Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 224

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.

Feds say ‘stay the course’ with Everglades, rejecting Joe Negron’s land buy

Joe Negron’s controversial plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges is not going over well with federal officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Last week, many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O.

At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.”

“It’s not that I’m for or against it, it’s that there’s no federal money for it,” Rubio said to a conservative blogger Wednesday. “We’re going to end up with nothing. And that’s been my argument from the beginning, and that’s my message to him, and he understood it.”

Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative, told USA TODAY he resists Negron’s plan, which is opposed by Florida Sugarcane Farmers, a group of Everglades Agricultural Area landowners refusing to sell approximately 60,000 acres in the scheme.

“Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful,” said Rooney, who prefers the government fund projects with proven success.

As for a proposed task force to consider the feasibility of Negron’s plan, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney also believes that a non-starter, at least right now.

Rooney, whose 19th Congressional District includes much of the Everglades, declined to sign a letter urging Donald Trump to act quickly on Everglades restoration.

What the Naples Republican most disagreed about the bipartisan letter — signed by Reps. Brian Mast, Charlie Crist and others in Florida’s Legislative Delegation — was a call for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make the plan a priority.

Although Rooney is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Everglades Caucus, which works to educate Congress and staff on issues affecting the Everglades, he believes another governmental task force would distract from the current federal plans for wetlands restoration.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney told FloridaPolitics.com. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do,” Rooney added, “to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized.”

Another call to stick with the current federal plan comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which partners with the state of Florida to protect and preserve water resources in the Everglades, central and southern Florida.

Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district, points to successes in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, which includes the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). SEFR represents the world’s largest ecosystem restoration program.

“I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward,” Kirk said in a conference call last week, a declaration clearly countermanding Negron’s proposal and rejects buying more land for a reservoir.

A federal lawmaker who supports Negon’s proposal is Palm City Republican Brian Mast.

“One of the most important things that we can do to save our coastal waters and our coastal estuaries is making sure we find ways to move the water south,” said Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. “That’s why I support SB 10 and it’s why the first action I took when I got to Congress was securing a spot as Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this role, I am pushing to secure the federal support and funding needed to restore our environment and protect the economy.”

Debuting today: The Spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine

INFLUENCE Magazine is mostly about the governmental affairs professionals who shape The Process. But any story about The Process is incomplete without a recognition of the public affairs pros that are as integral as any lobbying shop.

This issue is dedicated to these “flaks,” as well as to the journalists with whom they interact — and occasionally spar.

Our twin cover stories are about two of the public affairs firms dominating legislative politics — Bascom Communications and Consulting and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

CLICK HERE TO READ A “FIRST DRAFT” OF THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

I met both Sarah Bascom and Alia Faraj-Johnson seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve joined the rest of Tallahassee in watching them build two of the most respected brands in Florida politics. In this issue, you’ll read how these two remarkable women and their colleagues accomplished what they have. They truly are ‘Great Communicators’

I also invited veteran reporter Audrey Post to revisit her seminal look the Florida Capitol Press Corps. Much has changed from when she last took stock in 2013. If any single reporter embodies these changes, it’s POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, who works for an outlet that did not even exist in 2013, but today sets the pace for capital coverage. We also profile Tia Mitchell, the jack-of-all-trades reporter for the Florida Times-Union, who, when she’s not writing her must-read column or interviewing a political player on Facebook live, is breaking yet another story about the tenure of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

If you are talking about the ‘great communicators’ in the legislative process, two other names come to my find, albeit it for very different reasons. One is Katie Betta, the soft-spoken voice of the Florida Senate, who is universally admired for her poise and effectiveness. The other is  political consultant Brian Hughes, consigliere to legislative leaders and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and a bare-knuckled practicioner of the dark arts of public relations. It’s never a good thing to end up on the opposite side of Brian.

The truth is there is so much great talent in the public affairs sector that we literally ran out of space attempting to catalog all of it. From veterans like spokesman Craig Waters and reporter Rick Flagg to the tech whizzes at Sachs Media Group and spox-turned-blogger Brian Burgess, there is an entire section of this edition profiling the greatest of the great communicators.

