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

Florida politicians react to federal government shut down

The federal government has shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday. That has halted all but the most essential operations and marred the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunction.

Last-minute negotiations crumbled as Senate Democrats blocked a four-week stopgap extension in a late-night vote, causing the fourth government shutdown in a quarter century. Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans and Democrats were trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.

Here is what Florida politicians are saying about the shut down:

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson:

“These short-term funding bills are hurting our national security and, at some point, we have a responsibility to say enough is enough. Now efforts have intensified at a bipartisan solution. I am hopeful that an agreement may be reached in the next couple of days.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio:

Tonight, some Senate Democrats decided to shut down the government over DACA. While I support addressing DACA in conjunction with increased border security, shutting down the government over this issue will prove impossible to justify.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings:

“The bottom line is that this is a manufactured crisis, concocted by design or incompetence in order to force compromises on fundamental American values. But they’ve misjudged me, and I will not compromise on liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.

“The GOP controls the House, Senate, and White House. They have the ability to pass a comprehensive budget. Democrats voted in September to extend funding for three months, to allow more time to work on these priorities. Instead, Republicans chose to squander that time to give a tax break to themselves and their donors, and refused to work on any other critical programs.

“The GOP has forced our military to run on short-term spending bills that damage readiness and waste billions of dollars. They’ve done nothing to extend veterans care. They’ve allowed funding for children’s health insurance and community health centers to expire, and have failed to address the opioid crisis. They have done nothing to protect the DREAMers since the President ended the DACA program in September. These issues impact millions of Americans, there are existing bipartisan solutions for each, and it is long-past time to take action. Justice delayed is justice denied, and I’ve heard ‘later’ too often. Now is the time for action.

“I came to Congress to fight for the American people, and I’m not going to be distracted or dissuaded by political brinksmanship. This is about the American people. Americans go to work every day and should be able to afford healthcare for themselves and their children. Americans rebuild from hurricanes and struggle with addiction, and their government should have their backs. And we cannot forget that America is a nation of immigrants. More than 70% of Americans agree that DREAMers brought here as children should be allowed to remain in America.

“I will do everything in my power to reopen the government as soon as possible, but I will not, in the process, discard working Americans, seniors, veterans, hurricane victims, or children. I will continue to hold the Administration responsible for creating this shutdown through its inaction and its failure to lead.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel:

“The shutdown of the federal government is reckless and irresponsible. It may be especially harmful to our veterans, our seniors, and children’s health. That’s why I remain ready, willing, and eager to work with Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan agreement that would address the many challenges facing our nation. It must be done in a way that allows our military and all agencies the ability to have long term responsible planning and eliminates arbitrary budget caps that threaten our domestic and national security. The Congress must also immediately pass legislation to allow the thousands of people, known as DREAMers, who were brought to this country as children to remain legally.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz:

“While a government shutdown is uncomfortable for many people, including government employees and families nationwide, the real victim of Washington’s inability to follow regular order of budget and appropriations is the United States Armed Forces.

“The brave men and women who serve, and their families, are profoundly affected by living CR to CR — short-term government funding bills that offer no real reform, and simply kick the can down the road for another month. I was proud to contribute to the House Budget Committee budget, which passed the House with my support. This was a fiscally responsible document, offering a robust increase in funding to America’s military, while trimming wasteful spending. The most recent continuing resolution, just like the previous CR, accomplishes none of those goals. While I hope that the government shutdown causes no one undue duress, if it takes a shutdown to get the Congressional budget process back on track, then it will have been valuable.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast:

Thursday, the House passed an agreement to fund the government and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 6 years, but sadly tonight, the Senate decided to put partisanship before the people they represent.  The talking heads on tv are already debating who loses more from this shut down: Democrats or Republicans. But with both sides pointing fingers at each other, the real losers are the American people and the millions of children that rely on CHIP for their healthcare.

“It’s clear that Washington is fundamentally broken, and it won’t be fixed until our “leaders” start actually leading instead of trying to one up each other and get a sound bite to put in their next TV ad.  Everybody supports extending CHIP and everybody supports keeping the government open, so let’s get this job done.”

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney:

On Thursday, I voted in favor of the House passed continuing resolution that properly funded our military, provided children’s health insurance (CHIP) for the next six years and averted a government shutdown. Sadly, Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats have chosen to place 800,000 illegal immigrants ahead of the needs of American citizens, including active duty soldiers and millions of children. The shutdown of our government is a manufactured crisis that is completely unnecessary and is totally unacceptable. Children’s health insurance and pay for our military will be discontinued immediately, while the issue of DACA, which is unrelated and does not belong in any government funding plan, is in effect until March. This type of political gamesmanship is exactly why people have such distain for Congress.”

Gubernatorial candidate Chris King:

“Trump and Republicans chose months ago to end protections for more than 70,000 Dreamers in Florida, and take healthcare away from nearly 375,000 kids in Florida. Now they put 800,000 federal workers at risk of furlough or mandatory, unpaid work. The #TrumpShutdown is on them, and you deserve leaders who will treat you with dignity and respect.

“This is the first time the government has ever been shutdown under one-party rule. But one-party rule is familiar to us here in Florida: For two decades, one-party rule hasn’t been working for Floridians. It is just another example of the failure of Republican elites, governing from crisis to crisis while working families suffer the consequences. This is why we have to send new leaders to Washington and Tallahassee, and why we must elect a new Democratic Governor this November.”

Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine:

“While Washington politicians talk about shutting down the government, the American people want to protect 800,000 DACA children living in fear.”

CD 18 candidate Lauren Baer:

“Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House and yet they are unable to legislate. Blame for this avoidable government closure lies with Republican leadership and with legislators like Brian Mast who would rather tow the party line than vote in the interests of their constituents. The voters in FL-18 were clear. They wanted a deal that would extend CHIP, find a solution for DREAMERS, and keep the government open. Republicans need to get back to work and deliver what Americans are demanding.”

Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo:

“There is no escaping the fact that Republicans own both houses of Congress and the White House — and when given the choice between political gamesmanship and keeping the government open for business, GOP leaders chose the former. Make no mistake, Mitch McConnell’s calculated decision to revoke the bipartisan framework for improving border security and extending DACA cost him the support of moderates in his own party, and voters in Florida will remember that this shut-down occurred under Republican watch.”

Florida House Democrats:

“We’re witnessing the President’s party at work; dysfunctional, disorderly, and dangerous. Even with control of all levels of our federal government, they continuously shift blame and vilify others.

“With the futures of nearly 800,000 young people and healthcare for 9 million children across our country hanging in the balance, President Trump and Republican leadership would rather barter over their extremist political priorities and blame others for their own failures.

“Despite having bipartisan support, a solution for DACA recipients and funding for children’s’ healthcare is simply not on the agenda for Republican leadership.

“Their blatant disregard for the ramifications of their unwillingness to compromise is sadly not a surprise. They don’t care about the consequences of their actions and they never had any intentions of working towards a solution for the good of society. The implications of their indifference will prevent the state from being able to draw down vital funds that protect our most vulnerable populations.

“Worst of all, this is just a game to President Trump. Even when his precious border wall was on the table during negotiations, it wasn’t enough. The President is running our country like he ran his failed businesses. Except this time, he can’t declare bankruptcy and instead of profits being the only risk, peoples’ lives are at stake.

“This has become the Republican blame game, and Floridians are done playing.”

Congress scheduled an unusual Saturday session to begin considering a three-week version of the short-term spending measure.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Getting 2018 ballot in ‘order’

Citizen groups, the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) are all able to change the state’s governing document, but constitutional amendments still have to pass the final test — the people.

That means placement on the statewide ballot and getting at least 60 percent approval.

But what governs the order of amendments on the ballot? Why, a state regulation, of course.

Simply put, amendments get numbered in the order they’re certified, a Department of State spokesperson explained.

To amend Florida’s Constitution, voters must have their say. But first, amendments must be put in order.

So, Amendment 1 is “Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption,” and Amendment 2 is “Limitations on Property Tax Assessments,” both from the Legislature.

The recently approved “Voter Control of Gambling” measure, the first citizen initiative OK’d for the 2018 ballot, is Amendment 3.

Another initiative could be close to becoming Amendment 4: The Voting Restoration Amendment, which would restore nonviolent ex-cons’ right to cast a ballot, has 750,723 valid signatures toward the 766,200 needed for ballot placement.

Still to come are amendments put forth by the still-working Constitution Revision Commission. Or not, if by remote chance the CRC approves no amendments.

(Hey, its constitutional charge does say it can “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”)

“Initiative amendments filed on the same date shall be assigned the number received in a random drawing of lots containing the remaining available designating numbers,” the state’s rule says.

And “in the event a proposed revision or amendment is removed or stricken from the ballot … all other proposals shall retain the number assigned.” That just means there could be a gap in numbering.

It adds: “The designating number of the stricken proposal shall not be reused unless that proposal is reinstated.” That doesn’t sound like the best way to get a number retired.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

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

Accusers and sex policies — The Florida Senate sexual harassment saga continues. Days after former Sen. Jack Latvala was publicly accused by the former lobbyist at the center of a sex-for-votes allegations that launched a criminal investigation, the Florida Senate rolled out new employee guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. The new guidelines prohibit sexual harassment for employees and lobbyists, who will receive a copy of the policy. The changes take effect immediately. Next week, the Senate full floor will vote on incorporating annual one-hour training for senators as part of its formal rules.

Gamble on the ballot — Florida voters could have the “exclusive right” to decide whether casino-style gambling should be allowed in the state, under a proposed constitutional amendment. Backers of the amendment this week topped the 766,200 petition signatures required to go before voters in November. For it to pass, the proposal needs 60 percent approval from voters. Permission for any form of casino gambling is controlled mainly by the state Legislature.

Dead on arrival — Since South Florida’s high-speed commuter line began carrying passengers, four people have been killed on the railroad trains’ paths. The deadly Brightline train launch has raised concerns about pedestrian safety and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio both called for a federal transportation investigation. State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who has pushed for Florida to regulate safety for the state’s new rail service, has also decried the events, asking lawmakers “how many more people have to die in order for us to really take a look at safety measure?” Brightline officials insist they are building their system with the highest safety standards offered by the Federal Railroad Administration.

ICE, ICE baby — As tension grows among the immigrant community in Florida with the demeaning rhetoric coming out of the White House, federal immigration authorities are cracking down on undocumented inmates. Seventeen counties in the state have entered agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold deportable inmates in local jails for 48 hours. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who made it a priority this year to pass a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” has also asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to investigate Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for standing in support of what Corcoran calls “illegal sanctuary city” policies.

Corcoran, House gets sued — A records battle pitting the Florida House against Pat Roberts, the producer of a cooking show. Roberts and his company MAT Media sued the House contending that the records sought by the House include trade secrets and confidential information. Corcoran signed a subpoena on the first week of Session that requested documents detailing how the show spent millions of dollars paid out by VISIT FLORIDA. Corcoran also wants to know how much the state’s tourism agency paid directly to the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who stars in the cooking show.

Gasparilla pirate fun at the Attorney General’s office

Tampa’s annual Gasparilla weekend celebration kicked off at Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Tallahassee office.

Ahoy, Mateys!

The Gasparilla Parade starts this weekend, and it is expected to attract thousands of carousers for myriad pirate-themed events in honor of the iconic pirate invasion of Tampa. A dozen pirates briefly invaded the office of the state’s top attorney Thursday and took photos with her.

Bondi wants more money to combat opioid crisis

Attorney General Bondi said this week that $53 million is insufficient to combat the growing opioid epidemic in Florida, going against Gov. Scott’s budget proposal.

“In an $80 billion budget that is nothing,” Bondi told reporters this week. And the House Democratic Caucus agree with her.

“Opioids have already cost our state over $1 billion each year in the form of hospital care, treatment centers, foster care, court costs, strains on law enforcement and first responders, and heavier loads on our corrections system,” House Democrats said in a joint statement.

In 2016, 5,725 people died from an opioid overdose in the state. Democrats say the epidemic has progressed in recent years and is responsible for pushing thousands of children into foster care.

As Bondi becomes more vocal on funding to address the opioid crisis, House Democrats say they remain “hopeful that House and Senate leadership” and the governor will propose more funding.

The week in appointments

Dan Casper to the Florida Citrus Commission

Casper was reappointed to the Commission. The 60-year-old is the president of Southern Garden Citrus.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and is reappointed for a term that began Jan. 18 and will end on May 21, 2020. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Robert Spottswood to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The 60-year-old is currently the vice chairman at the Commission. He was reappointed for a term that began Jan. 12 and will end Jan. 6, 2023.

Spottswood is the chief executive officer of Spottswood Companies, Inc. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law.

Kathryn Ballard to the Florida State University board of trustees

Ballard was reappointed to the FSU board of trustees. The 53-year-old term will end in Jan. 6, 2023.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. Ballard has previously served on the Board of the Florida Center for Performing Arts and as a board member of the FSU College of Human Sciences.

Instagram of the week

OFR warns investors about ‘initial coin offerings’

Those upset they missed the bitcoin boom, take heed: There’s plenty of scams out there being pitched as the next big thing.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation this week echoed a warning from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) that identified initial coin offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrency contracts for difference (CFD) as two of the top emerging threats that investors should watch for in 2018.

The bitcoin craze has investors searching for the next big thing.

OFR said it “encourages Floridians to be very cautious of investments involving cryptocurrency,” and reiterated that even legitimate cryptocurrencies carry plenty of risk outside of their high volatility.

Most investors know currencies such as bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin aren’t backed by any government — meaning no Federal deposit insurance — but their unregulated nature can also bring out some shady companies that may be more susceptible to fraud and theft than regulated financial institutions.

OFR said would be cryptocurrency investors should check out NASAA’s video on initial coin offerings and, as always, give them a call if there are suspicions of investment fraud.

‘Fast Facts’ on the state’s insurance regulation office

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation this week released a booklet of its accomplishments for the 2016-17 fiscal year, touting some of the highlights from the fifth annual “Fast Facts” in an email.

The agency said licenses under regulation increased by nearly 3 percent last year and have gone up by 15 percent over the previous five years. The office said it also answered more than 40,000 consumer calls with an average time to pick up of 19 seconds and approved more than 79,000 applications in an average of five days per application.

Drew Breakspear, commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, offers some ‘Fast Facts’ on its accomplishments.

“The Florida Office of Financial Regulation is committed to protecting consumers while promoting growth of the financial services industry,” Commissioner Drew Breakspear said. “I encourage all interested Floridians to learn more about our agency and how we can help them verify the license of a financial services business and protect them from financial scams.”

The agency also pointed consumers to its “Consumer Knowledge Center,” which includes alerts issued by the department on potential investment scams.

Florida Sheriffs Association applaud ICE agreement

A day after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced a “housing agreement” with 17 Florida sheriffs, the Florida Sheriffs Association came out in full support of it.

“The process clarifies that aliens held by these jurisdictions are held under the color of federal authority, thereby affording local law enforcement liability protection from potential litigation as a result of faithfully executing their public service duties,” said Mike Adkinson, the president of the Association.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.

The deal would give federal immigration authorities more time to pick up deportable inmates from local jails in Florida. Local authorities have agreed gold hold undocumented immigrants eligible for deportation beyond the time they usually would have by booking individuals under federal auspices.

