Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics

Peter Schorsch

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

No budget deal yet, Jack Latvala says

With just days left in the 2017 Legislative Session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said Tuesday morning there still isn’t a budget deal.

“There is no budget deal,” the Clearwater Republican said, as of 8:15 a.m.

About 15 minutes later, Latvala tweeted “when an agreement is reached on the budget it will be announced by the President and Speaker.”

Senate President Joe Negron wants to see everything in writing, and sent back the House offer within the last 12 hours with changes he’d still like to see made, said Latvala.

The House and Senate were expected to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. The budget framework was expected to give House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

On Tuesday afternoon, Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, the spokeswoman for Negron, said there would be no conference.

The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

On Wednesday morning, Kristen M. Clark with the Miami Herald reported Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon told Senate Democrats during their caucus meeting the only thing that is firm is allocations. Everything else, Braynon said, “is in play and it’s stuff we have to vote on.”

Braynon, according to Clark’s report, said he expects conference committee members to be named during the floor session today, and meetings to begin tonight.

Sunburn for 4.26.17 – Sleepless nights for job creators; Budget contours; Pepi promises big step; ‘Frozen 2’ is coming when?

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

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

WHILE LAWMAKERS DEBATE NEW BILLS AND THE BUDGET, HERE’S WHAT’S KEEPING JOB CREATORS UP AT NIGHT

The latest Florida Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index Survey is out, and one thing is clear: Small businesses are increasingly concerned about the quality of workforce.

According to the survey, 22 percent of respondents said “workforce quality” was their top issue. Government regulations went from being tied for first place in the last survey — and in first place to a year ago — to second place in the most recent survey, with 16 percent of respondents saying it was their top issue. Healthcare costs grabbed the No. 3 spot, something the Florida Chamber noted is an indication “of the increasing concern for Florida’s small businesses” since healthcare costs weren’t in the Top 5 list during the same period in either 2016 or 2015.

Economic uncertainty and access to capital were tied for fourth in the most recent survey, while lawsuit abuse rounded out the list with 6 percent of respondents indicating that was the top issue facing small businesses.

“Florida’s small businesses continue to face a number of challenges, including increased concerns about workforce quality and healthcare costs,” said Tami Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council, and founder and CEO of Entropy Technology Design. “Florida’s economy is dependent on the small business community, and the Florida Chamber’s Small Business Council remains committed to advocating on their behalf.”

The survey was conducted electronically from March 29 through April 14. According to the Chamber, 37 percent of respondents employ less than five employees, while 42 percent employ between five and 49 employees.

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LEGISLATURE ENDS BUDGET BATTLE, SETS STAGE FOR END

It’s April 26. Do you know where your state budget is?

With the clock ticking toward the Legislature’s scheduled May 5 adjournment, House and Senate leaders appeared tantalizingly close Tuesday to agreeing on how much money to let their Appropriations subcommittee spend.

Then came the word — no conference tonight.

It was that kind of day.

Tuesday got off to an ominous start, when the House Appropriations Committee approved a “standard operating budget,” pegged to existing spending levels, that the Senate had already announced it wasn’t buying.

Budget chief Carlos Trujillo denied it was a bargaining tactic, saying he was intent on bringing the budget to the floor.

By 4 p.m., House Speaker Richard Corcoran could announce that the two chambers were “very, very, very close” to agreeing on allotments — pots of money for budget subcommittees to spend.

“And I mean close in the hand grenades sense, not the horseshoe sense,” he said.

Trujillo suggested the first formal House-Senate conference committee meeting of 2017 could begin as soon as 6 p.m.

FOR THE RECORD: It was FloridaPolitics.com, not the cute guy from Wisconsin, which broke the news about the breakthrough on the budget.

– “Contours of a $83 billion budget deal emerge” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

RICK SCOTT ENLISTS STATE BONDS CHIEF IN FIGHT FOR VISIT FLORIDA FUNDING via Florida Politics – Gov. Rick Scott has distributed a letter by Ben Watkins, director of the Division of Bond Finance, to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating. The letter, dated Tuesday, addressed to Jack Latvala in the Senate and Rep. Trujillo in the House, warns that cutting back on tourism promotion has harmed the economies of states that have attempted it, including Colorado and Pennsylvania. “Even a 2 percent reduction in visitors would result in a loss of $2.2 billion in travel spending and $225 million in tax revenue,” Watkins wrote. … “I believe it is important for policymakers to be informed about the important spending decisions and their financial and economic consequences.”

WHAT CHRIS NOCCO IS READING – ‘COLD CASE’ MURDER VICTIMS GET DRAGGED INTO BUDGET CONTROVERSY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – When Speaker Corcoran excoriated “liberal” senators for loading the budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects, the Senate responded in kind. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala noted that Corcoran wants to take home $4.3 million for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, where the speaker does legal work. It’s a first-of-its-kind Florida forensics laboratory in Land O’Lakes, near the Pasco County jail, that would teach law enforcement professionals and students while focusing on 16,000 estimated “cold case” unsolved murders and missing person cases in Florida. “I haven’t criticized the project,” Latvala said. “I’m just saying that it’s ironic: He’s against projects, but the largest single project in the budget is for him … It’s do as I say, not as I do.” “It had nothing to do with me,” Corcoran said. “It’s a project, but it’s not parochial. It’s for the entire state.”

– “Pasco Sheriff  ‘very disappointed’ Latvala is putting political ambitions first” via Florida Politics

– “Jack Latvala, Larry Ahern trade budget jabs on Twitter” via Florida Politics

HOUSE SETS UP $300 MILLION TAX HOLIDAY PACKAGE FOR FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – Legislation extending $300 million in tax holidays and breaks for veterans, college students, farmers, young families, and more moved closer to a final House vote Tuesday, picking up an amendment expanding use of private contractors to collect auto tag fees. The amendment, by Republican Jason Brodeur, would let tax collectors in 64 counties where tax collectors don’t answer to county commissions contract third parties to sell auto tags after hours and on weekends, in exchange for a “convenience” fee on top of the state fees. ”Any county that doesn’t want to do this, they don’t have to. Just do it the way they do it now,” Brodeur said. HB 7109 provides for a range of sales tax breaks and holidays. … Florida’s “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products would be eliminated, as it was between 1977 and 1986, Democrat Katie Edwards said.

SENATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA PLAN READY FOR A FLOOR VOTE via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Senate’s medical marijuana plan easily, with only one senator voting no. The Senate version allows edibles and vaping, while the House does not. And it would result in more treatment center licenses in the state as the number of medical marijuana patients grows. The House and Senate now will have to finish negotiations to come up with a final bill that both sides can agree on, vote out, and get to the governor for signing.

BUSINESS TAX BREAK FOR VETERANS, LOW-INCOME READY FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The House Government Accountability Committee approved a measure that creates a local business tax exemption for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, unremarried surviving spouses of veterans, and low-income individuals. A change to HB 487 adopted by the committee cuts out language that said local governments could only levy business taxes adopted before 2017. The bill now says any municipality can continue to levy business taxes but “may change, by ordinance, the definition of a merchant, but not the rate of the tax.”

SENATE BUDGET PANEL PASSES DIRECT PRIMARY CARE AGREEMENTS via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools – The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its plan to allow patients to contract with doctors through direct primary care agreements … It now heads to the floor. An amendment to SB 240 also “directs [Medicaid managed care] plans to provide enrollees the opportunity to enter into direct primary care agreements with identified network primary care providers as well as encourages the plans to enter into alternative payment agreements with these direct primary care providers,” sponsor Tom Lee said. That language is not in HB 161 which already passed the House.

HOUSE ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM MOVES CLOSER TO FINAL VOTE via Florida Politics – The House cleared its version of assignment of benefits reform for a final vote Tuesday, defeating an amendment that would have frozen property insurance rates and required a premiums rollback next summer. PCS/HB 1421 would tighten requirements for contractors to report claims to insurance companies and establish a graduated scale for determining whether contractors holding AOBs qualify to recover litigation expenses from carriers. …  An amendment by Democrat Evan Jenne would have held property insurance rates at existing levels through July 1, 2018, then rolled rates back by 6.5 percent. And property insurers could no longer file “use and file” rate increases, but rather would have to go through formal, public hearings. “Rep. Jenne, I think you know, is one of my favorite members in this chamber to work with,” Grant said. “But this would actually be, I believe, a counterproductive way to roll back rates.”

HOUSE REVISES MEDICAID BILL TO DROP PROPOSED PREMIUMS – The House scaled back a proposed bill requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to pay monthly premiums. HB 7117 would have directed the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to ask the federal government for permission to charge monthly premiums of either $10 or $15, based on income. However, lawmakers approved an amendment put forth by Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran that drops the plan. The amended bill, sponsored by Orange Park Republican Travis Cummings, chair of the House Health & Human Services Committee, is set for a vote by the full House. The bill also allows the state to seek federal approval to enact a work requirement for Medicaid beneficiaries.

GUN BILL AFFECTING FLORIDA COURTHOUSES PASSES FINAL COMMITTEE, GOES TO SENATE FLOOR via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – A proposed law that would let 1.7 million conceal-carry permit-holders temporarily store their guns with security while visiting Florida’s courthouses is on its way to the Senate floor. SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed its final committee … Members of the Rules Committee endorsed the relatively noncontroversial measure — with at least a couple Democrats opposed — after offering no discussion or debate.

LIQUOR ‘WALL OF SEPARATION’ COULD FALL IN FLORIDA via Florida Politics A bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods is one step closer to passing the Legislature. The House decided to take up the Senate’s version of the “whiskey & Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) out of a “spirit of compromise,” said bill sponsor Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican. After two and a half hours of questions and a string of amendments that were defeated or withdrawn, the House could take a final vote on the bill as early as Wednesday. Its version has been struggling out of committees on one- and two-vote margins. The Senate bill would repeal a Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Speaker Corcoran confronts state Rep. Scott Plakon during questions on the floor as members considered the “whiskey and wheaties” bill.

LOTTERY WARNINGS COULD GO ON ADS, TICKETS via Florida Politics – The House is expected to pass a bill mandating warnings on Florida Lottery tickets and advertisements. The measure (HB 937) would require printing or broadcasting any one of six advisories on a rotating basis, including “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW,” and “WARNING: LOTTERY GAMES ARE A FORM OF GAMBLING.” It would also require retailers that sell lottery tickets to “prominently” display a sign, “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE.” It’s sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

JOSE FELIX DIAZ: HOUSE WILL ‘TAKE GIANT STEP’ IN GAMBLING CONFERENCE via Florida PoliticsThe House will make its offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year, Diaz told reporters. “I expect to make significant progress in the conversation,” he said, without offering many details and saying the House’s offer was still in flux. “The earlier we get it out, the better.” The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. But, Diaz added, “considering that the House took a very conservative approach in its bill, most people who look at our offer will think that we took a giant step forward toward the Senate’s position on certain issues.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The House is expected to make its offer on the 2017 gambling bill when the Conference Committee on Gaming meets at 9:45 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, emails: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide the breakdown of bills that have been placed on the calendar for a hearing up to this point. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As of Tuesday, April 24th, 1,172 bills have been placed on the calendar in the Florida House. Of those, 884 are sponsored by Republicans, 144 are sponsored by Democrats, and 144 bills have bi-partisan co-sponsors. To put that in a percentage, 75.4% of the bills that have been heard are Republican bills, 12.3% are Democratic, and 12.3% are bipartisan.”

WHERE IS CARY PIGMAN’S DISCIPLINARY ACTION? via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – In a House of Representatives that makes a priority of members behaving ethically, how is it Rep. Pigman gets to come back from a DUI arrest where his dishonor and dishonesty were on full dashcam display — and carry on as if nothing happened? You’d better believe Frank Artiles is wondering the same thing. Pigman in the House? The Avon Park Republican returned to Tallahassee after a boozey drive home, interrupted by a stay March 24 in the St. Lucie County slammer. And what was the worst that befell him? He resigned his chairmanship of the House’s Health Quality Subcommittee. That’ll show him … This is a busy session. I don’t expect anymore to happen now. But if Pigman runs for re-election, I plan to be right here, writing reminders for voters in HD 55 of this low moment in the life of an otherwise honorable House of Representatives.

– “Correction on Nancy Smith’s Cary Pigman column” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News

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

HAPPENING TODAY — PUERTO RICO DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Hosted by the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the event is meant to recognize the contributions of the Puerto Rican community across the state and celebrate the culture. This year, the event will feature panel discussions on the fiscal crisis, migration patterns, and the impact on education, housing, healthcare and criminal justice. The event is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 22nd floor.

IT’S ALSO LILLY PULITZER DAY AT THE CAPITOL h/t to Erin Daly Ballas.

BIG WIN FOR FLORIDA – JEFF VINIK, WILL WEATHERFORD, PAM IORIO NAMED TO TECO BOARD OF DIRECTORS via Florida Politics – Tampa Electric Co. is adding five prominent Florida business and community leaders to its board of directors … TECO parent company Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based energy conglomerate, said the new members are as part of a commitment to keeping the company under Florida oversight. “Emera believes local directors who are community leaders are best-positioned to oversee that our utilities provide the service our customers desire,” the company statement said. In addition to Vinik, Weatherford and Iorio, joining the board, effective May 2, will be Pat Geraghty, chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Florida Blue, and Rhea Law, chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PA law firm and immediate past chair of the Florida Council of 100.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Florida, 3201 Hull Road in Gainesville.

UF LAW STUDENTS DISCUSS, DEBATE AHEAD OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION COMMISSION MEETING via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – With the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission set to hold a public hearing [in Gainesville] — the fifth of nine hearings scheduled throughout the state … several dozen law students at the University of Florida assembled in an auditorium named in honor of the chairman of the state’s first CRC, Chesterfield Smith, to discuss the constitutional revision process with a member of the 1997-98 Commission, Jon Mills, and a historian of the state constitution, Mary Adkins. One thing the students learned in the hourlong talk is that the CRC that convened this year is the first in Florida history that has not been chaired by a graduate of the UF law school. “Here’s a fun fact,” said Adkins. “From the 1956 group that was created by statute to originally draft this constitution, through to the 1997-98 group, all of them were chaired by a UF law grad.” Referring to the chair of the 2017-2018 CRC, Carlos Beruff — a real estate developer appointed last month by Gov. Scott — Adkins added, “This particular chair is not a college graduate.”

BOB BUCKHORN SAYS PRIMARY FOR GOVERNOR WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUGH via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Bob Buckhorn has already made clear he is not running for governor. But during a brief appearance in Tallahassee, he sounded like he is still struggling with having passed up a chance to run. “I’m built for a good fight,” Buckhorn said. He made clear there were a lot of good reasons to pass on the race, but he said he thinks he would have been a strong candidate. The trouble he said was always going to be how to manage a primary because of his willingness in the mayor’s office to work with Republicans like Gov. Scott on issues. “That’s what governing should be,” Buckhorn said, acknowledging in a primary it would have been used against him. “I would have had more trouble with the primary than a general.”

