBI for follow up,” Slay writes.

The FBI, one presumes, isn’t in any hurry to “follow up.”

“In the e-mails John Drew says he is glad FINALLy they will all make money together with this partnership.  It is clear that Senator Aaron Bean and his friend John Drew conspired to use state taxpayer dollars to fund a start up enterprise that would create a special gain for Senator Aaron Bean,” Slay contends.

“I have filed a compliant with the Florida Ethics Commision they have not yet ruled on whether the complaint has met legal sufficiency to warrant a full probable cause investigation into whether Senator Aaron Bean misused his office to create a special gain or benefit for his friend John Drew or himself,” Slay continued.

Slay shopped this narrative to the media after being rebuffed by at least one state attorney.

In June, the office of Angela Corey deemed Slay’s narrative “inaccurate, generally without merit, or otherwise made with reckless disregard for the truth … a circuitous impermissible stacking of inferences and innuendo.”

Slay has some credibility issues, and some with anger management as well, as multiple injunctions for protection against domestic violence suggest.

Mr. Slay, the respondent, had been married to Hope Slay for six years in 2004 when things took a turn toward reportable incident.

The respondent “called from cell phone threatening to kill me — told me to be gone from the house before he got back or he’d kill me,” Hope Slay asserted.

“The next day – he harassed me at work, again threatening to kill me, make me lose my job, and attempted to wipe all my money out of my bank account,” Hope Slay continued.

“He has pulled a gun on me several times — continually threatens me and my children — has attempted to harm the children as well,” Hope Slay added.

“I fear for my life and he has a violent temper. I’m afraid he will snap and kill me,” Hope Slay continued.

That wasn’t Slay’s only domestic violence complaint. In 2007, Bambi Hubbard had her own need to file for protection.

On Oct. 26, Hubbard accused Slay of “threats on my home and threats on my life … threats that he will see me in prison no matter what it takes or [costs] him.”

Carlos Slay got thumped in his race for Tax Collector. But at least in terms of an ephemeral March 2017 news cycle, he scored a pyrrhic victory.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the charges being levied against Bean: consider the original source.

For his part, Slay offered a “media statement” Tuesday.

It did not address the domestic violence injunctions.

Below, the unexpurgated statement, as written, which includes — among other things — a request for the current state attorney to “open an inquiry” into the matter, and a request for the Speaker of the House to investigate Bean.

“The controversial appropriation of $1 million for a mental health screening project that was aimed at validating a software application raises serious questions about State Senator aaron Bean’s judgement.  I would call upon Senate President Joe Negron to immediately remove Senator Bean from any committee or position where he is able to influence appropriations until this scandal can be investigated and resolved.  I believe that Senator Bean should step down from his position as Chairman of the Crimminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and focus on coming forward with the truth about how $1 million was misappropriated and funds were redirected through Florida State University.  I am calling upon Speaker Richard Corcoran to refer this whole matter to his Public Integrity and Ethics Committee to invgestigate and determine whether Senator Bean committed any misdeameanors that would rise to the thrashold of impeachment.  I am calling upon State Attorney Melissa Nelson to open an inquiry into the $1 million in state funds and whether deception and fraud played a role in how these funds were directed to Senator Bean’s friend Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew.  Finally I am calling upon Gov Rick Scott to order an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the alleged destruction of public records, the possible use of deception to misappropriate state funds and to determine whether there was any official misconduct that violated Florida Laws.  Restoring public trust and integrity must begin with hold all public officials accountable.  Either this conduct is acceptable and will serve as an example for others to follow or it fails to meet Florida expectations for its public officials and should be addressed.  Each is responsible for their actions, as citizens we can only ask that our public officials lead  by example.”

Florida Dems hire Johanna Cervone as Deputy Communications Director to focus on Hispanic outreach

The Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone to serve as its Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary.

As the Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary, Cervone will expand the party’s press outreach, with a special focus on Hispanic media and issues.

Cervone will also serve as the main point of contact for the media throughout the state.

Cervone most recently served as the South Florida Regional Press Secretary for the Hillary for Florida campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, she served as the Communications Director for Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

“Florida families deserve a spokesperson who will hold our failed Republican Governor and legislature accountable to their harmful policies. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone as our Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary. As Chair of the Party, I am more committed than ever to make sure that every Florida family has a voice in our democracy and a fair shot in our economy. Johanna brings a wealth of communications and outreach experience to the team and she will help us amplify our message of Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel.

“I am very excited to join the FDP team. I look forward to working with stakeholders across Florida to spread the party’s message in English and Spanish and build on FDP’s strong digital and communications program,” said Cervone.

Cervone’s career in politics and government began with President Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012 and she has since been involved with several local, national and international campaigns. A native of Argentina, Johanna was raised in Miami.

In 2015, a group of Spanish-language journalists and community leaders sent a letter to the respective chairs of the Florida Republican and Democratic parties, calling on them to hire a bilingual spokesperson to “successfully relay your message to the Latino media.” Leading the effort was Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a Fort Lauderdale Latina activist who has argued that, with a growing Latino community that thirsts for information about the political climate, both state parties should hire bilingual communication directors.

The RPOF fulfilled that demand when Chairman Blaise Ingoglia hired Wadi Gaitan (Gaitan stepped down last year after Donald Trump became the GOP presidential nomineee). That didn’t happen under Allison Tant’s tenure with the FDP, however.

Now it has under Bittel.

“After years of fighting for this cause, it is a wonderful feeling to see it come to pass, and see both parties reaching out to the Latino/Hispanic community,” Perez-Verdia told FloridaPolitics.
“The Democrats have a big win with a person like Johanna Cervone,” she continued. “From what I have read, she seems to be the perfect person for this position and I am sure we will hear more and more from her in years to come.  I thank Stephen Bittel and Mayra Macias within the FDP for the vision.  I also would like to thank Vivian Rodriguez from the Florida Hispanic Democratic Caucus for always advocating for this issue that was so important for many Hispanic leaders in the State of Florida.”

 

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