Adkinson said that if the launch continues to “go smoothly” there is hope to expand it to other counties in the “very near future.” He said other sheriffs have expressed interest in entering the agreement.

Volunteer Florida gets $27M grant for Irma victims

Volunteer Florida announced this week that it had secured more than $27 million in grant funding from FEMA for a program to help those affected by Hurricane Irma.

“Volunteer Florida is proud to administer this grant on behalf of the State of Florida. This funding will allow us to provide Floridians with a single point of contact who will advocate for them and help them through the recovery process. We are thankful for our partnership with FEMA and the Division of Emergency Management,” Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus said.

Volunteer Florida receives $27 million in grants for those affected by Hurricane Irma.

The money will help set up a Disaster Case Management Program to advocate for families and individuals and help them access resources ranging from food, shelter, and clothing through home repairs and financial planning.

Volunteer Florida will hand out the grant funding to qualified outside organizations that apply through a competitive RFP process. The RFP and application instructions are available online.

Public employee group backs education bills

Public employee group AFSCME Florida this week announced its “strong support” for education reform bills by Sen. Rene Garcia and Reps. Barry Russell and Sam Killebrew.

“We commend Senator Garcia and Representatives Russell and Killebrew because we believe that services should be shared through centralized locations to give the district the best return on investment,” said AFSCME Local 1184 President Vicki Hall, representing more than 7,300 Miami-Dade County Public School employees. “We look forward to working with school districts to ensure its implementation so we can to reinstating important programs, like Summer Services, and ensure funding works for our communities.”

Rene Garcia gets public employee union support for a series of education reform bills.

SB 1152 and HB 1431 would allow school districts to use Title 1 funds, which are granted to schools with high poverty rates, for things such as summer school, enrichment, and before- and after-school programs.

“While some districts have been able to mitigate the short-term effects of HB7069, if this law is not corrected before the next fiscal year many vital food-service and transportation employees could lose their jobs and schools would lose the staff needed to achieve success for their students,” said AFSCME Florida Political Director Jacqui Carmona.

Moffitt Cancer Center advocates ask for legislative support

Lawmakers this week heard from a familiar organization with a compelling mission: to work toward the prevention and cure of cancer.

More than 60 advocates from Moffitt Cancer Center arrived at the Capitol this week to ask for continued legislative support for cancer research. Moffitt is considered one of the best cancer hospitals in the U.S.

“Patients seek Moffitt because we are a leader in cancer care and research,” said Dr. Alan List, Moffitt CEO and president. “Some of the biggest advances in cancer research and treatment over the last three decades have come from Moffitt faculty and researchers.”

Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the best health care facilities of its type in the nation, is asking for legislative support.

Recent Food and Drug Administration approval of two cellular immunotherapies, known as CAR T therapy, was attributed to Moffitt research. The cancer center pioneered the treatment, treating the first adult patients in both the clinical and post-approval phases.

Moffitt’s simple request is that lawmakers continue supporting its work.

Spawned with the help of the Legislature in 1981, Moffitt takes its namesake from former lawmaker and cancer survivor H. Lee Moffitt, who championed a $3.5 million appropriation for startup funds for the Tampa cancer center.

Florida Legal Services looking to help disabled Irma survivors

Florida Legal Services is looking for help finding Hurricane Irma survivors who were unable to pre-register for Disaster Food Assistance, or D-SNAP, a version of the SNAP program that helps low-income households with food loss or damage caused by a natural disaster.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller helped get the message out for FLS this week in an email to his constituents.

Joe Geller is pushing for victims of Hurricane Irma to get greater access to Disaster Food Assistance. 

“After Irma, many affected persons with disabilities who needed D-SNAP were unable to travel to a D-SNAP site or stand in line to be interviewed, a requirement to qualifying for D-SNAP. Although DCF provided phone interviews for some survivors with disabilities, only persons who completed pre-registration were able to get phone interviews. We would appreciate your spreading the word that FLS wants to hear from survivors who were unable to pre-register,” he wrote.

Geller said those who know someone who couldn’t preregister should point them toward an online form FLS set up for D-SNAP assistance.

House Democrats still keeping track

The House Democratic Caucus updated its “running count” of bills heard in committee or on the House floor to include the first week of the 2018 Legislative Session and found that Republican-controlled House is still giving more attention to GOP-sponsored bills than Democrat-sponsored ones.

The breakdown on the “What’s the Agenda?” site shows that during the first week of session, 13 Democrat-sponsored bills were heard, compared to 50 Republican-sponsored bills. Another 9 bills heard in committee had both Republican and Democrat sponsors.

The “keep track” effort also found that 9 Republican bills were heard on the floor during week 1, while just a single Democrat-sponsored bill made the grade.

Including the five committee weeks leading up to the 2018 Legislative Session, Dem bills make up 16 percent of those on committee agendas while GOP bills take a 70 percent share.

Jewish American Week to be observed next week

Sen. Daphne Campbell and state Rep. Emily Slosberg have filed a resolution declaring the week of Feb. 12 as Jewish American Heritage week in Florida.

“I am proud to sponsor the first-ever resolution in the Florida Senate declaring Jewish Heritage Week in the State of Florida from Feb. 12-16,” Campbell said.

Slosberg said the resolution “pays tribute to the unique cultures, customs, and dynamic heritage that derived from Jewish Americans.” There are approximately 650,000 Jewish Americans in the state.

Andrew Gillum proposing to raise state corporate taxes

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum, a Democrat running to be the next governor, wants an increase of the state corporate tax to invest more on the middle class.

Gillum unveiled his “Fair Share for Florida’s Future” plan Friday and said President Donald Trump’s “tax scam” will make the rich richer and the middle class poorer.

“I’m proposing that the tiny fraction of Florida’s richest corporations pay their fair share so we can invest in working families through world-class public schools, a pay raise for teachers, early childhood education and SHOP 2.0 vocational training,” Gillum said.

Andrew Gillum wants to raise corporate taxes to help Florida families.

Gillum wants to adjust the state corporate income tax rate on large corporations to 7.75 percent, which he says would generate $1 billion more to invest in the public school system and vocational training.

Gillum wants to put in at least $100 million in public schools, $400 million in pay raises for public school teachers and at least $250 million in early childhood education programs.

The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy has already jumped in support of the measure, saying the plan will be a “job creator for Florida’s working families.”

FSU gets $25K grant to fight human trafficking

Florida State University’s Institute for Family Violence Studies has received a $25,000 grant from Attorney General Bondi’s Office that will be used to improve training for recognizing the signs of human trafficking.

The funds will help create online training for Emergency Medical Services personnel so they can better identify signs of the crime and report it so victims can get the help they need.

Jim Clark, the dean of the College of Social Work at FSU (shown with Young Alumni Award winner Robyn Metcalf), says a new $25K grant will help EMS first responders better identify signs of human trafficking.

“We recognize that for many victims of human trafficking, EMS first responders are an important link to freedom from this enslaving crime,” said Jim Clark, dean of the College of Social Work at FSU.

Data from the Department of Children and Families indicate that cases of human trafficking increased more than 50 percent from 2015 to 2016, a surge mainly attributed to more reporting resulting from increased awareness.

“This new project provides information EMS professionals need to provide the most effective assistance,” Clark said.

Cold weather yields utility bill payment options

If you are suffering through the frigid temperatures in Tallahassee, at least the city is giving you utility payment options.

The city of Tallahassee’s electric utility department said it recorded its highest peak load in nearly a decade — and third highest ever — this past week.

Snow in Tallahassee means options for utility payments.

The load was due to temperatures dropping to the 20s in the city, which is expected to increase customers’ utility bills next month. To help ease the financial burden, the city is offering a one-time payment option for utility customs known as “Winter Relief Assistance Program.”

The alternative payment program allows all residents and non-demand small business utility customs to carry over up to 25 percent of their utility bill in January and February to the following month’s bill when usage will likely be less.

To request the carry-over option, customers can call 891-4968.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

The Delegation for 1.19.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Despite House vote to keep government open, outlook bleak in Senate

Today is D-Day in Washington. Either the Senate approves a temporary spending bill, or a partial government shutdown — along with the blame game — begins.

The House approved the measure, which contained a 6-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, 230-197 on Thursday. Six Democrats — none from Florida — crossed over to join 224 Republicans to send the measure to the Senate.

After returning from the Christmas recess, nearly everyone on Capitol Hill knew this budget extension would be a heavy lift. To get the December extension through, Republicans promised to take up the legislative authorization for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in January.

President Donald Trump won’t head to Florida Friday if lawmakers can’t avert a looming government shutdown set to take effect at midnight.

Democrats wanted DACA attached to the funding extension, but Republicans only promised to provide a DACA fix by the March deadline established by Donald Trump. Trump wants immigration reform and funds for a border wall to coincide with any DACA fix.

Last week, a White House meeting on the issues brought out the accusations of Trump using a vulgar term to describe Haiti and African nations. The ensuing firestorm took the focus away from the issues at hand. It also hardened Democratic resolve to not make a deal with Trump unless it is on their terms.

With no chance to combine all of those issues into a bill this week, the real fear of a shutdown has intensified. Democrats are not the only obstacle to a deal.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, some Republicans stated their reluctance to support the measure was because of insufficient funding for the military. Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo insisted the DACA fix must be part of the deal, while others wanted immigration reform included.

In the end, joining Curbelo in voting “no” for that very reason was fellow Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach was the other Republican to join all Florida Democrats in voting against it.

Including the CHIP extension was designed to give the GOP additional leverage and force Democrats into casting a vote against CHIP funding. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor has been a consistent voice in expressing the need to extend the program.

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan urged a yes vote saying “We cannot allow this program to lapse and jeopardize the health of 9 million children nationwide.” CHIP will expire March 31 unless Congress acts.

St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist voted “no” and said “Unless or until we get serious about the fixes and compromises we know we need to make to move our nation forward, I’m a NO on the continuing resolution.

In the end, GOP leadership got their way, despite yet another misguided missive via Twitter launched by Trump. The president tweeted on Thursday morning “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day, or short-term extension.”

It was the second time in a week a presidential tweet had undermined his supporters. He nearly blew up the FISA reauthorization vote in the House with a contradictory message that required a correction an hour later (see FISA vote below).

By lunchtime, the White House communications office put out a statement saying Trump was in favor of the House stopgap measure.

The outlook to find 60 votes in the Senate looks bleak, and shutdown seems likely. Unless a near miracle happens on Friday, the finger-pointing is almost ready to begin.

Nelson hauls in campaign cash while drilling politics continue

The three-term Democrat, who is running for a fourth in November, revealed some good news on the fundraising end. Nelson’s campaign revealed is reporting $2.4 million raised over the fourth quarter, bringing his cash on hand total to more than $8 million.

Nelson will undoubtedly need the money as he represents one of 26 Democrats defending seats (compared to 8 for the GOP) in 2018. Of those, Nelson is one of 10 Democrats running for re-election in a state won by Donald Trump in 2016.

If Gov. Rick Scott challenges Nelson, the incumbent will be spending a lot of time dialing for dollars. Florida would again become one of the most expensive Senate seats in America.

Bill Nelson vows to put a hold on Interior Department nominees until he is satisfied Secretary Ryan Zinke has removed Florida from the list of potential offshore drilling sites.

Nelson is also in the news again on the oil drilling front. This time, however, he is playing defense.

He has been adamant that oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico “will never happen” as long as he is in the Senate. The Senator also said he has opposed it all of his life while Scott was open to it in the past.

Now, Florida media is digging up comments from 2010 where Nelson did not openly oppose a proposal to drill in the gulf when the Obama Administration considered it. Environmentalists were unhappy.

Deepwater Horizon changed many minds.

Going forward, Nelson will try to steer the discussion toward his sponsorship of legislation that led to the current moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf along with further actions demonstrating his commitment.

For example, on Wednesday, Nelson announced he was placing a hold on three Department of the Interior nominees until Zinke officially publishes a new offshore oil drilling plan that officially takes Florida “off the table” as Zinke announced on January 9.

After the Zinke announcement, Nelson wrote a letter to the Secretary requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. Nelson has also said Floridians should view Zinke’s promise as “just empty words” until he follows through with a new plan officially excluding the Sunshine State.

Rubio bill seeks to punish election meddlers

While the final results of the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections are at least months away, Florida’s junior Senator wants to put the Russians on notice. In other words, stay out of our elections or there will be consequences.

Rubio, along with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen this week filed the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, which would punish nations that seek to disrupt American elections, attack candidates, campaigns, or voting infrastructure.

Marco Rubio’s proposed Russian sanctions are yet another sign of a break with Donald Trump.

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences,” Rubio said in a news release. “This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections.”

It is already known Russia manipulated social media channels and hacked political campaign committees and local elections boards to undermine the democratic process in 2016. The senators said they expect the threat will grow in future years — and we must do everything possible to prevent these attacks.

The DETER Act uses key national security tools to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in U.S. elections by ensuring that they know well in advance that the costs will outweigh the benefits.

Delegation, with few exceptions, solidly behind foreign surveillance authorization

With all the drama surround budgets and government shutdowns, Congress has approved the reauthorizing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another six years. The House voted in favor last week by a final count of 256-164, while the Senate gave it a thumbs up with a 65-34 vote on Thursday.

It wasn’t easy getting the bill passed in either chamber. On the morning of the House vote, Trump sent out a confusing Thursday tweet almost blaming the law for facilitating surveillance on him and his campaign in 2016.

Confusing Donald Trump tweets didn’t make things easier for Tom Rooney and reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“I definitely heard from some other members that they’re like ‘Well, fine, I’m voting no then,’” recalled Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney, who is chairman of the House National Security Agency subcommittee. “If he doesn’t care, then I don’t care.”

Trump sent out a subsequent tweet that he was in favor of the reauthorization and the vote sailed through.

In the Senate, Kentucky Republican Rand Paul did all he could to keep the bill from coming to the floor via a filibuster. After some deal-making, supporters gained the 60 votes necessary to advance the bill to a vote.

Among the Florida delegation, 24 voted to reauthorize. Both Senators and 23 House members went along while Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings, Orlando Democrat Darren Soto, Orlando Republican Daniel Webster and Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho voted no. Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson did not vote.

Gaetz believes DOJ, FBI officials could go to jail

The Republican from Fort Walton Beach has made it clear he is no fan of Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, but is especially critical of former FBI Director James Comey and leadership at the Department of Justice, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Thursday, he took it a step further saying some of the leadership at both institutions may have committed criminal acts. The latest missive comes following a review of a memo by several members of Congress “that contained previously undisclosed information involving the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ).”

Matt Gaetz is no fan of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Soon after viewing the information, Gaetz shared his opinions of what he saw.

“The House must immediately make public the memo prepared by the Intelligence Committee regarding the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Gaetz said in a statement. “The facts contained in this memo are jaw-dropping and demand full transparency. There is no higher priority than the release of this information to preserve our democracy,”

Later on Thursday, he appeared on the Sean Hannity television show and took it a step further.

“I think that this will not end just with firings,” Gaetz said. “I believe there are people who will go to jail. I was very persuaded by the evidence.”

Toward the end of the interview, Gaetz and Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who joined him on the set, expressed confidence that when the information is made public, the Mueller investigation will crumble. Gaetz described the inquiry as “a lie built on corruption.”