SEAN BUCHAN OF WINTER HAVEN ENTERS CD 9 REPUBLICAN FIELD via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Buchan, 31, a banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Winter Haven, filed to run late last week, joining last year’s GOP nominee Wayne Liebnitzky in hoping to take down Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in 2018. “The time is right,” Buchan stated … Married with two children, Buchan spent eight years in the U.S. Marines and two in the Army, and served two tours in Iraq. His top concern is the economy which he described as “doing better, but not well enough,” particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, which he said are in need of across-the-board jobs from technical trades to high-tech. He also stressed national security as a critical concern, and expressed a strong desire for tax reform that simplifies the system for tax payers.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Wayne Bertsch, Civility Management: Florida Swimming Pool Association; Swearingen and Associates

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti, Beth Keating, Larry Williams, Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Q Link Wireless LLC

Dean Cannon, David Griffin, Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Disasters, Strategies & Ideas Group, LLC

Al Cardenas, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: IAP Worldwide Services

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies, LLC: Florida Municipal Electric Association; Monroe County Board of County Commissioners

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: The Able Trust

Rob Johnson, The Mayernick Group: Big Brothers Big Sisters Association Of Florida

Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: AMOAF

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Absolute Software, Inc.; salesforce.com, inc

Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yaeger, One Eighty Consulting: salesforce.com, inc

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – The Governors Club greets lawmakers Wednesday with Caribbean fare that includes conch chowder soup, salads, yucca salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, tomato salad, carne asada-beef, chicken à la plancha, BBQ grilled salmon, arroz con gandules and black beans.

BLUE ANGELS, THUNDERBIRDS MEET FOR RARE JOINT TRAINING via The Associated Press – The Thunderbirds landed at “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” The eight Air Force F-16 pilots and more than 50 other officers and support staff from the Nevada-based Thunderbirds will join the six F/A-18 Blue Angels pilots and support staff at Naval Air Station Pensacola … The U.S. military’s two elite fighter-jet demonstration teams are seldom in the same place. Department of Defense guidelines say the teams must perform at the different air shows to cover as much recruiting territory as possible. The two teams haven’t been in Pensacola together for more than 15 years.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds join the Navy’s Blue Angels for a rare joint training session through Wednesday at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

‘STAR WARS,’ ‘FROZEN 2’ AND ‘THE LION KING’: DISNEY UNLEASHES A BARRAGE OF RELEASE DATES via Anita Busch of Deadline Hollywood – Disney just unveiled a bevy of release dates for its upcoming slate, not the least of which is Star Wars: Episode IX (in 3D) which will bow May 24, in 2019. In addition, it removed the mystery around the untitled animation title previously announced Nov. 27 in 2019. It will be the highly-anticipated sequel to Frozen. Also, they have pegged the live-action The Lion King (also in 3D) based on the animated worldwide smash hit to July 19, 2019, … the new Indiana Jones movie has been pushed back by a year … Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 for the Wreck-It Ralph Sequel; it is also moving the film from March 9 of 2018 to the Thanksgiving holiday Nov. 21, 2018. Toy Story 4 is still on schedule for June 21, 2019, as is Marvel’s Captain Marvel for March 8 of the same year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Larry Ahern, Tampa International Airport’s Gina Evans, and the voice of AFP-Florida, Andres Malave.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco says he is ‘very disappointed’ Jack Latvala is putting political ambitions first

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco is criticizing Sen. Jack Latvala for standing in the way of what he calls a big win for Pasco County.

“I am very disappointed that Senator Latvala is putting his political ambitions ahead of the needs of the state,” he said.

As the battle over the 2017-18 budget continues to wear on, several hometown projects could be on the chopping block, including $4.3 million for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

The money, according to the Times/Herald, will be used to create the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security and Tactical Training. The forensic laboratory, located in Land O’Lakes near the Pasco County jail, would teach law enforcement officers and students, all the while focusing on an estimated 16,000 unsolved murders and missing person cases in Florida.

The Miami Herald reported Tuesday that Latvala said it was ironic that the “single largest project in the budget is for” House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I haven’t criticized the project,” said Latvala, according to the report. “”I’m just saying that it’s ironic: He’s against projects, but the largest single project in the budget is for him … It’s do as I say, not as I do.”

Corcoran said the project is for the “entire state.”

The project’s leaders include Nocco and forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who led the research that unearthed the remains of young boys buried in unmarked graves at the Dozier School for Boys.

Nocco said he’s surprised Latvala’s Tallahassee politics could be blocking a win for Pasco and the state.

“He said he would not be our biggest cheerleader, but he also said he would not stand in our way,” said Nocco.

Nocco also doesn’t understand why Latvala won’t support a project that will be based in Pasco.

“He does remember that part of his district is in Pasco County,” he said.

 

State budget deal struck? Jack Latvala says, ‘no,’ but…

Updated 2:45 p.m. — The House has sent over an offer and the Senate is reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

After teetering toward a late-session meltdown, the bones of a roughly $83 billion 2017-18 state budget are in place, according to three sources close to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office and several lobbyists familiar with the negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, however, early Tuesday morning said to “not believe the rumors.”

The budget framework, as it stands now, gives legislative leaders Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private economic development organization Scott wants full funding for.

Latvala even told Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom Monday evening that a deal was coming together and Grissom “would not like it.”

Flexing their muscle, future Senate Presidents Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson played pivotal roles in shaping the compromise plan, sources said.

There was bound to be horse-trading: The Senate agreed to fund the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter-school proposal and backed down on increased property taxes, while the House will go along with the Senate’s plan to revitalize Lake Okeechobee.

Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to help Lake O and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams earlier passed the Senate 36-3. The Senate wanted to leave mandatory local property tax levels (“required local effort,” in Capitol parlance) where they are, to capture rising property values for school funding; the House sees that as a tax increase. Negron also gets more money for higher education.

But the deal also sets up a showdown with the Governor’s Office: Funding for Enterprise Florida, which gets far more public than private dollars, would be zeroed-out.

And VISIT FLORIDA‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency also would be put in place, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

The sticking point in all of this may be the torpedoing of EFI, explaining Latvala’s resistance to saying there is a deal. He’s carried Scott’s water in the Senate, but at this point he may willing to go along with a deal if, as those close to the negotiations suggest, the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that his committee has shepherded get funded.

Unable to reach a deal over the weekend, the House offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept state funding intact at current levels in many places.

That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate rejected this idea. Negron, in a memo to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget,” adding he had “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

Despite Senate opposition, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would freeze most spending and allow for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Jeff Vinik, Will Weatherford, Pam Iorio named to TECO board of directors

Tampa Electric Co. is adding five prominent Florida business and community leaders to its board of directors, including developer and Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

In an announcement Tuesday, TECO parent company Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia-based energy conglomerate, said the new members are as part of a commitment to keeping the company under Florida oversight.

Emera acquired TECO in July 2016.

“Emera believes local directors who are community leaders are best-positioned to oversee that our utilities provide the service our customers desire,” the company statement said.

Board members guide both TECO and its natural gas utility, TECO Peoples Gas. TECO, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, services about 730,000 electric customers in Hillsborough and parts of Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.

Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, serves about 370,000 customers across Florida.

Joining the board, effective May 2, will be:

Pat Geraghty, chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Florida Blue (Florida’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan) and its parent company, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp., where he serves on the board. He is the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonprofit group of community leaders who work closely with the governor and other state leaders on economic development issues. He is very involved in the community, serving on the board for MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, as chair for United Way of Northeast Florida’s board of trustees and as a member of the Jacksonville Civic Council.

Iorio is president and chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. She has spent three decades in public service, including two terms as mayor of Tampa.

Rhea Law, chair of the Florida offices of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PA law firm and immediate past chair of the Florida Council of 100. She has held the top leadership positions in many civic and charitable organizations, including the chair of the University of South Florida’s board of trustees.

Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) team. Together with Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Vinik is a partner in Strategic Property Partners, a development company embarking on a $3 billion, 10-year redevelopment of southern downtown Tampa. Vinik previously managed the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund and Vinik Asset Management.

Weatherford is currently managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a private equity investment and strategic business advisory firm based in Tampa. He served four terms in the Florida House of Representatives, including two years as speaker, when he was the youngest speaker in America.

“We are delighted to have these five well-admired leaders join the Tampa Electric Co. board,” said Scott Balfour, chief operating officer of Emera Inc. and chair of the TECO board. “Their interest in serving is a testament to the outstanding reputation built by this company for over 100 years. This dynamic group will help guide Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to a future of cleaner, sustainable energy and service for our customers and communities.”

Emera currently holds $21 billion (USD) in assets; 2016 revenues were nearly $3 billion (USD).

 

Sunburn for 4.25.17 – Budget stalemate; an Uber signing; 50 Day rule in effect; Jeff Miller back to D.C.; Florida Channel gets angry

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

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

LEGISLATURE AT STALEMATE OVER NEW BUDGET via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

For more than a week, the House and the Senate privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice,” he added.

Despite Senate opposition, however, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would keep most spending at its current levels while allowing for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

BUDGET TICK-TOCK

7:20 a.m.Joe Negron tells the Tampa Bay Times that budget talks have stalled. On the House’s continuation budget, Negron says: That’s not an offer. That’s the equivalent of packing your suitcase and moving out. It’s a reflexive and lazy response to our responsibility for budgeting.”

8:15 a.m.Jack Latvala doubles-down on Senate criticism of the House’s gamesmanship. Latvala says he thinks “we are witnessing Johnnie Byrd 2.0.

9:42 a.m.In a memo to other Senators, Negron says he “had never encountered” the term “continuation budget” in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations. Says he has “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

10:04 a.m. – @SteveBousquet: @richardcorcoran’s idea of a ‘continuation budget’ isn’t new. @FLGovScott floated the same idea two years ago

11:12 a.m. – @MaryEllenKlas: Clarifying @MyFLHouse use of ‘continuation budget,’ @RepCTrujillo says it’s ‘continuing government at this year’s levels responsibly’

12:49 p.m. – Florida House asks that “continuation budget” now be referred to as “standard operating budget.”

2:14 p.m. – @MichaelAuslen: Dem Leader @RepJanetCruz jumps into the budget fray, calling leadership’s impasse “pathetic and it’s below the level of competence.” More from Cruz: “Republican leadership in the House and Senate is failing the people of Florida. While House Democrats have been focused on and have filed legislation dealing with the real priorities of Floridians, Republican leadership in both chambers have spent their time this session on useless posturing and messaging towards higher office instead of addressing the pressing issues facing our state.

3:55 p.m. – Manny Diaz, House pre-K-12 education budget chairman, tells the Times/Herald: “Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to pass a budget, so if it means that’s what we have to do and walk away, then that’s what we have to do.”

4:15 p.m. – Matt Dixon breaks the news on the House’s plan, via Twitter: “cmte will be voting on new budget tomorrow. It’s basically going to be current year budget – non-recurring member projects + LIP … This plan would fund nonrecurring member projects in House’s proposed budget. That plus LIP would make it not exact current year budget.”

4:55 p.m. – In a memo to House members, Speaker Corcoran writes that “we remain optimistic that we will reach budget consensus with the Senate. However, by considering this standard operating budget as a contingency, we would prevent an unnecessary government shutdown, protect the state’s future, and still enable us to fund new priorities in the future.”

5:25 p.m. – The House releases the text of PCB APC 17-06 – General Appropriations Act.

***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***

RICK SCOTT SAYS HE WILL SIGN ‘UBER BILL’ via Florida PoliticsGov. Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. “I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott. The governor is in Argentina on a trade mission. Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

CONFIRMATION OF 4 AGENCY HEADS GOING TO SENATE FLOOR via The Associated Press –The Ethics and Elections Committee voted in support of the confirmations of Jeffrey Bragg as Secretary of Elderly Affairs, Dr. Celeste Philip as Surgeon General, Justin Senior as Secretary of Health Care Administration and Glenn Sutphin as Director of Department of Veterans Affairs. All four are expected to be approved by the full Senate.

GAMBLING DEAL MAY COME DOWN TO SLOTS QUESTION via Florida PoliticsSeeing it as the “lesser of various evils” to pass a gambling bill this year, the House may give in to the Senate’s position to legislatively approve new slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them, according to those familiar with the negotiations … What’s becoming clearer as the 2017 Legislative Session’s May 5th end looms is House leadership’s distress at recent court decisions, the practical effect of which is opening up more gambling opportunities without legislative say … “I think the House is fed up with it,” said (an) industry consultant, referring to gambling-related court decisions. “The only way they can get a handle on (gambling expansion) is to get a bill done, and if that means throwing in the towel on slots in referendum counties, that’s the lesser of the various evils.”

SENATE BUDGES LITTLE IN INITIAL GAMBLING NEGOTIATION via Florida PoliticsSaying he wanted to “start taking small steps,” state Sen. Bill Galvano on Monday tendered the first offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year. The initial tender, though it largely maintains what’s in the Senate’s bill, also would classify contentious “pre-reveal” games as slot machines, and would limit two new slots facilities to either Broward or Miami-Dade counties … The Senate offer also would give the state more time, up to two years, to address any future violation of blackjack exclusivity brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida with a legislative fix. That also was addressed to court rulings that create such “violations.”

‘RESTRICTIVE’ MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROPOSAL HEADED TO HOUSE FLOOR via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – The House Committee on Health and Human Services passed the proposal, HB 1397, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues by a vote of 14-4. Pro-medical marijuana activists see the measure as a big step in the wrong direction for regulating medical cannabis in the Sunshine State and have routinely criticized the House proposal to regulate the state’s booming medical marijuana industry. The bill would create many limitations on medical pot in Florida and has been criticized by patients and advocates for being far too rigid to provide relief to so many suffering Floridians. Not only would smokable cannabis be banned, but patients would also be barred from buying more than a 90-day supply of marijuana, edibles would be off-limits and “vaping” would only be allowed for terminal patients.