DeSantis touts second high-profile endorsement in race for Governor

First, it was President Trump. Now, radio host and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity has given the Ponte Vedra Congressman his endorsement for Governor of Florida.

“I’ve known you all these years,” said Hannity. “I cannot more enthusiastically endorse and completely support your run, and I really think the people of Florida will be blessed because I know what a strong leader you are. You’re going to be my future governor, I hope,” Hannity, who owns a condo in Naples, added.

Click the image below to hear Hannity’s endorsement:

The latest public polling shows a close contest for the GOP nomination between DeSantis and Commissioner of Agriculture and former Congressman Adam Putnam. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also expected to enter the race.

But with two high-profile endorsements and some big money Republicans backing his candidacy, DeSantis will be a player in the fall.

He expressed his gratitude for the Hannity endorsement.

“That means a lot to me,” replied DeSantis. “We’ve got a good opportunity to build on the success that Governor Scott has had. I think this tax bill is going to give us a tremendous, competitive advantage in Florida to create a lot of jobs. We have an opportunity to fix our activist courts and live under the rule of law.”

Murphy, Orlando delegation, fight decision to take border/customs agents from airport

Border security is a priority of the Trump administration, but concerning the Orlando delegation are recent actions that could have negative consequences for Orlando International Airport and the region. In December, the administration announced ten border patrol and customs agents would shift to the southwest border with Mexico.

Airport officials sent letters to both U.S. Senators from Florida and the Orlando delegation that included Democrats Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Val Demings as well as Republican Dan Webster.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority chair Frank Kruppenbacher is hoping to stop a proposed shift in airport security.

“We believe taking 10 CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) officers from their important and critical duties at OIA will pose a serious and noticeable safety and security problem for the traveling public and the thousands of employees at OIA,” said the letter signed by Frank Kruppenbacher, the chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which oversees the Orlando airport, and the airport’s CEO Phillip Brown.

This week, Murphy invited senior border patrol officials to her office to make Orlando’s case. There was some good news, but still some problems with the decision.

“Met (Tuesday) evening with senior @CustomsBorder officials to discuss the agency’s troubling decision to transfer officers from @MCO (Orlando International Airport) to the southwest border for 90 days,” she tweeted. “I received clarification that it is four officers, not 10 — which is better, but still concerning.”

Murphy also revealed the agency would assess after 90 days if and where to divert additional agents.

“I’ll be pushing hard to prevent this,” she said. “These officers are needed at @MCO to protect our security and keep our economy moving.”

Murphy joins task force colleagues for intelligence briefings

The first-term Democrat from Winter Park, along with her colleagues from the House Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force, received detailed intelligence briefings this week. During a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in McClean, Va., Murphy, Jimmy Panetta of California, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, co-chairs of the Task Force, learned more of the inter-workings of the NCTC.

The NCTC leads U.S. counterterrorism efforts by gathering information on foreign and domestic threats, providing expert analysis, and supporting members of the policy, intelligence, law enforcement, defense, homeland security, and foreign affairs communities.

Task Force co-chairs Jimmy Panetta, Stephanie Murphy, and Seth Moulton receive a briefing at the NCTC Operations Center.

“Honored to meet men and women who protect our nation from terrorists,” Murphy said. “Lessons we learned will help us promote principled policies that keep us safe.”

The Task Force co-chairs visited the NCTC as part of their broader effort to promote smart, strategic, and strong national security policies in Congress. During their visit, the co-chairs received a comprehensive overview of the NCTC’s mission by Acting Director Russ Travers, as well as in-depth briefings at the Operations Center by NCTC senior staff.

“The NCTC is at the forefront of the fight against terrorists, and it was an honor to meet with the men and women of the NCTC who work tirelessly to keep our country safe,” they said in a joint statement. “The briefings we received will help the Task Force as we work to promote well-informed and principled policies that protect our nation.”

Soto’s comments to town hall audience questioned

U.S. Rep. Soto of Orlando had come under fire for statements he made last Friday at a Puerto Rico town hall meeting in Kissimmee, when he urged evacuees to state that they intend to stay in Florida.

Soto’s comments had come during a question-and-answer period after he, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, and others (including Florida Gov. Scott) had addressed more than 500 people gathered at the Kissimmee Civic Center about issues surrounding Puerto Rico, evacuees who have fled to Florida following Hurricane Maria, and federal, state, and local assistance and recovery efforts.

Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office in October with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

“One thing for those who recently arrived need to know is, you’re going to be asked the question, ‘Do you intend to stay?’ I urge you to say ‘yes, for now,’” Soto told the town hall. “Because otherwise you’re going to get rejected, and then you’re going to find yourself without health care. So I urge you to watch for that pitch-fall question.”

A report on WFTV-News in Orlando, and posts on Facebook other social media, raised the question of whether Soto was encouraging people to make false claims about their intentions to stay in Florida or not.

In a written statement provided by his office Wednesday morning, Soto denied he made any such overture.

“I do not encourage anyone who is planning to leave our state to falsely claim otherwise,” Soto said. “Many recently arrived Puerto Ricans have a high probability of staying in Florida. The intent of my statement was to encourage them to err on the side of caution and declare their intent to stay if they are in doubt about their future plans.” Soto said.

One of Soto’s GOP 2018 opponents felt the issue was an ethics, not legal, problem.

“Is it a big problem? Probably not,” said Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud. “It’s an ethical problem. He shouldn’t have done it.”

Bilirakis named co-chair of International Religious Freedom Caucus

This week, the Republican veteran from District 12 took on another leadership role. Along with California Democrat Juan Vargas, the two were named co-chairs of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus.

The caucus, founded in 2006, seeks to keep members of Congress informed about religious freedom issues and in contact with outside groups in the field. The first caucus briefing for 2018 occurs late this week.

Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis named to co-chair the International Religious Freedom Caucus.

“Freedom of religion is one of the most basic human rights, and it is regularly denied to millions of people around the globe, sometimes in the most horrific and violent manner possible-even by those who claim to be our allies,” Bilirakis said in a news release. “We cannot, in good conscience, sit by silently and allow these atrocities to occur.  I am proud to be named co-chair, and look forward to continuing to lead the charge against religious persecution.”

The focus for the first caucus meeting of the year is the effect of the lack of religious freedom in North Korea.

Crist’s veterans court bill picks up key endorsement

Just two months after the St. Petersburg Democrat launched a bipartisan bill designed to help veterans that find themselves in the criminal justice system, the legislation has picked up a key endorsement. The Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act, co-sponsored by California Republican Jeff Denham, has won the support of the National Military & Veterans Alliance (NMVA).

Comprising the NMVA is more than a dozen military veterans support groups. Also, the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans are behind the effort.

According to the sponsors, after serving our country, too many veterans are experiencing mental health issues, substance abuse, and homelessness, which can often land them in the criminal justice system. Veterans treatment courts provide the counseling, care, and support veterans need to help address these challenges to transition to civilian life more successfully.

A bipartisan veteran’s court bill sponsored by Charlie Crist picks up a crucial endorsement.

The bipartisan bill is intended to enhance state and local veterans treatment court programs that support the unique needs of veterans who find themselves in the criminal justice system. It establishes a program within the Department of Justice, in coordination with the VA, to provide grants, training, and technical assistance to help state, local, and tribal governments develop and maintain veterans treatment courts.

Currently, supporting these programs are dedicated individuals in law enforcement, the judicial system, the legal community, VA officials, Veterans Service Organizations, and other community organizations. The bill would provide federal resources for the establishment of new treatment courts.

“Heartening to see such an outpouring of support from fellow members of Congress and leading Veterans Service Organizations to bolster veterans treatment court programs, better serving their unique needs,” Crist said in a news release “Through these programs, we can help veterans thrive when facing challenges transitioning to civilian life.”

The bill has 48 co-sponsors including Florida Democrats Frederica Wilson, Soto, Murphy, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Demings and Lois Frankel. Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and John Rutherford have also signed onto the measure.

T. Rooney pleased earmarks could return

It wasn’t that long ago that earmarks were a dirty word in Washington. It stood for pork barrel spending where spending items relevant to a legislator could be slipped into spending legislation with little, if any, review.

In 2011, Congress banned earmarks, a ban that has not been lifted. But on Wednesday, during a subcommittee of the House Rules Committee, earmarks appeared to be near a return.

“There is significant sentiment on my side of the aisle that this needs to be done,” House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said.

There is sentiment from the Republican side as well. Okeechobee Republican Rooney is one of the biggest proponents of a modest return of earmarks.

“Restoring limited, transparent earmarks for public water projects, roads & bridges the right way, out in the open, means Congress can help fix our country’s infrastructure within existing budget — no cost,” Rooney tweeted this week.

During a hearing Rooney spoke of not allowing “a few bad apples,” who abuse the earmarking process, to keep legislators from helping their constituents. One of the arguments forwarded by Rooney, Hoyer and others is that Congress has the Constitutional authority to approve spending and they must regain that power.

South Florida representatives honor slain prosecutor

On the anniversary of the death of a courageous Argentinian prosecutor, two South Florida lawmakers honored his memory. Miami Republican Ros-Lehtinen and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch remembered Alberto Nisman by offering a resolution honoring his work and calling for a full investigation into his death.

Nisman was investigating the 1994 car bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. It is the worst terrorist attack in Argentinian history.

On January 18, 2015, the day before he was to report his findings, Nisman was found dead under mysterious conditions. It was later ruled a homicide.

Slain Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

“Alberto Nisman committed himself to uncovering the truth of the horrific AMIA bombing that killed 85 and injured hundreds of others,” said Deutch in a joint news release. “He refused to let Iran or Hezbollah get away with this act of terrorism, and he refused to let corrupt officials cover up the facts and wash their hands of this horrible attack.”

In December 2017, a federal judge in Argentina indicted former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for treason for covering up Iran’s involvement in the bombing.

“Despite constant threats, Alberto relentlessly pursued those responsible for the deadly attack in order to bring them to justice,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “With this resolution, we seek to continue Alberto’s vital work, urge transparency in the investigation of both Alberto’s murder and the AMIA bombing, and finally, once and for all, hold Iran accountable for its senseless and despicable crimes against Buenos Aires’ Jewish community.”

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.19.18

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Ana Ceballos, Daniel McAuliffe, and Jim Rosica.

As the 60-day Legislative Session heads into its third week, the high-stakes battle over the budget is about to start.

House and Senate appropriations subcommittee chairs are expected to roll out their policy-specific budgets next week, according to Senate spokeswoman, Katie Betta, and a source close to House leadership.

Betta says the chamber’s full budget should be out in the fourth week of Session.

Once the proposals are handed out next week, members of these subcommittees will get a chance to talk about the numbers, which in the end will reflect the priorities of each chamber.

Toward the final days, the Legislature will steam toward compromise and see how their proposal matches the $87 billion budget unveiled by Gov. Rick Scott before Session started.

Scott’s proposal, best viewed as a recommendation for lawmakers, is the biggest one in state history — and it has a little bit for everyone.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo already has said his chamber’s budget will likely be “more conservative” than the Scott’s, adding that there may not be a lot of room for individual member-projects.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @SenBillNelson: Sound the alarm: Despite their claim that Florida is now “off the table” for new drilling, the maps Interior officials showed at the first public meeting this week to discuss the new plan showed the waters off Florida are still very much open to drilling.

— @DWSTweets: I signed the resolution to censure Trump over his racist remarks because his vile comments should have no place in our public discourse.

— @RepLoisFrankel: Let’s be clear: Republicans control the House, Senate, AND White House. Instead of forcing our country into an unnecessary crisis by shutting down the government, they should work with Dems to address urgent bipartisan issues like protecting DREAMers & fighting the opioid crisis.

— @Deggans: Wow. Party of Five, the ’90s drama about a group of five siblings raising themselves after their parents died, will be rebooted for Freeform channel. New story features siblings raising each other after their parents are deported to Mexico. Talk about a topical subject …

— @AnaCeballos_: .@FL_Corrections spox says that although media reported inmates in 10 state prisons would go on work-strikes this week, no strikes or protests have occurred.

— @NewsbySmiley: Slipping under the radar yesterday in Florida MMJ news: CSE-traded iAnthus announced it bought out GrowHealthy, one of 13 licensed MMTCs in Florida, for $48M in cash and shares

— @SenRubioPress: With its business-friendly environment, hard workers, and beautiful beaches #Miami would be a great place for @amazon’s next headquarters. Glad to see it’s a finalist for #AmazonHQ2.

— @Fineout: If this is the last press skits in Tallahassee, do you want to miss it?

— @LedgeKing: 2017 ranked as the second warmest since 1880, according to @NASA. Globally averaged temperatures were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than avg from 1951 to 1980. The warmest year? 2016.

***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 —

Florida Capitol Press Corps Skits — 4; Super Bowl LII — 16; Pyeongchang Winter Olympics — 21; Fat Tuesday – 25; Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training — 25; Valentine’s Day — 26; Disney Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival – 40; Sine Die (maybe) — 49; First Day of Spring – 60; Major League Baseball Opening Day — 69; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 124; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 154; Primary Election Day — 221; General Election Day — 291.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Joe Negron another wants 5,000 acres for Everglades reservoir but why? – On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10. Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of session. Why would Negron make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Senate announces new rules on sexual, workplace harassment” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Prompted by a series of sex scandals that enveloped several senators, the Florida Senate on Thursday rolled out new guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. The new code of conduct cites “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body,” unwelcome kisses and hugs as part of greetings — including a peck on the cheek –, as exampled that could violate the harassment policy. But any type of sexual harassment, whether verbal, nonverbal or physical, is prohibited. An employee found to be in violation of this policy could face immediate termination. As part of the new guidelines, Senate President Joe Negron said in a memo that senators and staff will have to complete online anti-harassment training in the coming weeks.

>>>Read the new rules in their entirety here.

Spotted disembarking from the American Airlines flight from Miami to Tallahassee: Frank Artiles.

TPS dispute over Haitians & others will hold up confirmation of Carlos Trujillo” via The Associated Press – Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin will place a hold on the nomination of Trujillo to be U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States until State Department provides him with information regarding the decision process to end a temporary protected status for immigrants from Haiti and two Central American nations. “I intend to hold this nomination on the floor until the Department responds to my request,” said Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Legislators want laws, executive order protecting LGBT rights” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics – A sizable group of bipartisan lawmakers attended a news conference in support of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Shortly after some demanded Gov. Scott issue an executive order preventing state offices from discriminating against LGBT employees. Competitive Workforce Act sponsor Ben Diamond said the legislation would expand the 1992 Civil Rights Protection Act — which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap or marital status — to include protections for the LGBT community. Diamond said the initiative enjoys healthy support, and many are unaware of the lack of LGBT protections and surprised when they discover otherwise. “When I talk to folks in my district on this bill, they’re surprised to learn that Florida law does not already protect LGBT individuals in these important areas,” Diamond said.

Legislature could declare pornography a health risk” via The Associated Press — The House Health & Human Services Committee overwhelmingly approved the resolution … It states the need for education, research and policy changes to protect Floridians from pornography. Republican Rep. Ross Spano is sponsoring the resolution. He told the committee that pornography is readily available to children through smartphones and exposure to explicit material is harming them. Spano is also a candidate for attorney general. After the meeting, he said he isn’t sure what policy changes the state should make, but said acknowledging the problem is the first step.