AFP-FL URGES SENATE TO KEEP INCENTIVES OUT OF TRIMUPH GULF COAST BILL via SaintPetersBlog — A Northwest Florida Republican plans to amend the Senate’s version of a bill to send millions of dollars to the Panhandle communities impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill to allow money to be spent on economic incentives. The Panama City News Herald reported this weekend that Sen. George Gainer said he plans to file an amendment to the bill (SB 364) so that it allows funds to be spent on economic incentives for companies in the region that provide high paying jobs. In a statement Monday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida state director Chris Hudson said the Senate would be wrong to “direct disaster relief money towards incentives.”“That money should be used to help ensure the Panhandle’s affected natural resources, beautiful beaches, and critical infrastructure needs are addressed. Handing that money over to a few select private companies is another form of corporate welfare and is wrong,” said Hudson. “We call on Senator Gainer to not file his amendment and vote on the house bill as it stands. He should put the Gulf Coast ahead of politics and not kill this bill over corporate welfare.”

HOUSE BILL ON TESTING BECOMES LATEST EDUCATION TRAIN via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Like its counterpart in the Senate, the Florida House bill on state testing — once 8 pages long — has become its chamber’s vehicle to push forward a patchwork of education policy initiatives found in a variety of other measures working their way through the legislative process. HB 773 … would balloon to 76 pages with a strike-all amendment filed over the weekend by sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz. If adopted, the proposal would include much of the original language, plus provisions added into HB 549 last week. Those included the elimination of the Algebra II end-of-course exam, a return to paper-based testing for third through sixth grades, a move of the state testing window, and the publication of certain state tests, among other items. The items in the House bill do not match the Senate bill, which includes such ideas as mandatory daily elementary school recess, the elimination of more end-of-course exams and deletion of the VAM requirement on teacher evaluations.

HOUSE COMMERCE COMMITTEE OK’S BILL TO HELP 5G COME TO FLORIDA — The committee voted 25-2 for the bill (HB 687), sponsored by Rep. Mike LaRosa, which establishes statewide rates, terms and conditions under which wireless providers can install wireless infrastructure to bring 5G capability to Florida. “By deploying uniform small cell technology across the Sunshine State, our local communities will be able to be a part of the smart cities revolution, advancing not only our wireless network speeds but the ability to attract innovative, technologically advanced companies to Florida,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, in a statement. “HB 687, which is now ready to be taken up by the full House, is the answer to autonomous vehicles, instantaneous wireless speeds and smart cities becoming a reality for Floridians.” The bill now heads to the floor. A similar Senate bill (SB 596) by Sen. Travis Hutson could be taken up by the full Senate in the coming days.

BEER ADVERTISING BILL CLEARED FOR HOUSE FLOOR via Florida Politics A House bill that would have allowed “advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks morphed into a measure that allows “brand naming agreements.” What “brand naming agreements” are, however, isn’t defined in the bill (HB 423). “I’ll bet you your definition and my definition are two different things,” sponsor Rep. La Rosa told the Commerce Committee, which cleared the bill for the full House on a 17-9 vote after no debate.

FLORIDA FOREVER BILL COULD AFFECT EVERGLADES RESERVOIR PLAN via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – A bill that looks to “un-muddy” the mission of Florida’s main environmental land acquisition program could potentially affect the plan for an Everglades reservoir. A House bill brought by Rep. Matt Caldwell … was passed unanimously by a House panel. Caldwell wants to alter what projects are eligible for money under the Florida Forever Program and put more money into land conservation. But the measure would also remove funding allocations for acquisitions on water management districts’ priority lists. This could hinder Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan to build a $1.2 billion reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee … Senate Bill 10 would direct the South Florida Management District to find land for the reservoir system. Caldwell’s bill could prevent the South Florida Management District from using bonding for the reservoir project. House Speaker Richard Corcoran supports the Florida Forever bill.

HOUSE FORMS FIRST-EVER LEGISLATIVE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith elected as its first chair … state Rep. Amy Mercado vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo as clerk. Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio, Lori Berman, Daisy Baez, John Cortes, Nicholas Duran, Joseph Gellar, Evan Jenne, Barrington Russell, Sean Shaw, Emily Slosberg, Richard Stark and Clovis Watson.

TAMPA BAY AREA BUSINESS LEADERS LOBBY ON CONTENTIOUS TRANSIT BILL via Richard Danielson and Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times – More than a dozen top business local executives went to Tallahassee with an appeal in the days following last week’s political showdown between three GOP senators from Tampa Bay over a regional transit bill. But the delegation arrived just a day after Sen. Jack Latvala watched in frustration as fellow Republican senators Jeff Brandes and Tom Lee amended his bill to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) during a tense meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee. As approved April 17 by the committee, which Lee chairs, the amendment would require legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and would prohibit the authority from spending money to push for light rail in a voter referendum. The changes are seen as a serious blow to the independence of the authority. “The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” [nonprofit Tampa Bay] partnership president Rick Homans said. The group’s original agenda was to support a four-part policy agenda, which included Latvala’s transit bill as well as ride-sharing legislation, the creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization and money for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion project. The group still covered all four topics, but put special emphasis on the TBARTA bill … several members of the business delegation said they hoped the session would end with some form of the transit bill.

MIAMI-DADE AIRPORT DEVELOPMENT FIGHT TUCKED IN SENATE’S $85B BUDGET via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – The money was requested by former state Sen. Frank Artiles … to help build a pump station as part of a much larger development being spearheaded by AA Acquisitions at the Miami-Opa-Locka Executive Airport, which is owned by the county. The company is developing a business aviation park on county-owned property. The $1 million is a small slice of a larger privately-financed development, but has been at the center of an argument between the Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade County, which has not responded to recent requests for updates from FDOT as lawmakers work to finalize the budget. The project is part of a boom in construction at the airport spurred by increased traffic from wealthy jet owners, according to the Miami Herald. “In part, the airport’s growing popularity is due to the increasing number of celebrities, hedge-fund investors and wealthy international visitors,” the newspaper reported in 2014.

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

DAY 50 RULE CHANGES —Under Senate rules, after the 50th day, which is Tuesday, notices shall be provided four hours in advance of a meeting. However, Senate rules also states that unless approved by the President, no committee shall meet after the 50th day of the regular session, except the Rules Committee. The House doesn’t have a similar rule, but traditionally holding committee meetings then as well. After the 45th day, which was April 20, the House meeting notices shall be provided no later than 4:30 p.m. on the day before the committee or subcommittee meeting. That includes Saturdays, Sundays, and official state holidays.

HAPPENING TODAY — DIVE-IN-DAY AT THE CAPITOL — Take a break and enjoy the sea. No, really: It’s Dive-in-Day at the Florida Capitol. The event, hosted by the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association in partnership with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, is meant to promote scuba diving. This year the event will feature an interactive mobile aquarium featuring lionfish, vendors and dive shops, educational opportunities, and free giveaways. Hungry? They will be serving fresh samples of Florida-caught lionfish at noon.

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up a massive agenda when it meets at 9 a.m. in 412 Knott. On the agenda: A bill (SB 512) to prohibit the injection of anabolic steroids in racing greyhounds; a bill (SB 808) to tweak the voter-approved maximum class-size amendment; and several claims bills (SB 38 and SB 50).The committee will also discuss a bill (SB 406) dealing with the implementation of the state’s 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, the last stop before the bill heads to the Senate floor. The Senate Rules Committee will take up dozens of bills — including one dealing with the apology to victims of the Dozier School for Boys — when it meets at 2 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The House Appropriations Committee will meet to discuss its so-called “standard operating budget” at 8 a.m. in 212 Knott.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: House Democrats will hold a caucus meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the House Democratic Office, Room 316 in the Capitol.

GIVE CAPUTO MY REGARDS: POLITICO Florida will host a meet-and-greet with bureau chief Matt Dixon, Florida Playbook author Marc Caputo, and reporters Jessica Bakeman, Christine Sexton, Bruce Ritchie, and Daniel Ducassi at 5 p.m. at Township Tallahassee, 619 Woodward Avenue in Tallahassee.

***Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are hired by Florida employers, unions, and public programs to negotiate rebates and discounts from drug companies. This is one way PBMs help keep the growth in actual prescription drug spending in the low single digits despite massive price hikes by some drug manufacturers. In Florida, PBMs will save $43.4 billion over the next ten years. Learn more at DrugBenefitSolutions.com.***

CLIMATE CHANGE POSES ‘NIGHTMARE SCENARIO’ FOR FLORIDA COAST, BLOOMBERG WARNS via Joe Romm of ThinkProgress.org – “Pessimists selling to optimists.” That’s how one former Florida coastal property owner describes the current state of the market in a must-read Bloomberg story. Right now, science and politics don’t favor the optimists. The disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is speeding up, providing increasing evidence we are headed for the worst-case scenario of sea level rise — three to 6 feet (or more) by 2100. The impacts are already visible in South Florida. “Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock,” explains Bloomberg. “Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply.” Faster sea level rise and less adaptation means the day of reckoning is nigh. Dan Kipnis, chair of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority — who has failed to find a buyer for his Miami Beach home for nearly a year — told Bloomberg, “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is.”

SFWMD TO FACEBOOK LIVE WEIGH-IN OF 50th PYTHON ELIMINATED via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – SFWMD will broadcast the weigh-in … through the District’s new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sfwmd at 11 a.m. … The weigh-in “event” is actually taking place at the SFWMD Homestead Field Station located at 2195 NE 8th St. in Homestead … Python Hunter Dustin Crum of Myakka City captured a 14-foot python for the 50th snake eliminated. Hunter Patrick Campbell of St. Johns County holds the record for the largest snake caught through the Python Elimination Program at 15 feet 10 inches. Hunter Michael Valcare of Miami has captured the most snakes so far, eight, netting $1,375 in bounties. Jamison Meyerof Cutler Bay has captured seven snakes and pocketed $1,200 in bounties. The pilot program began March 25 and will run until June 1.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FORMER REP. JEFF MILLER JOINS LOBBYING FIRM IN WASHINGTON via Ledyard King of the Pensacola News-Journal – The former Republican chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represented Northwest Florida for nearly 16 years, is joining McDermott Will & Emery as a “senior legislative adviser” in the firm’s Government Strategies group. Aside from health care issues focused on veterans, Miller said he’ll also be working in other areas he was involved in during his time on Capitol Hill including defense and agriculture. “And there are numerous people that the company already represents that I will aid in policy work as well,” he said in an interview. The firm, a large law practice with offices across the country and abroad, earned more than $3.4 million in lobbying income last year … Its list of clients in 2016 included Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Diabetes Access to Care Coalition, Mayo Clinic and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

PERSONNEL NOTE: SARAH REVELL JOINS FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF STATE via Florida PoliticsRevell’s first day as the department’s new communications director was Monday. She was formerly the Media and Marketing Manager for the Florida Department of Health. Before that, Revell was an account manager at Tallahassee’s CoreMessage PR firm and was Chief of Staff to First Lady Ann Scott. She got her undergraduate degree in public relations from Florida State University.

SPOTTED: Team Jax – Lenny and Molly Curry, Brian Hughes and Rachel Perrin RogersTim and Jessica Baker – as well as Andrew Wiggins and Laura Lenhart at the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, celebrating the passage of Curry’s historic pension reform plan for Jacksonville.

SPOTTED: At the wedding of Tom Alte and Meagan Salisbury Saturday – attorney Johnny Bardine; State Rep. Ben & Christina Diamond (who now works for Sen. Bill Nelson); pollster Tom Eldon; Cesar Fernandez of Uber; John Fox of the Florida Justice Association; Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman; St. Pete Council Chair Darden Rice; media consultant John Rowley and State Rep. Sean Shaw.

STOP STEALING OUR VIDEO, FLORIDA CHANNEL SAYS via Florida PoliticsThe Florida Channel wants you … to stop stealing its videos. A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!” It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.” Florida Channel executive director Beth Switzer on Monday explained the “terms of use” reminder was sparked by the “increasing number of people stealing (videos) for advocacy purposes.”

FOR SERIES ON RISING GUN ACCIDENTS AMONG FLORIDA KIDS, FAMILIES’ STORIES BRING DATA TO LIFE via USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism – On average, a child in Florida was shot every 17 hours. We combed the data for trends. … The data alone told an important story. We were the only ones who had it. The state Department of Law Enforcement doesn’t know how many gun incidents involve children. And the Florida Department of Health doesn’t publish detailed statistics on the issue. But in order to truly explain the toll, we needed people who had experienced it firsthand. Finding sources wasn’t easy. We started by combing through news clips from across the state. We identified children who had been shot in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, and reached out to their parents. In some cases, the parents were willing to talk me. But for every one parent that invited me over, another four rejected me or didn’t return my calls. The takeaway: While it was important to quantify how many kids in Florida were hurt and killed by firearms annually — and to help readers understand why it was happening — it was just as important to show what the trend has meant for real people.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — On Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda, a recap of Miami GOP Sen. Frank Artiles use of racial slurs and other controversies leading to his resignation. Jacksonville Times-Union reporter Tia Mitchell was first to probe and shine a spotlight on the private conversation at the members-only Governors Club. Gomes and Mitchell chronicle the bipartisan outrage following Artiles’ use of the N-word and other derogatory terms. Plus, Philip Singleton, also known as the Hip Hop Lobbyist explains why the harshest racial slur in American English is a mainstay in pop culture.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. David Richardson, consultant Tom Alte, Kristin Lamb, and progressive activist Susan Smith.

Sunburn for 4.24.17 – Drinking from a firehose

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

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

DRINKING FROM A FIREHOUSE 

From wildfires burning throughout the state to the smoldering embers of Frank Artiles‘ political career and from the soon to ignite race to be Florida’s governor to the white hot last two weeks (maybe) of the 2017 Legislative Session, attempting to keep up with all that is going on in Florida politics is like, well, drinking from a firehose.

As dangerous as wildfires are — just ask our reporter, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster who lives in one of the areas recommended for evacuation — it’s probably L’affaire Artiles which will have the most immediate effect on state affairs. Not because Artiles’ resignation has any real-world or real-time impact on the government, but because the distraction it caused/is causing knocked the Legislature way off schedule.

Right now, with the Session ending on May 5, the House and Senate do not seem at all on track to pass a budget on time and Sine Die. The conferencing needed to reconcile the budget and other legislation has yet to take place (the prospect of passing a gambling bill, while some key lobbyists says is still possible, seems to be one of the primary victims of the lost time). The conventional wisdom setting into place in Tallahassee is that Session will conclude next week, but with writing a budget tabled for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, almost all of the major policy issues and food fights remain up in the air. From whether to fund Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida to how to implement Amendment 2, it’s unclear which way these issues will move.

This begs the questions, if a budget is not passed before May 5 and the Legislature comes back in mid-May to early June to write one, but it’s then vetoed by Governor Rick Scott because it zeroes out EFI and/or VF, can you imagine the pressure cooker it will be by mid-June as the House and Senate scramble to override the governor’s veto or write a second budget?