Florida’s harsh driver’s license suspensions draw Senate scrutiny” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill (SB 1270) that would in many cases end practices that its sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes says put many Floridians in a downward spiral of lawbreaking — just to feed their families. Florida imposes license suspensions for failure to appear in court on a bad check charge, misdemeanor theft, serving alcohol to a minor, truancy and failure to pay court costs, among other infractions. The state suspended more than 700,000 licenses in 2014. Under Brandes’ bill, the maximum suspension for a drug offense would be reduced from the current year to six months; make it easier for suspended drivers to get hardship licenses to drive to and from work; prohibit a license from being suspended solely for failure to pay a financial penalty; and require judges to ask about a person’s financial status before imposing a fine.

Jeff Brandes wants to soften Florida’s rigid driver’s license suspension policy.

Expansion of University of Miami needle exchange program gets bipartisan backing” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Two years after a state law established a sterile needle and syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County, lawmakers are trying to expand the single-county program to other parts of the state. To decrease a growing opioid epidemic, state Rep. Shevrin Jones said his bill would act a “liaison” to myriad opioid measures proposed in the state Legislature this year. Under his bill, a statewide pilot needle exchange program would be established through the Department of Health, rather than just the University of Miami.

School visitation measure clears final panel — A bill to allow state lawmakers to visit schools in their local districts cleared its last committee unanimously and is headed to the Senate floor. The bill (SB 118), carried by GOP Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange, “provides the opportunity for elected officials to meet with their youngest constituents, and the teachers guiding them, in their district schools,” a news release said. “Visitation to schools will also provide the opportunity for teachers, counselors, administrators, and staff to communicate personally with their representatives.” Hukill said in a statement she “had the pleasure of visiting with many school children and teachers in my office. The opportunity to be able to visit them, and see the amazing work they do in our schools, would be both gratifying and beneficial.”

What Jose Javier Rodriguez is reading –Resign-to-run law on floors of both chambers” via Lobby Tools – The House bill (HB 105) to require state and local politicians to submit their resignations before seeking federal office easily passed its final panel and joins the Senate’s version (SB 186) on their respective chamber floors.

— FLORIDIANS SUPPORT CHANGE OF AOB SYSTEM —

Abusing the state’s Assignment of Benefits (AOB) system is terrible, according to most voters sampled in a statewide poll commissioned by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

More than 85 percent of those sampled disapproved of allowing a repair contractor to sue an insurance company following property damage without the homeowner’s knowledge or consent.

More than 65 percent approved requiring a repair contractor to pay for their own attorney if they sue an insurance company when there is a dispute. Currently, many fear contractors abuse the system because of a one-way attorney’s fees stipulation, forcing insurance companies to foot the legal bills of both parties if a judge rules an estimate is off by any amount — even a single dollar.

All eyes on the Senate: House Bill 7015 by Rep. Jay Trumbull addresses the one-way rule and cleared the House last week, but the Senate has yet to assign a committee hearing for a companion bill.

A growing problem: AOB lawsuits jumped from 405 in 2006 to more than 28,000 in 2016 or 6,800 percent.

Don’t take our word for it: The Wall Street Journal has published six editorials and news stories urging the Florida Senate to address the issue.

— STATEWIDE —

What POTUS’s lawyers are reading:Robert Mueller involved in FBI release of deceptive statements about Sarasota 9/11 probe” via Dan Christiansen of FloridaBulldog.org — A recent government court filing is raising questions about then-FBI Director Mueller’s involvement in the public release of deceptive official statements about a secret FBI investigation of Sarasota Saudis with apparent ties to the 9/11 hijackers. The misleading statements, issued by FBI officials in Miami and Tampa, were made within days of a September 2011 Florida Bulldog story disclosing the existence of the investigation and reporting that Congress was kept in the dark about it. The statements sought to discredit the story, asserting that agents had found no connection between the Sarasota Saudi family and the 9/11 plot. In fact, the FBI’s own files contained at least three reports that said the opposite: that agents found “many connections” between the family and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

Scott gets chilly reception” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The cold front that swept across the nation resulted in little media interest for a planned afternoon news conference in which Scott was expected to continue belittling Louisiana’s economic direction … Scott had used the mission as a chance to attack Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. “While we are fighting to cut taxes and make it harder for politicians to raise taxes in Florida, Louisiana is doing the exact opposite,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “In fact, for nearly two years, Governor John Bel Edwards has been continuously working to raise taxes instead of reaching a long-term solution for their state’s financial crisis.” Before Scott’s jet was in the air, Edwards’s office dismissed the trip as a “fundraiser” and noted that many people in Scott’s inner circle worked for former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Scott: VISIT FLORIDA-Emeril show tax credit deal ‘would not happen today’” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida — Scott said backroom deals like the tax credit swap between VISIT FLORIDA and a contractor that produced a TV cooking show starring Chef Emeril Lagasse would no longer occur under the agency’s new leadership … Scott said the agreement between Visit Florida and Tallahassee-based MAT Media was brokered by former agency leaders who were ousted in pursuit of transparency. “If you look at what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to promote transparency and accountability, and that wouldn’t happen today,” Scott said.

Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will announce December job numbers with a 10 a.m. news conference at 10 a.m. at the TPC Clubhouse Facility, 110 Championship Way in Ponte Verde Beach. Later, the Governor will attend the Florida National Guard deployment ceremony of the 260th Military Intelligence Battalion beginning 2 p.m. at the Florida National Guard Robert A. Ballard Armory, 700 NW. 28th St. in Miami.

Jimmy Patronis: Attorney fee limits ‘good debate to have’” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida – The House last week passed a bill that would limit plaintiffs’ attorney fees to $150 an hour and reduce amounts paid to hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers for treating injured patients. Patronis, a Panama City restaurateur who was appointed state CFO by Gov. Scott last summer, said he knows firsthand how workers’ compensation insurance costs can impact employers and appreciates the benefits of affordable rates. “It gave me greater flexibility. It made me feel like I didn’t have to contract out labor. I could hire my own people,” he said. “So the proposal of limiting those overhead costs that can go to the ownership of the policy, I think that’s good for business.” While the House bill (HB 7009) would restrict attorney fees for injured workers, it does not impose the same limits on insurance companies that hire lawyers to fight the claims. When asked whether the restrictions should apply to insurers, Patronis said, “I think two-way attorney fees (restrictions) is a good debate to have.”

This won’t hurt at all: CFO Jimmy Patronis gets his flu shot from pharmacist Yvette Marshall at a Walgreens in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Phil Sears.

DOC says Florida state prison inmates’ plan to strike didn’t happen — Inmates in Florida state prisons were planning to go on a monthlong peaceful work-strike in protest of “prison overcrowding, brutal living conditions and working for no or little pay,” according to news outlets. Staff briefed Gov. Scott that there could be a potential strike, but according to Department of Corrections officials all normal daily operations continued and “inmates did not participate in work stoppages.” When asked about the strike on Thursday, Scott said, “The Department of Corrections follows the law” concerning safety and health. Organizers said in a statement that the goal of the protest was to make the “the governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance.”

Voting rights proposal advanced by constitutional review boardvia Florida Politics — A proposal to allow the automatic restoration of nonviolent ex-felons’ voting rights cleared a Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) committee on Thursday. The CRC’s Ethics and Elections Committee OK’d the measure (P7) by a 6-2 vote. “If successful, Smith and Joyner’s proposal would bring Florida in line with most of the states in the nation that already allow for automatic restoration of rights following completion of felons’ sentences and repayments of any outstanding fines,” a news release from the Florida Senate Democratic Office said. The proposal is backed by commission members Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, both former Senate Democratic Leaders.

Secret talk among CRC members ‘just part of the process,’ says commissioner” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida – After a coalition of more than a dozen advocacy groups called foul on procedural shenanigans and secret talks among members of the education panel at the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, its chairperson told POLITICO that private policy discussions among members are “just part of the process.” Meanwhile, CRC Education Chair Marva Johnson — who also chairs the State Board of Education — has so far refused to answer questions about a November meeting that critics say contributes to the belief the CRC is just “a sham.” She also has not addressed whether she’s had private conversations with other CRC members about commission-related policy matters. Open government and transparency advocates say all the work the CRC is doing could ultimately be declared invalid because CRC members are violating the constitutional open meeting requirements. They’ve pointed to the November meeting of the education committee as a prime example of the CRC’s disregard of transparency and the state constitution. The committee meets today to reconsider the proposal it had killed — and revived through procedural maneuvers — last November.

Out of order: Bathroom shortage causes workflow stoppage” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – Some 300 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity workers at the old Publix in the Northwood Centre face a bathroom crisis this week that has flushed them out of their normal work routine. With only two functioning single-stall restrooms in the renovated grocery store, they can either put up with 30-minute lines or leave the building and endure a cold walk to access one of the two open restrooms in the allegedly mold-contaminated building next door. “Staff were notified yesterday that while a portion of the restrooms in the office were not working, working restrooms were still available in the building,” DEO spokeswoman Karen Smith said. “Additional restrooms in the building next door were also offered.” The DEO is working with the building’s owners to repair the restrooms as quickly as possible, Smith said.

Brian Mast wants Brightline shut down for safety review” via Andrew Atterbury of TCPalm — Mast, of Palm City, weighed in on Brightline safety after a bicyclist was hit and killed by a passenger train … It was the third fatality — and the second death by a Brightline train — on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks within a week. Brightline passenger trains share the rail corridor with Florida East Coast Railway freight trains. Florida East Coast Industries own both. Brightline, a $3.1 billion project which eventually is to run between Miami and Orlando, launched its passenger service Saturday morning, initially between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Mast tagged Brightline in a tweet, telling the company to “stop victim blaming and take responsibility for the fact your trains are killing people.”

Brain Mast wants Brightline shut down for safety.

Florida pot grower sells for $48 million” via Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post — iAnthus Capital Holdings announced a deal for GrowHealthy Holdings of Lake Wales. The company said it plans to open a dispensary in Palm Beach County during the third quarter of 2018. iAnthus Chief Executive Hadley Ford said he expects Florida’s marijuana market to be worth $1 billion by 2020, and he pointed to a statewide patient count that topped 67,000 as of last week. “The patient growth has been nothing short of remarkable,” Ford said.

Decision on FPL plant expected in March” via The News Service of Florida — After holding an all-day hearing, the Public Service Commission is expected to decide March 1 whether to give key approval to a proposed Florida Power & Light plant in Broward County. FPL is seeking approval of what is known as a “determination of need” for the 1,163-megawatt plant in Dania Beach. The state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility cases, and the Sierra Club have objected to granting a determination of need. The $888 million project would replace two old generating units at the Dania Beach site and begin operating in 2022. FPL contends the new plant would increase reliability and ultimately save $337 million for customers when compared to continuing to run the older units. But the Office of Public Counsel and the Sierra Club argue FPL has not shown that the new plant is needed to meet customers’ projected energy usage in 2022.

Following proposal to consolidate USF universities, trustees to hold conference call” via Claire McNeill of the Tampa Bay Times – President Judy Genshaft, who has not publicly weighed in on the potential for this major shift, is expected to tune into the 9 a.m. call. Members of the public can visit any USF campus to listen in on the call as well. To do so in Tampa, one can visit room 140 of the Patel Center for Global Solutions. In St. Petersburg, go to the Ocean Room on the second floor of the University Student Center. In Sarasota, visit room C306. No agenda has been published. The meeting description says trustees who are part of the Governance Committee will get a “general update” on the legislative session. Later in the day, USF St. Petersburg interim chancellor Martin Tadlock plans to hold open forums in Davis Hall, room 130. Those run from 3:30 to 4 p.m. and 4:15 to 4:45 p.m.

UCF extends in-state tuition rates a year for Puerto Rico, Virgin Island evacuees” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – The UCF board of trustees voted unanimously to continue to allow students from the islands to qualify for in-state tuition through the spring 2019 semester. Before that vote, the university had offered in-state tuition rates to island evacuees through the current semester. The board accelerated approval of the extended tuition rate for a full academic year in order to provide students with sufficient time to apply for the summer semester. “We should view this as an opportunity to serve,” UCF President John Hitt stated in a news release issued by the university. Approximately 200 Puerto Rican and Virgin Islander students who fled the islands have enrolled at UCF.

Times-Union announces additional layoffs” via the Florida Times-Union — The Florida Times-Union plans to reduce its non-production workforce by about 10 percent, or about two dozen positions. The restructuring is across the board for 2018, including the departments of advertising, circulation, newsroom, accounting and administration. Many of the positions were eliminated through attrition or transfer, said Mark Nusbaum, president of the Times-Union. About ten employees were told their positions had been eliminated.

Tweet, tweet:

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Hulk Hogan on Senate race: ‘If I run, I would win’” via TMZ — “I don’t want to run, OK. I have a great life here on the beach,” he told TMZ, though he hedged his bets somewhat. “Right now, this moment, it’s a flat-out no.” One thing’s clear: The former WWE champ says if he throws his hat in the ring, he’s going to Washington. “If I run, I would win,” he insisted.

Hulk Hogan says he would win the U.S. Senate seat if running.

Ron DeSantis’ campaign kickoff isn’t where you’d expect” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – DeSantis was raised mainly in Pinellas County, Dunedin, and now resides in Flagler County, Palm Coast. But when he formally kicks off his campaign for governor, it will be in Palm Beach County. DeSantis has scheduled a kickoff rally for 11 a.m. Jan. 29. The south Florida location should signal that the Trump-backed contender is more than a regional candidate. He’s not the only gubernatorial candidate to make the big announcement far from their home county. Democrat Gwen Graham of Tallahassee made her announcement in Miami-Dade, though that’s where she grew up.

Assignment editors –  Graham will hold her next Workday Saturday at M.I.A. Beer Company in Doral. Media are invited at 1:30 p.m. as Graham serves customers, supporters and Florida’s next First Dad Bob Graham beginning 2 p.m. M.I.A. Beer Company is at 10400 NW. 33rd St., #150 in Doral.

Andrew Gillum opens up about cutting ties with lobbyist friend Adam Corey and Mike Miller” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — “I had a trusting relationship and I felt like I allowed people around me who were acquaintances of his because I trusted him,” Gillum said. “And it appears that if these guys were here for an investigation, that the only way they got to me was by leveraging my friendship with Adam” … Corey has been at the heart of the probe that began as early as August 2015, when a self-described developer from Atlanta named Mike Miller, whom sources said was an FBI undercover agent, began hobnobbing with local officials and business people. When the first subpoenas dropped, Gillum was shocked by the news and subsequent media coverage. “I was caught by surprise as anybody else was by all of it,” he said. “This was a case of dog biting man, not man biting dog. I didn’t go out there saying ‘Hey come try to buy my vote.” Miller and his pals had met with city growth management officials, seeking to move the boundaries of the Community Redevelopment Agency to encompass land they were thinking of buying and developing for a multimillion-dollar mixed-use project. “Mike Miller was the guy who was around the most, around the city the most, and around me through Adam the most,” Gillum said. “Our communication came to a decisive conclusion because I felt uncomfortable about one occurrence that took place. “And that was the last time I ever heard from them.”