Speaking of the governor…

GOV. SCOTT DELAYS TRIP TO ARGENTINA DUE TO WILDFIRES via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – Scott was scheduled to leave late Saturday for a five-day trip to Buenos Aires. A final decision has not yet been made on whether to cancel the trip completely. The governor has been monitoring the wildfires and visited one site in southwest Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott tours wildfire damage in Lehigh Acres.

— “Local investment in public safety communications infrastructure pay off during Florida disasters” via Florida Politics

BREAKING LAST SUNDAY NIGHT: Scott left for Argentina, per Fineout.

***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***

— EPILOGUE TO L’AFFAIRE ARTILES — 

HOOTERS ‘CALENDAR GIRL’ AND PLAYBOY ‘MISS SOCIAL’ WERE ARTILES’ PAID CONSULTANTS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The long list of expenditures filed with the Florida Division of Elections by Artiles’ political committee, Veterans for Conservative Principles, also raised some questions. Why did the committee hire a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants?” Were the payments related to a trip to the Kentucky Derby or a fishing tournament in Key West? What was the more than $51,000 in reimbursements to Artiles for? Heather Thomas, a former Hooters calendar girl and waitress at 101, a restaurant and bar in Tallahassee, was paid $2,000 between March and June of last year. The expense report lists the purpose as “consultant.” Her friend, Brittney Singletary, is a waitress at Stetsons on the Moon in Tallahassee. She was paid $1,500 with three checks covering three of the same dates and listing the same purpose.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE, contra the narrative some in the media, like Michael Van Sickler suggest, that Artiles could have survived sans the Klas story. That’s not true. Senate leadership had and has more on Artiles than what Klas reported and some of what they had was shared with Artiles, which is part of the reason why he really resigned — not because Klas was working on this story.

AS ARTILES LOST SUPPORT IN STATE SENATE, BILL GALVANO HELPED BROKER RESIGNATION via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – (I)t was Galvano who was tasked with dealing with the backlash that ultimately led to Artiles to issue a statement announcing his resignation Friday morning. “I did meet with him last night [Thursday],” Galvano (said). “What was said between the two of us was personal.”

THIS IS ALL ADAM SMITH COULD COME UP WITH WHEN WRITING ABOUT ARTILES? (Plus Franco Ripple wrote the exact same thing earlier) Here’s Smith’s Loser of the Week note.

DWIGHT BULLARD CONSIDERING RUNNING FOR ARTILES’ SEAT via Jessica Bakeman of POLITICO Florida – … “I’d be lying if I said interest wasn’t there, but I still need time to process it all and make a final decision,” said Bullard, a Miami public school teacher who lost in the Democratic-leaning district last fall. He said it’s ironic that the Republican has now stepped down under pressure from his black Senate colleagues, who were upset about his use of a slang version of the “N-word” to refer to white members of the GOP conference in the presence of two black senators. “That same community that he chose to ignore are the ones who led to his demise,” Bullard said. “That should resonate with anyone thinking about running for the seat, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

— “Replacing Artiles: Who’s in and who’s out” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

SUNBURN FACT OF LIFE: There could be no bigger mistake in the SD 40 special election than for the Florida Democrats to go back to Dwight Bullard. What does it say about Bullard that he lost to someone like Artiles in the first place?

TWEET, TWEET: @SLRoss528: The concerns regarding his (Bullard’s) association with terrorists have not gone away

MORE TROUBLES FOR THE SOUTH FLORIDA CREW – ERIK FRESEN TO PLEAD GUILTY FOR FAILING TO FILE TAX RETURN ON $270K via Jay Weaver of the Miami HeraldFresen, a former Republican state representative from Miami-Dade, plans to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return on income of $270,136 in 2011 while he was serving in the Legislature and working as a land-use consultant. Fresen, 40, who was term-limited in 2016 after serving eight years as a legislator in a district stretching from West Miami to Cutler Bay, was charged in Miami federal court this week. That paved the way for his planned guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. Fresen could face from probation up to one year in prison.

DAYS UNTIL: NFL Draft – 3; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 11; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 11; MLB All-Star Game – 77 FSU vs. Alabama football game – 130; Election Day 2017 – 196; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 234; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 258.

***Learn the facts! FHCA knows Florida’s seniors deserve the best! The Senate’s proposed nursing home reimbursement plan creates incentives for quality and will dramatically improve care for our seniors.***

— THE LATEST ON LEGISLATIVE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS —

THE HOUSE’S SIDE OF THE STORY via @SaintPetersBlog on Twitter: Negotiators for @MyFLHouse say they were willing to meet @FLSenate halfway; up from appx. $81.2 bil to $83.179 bil. … Obviously, that’s almost $2 billion more than @MyFLHouse originally wanted to spend. …. Another concern of House is Senate’s willingness to play fast with out-year budgets. … House insiders point out that when he was Aprops Chair, @JoeNegronFL was very worried about out-year deficits, now not so much.

THE SENATE’S SIDE OF THE STORY via Fineout on Twitter: After a week of negotiations @JackLatvala says there is still no deal. Lack of deal led House to propose continuation budget … says Senate isn’t quite sure how a “continuation” budget would work. Calls it a DC term … says the House & Senate did trade a couple of offers, inc a comprehensive 1 from House last week … says there is still opportunity to reach a budget deal this session. Need to reach deal on allocations by Tuesday … Irony of @MyFLHouse @ @richardcorcoran proposing continuation budget is that it would keep some funding for @EnterpriseFL & @VISITFLORIDA

PROBABLY BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY but it’s behind a paywall: “House, Senate make no progress over weekend on bridging $4 billion gap via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

KEY BUDGET QUOTES:

Richard Corcoran: “There’s no end to the Senate’s liberalism.” Jack Latvala: “We put things on sheets of paper, side-by-side, and it was I’d say for the most part roughly 2-to-1 in their favor.”

COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Education Committee will discuss a bill (HB 773) that would tweak the state’s standardized-testing requirements when it meets at 2 p.m. in Reed Hall. The House Health & Human Services Committee will discuss its version of the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment implementing bill (HB 1397) when it meets at 2 p.m. in Morris Hall. The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets at 3 p.m. to discuss a bill (HB 7007) to revamp the health insurance plan for state employees. The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee will hold several confirmation hearings, including Surgeon General Celeste Philip, when it meets at 5 p.m. in 412 Knott.

— “Proposed House committee bill would reset land-buying funding formula as chairman makes push” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

GAMBLING CONFERENCE COULD MEET THIS WEEK via Florida Politics – A notice last Thursday said: “The Conference Committee on Gaming … will not meet before Monday, April 24.” A Supreme Court decision approving the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot threw a wrench into the works, vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said last week. He said conference chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano wanted to make sure the amendment, which would give voters power to OK or veto new casino gambling, “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer,” Diaz said. The House and Senate are a gulf apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games, including approving slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them.

TWEET, TWEET: @Aglorios: Florida Legislature’s gambling conference meets on Monday at 1:30 pm.

EDITORIAL: LAWMAKERS IN HOUSE SHOULDN’T SQUANDER BEST CHANCE YET TO HELP THE EVERGLADES via the Miami Herald – The Florida Senate gets it. As a result, Senate lawmakers have passed one of the most carefully crafted bills yet to ensure the health of the Everglades. As environmentalists, water-dependent businesses, economists and tourists know, so much depends upon the health of the River of Grass, including South Floridians’ access to clean water, the state’s economic vitality, indeed, the well-being of the state itself … Florida desperately needs a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. For too long, the state has blithely allowed water released from the lake to flow to the coasts, and out to sea, an unconscionable waste of this precious resource … pollutants in that water have created massive algae blooms that, literally, have raised a stink in estuaries and along beaches, threatening to ruin the entire ecosystem around Lake O and the Everglades. The reservoir will serve two vital purposes. First, it will store the billions of gallons of water currently being sent to the coasts. Second, it will feed needed water to the Everglades to keep them hydrated.

BUSINESS RENT TAX CUTS STILL IN PLAY IN HOUSE, SENATE FOR 2017 via Florida Politics – Florida’s business rent tax is one of the outstanding issues at play as lawmakers crawl toward sine die of the 2017 Legislative Session. Included in the House’s tax package is HB 7109, a reduction of the business rent tax – lowering it from 6 percent to 4.5 percent for two years. If approved, the tax cut would begin January 1, 2018, and then supporting a permanent tax rate reduction from 6 percent to 5.5 percent beginning January 1, 2020. HB 7109 is on the House’s Special Order Calendar. While the Senate has not yet put together a package, there are two bills in the upper chamber that seeks to give businesses a break … SB 704 seeks to provide tenants with relief from the Florida’s “double taxation” – a “tax on tax” that occurs when tenants pay property taxes for property owners. SB 484 … would reduce the state sales tax rate that is charged on commercial leases from 6 percent to 5 percent.

HOME RULE OR LOCK DOWN? That is the question hanging over the rapidly moving, not moving, moving again vacation rental bills (HB 425/SB 188) that are up in their final committees this week: House Commerce and Senate Rules. So what will it be? Behind Door A, we have a watered down vacation rental bill that pretty much does nothing, allowing local governments to keep some local control if they had rules in place pre-2011 – aka home rule prevails. And behind Door B, we have a very aggressive preemption bill, similar to the old Greg Steube bill, that has picked up speed and is moving through the process that would put a lock on local governments’ control of vacation rentals. It will be interesting to see which vacation rental bill will be the last one standing, if any at all…are lawmakers so far apart on this with the recent amendment actions by Sen. Jeff Brandes that this issue will end up seeing the light of another session?

— “When Airbnb goes wrong: A Miami story” via David Smiley of the Associated Press

IS THIS ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ LAST HURRAH FOR 2017? via Florida Politics – A measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week. The House will consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81) on Tuesday, records show, after postponing it twice in recent weeks … The latest holdup came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said it would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where hard booze is sold.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – SITE SELECTORS ISSUE WARNING TO STATE ECONOMY IF ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IS CUT via Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times – A pair of site selection experts hired by Pinellas County this year to give an unvarnished look at the high-density county’s challenging prospects for economic development and better wages offered up the good, the bad — and a warning. If Florida or the Tampa Bay region’s economic development organizations fail to provide traditional marketing or support to corporate projects recruited to this market, there will be a painful price in lost jobs and investment paid by the area economy. That includes Pinellas County, warned Josh Bays, a principal with the Dallas economic development consulting firm Site Selection Group. “It scares me to death,” Bays said of the potential loss of backing by Enterprise Florida at the state level and the Tampa Bay Partnership at the regional level.

FCTA CAPITAL DATELINE TALKS FINAL WEEKS OF 2017 LEGISLATIVE SESSION — FCTA President Brad Swason talks with EEM President Peter Schorsch, The Capitolist Publisher Brian Burgess, POLITICO Florida Bureau Chief Matt Dixon, and Rotunda host Trimmel Gomes about their inside perspectives on the state of affairs in the Florida Capitol as the 2017 legislative session nears its finish. What are the must-wins for the Speaker, Senate President and Governor? What bills are on life support? Who are the biggest winners and losers this year? These insiders tackle all the latest in this episode of The Pundits: Digital Media Edition on Capital Dateline.

YOU HAVE TO LOVE THIS QUOTE ABOUT JOE GRUTERS FROM JOE GRUTERS: “People may say Joe’s doing what’s in the best interest of Joe. Of course I am because I’m trying to get the best deal for our community.” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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

ETHICS COMMISSION BUCKS LEGISLATIVE LEADERS’ ASSERTION OF AUTHORITY via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – The panel agreed to back Chairman Matthew Carlucci in rejecting a “delegation of authority” issued March 21 by Speaker Corcoran and PresidentNegron. Carlucci was sure the leaders’ intentions were “noble,” and that “these are good people,” he said. Still, “as long as the Legislature stays involved with any kind of delegation or perception of a delegation that they can deliver to us, there will always, in my opinion, be a conflict of interest inherently. And particularly on our investigators and their support teams,” Carlucci said. “Because when we have to occasionally investigate members of the House or the Senate, and there’s a perception that they have some control, that is a conflict of interest.”

WEXFORD RESPONDS TO DOC’S CANCELLATION OF HEALTH CARE CONTRACT via Florida Politics – In a lengthy press release, the Pittsburgh-based private health care provider took issue with the department’s criticism of its performance: “Wexford Health Sources disagrees with the assessment of the Correctional Medical Authority regarding the treatment provided to a small number of inmates at the South Florida Reception Center. More significantly, we take strong exception to the idea that this limited number of cases—involving patients who were already experiencing significant psychiatric challenges before they ever entered our care—should serve as the basis for termination of our contract with the State of Florida … there was nothing in the treatment of these inmates that should, or could, justify contract termination.” Wexford Health President CEO Dan Conn summed up the situation: “Wexford Health’s culture is one of transparency. We have always been open and direct with the Department about our performance. In fact, the Department has consistently complemented us on our performance and partnership.”

***From negotiating rebates and discounts from drug companies and drugstores to reducing waste and offering services like home delivery of medicines, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) use a number of tools to reduce drug costs and improve quality. In Florida, PBMs will save $43.4 billion over 10 years.***

TWO DEMOCRATS STAND OUT IN GOVERNOR RACE via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – Four of the five top contenders for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination spoke to voters in Tampa Bay … Two stood out: Andrew Gillum … and John Morgan … Democrats need a nominee who will take a progressive agenda to every corner of the Sunshine State, [Gillum] said, including the conservative Panhandle, where Floridian families struggle to make ends meet and vent over high-stakes testing in schools just like elsewhere in Florida. Morgan … “Write down one thing that Tallahassee has ever done to make your life better.” Priorities: Raise the minimum wage, reform Florida drug laws, rein in public education money flowing to privately operated charter schools. Delivery: A. He is funny and smart, a non-politician with a clear, simple, gutsy agenda. The big question: Will Morgan run? He sounded like it Friday.

DEJA VU: “Gwen Graham close to announcing she’s running for Governor” via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

JOHN MORGAN: I WAS NOT DRUNK THAT NIGHT AT BOOTS N BUCKLES via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – … “First of all, I was not drunk when I was on that video,” said Morgan, laughing off the question and explaining that he had had two drinks at Outback before that video was filed. “I guess if I use the f-word, f-bombs, people think I’m drunk. If that’s the case, I’m drunk every damn day of my life. … When I got on my bus to go back to my beach house, I got drunk. And when I got to my beach house, I got drunker. But I was not drunk at Boots N Buckles. But I do love Boots N Buckles it will be in my heart forever.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win.” — Charlie Crist, recounting a conversation he had with Morgan to Jim DeFede on “Facing South Florida.”

ANDREW GILLUM’S ‘GRAY AREA’: EMAILS REVEAL A MAYOR’S OFFICE ENTANGLED IN PROFESSIONAL AND POLITICAL WORK via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat– Weeks before Tallahassee Mayor Gillum announced he was running for Governor, he sent Neera Tanden an email thanking her for her work on the Hillary Clinton campaign. But something else was on his mind … that he wanted to discuss with Tanden, former policy director for President Barack Obama and the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy research center. From his campaign account <andrew@andrewgillum.com> Gillum wrote: “I was hoping that you and I could find the time to connect by phone or in person soon. I saw that you may have waded into the Florida Gubernatorial Primary in support of Gwen Graham, and I wanted the opportunity to discuss that race with you before too much time passes.” Using another email address, andrewgillum2012@gmail.com, Gillum cc’d subsequent emails from Tanden to his assistant at City Hall, Angie Whitaker (angela.whitaker@talgov.com). Whitaker asked what “the preferred number that Mayor Gillum should call to connect with Ms. Tanden Tuesday, February 14 @ 12:30pm?  Thank you.”

PAT NEAL: EASY TO SEE WHY HE COULD BE FLORIDA’S NEXT CFO via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – It took me less than five minutes with Neal over a cup of coffee at the Doubletree in Tallahassee to see why he and Gov. Scott are such good friends. And it isn’t because Neal, 68, has been a champion fundraiser for the governor, though he’s certainly been all that. Scott and the Bradenton homebuilder are cut from the same cloth. They speak the same language. No wonder political insiders — not all of them but some of them — float Neal’s name as the leading candidate for chief financial officer when Jeff Atwater leaves the post. “Providing jobs for Floridians … what higher a calling could there be for a leader in Florida?” Neal asked. Does that sound like anybody else we know?

CORRINE BROWN’S TRIAL FEATURES BIG-NAME WITNESSES TO TEST CHARGES via Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-UnionBrown will stand alone and defiant this week when she faces fraud and tax charges that could put her in prison, effectively for the rest of her life. The aide who watched her back for a quarter-century will be a witness for the prosecution that accuses the flamboyant Democratic power broker of cashing in on donations she steered to a bogus charity, One Door for Education … witness lists that both sides go a long way to … give people an idea of whom to watch as the case unfolds. Still, it’s easy to lose track. Between them, the lists include three members of Congress, about a dozen business executives, plus college presidents, local politicians, assorted Jacksonville movers and shakers, and the son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. The prosecution’s witness list includes Tandy Bondi, the granddaughter of former Gov. Lawton Chiles and sister-in-law of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

— “In Corrine Brown’s trial, a chapter of Jacksonville history will be written” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

A.G. GANCARSKI WILL BE LIVE-BLOGGING BROWN’S TRIAL; once it starts, you can follow along by clicking here.

TWINE NOOSE LOWLIGHTS HATE BEING SENT ARAMIS AYALA’S WAY via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – A twine noose taped to a postcard and nasty comments sent in the mail and via social media are showing racist hatred Orlando’s State Attorney Ayala is receiving as she battles in court with Gov. Scott over whether she has the power to refuse to pursue death penalty prosecutions. The twine noose was discovered attached to a card inside an envelope mailed to her office, one of two racist-material and potentially threatening mailings that her office has reported to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office recently.

BALLARD, INC. via Fredreka Schouten and Maureen Groppe of USA TODAY – Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to Trump and Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration … Brian Ballard … appears to lead the pack, signing up 20 federal clients since opening his Washington lobbying operation this year. His company, Ballard Partners, has earned more than $1.1 million in a three-month period, new lobbying reports show. Ballard is one of more than a dozen White House allies launching new firms, taking new jobs in lobbying firms or signing up new clients this year as companies and other interests look for ways to shape policy in the Trump administration …

— “Ballard Partners’ latest federal signing: The ruling party of Albania” via Florida Politics

TWEET, TWEET:

SPOTTED at the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists FAPL-tini reception – Alex Alvarado; Rep. Daisy Baez; Rivers H. Buford, Director of Government Relations, American Heart Association; Candice Ericks, President, TSE Consulting; Dawn Faherty (from Rep. Don Hahnfeldt‘s office); Edgar Fernandez, Partner, Anfield Consulting; Susan Goldstein, President, Susan Goldstein Consulting; Suzanne Goss, Jacksonville Electric Authority; Mike Hightower, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Jacksonville Electric Authority; Lauren Jackson, Principal, Ericks Consultants; Mark Landreth; Dave Mica, Executive Director, Florida Petroleum Council; Samantha Saxton; Brad Swanson; Doug Wheeler, President & CEO, Florida Ports Council; Larry Williams; Victoria Zepp, President Clarity1st Consulting.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: IAP Worldwide Services

Melanie Brown, Johnson & Blanton: Seaworld Parks and Entertainment

Joseph Sazverg, GrayRobinson: Petainer Manufacturing USA Inc

Samuel Verghese, One Eighty Consulting: Informatica Corporation

Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yeager, One Eighty Consulting: Centrify

FOR #MONDAYMOTIVATION, SEE VOLUNTEER FLORIDA’S #30UNDER30 – Make sure to check out Volunteer Florida’s  #30Under30 initiative, which recognizes an under-30 volunteer every day throughout the month of April.  #30Under30 features emerging student leaders and accomplished volunteers like PIFF’s Samantha Sexton and the Florida Justice Association’s G.C. Murray. Click here to see all of the #30Under30 volunteers to date!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Sen. Randolph BracyBrian Hughes‘ better half, the wonderful Rachel Perrin Rogers, as well as our friend in Alabama, Apryl Marie Fogel, the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Janelle Irwin, Moffitt Cancer Center’s Laura Lenhart, Mary Ellen Upton, Mr. Florida Ports Doug Wheeler and our own Andrew Wilson. Celebrating today is HD 66 candidate Berny Jacques, our friend St. Pete City Councilman Ed Montanari, and Amanda Stewart.

Local investment in public safety communications infrastructure pay off during Florida disasters

Last year, Floridians endured one of the most active hurricane seasons in more than a decade. During Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, those impacted received only a taste of what has earned our state the reputation of being a hot spot for tropical weather.

Thankfully, the loss of life and damage was extremely minimal and the state’s emergency response went off without a hitch.

What you didn’t read following the storms were stories about first responders’ inability to communicate. That’s because local communities, especially in rural areas, have spent the last decade investing heavily in the communications infrastructure necessary to create stability and additional capacity during normal times and times of crises.

One of the companies that have been integral to this success is Aviat Networks, a California-based microwave provider that is working in several Florida counties and local municipalities with the technology they need to communicate when residents depend on them the most.

Aviat provides microwave technology – the network that transmits data and voice communications for first responders and other public safety users – in Miami-Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach counties, as well as for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, and the South Florida Water Management District. All of these entities had a role in keeping South Floridians safe and prepared during Hurricane Matthew, which was at one point a deadly Category 5 storm.

Beyond Florida, Aviat’s microwave is the backbone for 25 statewide public safety networks across the country and is deployed in every one of the 50 states.

Aviat’s microwave has been chosen by Florida cities and counties because of its proven reliability and security. According to the Aviat website, their solutions lead the industry in a key technology attribute known as ’output power‘ – which allows microwave signals to transmit further and more reliably through weather effects such as rain. This means public safety communications stay up during the harshest of conditions including severe hurricanes. Beyond this according to Aviat, the technology enables agencies to reduce the total lifecycle cost of microwave by up to 50 percent through the deployment of smaller antennas and fewer towers.

These are added bonuses for Floridians since the costs, and communications tower needs will undoubtedly increase as Florida’s NIMBY populations continue to grow.

If you’ve ever experienced a Wi-Fi outage at your home or business, it’s a mere inconvenience. But for public safety agencies, it could be a matter of life or death. That is what local governments have been putting a premium on reliable and secure microwave technology during a time when Florida has enjoyed a relatively inactive tropical weather period.

For all of Florida’s success in developing its public safety communications infrastructure in recent years, challenges remain. As we have seen with the recent wildfires in Collier County, responding to emergencies requires significant coordination among government at the local, state and federal levels. In rural areas, the success of traditional fiber optic technology may be limited, and the real solution for tomorrow’s technology lies in building smarter microwave networks that can fully integrate with local agencies’ networks. And most importantly microwave technology has built-in security safeguards.

Companies like Aviat are on the forefront of helping Florida prepare and respond to future emergencies. With hurricane season set to start June 1, the next test may be here before we know it.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Richard Corcoran’s ‘sea of troubles’

Richard Corcoran says he loves Gov. Rick Scott “to death,” but is getting weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s taken from him over the last couple of months.  

It’s the continuing battle over VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, which the House speaker still believes needs to be reined in and starved of money.

His proposed spending plan reduces the state portion of its budget to $25 million for next year. Scott wants $100 million.

“I’ve been told I hate beaches, I hate visitors, I hate hotels, I hate tourists, because I’m not adequately funding VISIT FLORIDA,” he told reporters this week, smiling.

“I think the Governor ought to go through (its expenses), like we have, and (you should) ask him, ‘Was Pitbull a good expenditure?’ And if it wasn’t, let’s take it off the ledger,” he said.

Speaker Corcoran told reporters this week he loves the governor to death, but has grown weary of the “slings and arrows” he’s thrown at him over Visit Florida spending this year

Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“OK, so there’s a million off the ledger from last year,” Corcoran said. Next, he questioned whether another promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million was worthy.

“And if it wasn’t, let’s take that $12 million off. And then you get to a number that at least everyone can recognize and say was a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

As to the budget negotiations overall with the Senate, “I still hold out that it’s going to go well.” So keep hope alive for a Cinco de Mayo Sine Die.

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

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

Shame, shame, shame — Sen. Frank Artiles found himself in hot water this week and then resigned after he used a racial slur during a private after-hours conversation with Sens. Perry Thurston and Audrey Gibson Monday night. The Miami-area Republican took to the floor to issue a three-minute formal apology at the direction of Senate President Joe Negron, who stripped him of his committee chairmanship. Several groups called on Artiles to resign, and Thurston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, filed a complaint to remove Artiles from the Senate, now moot. But Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto found the complaint had merit, and appointed Dawn Roberts, the chamber’s top lawyer, to investigate it. What she found we’ll never know; it’s “work product” and not public.

Über victory — It took four years, but a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft is heading to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration. The Senate voted 36-1 (only Jack Latvala opposed it) this week to approve the measure, two weeks after the House voted unanimously to support the bill. The proposal — which was backed by Uber and Lyft — creates minimum insurance standards, requires third-party background checks, and preempts local governments from regulating transportation network companies. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs.

Team Uber celebrates after the vote.

Water love — A plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb discharges gained a big-name backer this week. While Gov. Scott said he supported Senate President Negron’s proposal to build a reservoir on up to 31,000 acres of state land, he stopped short of saying whether he supported the current version of the bill. Scott also he wanted lawmakers to include $200 million in the budget to help the federal government finish strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022. On Wednesday, Scott met with President Donald Trump and said the president committed his administration would help provide the resources to fix the dike. “President Trump is clearly focused on protecting Florida’s environment and investing in our infrastructure,” said Scott in a statement. “I want to thank him for partnering with us to solve the water issues around Lake Okeechobee by fixing the dike.”

Not giving up — Speaking of the governor, the Naples Republican isn’t giving up hope that the Florida Legislature will pour money into Visit Florida. The governor held a press conference this week to call on state lawmakers to bump up spending funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency to $100 million for 2017-18. The governor’s call for more cash for came for a week after the federal government said it would send the state $1.5 billion for hospitals. But Scott’s request may fall on deaf ears, since the House and Senate have already passed their respective budgets that spend significantly less on Visit Florida. The Senate proposal sets aside $76 million, while the House wants to spend just $25 million on tourism marketing.

Show me the money — This late in session, it’s time to ask House and Senate budget subcommittee chairs: Do you know where your allocation is? That’s the pot of money each subcommittee gets to spend in conference committee. And they hadn’t been settled on going into the weekend. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded time was growing short: “I think we need to start in conference by the first of the week in order to get done on time,” he said. “But I have every confidence that we will do that at this point — which is different from my opinion the first part of this week. We’ve made a lot of progress.” House budget chief Carlos Trujillo agreed. “We have to. If not, we’re running out of time,” he told reporters. The process is driven by “just the natural timetable for sine die (on) May 5.”

The Florida National Guard has been called in to assist with evacuations, emergency management and firefighting in Collier County.

Gov. Scott announced this week he had deployed the Florida National Guard after a briefing with local fire officials, law enforcement, the Florida Forestry Service, and local emergency management officials. The governor also directed the Florida National Guard to deploy five Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the fires.

Collier officials evacuated more than 2,000 homes, as brush fires consumed more than 3,100 acres of land as of Friday afternoon.

“These wildfires are dangerous and if you’re within the evacuation area, do not stay in your home. Be sure to follow the evacuation orders from local officials,” said Scott in a statement. “If you know of any individuals within the evacuation zone, please reach out to them and make sure they are safe. It is important for everyone in Collier County to remain alert to local news and law enforcement announcements.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, there were 104 total Florida Forest Service active wildfires as of Friday morning. That number included the two new fires in Collier County, and the Cowbell fire, a nearly 22,000-acre fire in Big Cypress National Preserve.

“The State of Florida will devote all necessary and available resources to fight these fires and keep communities in Collier County safe,” said Scott. “We are praying for the safety of all the brave men and women fighting these dangerous fires and will provide further updates as the situation progresses.”

Floor debate on a bill to establish a memory disorder clinic grew deeply personal for House members, including co-sponsor Scott Plakon.

His wife, Susie Plakon, well known inside the Capitol, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014.

“I can tell you, members, I had no idea of the impact that this disease has. It was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped into the middle of our family — affecting not only our immediate family, but extended family and friends,” Plakon told the House.

Treatment involves a bewildering array of specialists. Centers like the one planned offer “one-stop shopping” with a single “quarterback coordinating care,” he said.

The state had better prepare, Plakon warned — 520,000 Floridians suffer from Alzheimer’s, and the number will increase by more than 200,000 by 2025.

“There was a recent news article that referred to this as a tsunami coming to our country. The question is, here in Florida, as policymakers, are we going to be prepared when it hits our shore.”

Debate over a bill reducing registration fees for boats equipped with position-locating devices grew personal, too. A similar device save the lives of Rep. Colleen Burton’s son, Tim, and a friend on a duck-hunting expedition.

She’s mounted the device on a plaque in her office, Burton told House members.

“It’s rare that we see a bill come across our desk that has personal impact,” she said.

“This is something we truly can do that does save lives. Take it from me — it saved the life of someone I hold very dear.”

Burton had some advice:

“I recommend that each and every one of you who owns a boat, who has boaters in your family, who knows a boater, who hikes, who does anything where you might be somewhere where somebody needs to come find you, put an EPIRB” — or emergency position-indicating radio beacon — “on your big boats or buy a personal locator beacon.”