Assignment editors On Saturday, Gillum will campaign at a breakfast event as well as a “Soapbox Speech and Take Back Our State Getdown.” The breakfast begins 10 a.m. at The Frances, 1289 N. Palm Ave. in Sarasota. Soapbox event begins 3:30 p.m. at Louie’s Modern, 1289 N. Palm Ave. in Sarasota.

Pals with Leo DiCaprio. Ex-mayor of glitzy Miami Beach. So why don’t Florida voters know this guy?” via David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times — Despite a mild celebrity built off appearances in documentaries with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, and a longtime status as a Democratic booster, Philip Levine, the 55-year-old entrepreneur and media CEO finds himself, like his competitors, beginning the year relatively unknown to voters in the Sunshine State. Though he’s led two previous statewide bus tours over the last 18 months, acted as a surrogate for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and made regular appearances on cable news networks, early polls still show him in the single digits, behind Graham and just ahead of Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King … despite conventional wisdom that voters aren’t all that interested yet in the choices for their next governor, Levine is pushing hard to get his name out now. Promising to spend millions of his personal money on his campaign, the independently wealthy businessman has already invested $2 million on a Florida commercial blitz and last week dropped $30,000 on a Premiere Transportation Eisenhower model to comfortably take him across the state and boost his visibility. “I didn’t get into this to make friends,” Levine told a reporter as his coach headed on a path to governor-or-bust. “If people don’t like you, they don’t like you. Life goes on.”

Why aren’t more people aware of Philip Levine?

Bill McCollum ‘exploring the possibility’ of running for Attorney General” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — “The last couple of weeks I have been exploring the possibility of running again for AG, but I have made no decision to do so,” he told POLITICO in a text message … He’s been mulling the idea of running for attorney general for roughly the past month, a process that has included calling old political allies and donors, according to those familiar with the process. Those familiar with the conversations say that McCollum has had feelers out, but has not yet gathered real momentum. McCollum is one of Florida’s most veteran politicians. He served as attorney general from 2007-10 and then left office for a failed bid for Governor. Then-political newcomer Scott defeated him.

— “Here’s why Bill McCollum isn’t going to run for A.G.” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist

Ron DeSantis’ now-open CD 6 shifts to ‘likely Republican’” via Kyle Kondik of Sabado’s Crystal Ball — One we’re adding to our competitive seat ratings is [Florida’s 6th Congressional District], which DeSantis is leaving in favor of a gubernatorial bid. The seat is very Republican — Trump won it by 17 points — although Democrats have an interesting challenger who has raised legitimate money, former Clinton administration deputy National Security Adviser Nancy Soderberg. We thought about listing this seat as Likely Republican before DeSantis left to run for governor, so it stands to reason we’d list it now that it is an open seat even though the eventual Republican nominee will be clearly favored.

Ashley Moody adds pair of Miami pols’ endorsements” via Florida Politics — Former prosecutor and circuit court judge Moody added two more endorsements, this time from Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. “As elected leaders, there is no greater priority than the safety of those we serve. Our next Attorney General must be prepared to work with agencies and law enforcement leaders from every level to keep our state safe and strengthen our criminal justice system. Ashley Moody has the knowledge and experience needed to hit the ground running and keep us safe. I look forward to working with her to help strengthen the safety and security of our Miami community and I’m proud to endorse her for Attorney General,” Suarez said. In his endorsement, Diaz-Balart called Moody “a tireless advocate for the Rule of Law.”

Spotted – On the cover of Time magazine: Lauren Baer, candidate for Florida’s 18th Congressional District, and Anna Eskamani, who is running for House District 47. The Democrats are two of 48 first-time female candidates for public office featured in an article declaring them as “The Avengers,” which represent the current women’s empowerment movement.

— END OF THE ROAD —

For Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman, the Cabinet post he’s vying for is a final destination.

“This is it for me,” Troutman told Florida Politics in a recent interview.

If elected to two terms, Troutman would be 60 years old by the time he left office. He said he’s not interested in campaigning for anything past that age. A citrus farmer by lineage, Troutman also said Ag Commissioner is his end game.

Long time coming: Troutman ran for Ag Commissioner at Boys State when he was 16. He intended to run in 2010 but was talked down by Adam Putnam.

A ‘statesman’: As CEO of a Central Florida personnel services company, Troutman distinguishes himself from candidates by saying he’s a “statesman,” not a “politician.” He said that separates him from his Republican candidates, lawmakers Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Matt Caldwell.

Cha-ching?: The race could be costly. Troutman has dumped $2.5 million of his own money into the race, giving him a cash-on-hand advantage. Grimsley and Caldwell still lead in fundraising, however.

— LAW & ORDER AND REFORM —

Planning to run for a State Attorney seat? Well, you might want to be more reform-minded.

That’s the gist of a new MCI Maps post in which data consultant Matthew Isbell examines voting trends in the 2016 State Attorney elections.

“Candidates are running, and winning, on platforms of reform,” writes Isbell. “Second chances for youth offenders, treatment for drug dependencies, and community outreach; are all becoming bigger staples of campaigns for prosecutor jobs in America.”

The 9th Circuit: State Attorney Aramis Ayala made headlines during her monthslong spat with Gov. Scott after ruling out further prosecution of the death penalty. But Isbell contends this won’t adversely affect her reelection, but rather help it. “Polling consistently shows Hispanic and African-Americans are against the death penalty and these two groups were the key to Ayala’s success,” notes Isbell.

The upset: The 13th Circuit race saw longtime Republican State Attorney Mark Ober lose to Democrat Andrew Warren. The victor attacked Ober before the election for victim blaming, citing Ober’s hesitance to prosecute a 27-year-old man who lured a 15-year-old girl into a sexual relationship. Warren won the Hillsborough circuit, mirroring Hillary Clinton’s victory in the area.

Looking ahead: “The 2016 races for State Attorney didn’t see as much of the stereotypical ‘lock them up’ talk,” concludes Isbell. “Candidates of all parties talked about reforms being needed to reduce crime as well as properly going after serious offenders. … Expect more reform-minded candidates to run in 2020.”

— OPINIONS —

Eve Samples: The greenwashing of Rick Scott” via the TCPalm — The governor, who started his term seven years ago by gutting state agencies that protect Florida’s environment, is presenting himself as more green than Kermit the Frog as he considers a run for U.S. Senate. Scott is now against offshore oil drilling. He’s a champion of the Everglades. He supports land conservation. He wants to save the imperiled St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and the Indian River Lagoon. He’s for those things now … but his actions early in his tenure as governor sure made it look like he was against them. Scott’s reversal on offshore drilling earned him a “full flop” rating from PolitiFact Florida … “I will never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline,” Scott proclaimed. It’s official. We’re witnessing the full-on greenwashing of Gov. Scott.

Tim Cerio: Marsy’s Law for Florida brings fairness to criminal justice system” via Florida Politics — While amending our constitution is not something I take lightly, I do feel strongly about a proposed constitutional amendment I put forward called Marsy’s Law for Florida (CRC Proposal 96). This measure would ensure that victims and their families are provided with the same level of rights and protections as those given to the accused and convicted. Marsy’s Law for Florida is a pro-victims’ rights proposal, but to me, it is more about bringing equity to the criminal justice process. I want to be very clear that the accused are entitled to their rights, as they should be. They deserve to have every single right currently provided to them under federal and state law. Nothing should change there at all. What should change is that victims should have the same level of rights and protections too. The U.S. Constitution is silent on victims’ rights. Our state constitution does not have to be.

Dana Young: Florida’s boaters deserve consumer protections, too” via Florida Politics – Many boaters pay for memberships with maritime salvage and towing companies in order to be covered for services like fuel delivery, towing and so on. But sometimes these companies seize on the opportunity to unfairly classify assistance as a “salvage claim,” a classification that lets them charge outrageous and unexpected fees based on the value of the boat, not on the value of their actual services. These fees can sometimes end up costing tens of thousands of dollars for what should be a relatively simple job. Additionally, when basic assistance isn’t enough, some companies take advantage of arcane maritime law and choose to declare it a salvage situation. Here’s the real shocker: Because the cost of assistance on the water isn’t disclosed up front, these companies can stick boat owners with costly salvage fees after the fact. This is a case of powerful companies preying on the vulnerable and unsuspecting — an act of modern-day piracy. To combat this unscrupulous practice, I have filed legislation that would provide added transparency and accountability to the marine towing and salvage business. The bill, which I filed with Rep. Shawn Harrison, requires salvors to give boaters a written estimate before providing service. That’s it. We are essentially taking the common-sense consumer protections Floridians have come to expect on land — from auto mechanics, for example — and extending them to our state’s boaters.

More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board – Without warning, legislation popped up just before a three-day holiday weekend that directs USF to create a plan over the next year to phase out the separate accreditation of USFSP and the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Rep. Chris Sprowls … pursued the change without consulting USF president Judy Genshaft, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman or virtually anyone else with a vested interest in the future of the St. Petersburg campus. The reality is that a fully unified USF is not the worst idea the Florida Legislature has ever had about higher education. Sprowls considers the separate accreditation for USFSP a worthwhile experiment, and there is no apparent reason to question his motives for change. He makes a provocative argument that times are different and that the Legislature will continue to steer more money toward universities based on performance standards. Yet history has to be taken into account in any push for transformational change. The compact St. Petersburg campus is a public jewel that has been dramatically improved and expanded. Student enrollment and performance are up from years ago. That progress should not be put at risk, and this proposed change comes at a moment when USFSP is particularly vulnerable to political meddling. A unified USF may have merit. But decades of effort for some measure of self-determination for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg should not be erased in weeks in Tallahassee without a more complete picture of what the future would hold for a campus that has made tremendous strides.

— MOVEMENTS —

Reappointed Ellis Hunt Jr., Dan Casper and Marty McKenna to the Florida Citrus Commission.

Eighteen selected to interview for PSC seat — They were selected by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council out of 23 applications. Gov. Scott had picked former Rep. Ritch Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities. But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation. Current contenders include Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Treasure Island Republican; former Rep. Janet Adkins, a Fernandina Beach Republican; and former Rep. Ray Pilon, a Sarasota Republican. Interviews are set for on Jan. 25 in Tallahassee. The full-time PSC position, based in Tallahassee, pays $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval.

’Fitness’ of PSC applicants to be considered” via the News Service of Florida — State Sen. Kelli Stargel wants “fitness” for office to be considered as background checks are conducted on 18 people, including some current and former lawmakers, who will be interviewed for an open seat on the Florida Public Service Commission. A Lakeland Republican and chairwoman of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council, Stargel said investigations into the qualifications of each applicant must use “all the sources reasonably available within the time permitted by law to make sure we vet these candidates going forward.”

Bad pot advice leads to lawyer disbarment” via the News Service of Florida –The Florida Supreme Court disbarred a former Jacksonville lawyer who charged sick people nearly $800 for a “patient identification card” he claimed could keep them from getting arrested for having or growing marijuana. Several of Ian Christensen’s clients were arrested and prosecuted after following the lawyer’s advice, according to court documents. Doing business as “Health Law Services,” Christensen and Christopher Ralph charged patients $799 for services that included a visit with a doctor, legal services and documents, as well as the ID card, which was not sanctioned by any government agency. Critics accused the duo of running a scam. Christensen stopped practicing law in 2015 and no longer lives in Florida, according to an affidavit filed with the court last year.

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues that affect the area’s citizens.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Panelists include PolitiFact editor Angie Holan, Democratic political consultant Barry Edwards, Republican attorney William Merlin and Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: As the Legislative Session is underway, Walker-Torres will discuss “Texting While Driving” legislation currently up for discussion in the legislature.  Joining Walker-Torres are Reps. Emily Slosberg and Jackie Toledo; Sen. Keith Perry; and Sgt. Kim Montes, Florida Highway Patrol.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Ybeth Bruzual will interview Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Puerto Rican residents who wish to relocate to the U.S. due to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico as the 51st state, and more. Also, the latest on immigration, DACA, federal funding and the potential government shutdown. PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter rates a claim by House Speaker Paul Ryan about the recently passed tax legislation – whether the main goal was to give the middle class a tax break rather than high-income earners.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon speaks with pollster Steve Vancore and Miami Herald political reporter Mary Ellen Klas.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Co-hosts Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg will take up the immigration debate with a focus on the fate of DACA DREAMers. Also, a live report from Venezuela as well as the weekly powerhouse news Roundtable.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week, Justice takes a break as the Jacksonville Jaguars play in the AFC championship.

— ALOE —

Lawyer: OJ Simpson is golfing a lot, staying in Las Vegas” via Ken Ritter of The Associated Press – Simpson is not planning to move from Nevada to Florida like he told state parole officials before he was released in October from Nevada state prison, his Las Vegas lawyer said … The 70-year-old former football hero, acquitted murder defendant and armed robbery inmate has not filed paperwork with parole officials to move to a different state, attorney Malcolm LaVergne said. “Mr. Simpson has no immediate plans to return to Florida,” LaVergne told The Associated Press. “He’s very much enjoying his time here in Vegas. It’s January, he gets to play golf every day.”

Sign of the times – “After half a century, World Liquors sign may finally come down” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — This time, it’s no rumor. It looks very likely that by the end of spring the corner of 16th Street and Central Avenue will no longer be graced by World Liquors and its iconic overhead sign for the first time since 1961. Where the establishment’s famous sign ends up is anybody’s guess. At this point, it appears headed to an auction to be awarded to the highest bidder. Milhaus Development of Indianapolis closed on a deal to buy the entire block between Central and First Avenues N and S and 16th and 17th Streets. They plan to build a $50 million six-story project with 251 multifamily units and over 12,000 square-feet of retail space. Groundbreaking could take place in March or April … It could be finished by mid-2020. Why can’t the sign stay in its old neighborhood? World Liquors owner Paul Misiewicz said Milhaus had no interest in incorporating the sign into its project because its size would have cut into the development’s footprint. “They had no interest,” Misiewicz said. “These guys are strictly business. They’ve got the formula.”

Sign of the times: The ‘burg’s iconic World Liquors sign is soon to be no more.

Happy birthday to Rep. Jayer Williamson. Celebrating this weekend are the handsome AND smart Jon Costello, Jim Horne, Jennifer Lux, Heather Meehan, Chris O’Donnell, Rick Oppenheim, and Alan Suskey‘s better half Michael Johnston. 

Sixty Days for 1.18.18 — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

Sixty Days  — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

The Last 24

Good Thursday evening. No special election for you if you live in Senate District 16 or House District 33, but a school for people with autism could see a much needed infusion of dollars. Sixty Days loves it when a good cause gets funded. Here’s your evening rundown.

Winning team: More money could be coming to the Jacksonville School for Autism if legislation carried in the Senate by Aaron Bean and in the House by Jason Fischer passes.

Jack‘pot’: A New York-based company bought a Central Florida medical marijuana operation for $43 million in cash and stock.

The ‘Reform’atory: Speaker Richard Corcoran, a.k.a. head of the “House of Reformers,” asked the Constitution Revision Commission to OK an amendment for a six-year lobbying ban on legislators, statewide elected officers.

Water woes: A massive reservoir intended to help shift water south from Lake Okeechobee remains years away from reality.

Sex clinics? A resolution moving through the Florida House would declare pornography a health risk.

Syringe service: Lawmakers are trying to expand a Miami-Dade needle-exchange program statewide.

Talking heads: Gov. Scott told reporters that a controversial deal between VISIT FLORIDA and a local video production company for “Emeril’s Florida” “wouldn’t happen today.”

Right stuff: Lawmakers again are pushing for protections for LGBT folk in private businesses and state offices, two places where such discrimination is not explicitly barred by state law.

Nope: Gov. Rick Scott says he won’t call special elections to fill vacancies created by the resignation of former Sen. Jack Latvala and the passing of the late Rep. Don Hahnfeldt.

Quote of the Day

“You know how these companies have behaved … Am I optimistic we’re going to resolve it? No. And if not, we’re prepared to go to litigation. It’s outrageous what they’ve been doing … and we are not going to back down.” —Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday, talking about her nascent legal fight against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

It’s hard to find state Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, doing something that isn’t considered public service. When he’s not in the Capitol, Willhite is busy with his duties as a firefighter/paramedic back home. This unique intersection of careers enables Willhite to not only serve his constituents but also his first responder colleagues. Willhite took the time to discuss with Florida Politics an issue that led him to sponsor a bill (HB 227) with Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia this year that would provide workers’ compensation benefits for first responders suffering from mental health injuries.

FP: What mental health issues face first responders?

MW: Due to the nature of our job, first responders can suffer from a variety of mental health issues. While this legislation specifically addresses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, first responders can also experience depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts which all arise from job-related conditions. It’s hard for anyone to experience and see just one of the many things we do while we’re on call. We see it all and then we go home to our loved ones with those images still in our memory. That’s why you’re seeing more first responders die from suicide than line-of-duty deaths.

FP: Do you think the presence of PTSD is something that’s been overlooked by the public and lawmakers?

MW: I believe that in the State of Florida we are not doing enough when it comes to mental health as a whole. Florida has consistently been at the bottom of the list when it comes to our spending on mental health. I do think PTSD has been a concern that has not been properly addressed, especially in the case of first responders. In part, that may have to do with the overall culture amongst police and firefighters but that culture is slowly shifting as we see more of our colleagues develop these issues. Also, many cities and counties who employ these first responders have been resistant to spending more money to provide additional services to those suffering from job-related PTSD. This issue is finally receiving attention in the Senate and we are hoping the House will recognize the need to pass this legislation as well and give the bill a hearing.

FP: You’re a firefighter yourself. Do you plan to address other issues facing first responders during your tenure?

MW: During my time in the Legislature I plan to address a number of issues facing the citizens of Florida and the residents of the district I represent. Being an active firefighter I have a unique perspective on problems first responders face on a daily basis. I will be tackling some of those problems as well to hopefully make it easier for these men and women to do their jobs safely so they can return home to their families and continue serving our community. Let’s not forget that first responders are constituents and residents of our state as well.

Lobby Up

Angela Drzewiecki has joined Marc Reichelderfer and Tony Glover, formerly the state’s top gambling regulator, as lobbyists for GREY2K USA Worldwide, a group that seeks to end greyhound racing.

GREY2K has for years worked to end dog racing in Florida, also backing intermediate steps such as decoupling and banning steroid use in dogs.

The organization’s executive director, Carey Theil, also has registered to lobby lawmakers.

The group took an early “W” in the 2018 session as the Senate Regulated Industries Committee this week OK’d a comprehensive ban on the use of steroids in racing dogs.

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

As the second week of Session draws to a close, it will be fairly quiet day at the Capitol — the exception being House subcommittees and CRC panels:

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee will consider close to 50 appropriations for projects across state colleges and universities. That’s at 8 a.m., 102 House Office Building, The Capitol.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will consider more than 80 health-related proposals. That’s also at 8 a.m., 404 House Office Building, The Capitol.

The Constitution Revision Commission resumes committee meetings in the Capitol. The Declaration of Rights Committee meets at 8 a.m. in 301 Senate Office Building and the Executive Committee starts at 8 a.m. in 401 Senate Office Building. Later, the Education Committee meets at 1 p.m. in 301 Senate Office Building and the Judicial Committee convenes at 1 p.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

The Florida Commission on Ethics will meet. That’s at 8:30 a.m., 1st District Court of Appeal, 2000 Drayton Dr., Tallahassee.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will make a policy announcement. That’s at 9:30 a.m., Florida Press Center, 336 E. College Ave., Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will release December state unemployment numbers. That’s at 10 a.m.

Ashley Moody adds pair of Miami pols’ endorsements

Former prosecutor and circuit court judge Ashley Moody added two more endorsements for her Attorney General campaign Thursday, this time from Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

“As elected leaders, there is no greater priority than the safety of those we serve. Our next Attorney General must be prepared to work with agencies and law enforcement leaders from every level to keep our state safe and strengthen our criminal justice system. Ashley Moody has the knowledge and experience needed to hit the ground running and keep us safe. I look forward to working with her to help strengthen the safety and security of our Miami community and I’m proud to endorse her for Attorney General,” Suarez said.

Moody said she was “extremely honored” by the endorsement and that Suarez “understands that in order for cities to flourish we must elect leaders committed to public safety and the protection of those they serve.”

In his endorsement, Diaz-Balart called Moody “a tireless advocate for the Rule of Law.”

“She possesses the experience, fairness, and common sense we need in our next Attorney General. I am proud to support her to succeed Attorney General Pam Bondi. I am confident that Ashley will do a superb job as Attorney General, protecting our state and combating the growing public safety challenges we face,” he said.

Moody said she was thankful for the endorsement and said “Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart’s track record of service to his community and this country is well known to all he represented. To have his trust, faith, and confidence is humbling. He set a sterling example that all public servants should aspire to emulate.”

Suarez and Diaz-Balart join dozens of backers, including more than two dozen sitting county sheriffs, who have lined up behind Moody in what is shaping up to be an expensive and hotly contested primary to replace Bondi, who is up against term limits in 2018.

Moody is running against Pensacola Rep. Frank White, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant and Dover Rep. Ross Spano for the GOP nomination. Running for the Democratic nomination are Rep. Sean Shaw and Ryan Torrens, both of Tampa.

White leads in fundraising with $1.95 million on hand between campaign and committee accounts, followed by Moody with $1.2 million in the bank, Fant with just shy of $1 million and Spano with about $50,000.

White’s and Fant’s totals were bolstered by their personal money – White has anted up $1.5 million, and Fant put in $750,000.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.18.18

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

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

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Winter Storm Inga is now bringing snow and freezing rain to the Florida Panhandle, the third round of snow and ice to the Sunshine State this winter season.

The last time multiple snow and ice events were reported in the same winter in Florida was seven years ago.

The National Weather Service has issued winter weather advisories for parts of the western Florida Panhandle through early Wednesday afternoon.

Snow was reported early Wednesday in Crestview and De Funiak Springs, and freezing rain was reported in Ft. Walton Beach.

Sleet accumulated on vehicles and grassy areas in Pensacola. The Bob Sikes Bridge to Pensacola Beach was shut down Wednesday due to icy travel concerns.

Welcome to Florida! Up to 2 inches of snow in northern Escambia County with 1/2 inch on the state line in Century. Photo credit: NorthEscambia.com.

Pensacola recorded a trace of snow from Winter Storm Benji. Flurries were reported at Destin and Miramar Beach. Winter Storm Grayson brought a wintry mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain from northern Florida into the Carolinas on Jan. 3-4.

Tallahassee saw its first measurable snowfall, at least 0.1 inches, since December 1989 when 0.1 inches of snow and sleet accumulated early on Jan. 3.

There have been seasons where Tallahassee has seen at least a trace of snow or sleet twice: 1958 when a trace of snow or sleet was observed on Jan. 8 and again when 2.8 inches of snow fell Feb. 12-13.

Multiple snowfall events in one season also occurred in 1955, when a trace of snow was recorded Jan. 24 and 0.4 inches March 28.

According to the National Weather Service and the University of Florida, from 1891 to 2010 it snowed 33 times in Tallahassee, with only 7 of these times 0.1 inches or more. It corresponds to a measurable snow event occurring once every 17 years, while a trace of snow occurs every 3 to 4 years.

— “Arctic air could bring freezing temperatures to Sarasota-Manatee” via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Central Florida placed under freeze watch as cold temperatures approach” via Stephen Ruiz of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Freeze warning issued for Tampa Bay area tonight” via WFLA-TV

— “Panhandle braces for deep freeze” via NWFDailyNews.com

— “Schools closing due to cold weather” via Jasmine Anderson of WEAR-TV

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @Greta: What is up w/this? The doctor who actually examined @realDonaldTrump (including tests) and who was same doctor for Pres Obama, says no heart disease but CNN doc, who did NOT examine says he does?

— @RepCharlieCrist: I’m standing with #DREAMers and for an end to start-stop government funding. Time’s up. Let’s get to work and reach agreement. No more kicking the can!

— @Fineout: Things that make you say hmm. In 2017 state economists drew up new tax revenue forecasts at end of week 2 of the session. This year they won’t do it until the end of week 5. That could really really complicate getting a budget done on time.

— @AnaCeballos_: .@ChrisSprowls on agreement struck between @ICEgov and 17 Florida county sheriffs to house “illegal immigrants”:”The project also furthers the goals of House Bill 9, recently passed by the Florida House.”

— @NoahPransky: If Florida lawmakers want to support UCF, how about they start by increasing the funding to higher education?

— @LobbyTools: In total, this Thursday, Jan. 18, committees will see 283 individual pieces of legislation. LobbyTools will be standing by to handle the avalanche!

— @DJGroup: The Capitol is where the “Let the Elevator Clear Before Boarding Rule” went to die.

— @LaurenceReisman: I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entity as snake-bitten as this one. Two fatals in six days on a relatively tiny stretch of its proposed route. Wow. (re: Brightline)

— @NewsbySmiley: Some personal news. I’m the new political reporter for the @MiamiHerald. Dream job for a #FloridaMan

— @DeFede: .@CBSMiami confirms that Jorge Colina will be announced tomorrow as the new chief for @MiamiPD

— @CNBC: Apple says it will contribute more than $350 billion over the next five years to the US economy through investments, will add “over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one”

***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 —

Florida Capitol Press Corps Skits — 5; Super Bowl LII — 17; Pyeongchang Winter Olympics — 22; Fat Tuesday — 26; Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training — 26; Valentine’s Day — 27; Disney Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival — 41; Sine Die (maybe) — 50; First Day of Spring — 61; Major League Baseball Opening Day — 70; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 125; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 155; Primary Election Day — 222; General Election Day — 292.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT —

Richard Corcoran wants federal prosecutors to look into Mayors Andrew Gillum, Rick Kriseman via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Speaker Corcoran wants the Department of Homeland Security to investigate Tallahassee Mayor Gillum and St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman for publicly advocating for so-called “sanctuary cities.” In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen sent Wednesday, Corcoran touted his support for President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and said her agency should “immediately” investigate Gillum and Kriseman as it explores legal avenues to prosecute elected officials that support sanctuary cities. Corcoran also took the opportunity to tout the effort by his chamber to pass HB 9 on the first week of Session, adding that he is waiting for the Senate to act.

Richard Corcoran wrote to DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen, calling for investigations into Florida mayors supporting sanctuary cities, like Andrew Gillum and Rick Kriseman.

Tweet, tweet:

Corcoran backs lobbying ban in letter to CRC – Speaker Corcoran sent a letter to members of the Constitution Revision Commission late Wednesday voicing his support for a pair of proposals that would ban lawmakers from working as paid lobbyists for for six years after they leave office… “Recent legislative attempts to extend the lobby ban and impose stricter ethical requirements have been thwarted by the self-interested politicians we hope to regulate.  It’s easy to recognize the influence a member can retain after they leave the Legislature, and the sway a prior agency head can have over their former colleagues.” … “Tightening ethics laws in Florida and closing the revolving door between lobbyists and legislators should be of paramount importance to the Constitution Revision Commission.  Passing these important proposals would provide for the longest lobby ban for former legislators in the nation.  Please give the Florida voters the opportunity to usher in a new era of principled public service for elected and appointed officers around our state.” One of the lobby ban proposals, filed by Darryl Rouson, would simply up the current ban to six years. The other, filed by Don Gaetz, would do the same and would also force state appointed officers and county officials to wait six years after their end date before they could become lobbyists.

Campaign finance reforms advance with bipartisan support” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — A pair of measures that would reform the state campaign finance system, including barring the Governor and Cabinet members from raising money during Session, cleared a House panel on Wednesday with bipartisan support. Lawmakers are currently banned from accepting contributions during a regular, extended or special Legislative Session. Attorney General hopeful, state Rep. Frank White, is also championing a proposal that would repeal the public campaign financing system. He said: “It is ridiculous to hardworking Floridians that millions of their tax dollars are used to pay for negative political TV ads.”

House advances proposal to limit school board member terms” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – The measure, also a proposed constitutional amendment, came into play because “it may not pass the CRC,” said sponsor Rep. Jason Fischer, a former Duval County board member.And it deserves voter attention, Fischer told his colleagues, because Floridians largely support term limits for elected officials. Initially, the bill mirrored the original CRC proposal. But after hearing some concerns about its provisions regarding current board members, Fischer offered amendments. Instead of setting a strict limit, whereby anyone who had already served eight years could not run again, he proposed starting the term limits with any time served after 2013.

Greyhound steroids ban moves in Senate” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A bill to ban all uses of steroids in racing dogs has cleared a key Senate panel. The Regulated Industries Committee OK’d the measure (SB 674) on Wednesday. State regulations now allow use only of a “low-dose, nonperformance enhancing” form of testosterone in greyhounds, and only as birth control, according to Florida Greyhound Association (FGA) lawyer-lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp. Bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, took a jab at the association … (She) calls steroid use in dogs “doping.” “I find it interesting that the (association) seems to think that they have any credibility on drug issues when they had an incident in Jacksonville where 12 racing greyhounds were … found with cocaine in their bloodstream,” Young said.

The big thing that’s not in the Senate’s gambling bill” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The Senate on Wednesday began moving its omnibus gambling bill for 2018 without addressing one looming issue sure to cause headaches: Sports betting. And there’s a reason it’s not in this year’s legislation (SB 840), according to Sen. Travis Hutson, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee: To avoid a meltdown with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the gambling-averse House.

Computer coding bill undergoes transformation in Senate Education Committee” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Lawmakers’ continuing effort to boost computer coding lessons in Florida has morphed into a broader focus on computer sciences. “People from the industry came to use and said coding is really a subset of computer science,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, sponsor of this year’s foray into the subject. As a result, she amended SB 1056 to promote computer science courses and encourage teachers to become certified in the area, and not just in the niche coding field. The measure, as amended, would require percentages of schools in each district to offer computer science courses. It would provide financial incentives for teachers to hold certification in the field. The bill flew through committee without debate or opposition. Its next committee stop is PreK-12 Appropriations, which Passidomo chairs.

Kathleen Passidomo seeks to boost computer coding education in Florida schools.

Florida House: Are students safe to express their views?” via The Associated Press — Florida may require its 12 public universities to survey the “intellectual freedom” and “viewpoint diversity” allowed on campuses. A panel in the Florida House attached the requirement to a sweeping higher education bill. House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues says legislators want to make sure students are “safe and secure” in expressing their views. If passed, the legislation would require each university to ask students, faculty and administrators to “assesses the extent to which competing ideas, perspectives, and claims of truth are presented.”