This was the week Speaker Corcoran was determined to end debate during the question-and-answer period — and it involved peanut butter.

With three days on the floor scheduled this week, Corcoran decided to give members a lesson in what was — and wasn’t — a question. But rather than pulling out the dictionary, the Land O’Lakes Republican decided to have some fun from the rostrum, giving a twisty-turny example of what he said should not be considered a question.

“A question is not: There’s two types of peanut better. There’s Jiff and there’s Peter Pan. Peter Pan, as we all know, has molasses in it, so it tastes better,” he began, after informing members Tuesday that they had more than 70 bills on the Special Order calendar.

Speaker Cocoran tried to put an end to debate disguised as questions this week, telling members if a question takes more than 5 seconds to ask then “you’re probably in debate.”

“It doesn’t mean Jiff’s bad, but for me, growing up, I ate a lot of Peter Pan and it helped me, really, with a lot of things in my life,” he continued, chuckling. “I’m not saying Jiff is bad, but I’m concerned that we have Jiff and Peter Pan in the budget. Why is Peter Pan — which has the molasses, which we all know is good for you and which we all know is a value to many societies and has done a lot for kid. My question, I guess, is why is there more money for Peter Pan, not for Jiff?”

Corcoran encouraged members to stick to this rule of thumb: If a question is “more than five seconds, you’re probably in debate.”

After explaining the difference, Corcoran handed the gavel over to Rep. Jeanette Nunez to conduct the day’s business. Nunez quickly dispensed of the first bill, which did elicit one question.

“Jiff or Peter Pan,” asked Rep. Jared Moskowitz.

The question didn’t get a response — and members didn’t get get through the Special Order calendar Tuesday, having to take up many items on Wednesday before voting on them later in the week.

A proposal to change the way nursing homes are paid could be bad news, according to some nursing home officials.

Nursing home officials said this week that 39 of the 69 nursing homes in Pinellas County could lose money under a prospective payment system outlined in the proposed Senate budget. Officials estimate Pinellas homes could lose more than $13 million under the plan.

“I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System, in a statement.

Corriveau said his facility would lose $1.7 million under the current Senate proposal. Menorah Manor officials said it would lose nearly $1 million; while Mease Manor officials said the facility could lose $250,000 a year.

The state currently operates on a cost-based system to pay nursing homes. Under the proposed prospective payment system, a formula-based daily-rate is established, which is then used by all providers.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, said while it doesn’t oppose the prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out details of a plan that works for everyone.

Welcome to the board, Steven Wellins!

Gov. Scott announced this week that he had appointed Wellins to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners.

Wellins, a 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, is the senior vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors. He received his bachelors’ of business administration from the University of Miami and a masters’ degree in economics from Florida State University. He fills a vacant seat and serves a term ending June 29, 2017.

Call it a big win for the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill setting aside $20 million a year for projects dedicated to the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, authorizes the money be used for land management and acquisition, and increasing recreational opportunities associated with and improving access to the river and the region.

A lifelong Clay County resident, Sen. Bradley said he was proud the Senate recognized the value of the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes.

“The St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes define the character of the northeast region of our state,” said Bradley, a lifelong resident of Clay County. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, these natural resources attract visitors from across the state and nation. I am proud that the Florida Senate recognizes the value of these resources to those of us who reside in northeast Florida and the state.”

The bill now heads to the House.

The black bear has a friend in Sen. Linda Stewart.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted 4-1 this week to approve a bill (SB 1304) that forbids people from hunting lactating mother bears.

“This is a great success for everybody who has been championing the preservation of Florida’s only native bear species,” said Stewart, the bill’s sponsor. “I am committed to continuing the progress we’ve made on this issue.”

The proposal also outlaws the harvest of saw-palmetto berries on public lands identified by wildlife officials as a Florida black bear habitat. It also prevents controlled burns from happening on lands identified as habitats during February, when denning occurs.

“At a time when Florida’s native black bears are facing increased pressure on their habitat (and) food sources, it is our obligation to ensure the preservation of this iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods,” she said.

A similar bill (HB 491) in the House, sponsored by Rep. Amy Mercado, has not yet received a hearing.

It was a good week to be a Florida black bear.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week they won’t hold another bear hunt until at least 2019. The commission voted 7-0 to direct staff to revamp the bear management plan and report back in two years. A motion to hold a bear hunt this year was voted down 4-3.

“We have a long-standing, proactive approach to bear management and will continue to build on that existing foundation,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski, in a statement.We will continue implementing our comprehensive approach to bear management.”

In 2015, hunters killed 304 bears in the state’s first hunt in more than 20 years. The hunt was supposed to take place over a week but ended after two days when. Wildlife officials said there are about 4,050 black bears across the state, a 53 percent increase over 15 years.

“We are thankful that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did the right thing today by voting against a 2017 trophy hunt of Florida’s unique and rare black bears,” said Kate MacFall, the Florida State director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “Floridians are strongly opposed to hunting our bears, and want to see them protected – not gunned down for trophies.”

The state is continuing its efforts to eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits, processing nearly 3,000 kits in nine months.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week the state has processed 2,963 kits in nine months, producing 681 matches in the combined DNA index system. The state is on pace to meet its goal of testing all 8,600 unprocessed kits by June 2019.

“The trauma of sexual assault can haunt a victim their entire life, especially if the predator is never caught,” said Bondi. “Testing these kits has produced hundreds of matches in DNA databases that can be used by law enforcement to track down suspects and hopefully solve crimes.”

Bondi’s announcement coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Shoes were on display at the Capitol this week, urging Floridians to “Walk In My Shoes.”

Hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the display featured about 1,000 shoes worn, decorated and submitted by sexual assault survivors from across the state. The shoes, which were accompanied by survivors’ stories, commemorated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We’ve got shoes and stories from young children, grandparents, and people from all walks of life in between,” said Sen. Lauren Book, one of the display’s supporters and the founder of Lauren’s Kids. ““We’ve even got shoes submitted by family members of survivors who ended their lives due to drugs, eating disorders or suicide, unable to overcome the trauma of their assault. It doesn’t have to be that way. With education and awareness, we can prevent 95 percent of sexual abuse – and with guidance and support, we can help survivors heal.”

Sen. Book looks at the display in the Capitol Rotunda this week. (Photo via Lauren’s Kids)

Last year more than 10,000 victims reported sexual assault to service providers in Florida, with most choosing not to report their abuse to law enforcement. Experts have said the decision not to report stems from shame, guilt, embarrassment and the fact 90 percent of victims know their assailant.

If left unresolved, survivors of sexual abuse face lifelong consequences, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I wanted to open people’s eyes to the fact that sexual violence happens much more frequently than any of us care to recognize – and that it happens to men, women and children in all kinds of communities, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, who said she was inspired by the sexual assault program at the Nancy J. Cotterman Center in her district. “We need to educate, and to help shatter the stigma surrounding sexual assault so that victims can be connected with services and help become thriving survivors.”

Speaker Corcoran caused some head-scratching during a floor session this week when he gave a caution to members.

He reminded them of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

Huh?

At a media availability later in the day, Corcoran was asked: Why the warning?

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said, “but over the last five of six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it).

“…Some of them, it was positive; someone was doing a video or pictures during the reading of the Dozier memorial,” Corcoran said, referring to the state’s apology to survivors of abuse at the now-defunct boys’ reform school in Marianna.

“But until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate,” he added.

“It wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats, but that can spiral out of hand quickly and then you can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Proceedings of the House, however, are broadcast by The Florida Channel and other outlets, and news photographers are regularly permitted on the floor to take pictures of members during debate.

To be sure, the House has been mindful of propriety lately.

Last month, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple T-shirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the T-shirts off or turn them inside out. The reason: They violated House decorum.

Florida is tweaking its rules when it comes to the bald eagle.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week it is updating its bald eagle management efforts and conservation actions. Staff recommended eliminating the redundancy of obtaining both state and federal permits for activities with the potential to disturb bald eagles or their nests. Under those recommendations, a state permit will not be needed as conservation will be ensured by the recently established federal permitting process.

The state’s bald eagle plan got a facelift this week. (Photo via FWC)

“The FWC remains committed to the conservation of this magnificent bird,” said Brad Gruver, leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section. “We will continue our efforts to educate the public about bald eagles, provide law enforcement protections and monitor the status of the eagle population to ensure it remains stable or increasing.”

The bald eagle was removed from the state listing in 2008, and since then the number of nests has increased. Gruver said Florida has more “nesting eagles than any other state except Alaska and Minnesota.”

Give Sen. Anitere Flores a round of applause next time you see her.

The Florida Credit Union Association presented the Miami Republican with its 2016 Lawmaker of the Year Award during a reception last month in Tallahassee. Flores was honored for her longtime support of credit union initiatives.

“Senator Flores has served credit unions in Florida as a true champion,” said Patrick La Pine, the president and CEO of the LSCU. “She is supportive of current efforts to pass public deposits legislation and is always accessible and helpful to credit unions and the LSCU. Sen. Flores understands the critical role that credit unions play in serving Floridians throughout the state.”

In 2016, Flores backed legislation aimed at protecting consumer data at gas pumps.

When it comes to thinking green, Florida is No. 16.

According to WalletHub, Florida is the 16th greenest state in the nation. The rankings — determined based on a 20 metrics that look at everything from the total municipal solid waste per capita to the carbon-dioxide emissions per capita — come as the nation prepares to celebrate Earth Day.

The Sunshine State came in 10th in air quality, 18th for soil quality, and 25th for water quality. Florida, according to the rankings, was ranked 10th in the percentage of recycled municipal solid waste.

Florida has the fifth highest energy consumption per capita, but was ranked 29th in the percentage of energy consumption from renewable sources.

That ranking could be on the rise in the coming years, though. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes that would implement the $54.5 million in annual solar breaks on local taxes that were approved by Florida voters through Amendment 4 in August. The House Commerce Committee also unanimously approved its version of the bill this week.

The Sunshine State is looking for ways to add more sun power.

The Florida Alliance for Accelerating Solar and Storage Technology Readiness has been awarded a $1.75 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot initiative to increase the growth of solar energy by developing new way to use it in combination with energy storage and other resources.

The alliance — which is made up of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, Nhu Energy and the Florida Energy Office — will lead a three-year protect that includes detailed solar energy and power system studies and analysis, and development of strategies that will expand solar, energy storage and other distributed energy resources.

“Solar will be an important part of our energy portfolio going forward and we’re excited to be a part of a project that will aid in the successful expansion of solar energy in Florida. And, we’re hopeful that what we learn over the course of the next three years can guide other states and communities in their efforts to harness the power of the sun,” said Amy Zubaly, the interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, in a statement. “Taking part in this project provides FMEA and Florida’s municipal utilities with a unique opportunity to build on an exceptional history of customer service, leadership and innovation that will help shape Florida’s energy future.”

Rep. Loranne Ausley is being hailed as “pro-growth progressive.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was one of 14 leaders selected to join the NewDEAL, a national network of state and local leaders working to enact pro-growth progressive solutions in a diverse array of communities.

“More than ever, we need to support outstanding state and local leaders who have innovative ideas that address the most important issues facing Americans in our new economy,” said Sen. Mark Warner and former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the honorary co-chairs of NewDEAL, in a joint statement. “We are committed to highlighting their work, while giving them the chance to learn from each other and replicate solutions that make government work better.”

Rep. Ausley is one of more than a dozen leaders selected to join the national organization, NewDEAL officials announced this week. (Photo via the Florida House)

The group aims to bring together leaders focused on expanding opportunities by develop and spread innovative ideas to spur economic growth that is broadly-earned and sustainable. According to the organization, NewDEAL leaders have found broad support for their work, with 98 percent winning their elections last November.

Ausley served on the board of NewDEAL from 2012 through 2016.

“NewDEAL’s impressive national network includes a cross-section of public servants dedicated to expanding opportunity for everyone in the new economy, while making government work more effectively,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to discover policies and share best practices with my colleagues in state and local government from across the country.”

Florida is an economic power house, at least according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to the organization’s annual report, the Sunshine State is ranked 6th in the nation in economic outlook. That’s an improvement from last year, when the group ranked from 8th in the nation.

“State governments are constantly competing for Americans and jobs, and in this fast-moving environment, standing still is enough to get left behind,” said Jonathan Williams, the chief economist and vice president of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform. “States that have adopted pro-growth policies have enjoyed robust economic expansion, with greater wage growth and more opportunities for citizens. The facts remain clear that pro-growth policies are working and there is a clear trend in favor of market-oriented reforms.”

According to the report, Utah has the best economic outlook in 2017, followed by Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee. The worst state in the nation is New York.

Give David Melnick a high five next time you see him.

The food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary School in Pinellas County was named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Every single day he goes above and beyond for the students of Lake St. George Elementary School, and he is a great example of the tremendous impact that school support staff have on the entire community,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons and Commissioner Pam Stewart present David Melkin with his 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year award.

Melnick, school officials said, has changed the culture at the Pinellas County school with his leadership and concern for students. He works tirelessly to contribute to the health, well-being and overall education of the students.

“At Lake St. George Elementary, he established a Food Patrol Program which engages students in learning outside of the classroom while reinforcing healthy habits and responsibility,” said Pinellas Superintendent Michael Grego. “We are fortunate to have him as a Pinellas County Schools employee and congratulate him on being named the 2017 School-Related Employee of the Year.”

Come on, get healthy!

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that 50 more Florida schools earned HealthierUS School Challenge designation during March, bringing the total number of HealthierUS School Challenge schools to 280.

The challenge is a joint effort of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The voluntary initiative recognizes schools’ efforts to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education and promote physical activity.

“Nutritious meals are the key to academic success, and I applaud these schools for providing students with the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle,” said Putnam.

Florida is continuing its fight on drugs.

The Florida House unanimously approved a bill (HB 477) this week that puts fentanyl and other synthetic drugs at the same level with heroin in the state’s drug trafficking statute.

“Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than morphine that is being cut with other drugs and sold as heroin,” said Attorney General Bondi in a statement. “Taking Fentanyl just one time can kill–and that is why I want to thank each member of the Florida House for voting to give prosecutors the tools to seek stronger sentences against traffickers selling Fentanyl and other deadly drugs in our state. We must continue to work together, and this legislation will help our continued efforts to combat this deadly crisis.”

Under the House proposal, possession of 10 grams or more of certain synthetic drugs is a felony. The bill also includes first-degree murder charges for drug dealers in cases where the buyer dies from an overdose.