Payday lending bill moves ahead in House” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — A House panel on Wednesday adopted a “strike-all” amendment to a bill that would change regulatory requirements on the payday-lending industry, which consumer advocates criticize for creating “debt traps” for poor Floridians. The proposal would comply with new federal rules set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year. But state Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, it would not “require the underwriting that makes the economics of the transaction unsustainable.” Under his bill, a consumer may not borrow or have an outstanding balance that exceeds $1,000. And the maximum fees that a lender may charge cannot be more than 8 percent of the borrower’s outstanding balance on a biweekly basis.

UCF championship specialty license plate bill filed in Legislature” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — The bill, HB 1359, was filed last week and its design was released Wednesday, featuring “National Champions” emblazoned on the bottom. “I am incredibly proud of our national champions,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who represents the district that includes UCF’s campus. “A UCF license plate is the perfect way to commemorate our undefeated Knights for achieving this historic milestone.” UCF’s players, coaches, administrators and fans have declared themselves the champions after their 13-0 undefeated season, despite not being invited to the four-team playoff that decides the official national champs. Alabama won the playoff despite not winning or even playing in their conference championship game after they lost to Auburn in the regular season. UCF beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Voters in the final Associated Press poll of the season ranked UCF sixth, although the team did get four first-place votes.

The plate by Cate: The proposed UCF specialty tag, designed pro bono by communications savant Kevin Cate’s CATECOMM.

Committee approves bill opposed by industry on ‘tourism day’ – The House Ways and Means Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would allow tourist development taxes to be used for infrastructure projects such as roads. The tourism lobby came out in force to oppose HB 585, sponsored by Republican Rep. Randy Fine, saying it could lead to a sharp drop in funding for marketing or other efforts with a direct effect on businesses in the industry. Lawmakers were more split than the 15-4 vote implies, with Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White and Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller both saying the bill would lose their support unless its scope was cut before it hit the House floor. The bill now heads to the House Commerce Committee, its final committee stop before it’s ready for the full chamber.

Assignment editors — Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene “Coach P” Plasencia will hold a news conference at 11:30 a.m. on the 4th-floor Rotunda of The Capitol to discuss House Bill 347/Senate Bill 66, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

Assignment editors — Reps. Shevrin Jones and Plasencia will hold a news conference to bring awareness to HB 579, the Florida Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA), legislation proposing the expansion of a successful Miami-Dade County needle exchange program. Event begins 10:30 a.m. on the 4th-floor Rotunda of The Capitol.

Assignment editors – Reps. Matt Willhite and Carlos Guillermo Smith will hold a news conference presenting petitions urging Gov. Scott to protect state lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers via executive order to end discriminatory practices. Event begins 1 p.m. at the 4th-floor Rotunda of The Capitol.

Governors Club Thursday buffet menu — Mixed green salad with assorted dressings; beat, carrot and apple salad; quinoa and spinach salad; chicken tortilla soup; chicken fajita with tortilla, sour cream, pico and guacamole — beef and cheese enchiladas; grouper Vera Cruz; Mexican rice; jalapeño, corn and cilantro; black beans and peppers; with tres leche for dessert.

— BREAKING NEWS: TOURISTS LOVE FLORIDA —

Finally, some good news for the state’s public-private tourism marketing agency.

VISIT FLORIDA released a report showing that out-of-state visitor spending reached a record in 2016, totaling $112 billion.

The report showed visitors generated $88 billion, or around 10 percent, of the state’s GDP. That metric is more than 4 percent higher than it was in 2015. The report also linked $11.6 billion in taxes to visitor spending.

The news is timely, as legislators are sure to examine the effectiveness of the agency when determining a budget allocation for VISIT FLORIDA this Session.

The report already is being lauded by VISIT FLORIDA’s leadership and allies.

Gov. Scott: A champion for the state’s marketing agency, Gov. Scott is elated to see a return on investment in VISIT FLORIDA. He’ll likely leverage this news to convince the Legislature to match his proposed budget request, which totals a record $100 million for the next fiscal year.

Ken Lawson: Lawson, president and CEO of the agency, gave kudos to Scott and the Legislature amid the news of VISIT FLORIDA’s success. Already using the report to attract the Legislature’s attention, Lawson said, “We hope to continue building on this success by receiving full funding this upcoming year as we work to make Florida the number one global destination.”

— STATEWIDE —

First on #FlaPol –Florida voters support popular vote for presidential elections, poll says” via Florida Politics – More than two thirds of Florida voters say presidential elections should be decided by the national popular vote rather than the current Electoral College system, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll commissioned by the League of Women Voters… Support for the measure was near 90 percent among Democrats, with 70 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans saying they were also in favor. Voters who backed President Trump were split 53-47 in favor of keeping the Electoral College, which benefitted Trump bigly, while nine tenths of Hillary Clinton’s backers said it was time for a change. “Despite the fact that Florida is the third largest state, Floridians’ voices are not equal to those of residents of other states,” said LWVF President Pamela Goodman. “Floridians’ voices are further diminished by the ‘winner-take-all’ rule, common to 47 other states, which awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins in that state, no matter how slim the margin.”

— “Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times – The new protocol calls for ICE to send a booking form that transfers custody of the detainees from the local jail to federal immigration authorities, said ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan. At that point, the jail’s only role is housing the detainee, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Sheriffs will be paid up to $50 to hold the inmate for up to 48 hours. Called a “basic ordering agreement,” the scheme is similar to the inter-governmental agreements that jail operators strike with federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gualtieri said. “These agreements will make communities here in the Sunshine State safer and more secure from criminal activity perpetrated by individuals with no legal standing to be in this country in the first place,” Homan said at a news conference held at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Matt Gaetz focused on policy, not Trump’s immigration remarks” via Florida Politics — On Wednesday, the Republican dismissed Trump’s recent remark questioning why the United States should accept immigrants from “s**thole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa. “President Trump is right that America deserves an ‘America First’ immigration policy. The 2016 election was not about DACA. If it were, then Clinton would have won. Border security is the top immigration priority of the American people — it should be for Congress, too,” Gaetz said … “Congressional conservatives should continue to support immigration policies to end the visa lottery, stop chain migration, build a wall, implement E-Verify nationwide, and remove dangerous criminals from America. Anything else would be a betrayal to our voters.” … The Panhandle congressman also blasted Democrats for seizing on the closed-door remarks “instead of offering ideas to secure our nation.”

— “Trump deals Haiti another blow ending participation in guest worker program” via Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald

First on #FlaPol – “Bill Nelson blocks three Interior nominees over offshore drilling plan” via Florida Politics – Nelson on Wednesday made moves to block three Department of the Interior Nominees until Secretary Ryan Zinke publishes a new offshore drilling plan that officially moves Florida “off the table.” Nelson wrote a letter to Zinke requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan after the Florida reprieve was announced. The current plan, published a day before Zinke’s announcement, had its first public hearing Tuesday and the department’s maps still showed Florida waters as open for drilling. In response, Nelson placed a hold on Susan Combs, nominee to Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget; Ryan Nelson, nominated to be Solicitor; and Steven Gardner, nominated to be Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, & Enforcement. Nominees on hold are blocked from being approved without a vote.​

Major Lake O reservoir could take years to complete” via the News Service of Florida — After receiving legislative approval last spring, a massive reservoir intended to help shift water south from Lake Okeechobee remains years away from reality … A big factor in the timeline for design and construction of the reservoir is waiting for federal-government approval of its half of the roughly $1.6 billion project … The federal money — needed to trigger two to three years of design work and five to six years of construction — could conservatively take two years to secure …  Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, last year made a top priority of passing a bill to create the reservoir. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican, announced he sent a letter to President Trump seeking about $4 billion to provide money for the reservoir, along with projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Central Everglades Planning Project, and to speed up completion of improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

— “Lawmakers grill water manager on start of Lake Okeechobee reservoir” via Kenya Woodard of the Palm Beach Post

Schools of Hope moves a step forward” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Board of Education unanimously approved a rule opening the door for private nonprofits to apply to receive millions in state funding to operate charter schools near low-performing public schools, called “Schools of Hope.” The rule establishes a process for a nonprofit group to become an operator of the charter schools near the struggling schools. The “Schools of Hope” program was passed last year as part of the controversial school choice mega-bill HB 7069, which several school districts are challenging in court. The board also voted to grant an additional $2,000 per student to 14 struggling district schools through the “Schools of Hope” program, adding to the 11 that were already selected in November. Mildred Helms Elementary in Largo, Midtown Academy in St. Petersburg, as well as Chamberlain High School and Robles Elementary in Tampa were among the recipients.

Mildred Helms Elementary in Largo is one of the first chosen to receive “Schools of Hope” money.

Judge could give early win to companies over insurance law” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A Tallahassee judge now will consider whether life insurance companies are in the right over a 2016 law requiring them to track down beneficiaries. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would rule on the companies’ motion for summary judgment “as soon as I can.” Life insurance companies sued over the law, which makes them check which policyholders have died back to 1992, then track down any beneficiaries. If beneficiaries can’t be found, insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property. The bill was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater The companies say the law’s retroactivity is unfair, making them have to sift through potentially millions of old death records to find beneficiaries.

Brightline train hits, kills man on bicycle in Boynton Beach” via Tonya Alanez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — … the higher-speed line’s fourth fatality since the summer. The man riding the bicycle was struck at 4:26 p.m. in the 100 block of the Florida Eastcoast Railway tracks on Ocean Avenue … Wednesday’s fatality came just five days after the higher-speed train hit and killed a pedestrian as she crossed the tracks during a VIP ride for business leaders from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach the night before it was set to begin running introductory service. Another woman died in July after she was hit in Boca Raton. Her death was investigated as a suicide. In November, a second woman was on the tracks in Deerfield Beach when she was struck.

— “With four Brightline pedestrian deaths, Debbie Mayfield imploring need for state safety regulation” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

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Puerto Rican evacuees in Central Florida fret over housing as officials point fingers” via Bianca Padró Ocasio and Carlos Vázquez Otero of the Orlando Sentinel – Although the temporary shelter program was extended until March 20 following a request from the governor of Puerto Rico, hundreds of people are falling through the cracks of an often-confusing and bureaucratic federal aid process. And with recovery efforts moving slowly on the island, evacuees are hesitant to return. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency extended the TSA program until March 20 for evacuees in Florida, it is not a blanket extension for all its beneficiaries. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Daniel Llargués, the extensions are granted on a “case-by-case basis with rolling deadlines.” In a call with Gov. Scott last week, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said the program would be extended for “individuals whose homes in Puerto Rico have not yet been determined by Federal Emergency Management Agency to be restored to safe and livable conditions and have power.” As of Saturday, 4,322 families were being housed under the program in the United States — 1,794 of them in Florida, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

What Chuck Hinson is reading –TECO, Duke linemen to help restore power in Puerto Rico” via the Tampa Bay Times — As more than 1.5 million people in Puerto Rico remain powerless, local linemen are stepping up and flying out to the island to help restore electricity …  25 linemen boarded a flight from Tampa International Airport to Puerto Rico. That’s after 100 linemen from Duke Energy traveled there Sunday. About 40 percent of the U.S. territory is still without power. “We’re going to help people who can’t help themselves,” TECO lineman Michael Davis told reports at the airport. “This is what we do.” The TECO crew is expected to be working in Puerto Rico for six weeks.

The state we’re in –FHP troopers get drug to combat overdoses” via The News Service of Florida – The Florida Highway Patrol announced Wednesday it is issuing naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug commonly known by the brand name Narcan, to state troopers. The troopers will be the latest law-enforcement officers to start using the drug, which revives overdose victims. The move comes as law-enforcement agencies and other first responders struggle to deal with the state’s opioid epidemic, which is responsible for at least 16 deaths each day in Florida. The highway patrol “is part of a concerted, collaborative effort to combat the opioid crisis,” Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry Rhodes said in a prepared statement.

Florida cold case website seeks to solve old homicides” via The Associated Press – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced the creation of the website on Wednesday and credited Sen. Aaron Bean with the idea. The hope is that people scrolling through the cases might be able to provide information to solve the homicides. FDLE asked local departments to provide cases to be listed on the website, which can be used to send in tips.

Florida’s prison laborers are going on strike” via John Washington of The Nation — Inmates and Florida State prisons plan to begin a work-strike in protest of prison overcrowding, brutal living conditions, and working for no or little pay. The strike is being coordinated between at least 10 Florida prisons, and may involve thousands of inmates’ participating in the nonviolent “laydown” — vowing, for at least one month, to refuse to show up to work assignments or buy items at their prison’s commissary. Organizers of the strike argue that not being paid sufficiently for their work makes it exceedingly difficult for them to re-enter society upon release. Florida’s policy is to give freed inmates $50 and a bus ticket, which inmates claim is insufficient to weather the shocks of re-entry. Price-gouging at the commissaries — affecting both inmates and their families who send them money to supplement low-calorie or unsavory meals — is another chief complaint. An example inmate organizers give is of a $4 case of soup that costs $17 inside prison. “This is highway robbery without the gun,” the strike announcement reads.

Two more FSU fraternities banned from campus for alcohol, hazing” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat -One Florida State University fraternity was kicked off campus for four years and another suspended for two years after both were found responsible for repeated student organization conduct violations, including hazing, last semester. Some of the incidents for which the groups were sanctioned happened just days after FSU fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey died at an off-campus party in what investigators say was a deadly case of hazing. Chi Phi has been suspended for two years and their recognition as a student organization revoked, according to FSU Student Affairs documents. Alpha Epsilon Pi was dismissed from campus and is prohibited from being recognized as a university organization.

Florida panther struck, killed by vehicle in Collier County” via NBC Miami — It’s the third fatal collision this year, out of three total panther deaths. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that the remains of the 2-year-old male were collected near a Naples country club, east of Interstate 75. Florida panthers once roamed the entire Southeast, but now their habitat mostly is confined to a small region of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Up to 230 Florida panthers remain in the wild.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Tweet, tweet:

Former Trump adviser wants Hulk Hogan to run for U.S. Senate in Florida” via Matt BoneSteel of The Washington Post – Roger Stone was one of the first prominent Republican strategists to throw his support behind Donald Trump’s presidential run … is hoping Scott loses in the primary … to noted statesman Hogan. “At the moment, I am more focused on persuading Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, to challenge Gov. Scott for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2018,” Stone told [GOP consultant Patrick] Slevin. “At a minimum, I hope to convince Hogan to body slam Scott in every debate. If the governor is under the impression that his personal responsibility for $1 billion in Medicaid fraud is no longer an issue, he’s wrong.” Hogan lives near Clearwater, which is about the only thing that qualifies him for office.

New on the Twitters: @HulkMania2018

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine released an ad Wednesday that promises to stop offshore oil drilling, invoking the 2010 BP oil spill, Scott and President Trump. The $375,000 buy will run statewide over broadcast and cable over two weeks.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Assignment editorsAdam Putnam is scheduled to host a barbecue get-together for supporters in Citrus County. That’s at 6 p.m., M&B Dairy, 8760 South Lecanto Highway, Lecanto.