Rep. Jim Boyd, show in this Jan. 2016 photo, said the House wanted to send a “clear message to drug dealers in Florida.” (Photo via the Florida House)

“We want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida, and that is that the Florida House is standing strong and we will not tolerate the way you prey on the weak,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, the bill’s primary sponsor.

The House earlier this session passed a bill to fight opioid addiction by placing new restrictions on how doctors prescribe painkillers. The Legislature is also considering proposals that create a certification program for sober homes.

Looking for some new windows? Gov. Scott might have a suggestion for you.

Scott attended the groundbreaking of NewSouth Window Solutions new manufacturing and distribution facility in Tampa this week. The new 238,000 square-foot will allow the company to add 65 new jobs in Florida.

“It’s great to see that our commitment to economic development, cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations are helping small businesses create job opportunities for families,” said Scott in a statement. “We have worked hard to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation and will continue to fight every day to grow our economy.”

The company is one of the leading providers of factory-direct home windows in Central Florida. CEO Dan Ochstein and President Earl Rahn opened the company’s first location in Tampa in 2010. The company now employs 165 people in Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. It plans to expand into Fort Lauderdale later this year.

“NewSouth Window is proud to call Florida home. I’d like to thank Governor Scott for his work to help businesses like mine grow and succeed in the state,” said Oschstein. “In just six years, we’ve gone from zero to 40 million and we look forward to expanding and creating even more job opportunities for Floridians.”

Steroid use among racing greyhounds is one step closer to being banned in the state of Florida.

The House voted 84-32 to approve a bill by Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Alex Miller that would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

Sponsored by Reps. Smith and Alex Miller, the bill would ban injecting racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” said Smith in a statement. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

Female racing greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids, or testosterone, to stop the dog from going into heat and prevent the loss of race days. The steroids can push greyhounds beyond their natural limits and can have a negative impact on the dogs heart function.

This was Smith’s first bill to pass the House.

Kudos, Connie Smith.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced this week that Smith will serve as the chairwoman of the Florida Education Foundation, the direct support organization of the Florida Department of Education. Smith succeeds Stacy Carlson, who served as board chair since 2015.

“I am confident Connie will be a valuable leader in the next era of the Foundation’s growth,” said Stewart in a statement. “As the Foundation has brought its direction into focus, the coming years will be vital to the development, as they are a valued partner to the Department of Education. I look forward to the work we can do together to continue Florida’s unparalleled progress in student achievement.”

Smith serves as the program manager for the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital. The program distributes $75 million in capital to Community Development Financial Institutions that serve diverse small businesses. A 21-year veteran with Wells Fargo, Smith is active in her community. She’s the past chair of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida and a member of Class XXXIIII of Leadership Florida.

“I am honored that Commissioner Stewart appointed me to serve as chair of the Florida Education Foundation,” said Smith. “Serving on the board since 2013 has been a tremendous experience, and I look forward to our continued work investing in high achievement for every student in our state.”

Millennials now have a voice in the Legislature.

Several members of the Florida Legislature are banding together to create the Florida Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators 40 years old and under.

The group — started by Reps. Holly Raschein and Sean Shaw, and Sens. Book and Flores — join the Millennial Action Project’s national movement of young elected officials “breaking through partisan gridlock to reestablish political cooperation and create meaningful programs through government institutions,” according to a news release this week.

The group will formally launch the Florida Future Caucus at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Florida Capitol.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is cheering a measure that would help combat fraud.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 671) that would give the DEO access to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ photo identification database. The proposal is meant to help the jobs agency fight fraud in the state’s reemployment assistance program.

“DEO is working every day to stop criminals from fraudulently stealing Reemployment Assistance benefits from Florida job seekers who need help getting back to work,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor. “Thanks to the leadership of Sen. (Kelli) Stargel and Rep. (Mike) LaRosa, and the support of the Florida Senate and House this session, DEO will have access to more tools that are critical to prevent and fight public benefits fraud.”

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his signature.

There’s new rules in Collier County when it comes to manatees.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a new rule this week that would add protections to some Collier County waterways where FWC data indicates the risk manatee and boat interactions are high. But the rule also reduces regulations in other waterways throughout the county where data indicates the risk to the beloved sea cow is low, according to the state wildlife agency.

FWC officials adopted new manatee protection zones in Collier County this week (Photo courtesy of FWC)

“We are committed to continuing strong conservation measures for manatees,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s section leader for Imperiled Species Management, in a statement. “These revisions to the Collier County rule are mostly tweaks that add protection or adjust protection levels consistent with review of newer data.”

The revised rule impacts less than 4 percent of the county’s 51,459 acres of inshore waterways.

Allez cuisine!

Five student chefs will compete in the final “Fresh from Florida” Student Chef Cook-Off in Orlando this weekend, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The student chefs will compete for a chance to have their original recipes served in school cafeterias. Dishes will be scored on taste, appearance, creativity, school food service appropriateness, best and most use of local ingredients, and execution.

So what’s on the menu? According to the Department of Agriculture, Gianna Rivera from Bloomingdale High School will be making citrus chicken tacos with watermelon salad; Katelynn Denny from Franklin County Schools will be making Tex-Mex chicken and vegetable quinoa salad; Sheldon Riley from Fort Pierce Westwood High School will be making Southwestern chicken and orzo salad; and Wesley Hill from Eastside High School is making sautéed chicken with citrus bell pepper salsa.

Judges are Justin Timineri, the executive chef for the Department of Agriculture; Lakeisha Hood, the director of the agency’s Divison of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, and Leslie Bell, the food services director for Santa Rosa County Schools.

The season is set.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week approved the 2017 recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico state waters.

“We are once again able to provide and maintain fishing opportunities for Gulf recreational anglers and provide stakeholders with spring, summer and fall fishing options for this economically important species,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The 78-day season will be open Saturdays and Sundays starting May 6. On May 27, the season will be open continuously through July 9. After that it will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day.

“In contrast to federal fisheries management, which has resulted in limited-to-zero recreational red snapper fishing days in Florida’s federal waters, the FWC has done outstanding work balancing fishing access with sustainability,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing. “We are thankful for the Commission’s dedication to maintaining recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper in state waters.”

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is looking for a few good women.

Putnam announced this week his office is now accepting nominations for the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Since 1985, the award has recognized women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture. The 2016 recipient was Judi Whitson.

The application deadline in June 1. More information can be found on the Woman of the Year in Agriculture webpage.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

The Delegation for 4.21.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

More “scared jackrabbits” running for re-election

This week another Democrat made a strong run at claiming a traditional GOP seat in Congress. After a near-miss in a deep-red district in Nebraska, Jon Ossoff nearly gained a majority against 17 other candidates in Georgia’s 6th District, where Republican candidates always win by double digits.

Ossoff will still be a slight underdog in the runoff against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in the June runoff, but he will have the support of the Democratic establishment combined with a political ATM.

More than $8 million poured into his campaign from all over the country. This race is a must-watch over the next nine weeks.

What does that mean for Florida? For Bill Nelson and members of the Florida delegation representing swing districts, it means aggressive fundraising because tons of money will be raining down on them in the not-too-distant future. While in Tallahassee this week, Nelson was quoted as saying he is running for his fourth term in the Senate like “a scared jackrabbit.” Coming just after Easter, rabbit references are always welcome.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across the nation, on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.
Sen. Bill Nelson says he assumes nothing when it comes to an election. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

The recent release of first quarter campaign finance reports reveals other anxious jackrabbits. Nelson raised over $2 million and now has $3.64 million cash on hand. He knows he will need a lot more than that to compete with likely opponent Gov. Rick Scott over the airwaves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting South Florida Republicans Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo and Mast were the top two GOP fundraisers with Curbelo leading the way with $615,000. Mast had $428,000 while Ros-Lehtinen hauled in $341,000 and Diaz-Balart $126,500.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will be going after freshmen Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. Crist pulled in a delegation-best $720,000; Murphy raised $286,000.

Former Rep. David Jolly went on “60 Minutes” in 2016 to lament the time members devoted to “dialing for dollars.” Before he decides whether to run again in 2018, he should know the situation is not getting any better.

The jackrabbits are multiplying.

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

Trump has spent more than 424 hours in Palm Beach since his inauguration — The president has spent one out of every five minutes of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf club, reports Philip Bump with the Washington Post.

The Post tallied the amount of time the part-time Florida man has spent in Palm Beach, rounded to the half-hour, since he was inaugurated through Monday. According to Bump, Trump has spent about 424.5 hours at the so-called “winter White House” and 1,663.5 hours everywhere else, “including Air Force One headed to Mar-a-Lago.”

“(T)here’s a real sense in which Trump is splitting his time between his two jobs: service as president of the United States and acting as owner/host of Mar-a-Lago. In some cases, those roles overlap, such as when he introduced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a couple having their wedding at the resort,” writes Bump.

He went on to say while it wasn’t clear whether Trump planned to travel back to Palm Beach this weekend, if “the existing pattern holds, he’ll go on any two of the next four days.”

Scott joins Trump for veterans bill signing — Gov. Rick Scott joined Trump at the White House on Wednesday for the formal signing of the Veteran’s Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act. Scott joined several other officials in the Roosevelt Room for the signing, including Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Glenn Sutphin.

As one way of addressing the backlog for care facing veterans, the bill allows for veterans to seek care from non-VA providers. Trump stated at the ceremony that it was now “it’s time that we now take care of them properly.”

“My father served in WWII, and I proudly served in the United States Navy, and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and veterans,” Scott said in a release. “I was proud to join him today as he signed this important bill for veterans.”

Scott later met with U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Tweet, tweet:

Rubio targets HUD oversight —The Miami Republican took a shot at lax oversight at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. In an op-ed for the Florida Times-Union, Rubio wrote of his tour of the Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

“Crumbling staircases, dangerous gas leaks, exposed electrical wires” and other deficiencies are conditions that have “existed for too long” at Eureka Garden and other places around the country.

“In some cases, property owners like those who owned Eureka Garden pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars instead of putting them toward needed repairs,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, properties have been given passing HUD inspection scores despite terrible conditions.”

Rubio and Carson are pledging a more diligent HUD that will be in tune to the needs of residents and make property owners accountable for the conditions in which people live.

“These would be meaningful first steps toward fulfilling one of HUD’s core functions,” said Rubio.

Nelson presses Tom Price on Florida’s opioid crisis — In a letter to HHS Secretary Price, the Orlando Democrat declared the heroin and opioid crisis is “devastating Florida” encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”

Paulson’s Principles: Reapportionment Roulette

Reapportionment is like the family portrait. The only thing you care about is how you came out; the hell with everyone else.

Democrats and Republicans have held a variety of positions on reapportionment, depending on whether they were the majority or minority party. Democrats completely dominated Florida politics for 120 years, from the end of Reconstruction to the 1990’s. When Florida and other southern states started trending Republican after World War II, Democrats used gerrymandering and reapportionment to solidify their strength.

In the early 1990’s, Republicans proposed to change the process of drawing District lines. Their proposal would be similar to the Fair District plan offered by Democrats in 2014. Democrats quickly rejected the Republican plan, believing it was simply a device to help the Republicans.

Even though Democrats controlled both houses of the Florida legislature by a 60-40% margin in 1992 and drew the state legislative lines, the Republicans won control of the state senate in 1994 and the house in 1996.

The Democrats were not able to agree on drawing the congressional district lines in 1992. Blacks, who made up about 18 percent of Florida’s population but accounted for a third of the Democratic vote, wanted Democrats to create three majority-minority districts. The Democrats refused, arguing that in doing so the surrounding districts would become whiter and more Republican.

Unable to draw the congressional districts, the task was left to federal court judge Clyde Atkins and a special master. I was hired by both the Florida and national NAACP as an expert witness to discuss the history of black voter discrimination in Florida.

In the case of Florida NAACP, et al. v. Lawton Chiles, et al., my testimony helped to influence the court to create two majority-minority districts and one minority-influence district (at least 40% minority).

After 120 years with no black member of Congress, Florida elected three African-Americans to the congressional delegation. Carrie Meek and Alcee Hastings were elected in the Miami area, and Corrine Brown was elected in Jacksonville.

I would not have voted for any of the three blacks who were elected to Congress with the possible exception of Meek, but that was not important. What was important was that the black electorate can vote for the candidates of their choice.

As the size of Florida’s congressional delegation grew due to its population growth, so did the Republican domination of the delegation. After the 2010 census, the Florida delegation grew from 25 to 27 members, and Republicans controlled 17 of the seats. Democrats were in full panic mode.

A bipartisan coalition made up of mostly Democrats and a few token Republicans, joined forces with the League of Women Voters (LWV) which has become increasingly dominated by the political left. The result was (in the spirit of Easter) the resurrection of the Republican reapportionment plan of the early 1990’s.

The Fair District Amendment was sold to eliminate politics from the reapportionment process. I always love it when reformers want to eliminate politics in the political process. It can’t be done. You simply replace one power broker with another.

The voters embraced the Fair District Amendment, and it passed. The Republicans had to redraw District lines, which the Florida courts threw out. On July 9, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Republican districts and substituted the plan of the LWV’s.

Twenty-four of the 27 districts were redrawn, and eight were substantially altered. The Democrats gained only one seat in the Florida delegation in the 2016 election, but the roulette process has only begun.

Open Gaetz Day starts early, ends late — Before leaving Washington for the nearly three-week Easter recess, the Republican from the First District did not believe Congress should adjourn before taking care of health care. That failure, according to Gaetz, meant he and his colleagues “don’t deserve recess” until they address health care.

But since the members are home in their districts, Gaetz feels they should spend quality time with constituents. He is having another Open Gaetz Day on Thursday. His schedule is a literal sunrise-to-sunset agenda.

He began the day at 6:30 a.m. with a “beach town hall” broadcast on live radio, followed by a beach cleanup.

As part of his #OpenGaetz Day, Rep. Gaetz took part in a beach clean-up. (Photo via Facebook)

The rest of the day included an education briefing, a military round table, a legislative update on live radio, two environmental cleanup public interactions, and a community legislative update.

The final event began at 6:30 p.m. when he joined a Constituent Info Booth at the Blue Wahoos baseball stadium.

Gaetz questions Navy’s lifting of training flight pause — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Navy instituted an operational pause on training flights for the T-45 aircraft at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Navy has lifted that pause much to the concern of the Republican from the First District. The issue was — and continues to be — the safety of the aircraft’s oxygen systems.

“I remain concerned with the decision to lift the operational pause for the T-45C absent sufficient data from the examination of On-board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS),” Gaetz wrote to Vice-Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander of the Naval Air Forces.

Gaetz expressed concern that the pause was lifted before “the root cause” of the problem was fully identified. He asked pointed questions of Admiral Shoemaker including whether the Navy can provide “more transparency” to their on-going process.