Gambling amendment wins enough signatures for ballot” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state now has enough signatures to be placed on the 2018 ballot. Division of Elections records show the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment now has 817,766 valid signatures — more than the 766,200 needed for placement. The total doesn’t count signatures still undergoing verification. The Division posted its usual disclaimer: “Verified totals are UNOFFICIAL until the initiative receives certification and a ballot number.” “Over 1.1 million Floridians have gone on record wanting Florida voters, not Tallahassee politicians, to decide whether to legalize casino gambling,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters in Charge, the committee behind the initiative.

Kurt Jetta raised $338K for bid to unseat Lois Frankel in CD 21” via Florida Politics — The Republican raised more than $88,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017 and chipped in another $250,000 of his own money for his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Frankel in Florida’s 21st Congressional District. Frankel hasn’t announced her end-of-year numbers, but she had nearly $1 million on hand at the end of September. Jetta criticized that cash as special interest money and said: “career politician Lois Frankel shows that she’s more at home in the swamp of Washington, D.C. than Palm Beach County.” The coastal Palm Beach County district is a Democratic stronghold … Frankel defeated Republican Paul Spain 62-35 in 2016, and Clinton carried the district over Trump 59-39 on the same day.

Kurt Jetta gaining some traction challenge to Lois Frankel and CD 21.

First on #FlaPol –14 Florida lawmakers endorse David Richardson for CD 27” via Florida Politics — State Rep. Richardson announced a wave of endorsements for his congressional campaign Wednesday from his Democratic colleagues in the Florida Legislature … The announcement included several glowing statements from the block of lawmakers. Endorsements came in from Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart and a full third of the Democrats in the Florida House … “I’m deeply honored to receive the support of my colleagues, because they see my work up close and are in the best position to judge my ability to get things done,” Richardson said. “I’m happy to have them supporting the campaign as we approach the primary election on August 28th.” That comment could be considered a burn on Miami Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, one of Richardson’s rivals in the crowded primary race … Before winning the SD 37 seat in 2016, JJR served two terms in the Florida House directly alongside more than half of the lawmakers who came out in support of Richardson, while Stewart has served alongside him in both chambers.

Million-dollar question: Special election to replace Jack Latvala?” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — Election supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco counties agree that the cost of a special election is so high — in excess of $1 million — that it makes sense to leave the seat vacant until next November when it will be filled anyway, because Latvala’s term was due to expire. “I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” said Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.” Clark and Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley co-signed a letter to state elections officials, citing the high cost of a special election and that the five-day candidate qualifying period begins June 18. That’s the first formal step in electing Latvala’s permanent successor. “The justification of the enormous cost is hard to swallow,” Corley said.

Dana Young gets rematch from Bob Buesing” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Democrats see the [Senate] District 18 race as one of their top chances to flip a state Senate seat from red to blue in what they hope will be a Democratic wave election year. It’s also a seat Democrats believe they must hold to build a state Senate majority in the future. Democratic-oriented advocacy groups such as Ruth’s List and The Alliance liberal are likely to pour money into the race. Buesing, 64, lost to Young in 2016 by 7 percentage points with adult entertainment magnate Joe Redner taking almost 10 percent. Republicans, meanwhile, spent more than $5 million last year to win the seat and will fight tenaciously to protect their incumbent. Young already has about $850,000 in her campaign account and her political committee, plus an advantage in name recognition after six years in the state House before being elected to the Senate.

Eustis Commissioner files for HD 32” via Jacob Engels of the Central Florida Post – Lifelong Lake County resident and current Eustis Commissioner Anthony Sabatini will run in the GOP primary for House District 32 in 2018 … Sabatini has without a doubt been the most vocal and effective Commissioner on the Eustis City Commission, earning national recognition for defending Confederate veterans monuments and property rights. A review of his votes while on the City Commission show that he has not voted a single time for a tax increase, fee, or revenue increase since being elected in 2016 to a two-year term. Sabatini was also the leading voice to keep religious invocations during city meetings and sponsored a plan to allow gun retailers the right to sell firearms in the town square. Lake County News has branded Sabatini a “political superhero” for his aggressive and successful approach on the City Commission.

First on #FlaPol –Dianne Hart already emerging as frontrunner to replace Sean Shaw in HD 61” via Florida Politics – “I know firsthand the struggles and the needs facing this District and spent a lifetime working to help our children and better our neighborhoods,” said Hart. “For far too long we have been ignored by those in power. Our children deserve a better education, our families need access to affordable healthcare and we must have better services for our elderly and disadvantaged families. I vow to continue to work tirelessly for and with the people of our community, small business owners, and neighborhood watch organizations to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just the privileged few.” This go around, Hart starts off with a slew of endorsements from current and former elected leaders, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. The Tampa Democrat is the CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, and has owned and operated a small business, Ms. Dee’s World of Beauty, for more than 30 years. She joins fellow Democrat Byron Henry in the race.

— OPINIONS —

Nancy Smith: Bill Nelson: I always opposed offshore drilling … uh, except when I didn’t” via Sunshine State News — Either Nelson has been standing too close to Charlie Crist, or his memory is beginning to go south. Or, more probably, he just doesn’t think you’ll notice. The point is, when it comes to offshore drilling, Florida’s senior senator has developed a conspicuous case of the flip-flops. Nelson is out there telling the world he’s a “career-long opponent of offshore drilling.” He recently put out a 900-word news release with a timeline outlining his supposed opposition. Except the timeline conveniently omits his 2010 support for an Obama Administration plan to expand offshore drilling off the Florida coast. That’s right, party leader Barack Obama said, let’s do more offshore drilling and Nelson hopped on the wagon quicker than a tick on a hound. Now he’s trying to explain it away — but it’s right there, in black and white. He only dropped his endorsement of the Obama offshore drilling expansion plan after the president did — after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Mark Woods: Nease senior could go from commencement to deportation” via the Florida Times-Union — Medina Blekic loves to sing. If you look at her Facebook page, following the timeline of photos back to when her family moved to North Florida about 10 years ago, there is a picture of when she was in elementary school, holding a big microphone in her little hands. She’s 17 now. And these days when she sings at events such as “Birdies for the Brave,” she often is belting out a particularly challenging song: the national anthem. But while classmates are looking forward to graduation in May, she has reason to dread the day — or at least to fear what will happen to her and her parents after she walks across the stage. Immigration officials have told them that after her graduation, they will be deported. If that happens, Medina will leave the only country she really knows. “I don’t really remember anything before here,” she said.

Dr. Nicole Fanarjian, Sarah Lipton-Lubet: Florida lawmakers are subsidizing anti-abortion lies” via Florida Politics — Wouldn’t you want to know if your taxpayer dollars were being used to lie to women about their health? That’s exactly what is happening here in Florida. Each year, the Florida Legislature funnels taxpayer dollars to “crisis pregnancy centers,” (CPCs) anti-abortion organizations posing as legitimate health care clinics. Under the guise of providing reproductive health services and pregnancy-related information, these fake clinics shame women and lie to them to prevent them from accessing the care they want and need. Often camouflaged as health care facilities and purposely located near real clinics that provide the full range of reproductive health services, CPCs try to lure women away from facilities that can actually meet their reproductive health care needs. Sen. Aaron Bean has introduced SB 444, which would permanently fund CPCs with taxpayer dollars. By sending tax dollars to CPCs, anti-abortion lawmakers in Florida are demonstrating a total disregard for the truth, undermining a woman’s right to make her own informed medical decisions and denying her the respect and dignity she deserves.

Ron Jackson: Florida policymakers, put consumers ahead of assignment of benefits abusers” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — For more than 100 years, AOBs have been around in Florida to help complete work done for a claim covered by the insurance contract — in other words, AOBs are used to help resolve insurance claims, not promote litigation. But as of late, plaintiff attorneys and service contractors have turned their intended use upside down, using AOBs not to settle claims but to generate lawsuits and increase their fees. Caught in the middle, Florida’s policyholders are paying the price as AOB lawsuits and litigation expenses have dramatically increased. Under current law, unscrupulous attorneys and contractors have every incentive to engage in frivolous litigation over their inflated fees. Florida lawmakers should resolve in 2018 to put Florida insurance consumers ahead of litigation abusers and restore AOB to its legitimate intent. To that end, lawmakers should act to discourage and prevent needless and abusive assignment of benefits litigation. In doing so, Florida can begin to shed its mantle as the worst state for litigation abuse.

Joe Henderson: Legislature move on USF could leave St. Pete rattled” via Florida Politics — Officials and faculty are no doubt still pondering how their life will different if a move in the Florida Legislature to combine USF’s three branches — Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota-Manatee — into one big single university is successful. So what, you ask? Goodbye relative autonomy for the smaller schools and hello to a new identity of being simply a branch off the giant USF main tree in Tampa. The short version is this: the good educators in St. Pete don’t want to be a branch on anyone’s tree. They have wanted to be a separate entity, making their decisions. The St. Pete campus lost one its main defenders when powerful state Sen. Latvala resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal … Latvala fiercely fought for the autonomy of USFSP while in office, and officials in Tampa were concerned that he might try to break off the St. Pete campus altogether. With Latvala gone, though, the relative silence coming from Tampa after Tuesday’s news that Rep. Chris Sprowls filed a bill that would combine the campuses. For what it’s worth, Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, is a USF graduate.

— MOVEMENTS —

Spotted at Red Dog/Blue Dog, the charity event which pits “celebrity bartenders” from either side of the political aisle against each other to see who can raise the most money for our canine (and other furry) friends: Sens. Rene Garcia and Randolph Bracy, Reps. Nick Duran, Kionne McGhee, Chris Latvala, Matt Wichita, Colleen Burton, Byron Donalds, David Silvers, and Bobby DuBose. Also: Marc Reichelderfer, Steve Schale, Richard Reeves, Nicole Hagerty, Robert Stuart, Chris Dawson, Vance Aloupis, Sydney Ridley, Cory Guzzo, Stephanie Smith, César Fernandez, Kevin Leary, James McFaddin, Chris Spencer, Chris Carmody, Eddie Gonzalez, Matt and Anna Farrar, Katie Flury, Carlecia Collins, Christian Minor, BillieAnne Gay, Erin VanSickle, Angela Drzewiecki, Sandi and Jason Poreda, and Joe and Sara Clements.

Six finalists picked for open Tallahassee judgeship” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Two veteran prosecutors are among the six finalists that Gov. Scott will choose from to fill an open judicial seat for the Tallahassee region. The Second Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), after interviewing 12 applicants Tuesday, now sends their list to Scott. He has 60 days to make a decision … Among those not making the cut are Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office. This was his third application for a judgeship.

Personnel note: RSA Consulting Group adds lobbyist Kaitlyn Bailey” via Florida Politics — The Tampa-based firm is expanding its scope in both the Tampa Bay region and Florida with the addition of up and coming lobbyist Kaitlyn Bailey. Bailey becomes the firm’s newest associate for Government & Community Affairs. As one of the region’s leading full-service consulting firms, with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee, RSA specializes in government, legislative and community affairs, strategic planning, media and public relations. “We’re thrilled to welcome Kaitlyn to our growing team,” said RSA founder and President Ron Pierce in a statement. “Since Kaitlyn joined us as an intern in 2016, we’ve been impressed by her professionalism, her willingness to jump right in and her strong aptitude for understanding the process and policies we work on.”

— ALOE —

Twitter to tell users if they were exposed to Russian election tweets” via David McCabe of Axios – Twitter’s Carlos Monje said the company is trying to “identify and inform individually the users who have been exposed to [Russian troll farm] accounts during the election” …  Facebook has already done the same thing. Twitter has been under pressure over a lackluster response to Capitol Hill questions about the Russian campaign during the 2016 election. Will Twitter, like Facebook, just notify users who saw ads associated with the Internet Research Agency Troll farm, or will it also notify people who saw their tweets organically?

Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant” via the Tampa Bay Times — Beloved burger restaurant Shake Shack, which once inspired hungry diners to wait in hourslong lines at New York’s Madison Square Park before expanding with dozens of locations across the U.S., is inching closer to Tampa Bay. A lease agreement with Brenderson Properties shows the publicly traded burger chain plans to open a Shake Shack near the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota, which would make it the closest outpost to Tampa for ShackBurgers and frozen custards in the state. Florida currently has six Shake Shack locations, including three in the Orlando area and others in Boca Raton, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. This would be the first on the state’s west coast.

Tampa fast foodies rejoice; Shake Shack is coming to Sarasota.

Happy birthday to Brody Enwright and Sara Johnson of No Casinos.

Bill Nelson blocks three Interior nominees over offshore drilling plan

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday made moves to block three Department of the Interior Nominees until Secretary Ryan Zinke publishes a new offshore drilling plan that officially takes Florida “off the table.”

Zinke announced last week that the department would not explore offshore drilling in Florida, so far the only coastal state that has been given such a reprieve.

“As a result of discussion with Governor [Rick] Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke said in a Jan. 9 statement.

The agency head went on to praise Scott for his leadership in Everglades restoration and during the 2017 hurricane season.

The move raised eyebrows, especially Nelson’s, as Scott is widely thought to be planning a run for Nelson’s Senate seat in the fall.

After the announcement, Nelson wrote a letter to Zinke requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. Nelson has also said Floridians should view Zinke’s promise as “just empty words” until he follows through with a new plan officially excluding the Sunshine State.

The current plan, published a day before Florida was taken “off the table,” had its first public hearing Tuesday and the department’s maps still showed Florida waters as open for drilling.

In response, Nelson placed a hold on Susan Combs, nominee to Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget; Ryan Nelson, nominated to be Solicitor; and Steven Gardner, nominated to be Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, & Enforcement.

Nominees on hold are blocked from being approved without a vote.

Floridians want popular vote to decide presidential elections, poll says

More than two thirds of Florida voters say presidential elections should be decided by the national popular vote, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll.

The poll, commissioned by the League of Women Voters, asked 1,000 registered voters how they thought the country should elect the President, and 68 percent said the winner should be the candidate with the most votes in all 50 states, while less than a third said they wanted to stick with the current Electoral College system.

“Despite the fact that Florida is the third largest state, Floridians’ voices are not equal to those of residents of other states,” said LWVF President Pamela Goodman. “Floridians’ voices are further diminished by the ‘winner-take-all’ rule, common to 47 other states, which awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins in that state, no matter how slim the margin.”

Support for the measure was near 90 percent among Democrats, with 70 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans saying they were also in favor. Nearly three-quarters of women supported moving to a popular vote system, while 63 percent of men were in favor.

Broken down by region, North Florida voters were in favor of the Electoral College 74-26, while Central Florida voters (63-37) and South Florida voters (68-32) were in favor of the popular vote.

Voters who backed President Donald Trump were split 53-47 in favor of keeping the Electoral College, which benefitted Trump bigly, while nine tenths of Hillary Clinton’s backers said it was time for a change.

The poll also found the more voters know about the Electoral College the more inclined they are to like it, though a majority of those who said they know “a lot” about the system said they were in favor of a switch.

Dr. Kevin Wagner, who chairs the FAU Department of Political Science, said the results of the poll “are consistent with other polls conducted over the past 50 years which have found the majority of Americans believe the President and Vice President should be chosen directly by the American people.”

The results of the poll were announced Wednesday at a press conference held by Aventura Rep. Joseph Geller and Orlando Sen. Victor Torres, who have filed legislation that would bring Florida into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact if signed into law.

FAU conducted the poll from Oct. 19 through Oct. 22 and responses were collected online and by telephone in English and Spanish. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

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