In addition to representing the district housing Pensacola Naval Air Station, Gaetz is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Gaetz puts Navarre Pass reopening on hold, temporarily – The first-year Republican congressman from Fort Walton Beach is pushing legislation to allow private ownership of land on Pensacola and Navarre Beaches.

But Gaetz told leaders in Navarre that it will not include reopening Navarre Pass, reports the Pensacola News-Journal. The pass, which allows boating between Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, has been closed since 1965 after Hurricane Betsy clogged the waterway with debris.

Gaetz, who said reopening the Pass would bring up to $1 billion in economic impact through tourism and fishing, believes the two issues should not be linked. That is why he dropped the issue from his proposed bill, which has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rutherford, Tom Rooney herald new VA transparency — The Jacksonville freshman Republican was enthused with a new tool to promote transparency at the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA’s new Access and Quality system allow veterans to access information on wait times and the quality of care provided by the hospitals compared to private facilities.

Rutherford, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was “proud of the work we’ve done.” Quoted in the Sunshine State News, Rutherford gave kudos to the VA “for increasing the transparency by making patient wait times and care data available online.”

“No other health care system in the country releases this type of information on wait times,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin in a news release. “This allows veterans to see how the VA is performing.”

Also weighing in was 17th District Republican Rooney, who praised Shulkin’s leadership in making the new system a reality, adding that it indicates a “new era of transparency.”

“Veterans across the nation are justifiably tired of inexcusable wait times and their lack of trust in the government to provide the basic services we promised in exchange for their service is unacceptable,” he said.

Dunn files legislation to protect rights of seated airline passengers — The Panama City freshman is filing legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the United Airlines fiasco, where a properly seated passenger was forcibly removed from his seat. Dunn has introduced the Secure Equity in Airline Transportation (SEAT) Act, which would prohibit airlines from removing a seated passenger on over-booked flights.

“Passengers should have the peace of mind to know they will not be dragged off a plane once they’re in their seat,” said Dunn in a release. “The SEAT Act will require airlines to sort out overbooking before allowing passengers to board the airplane.”

Dunn’s bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to revise rules making it clear that not even airline employees have priority over a seated passenger. According to Dunn, the legislation makes an exception for a seated passenger who “is a threat to the safety of others.”

Lawson meets constituents with during Tallahassee town hall — About 60 people attended the freshman Democrat’s town hall meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee.

While there were some complaints — constituents complained about not being able to get through to his office, something Lawson apologized for — there was none was none of the acrimonies that has greeted Republican members of Congress from constituents angry about the GOP plan to scuttle the Affordable Care Act and federal spending. Instead, Lawson told the crowd he went to Washington to improve the Affordable Care Act, not to repeal or replace it.

Lawson said he believes in working with Republican colleagues when possible. He has to, within the Florida delegation — as he noted, he’s the only Democratic congressman between Pensacola and Orlando. His District 5 comprises eight counties between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

“I have no choice, ladies and gentlemen. I’m like the Lone Ranger on some of those issues,” he said. “When you talk about North Florida, who you talking about? I stand alone out there, waving a flag.”

He continued: “I work with a lot of my Republican colleagues because nothing was done by one particular party. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t done by a Republican or Democrat. It was a joint effort. To do things in America, it’s always going to be a joint effort. We have to get over the campaign and do what’s best for you, the citizens in this country.”

Buchanan seeks funds to fight red tide — Noting the dangerous threat toxic algae poses to humans, marine life and the economy, the six-term congressman announced he is requesting increased federal funding to combat red tide.

Red tide, also known as Karenia brevis algae, has lingered along Suncoast shores on and off for several months now, killing thousands of fish and discouraging potential visitors from taking in some of the country’s best beaches. Karenia brevis algae produce a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. In fact, the toxins from red tide blooms killed nearly 300 Florida manatees in 2013.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to safeguard the public and protect marine life and fragile coastal ecosystems,” Buchanan wrote to the leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations. “Not only do harmful algal blooms deter tourists and upset related industries, they can be dangerous to humans as well.”

Spotted: Rep. Vern Buchanan writing about the bipartisan approach to animal protection issues in USA Today.

Buchanan to Interior: Restore manatee protections — The Sarasota Republican and several colleagues wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking for restoration of protective status for Florida’s manatees. Buchanan is leading the effort three weeks after blasting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for downgrading manatee protections.

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” the letter said. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

Buchanan had statistics to back up his claims. While the rule was under consideration, “nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support.”

“As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction,” the letter said. “We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.”

Also signing the letter: Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. Republican Daniel Webster also signed.

Pro-Trump group airing ads backing Mast advocating repeal, replace Obamacare — An advocacy group formed by six of Trump‘s top campaign aides launched a $3 million advertising campaign to praise Congress members working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The list of 12 select members from America First Policies includes Republican Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Obamacare is collapsing and bringing our health care system down with it, harming millions of American families,” said Nick Ayers, Chairman of the Board of America First Policies. “The time is now to repeal and replace this terrible law, but we need citizens to engage.”

The issue advocacy campaign will be on broadcast or cable, the internet and through phone calls in twelve districts, including CD 18, which stretches from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach in Southeast Florida.

Mast was lobbied personally by Trump to support the GOP’s health care bill that never came up for a vote last month, and he reportedly called on his colleagues to unite behind the bill in an emotionally charged address, according to The Washington Post.

Mast flipped the seat from blue to red last November when he defeated Democrat Randy Perkins. The seat had been held for the previous four years by Patrick Murphy, who opted to run for U.S. Senate last year.

Frankel returns from trip to Korea, Japan — The Palm Beach Democrat picked the right time to go on an Asian-Pacific fact-finding trip. She and some of her colleagues made stops in South Korea and Japan just as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began raising tensions in the region.

The focus was the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and their effects on the entire region. She visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and American military facilities in Japan. On the itinerary were meetings with South Korean Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The trip wrapped up with a meeting between the lawmakers and a North Korean defector.

“A strong, unwavering relationship between the U.S. and its allies Japan and South Korea is necessary for the national and economic security of all three countries,” she said in a statement. “In this regard, the United States, in consultation with Japan and South Korea, must explore all reasonable economic, diplomatic, and defensive actions such as cyber that would prevent North Korea from developing such a (nuclear) capability.”

Right on cue, some are saying the U.S. indeed may have played a role in the failed North Korean missile launch earlier this week. Frankel serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Deutch, Curbelo urge Trump Administration to stay in Paris climate change accord — The two Floridians, co-chairs and co-founders of the bipartisan House Climate Change Caucus, are jointly urging the Trump Administration to remain in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. With the administration rumored to be ready to pull out of the accord, Deutch and Curbelo argued strongly against the move.

“It is imperative that we maintain our seat at the table in global discussions on how to address the threats posed by climate change,” they said in a joint statement. “It is our hope the administration will take a responsible approach on this issue.”

The agreement, which was completed in 2016, calls for signees to undertake “ambitious efforts to combat climate change,” Of the 197 nations attending the conference, 143 countries have signed on.

In March, Curbelo, a Miami Republican, and Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, signed a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

“Stepping away from the agreement would mean stepping away from the immense opportunities that these international investments afford American businesses and research institutions,” they wrote.

Diaz-Balart delivers keynote at affordable housing dedication ceremony — The Miami Republican was on hand Monday as Collier County official dedicated Hatchers Preserve, an 18-unit, single-family rental community in Immokalee.

The community was built by Rural Neighborhoods in partnership with the Big Cypress Housing Corp. and was funded, in part, through by the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

“This new community will provide a safe roof over the heads of 18 deserving families,” said Diaz-Balart, who serves as the chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, in a statement Monday. “(This) dedication ceremony is a prime example of the federal government and local leaders coming together to advance solutions. I especially want to commend the great work of Rural Neighborhoods, including Steve Kirk, for their vision and determination to see this project to its completion. I look forward to continue working with the Southwest Florida community to protect and preserve affordable housing.”

The homes will be rented for $650 a month to families earning 50 percent of the area median income, and $725 a month to families earning 80 percent AMI.

Now serving his eighth term in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has become a powerful voice in Florida’s congressional delegation. As chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Diaz-Balart will play a fundamental role during budget discussions and any negotiations about infrastructure improvements. And he’s spent years pushing lawmakers to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something he says is still working on. We caught up with Diaz-Balart during his visit to Immokalee, located in the western part of his sprawling district, to talk about housing, transportation and 2018.

AP Photo

FP: You were in Miami last week with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, tell me about the trip, what you learned and what he learned about affordable housing and the needs in South Florida.

MDB: I’m very grateful that he’s actually traveling and he’s trying to figure out what’s out there, what’s working and what’s not working, which is wonderful to see. Here’s a man who is doing it for the right reason, and he’s trying to learn. These are very complicated areas. It’s a huge agency, and it’s an agency that has major problems, fiscal accountability problems. … I think it was very helpful for him to see just different things that are working and not working that well, and why. I’ve met with him, I had the opportunity to meet with him again, and had the opportunity to ride in the car with him, which was a really good time. I feel really, really optimistic about the fact that he’s a person who wants to do the right thing. And I am really looking forward to working with him in a very, very close way to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent, and that also some of the key programs are working continue to receive help.

FP: This Immokalee project was a partnership — federal, state and local. When you talk about housing, especially affordable workforce housing, in Florida and beyond how important is that local, state and federal role?

MDB: I think it’s crucial. One of the ways you get more accountability is by having a local community be part of it. There’s so many instances where the federal government, HUD and others decide this is what you’re going to do; this is where you’re going to do it. And frankly, that doesn’t work too well. This is one of the best examples. Rural Neighborhoods is this group that builds; they rehabilitate, they manage, they do incredible work. They receive funding from different sources; they leverage public funding with private funding. This is not one of the traditional things (people think of when) they think of HUD — these high rise buildings … This is a local community, having a need and going to them and saying “what can we do here?” And what you’re going to see, if you come here in five years, is these homes in pristine shape, because that’s the kind of work (Rural Neighborhoods does) around the state.

FP: President Trump, when he was on the campaign trail, talked so much about infrastructure improvements to transportation. What, if any, impact do you think the inability to get health care reform through Congress is going to have on getting those massive infrastructure improvements through?

MDB: I think the potential is for it to have a serious impact. … If we can’t — controlling the House, Senate and the White House — get together and pass legislation and do what we’ve been saying forever, which is repeal Obamacare and replace it with more a patient-centered centered system of accountability and choice, if we can’t even do that, then it begs the question of can we do the even more complicated issues like tax reform.

Why do I mention tax reform, even though you mentioned infrastructure, which is key to my heart? If you can’t do health care, it’s going to be very difficult to do tax reform. If you can’t do tax reform, then the question is, where are the funds coming from to do infrastructure? I wish I could tell you I’m not concerned, but I don’t know how you do things that are more complicated if we can’t even do health care.

FP: You’ve been a huge proponent of immigration reform for many, many years. What’s the status right now?

MDB: I’m not giving up on it. I think we have a greater opportunity, a greater chance. I think it’s obviously a problem and it’s not going to fix itself, you’ve heard me say that a million times. I’m still working, and I think we have a better shot than if Hillary (Clinton) had gotten elected. I wish I could tell you right now things are great; they’re not. But I’m optimistic. We’re still working, we’re still talking, and I think it may be one of those things that surprises folks. I think this is a president who wants to solve problems, and I think once … they all see this is broken from A-to-Z, I don’t think this president is going to sit back and let it stay broken. So, I’m optimistic.

FP: As you start looking toward 2018, are you concerned at all about re-election?

MDB: I’m a firm believe you do good things, and good things happen. I don’t worry about that. I just work, and good things happen.

Ros-Lehtinen draws another Democratic opponent for 2018 – First term Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez filed to challenge the longtime Republican incumbent in the redrawn Florida 27th Congressional District, which now leans Democrat.

“We deserve a member of Congress who will hold President Trump accountable,” Rosen Gonzalez, a single mother of three, told the Miami Herald. “Instead of the president’s lapdog, I’ll be a watchdog who stands up for science against climate change deniers, stands up for immigrants against persecution, and fights back against partisan attacks on women’s health care.”

Others looking to enter the CD 27 race include Scott Fuhrman, a Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, and University of Miami academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn. Rosen Gonzalez would have one more year on the commission in the 2018 election cycle, but does not have to resign to run.

Crenshaw shines light on ‘scary’ disease affecting daughter – The former Jacksonville congressman is looking to raise public awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and help raise money for research. The Florida Times-Union reports that Crenshaw’s daughter, Alex, is one of the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease, with no known cure, affects the digestive system.

The Crenshaw family — wife Kitty, another daughter, and two grandchildren – have become advocates for the Crohn’s &Colitis Foundation, and raised about $100,000 since 2009. They regularly take part in the organization’s annual Take Steps fundraising marches. Crenshaw sits on the foundation’s national board. On April 22, the Central and Northeast Florida Chapter in Jacksonville Beach will name him an honorary chair and feature Alex as an “honored hero.”

“It’s kind of a family affair,” Crenshaw told the Times-Union.

Ballard Partners adds another foreign client to D.C. rosterThe Florida-based firm has been retained by the Socialist Party of Albania to “provide consulting and advocacy services in a bid to improve U.S.-Albanian bilateral relations” at a rate of $20,000 a month.

Ballard Partners work for the Socialist Party of Albania will include advising, counseling and assisting the party in its communications with the U.S. government, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act documents filed in April.

The year-long deal continues until the end of March 2018 and fetches the agency $20,000 per month. Earlier this month, the firm, led by Brian Ballard, signed a similar year-long contract to strengthen ties between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

The Socialist Party of Albania rose to power following its majority win in Albania’s 2013 parliamentary elections. Leading the left-leaning political party is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who’s up for re-election in Albania’s upcoming June elections.

The Democratic Party of Albania last year hired Podesta Group in a similar bid to advance U.S. relations. That political group, which was formerly Albania’s leading political party, hired Podesta for counsel on relevant U.S. policies and Congressional activities, as well as to arrange meetings with U.S. executive branch officials and members of Congress.

In January, a third Albanian political group fighting for seats in the June elections, the Socialist Movement for Integration, retained The McKeon Group to facilitate a dialogue between members of that party and the Trump administration.

Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joins TechNet as VP — TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Before working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

Personnel Note: The National Association of Counties (NACo) added a bit more of a Florida flavor recently with the hire of Kevan Stone as Associate Legislative Director for Transportation and Infrastructure. Stone was previously a policy advisor for former Rep. John Mica. Stone holds a degree in political science from the University of Central Florida.

NACo’s current president is Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge. The Tallahassee native’s term runs through 2017. The organization advocates on Capitol Hill for 3,069 county governments.

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