We hope you notice this is our biggest issue yet, with almost thirty more pages in it than the last edition. There are just so many interesting aspects to this edition, including a very frank discussion with the state’s most outspoken lawmaker, Republican Jack Latvala. But there’s also great food writing, great travel writing — even a story about the intersection of influence and sports (written by reporter/bicycling enthusiast Alan Snel right before he was involved in a hit-and-run accident)!

A reminder that our once-every-two years list of the most influential people in Florida politics — the INFLUENCE 100 — is being decided now and will be unveiled at the end of the year. We invite your nominations about who belongs on the list. Also, our choices for the “Golden Rotundas” — our annual awards for the governmental affairs industry — will be in the next edition.

Email your suggestions away!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE PRINT EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

Trey Price

Personnel note: Trey Price to head Florida Housing

Veteran lobbyist Harold “Trey” Price has been named executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Price announced his hiring on social media Friday.

He will take over from interim Executive Director Ken Reecy, who’s been in charge since the resignation of Steve Auger, the previous executive director.

Price has his work cut out for him. Auger stepped down after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

Auger oversaw expenses for “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors,” the audit revealed.

The agency also put on a board reception, spending “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station.” It also awarded nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.

Furthermore, federal prosecutors last year OK’d a criminal plea deal to an alleged $36 million housing fraud that involved the FHFC.

Prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions that went through the FHFC.

They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess, according to case documents.

The audit also noted the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients.”

Price was in-house lobbyist for Florida Realtors for 14 years, then launched his own firm, Price Point Strategies, in 2015.

He also worked as a campaign manager for several legislative and local campaigns, a general campaign consultant, and a legislative assistant in the Florida House.

Price also has extensive experience working on successful campaigns to amend — or prevent others from amending — Florida’s Constitution.

He began his career in politics as an assistant in the political office of the U.S. Sugar Corporation, and went on to assist the campaign to defeat the Sugar Tax Amendment in 1996, one of the largest and most expensive constitutional amendment campaigns in Florida history.

While at Florida Realtors, Price helped author and shepherd through the Legislature the 2008 Property Tax Amendment 1, which increased Florida’s homestead exemption and gave “portability” to homeowners wanting to move and hold onto their tax break, among other provisions.

Sunburn for 3.27.17 – INFLUENCE Mag debuts; Cary Pigman blows bad; Justice League coming together

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

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

DEBUTING TODAY: THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE

INFLUENCE Magazine is mostly about the governmental affairs professionals who shape The Process. But any story about The Process is incomplete without a recognition of the public affairs pros that are as integral as any lobbying shop.

This issue is dedicated to these “flaks,” as well as to the journalists with whom they interact — and occasionally spar.

Our twin cover stories are about two of the public affairs firms dominating legislative politics — Bascom Communications and Consulting and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

CLICK HERE TO READ A “FIRST DRAFT” OF THE SPRING 2017 EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

I met both Sarah Bascom and Alia Faraj-Johnson seven years ago. Since that time, I’ve joined the rest of Tallahassee in watching them build two of the most respected brands in Florida politics. In this issue, you’ll read how these two remarkable women and their colleagues accomplished what they have. They truly are ‘Great Communicators’

I also invited veteran reporter Audrey Post to revisit her seminal look the Florida Capitol Press Corps. Much had changed from when she last took stock in 2013. If any single reporter embodies these changes, it’s POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, who works for an outlet that did not even exist in 2013, but today sets the pace for capital coverage. We also profile Tia Mitchell, the jack-of-all-trades reporter for the Florida Times-Union, who, when she’s not writing her must-read column or interviewing a political player on Facebook live, is breaking yet another story about the tenure of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

If you are talking about the ‘great communicators’ in the legislative process, two other names come to my find, albeit it for very different reasons. One is Katie Betta, the soft-spoken voice of the Florida Senate, who is universally admired for her poise and effectiveness. The other is political consultant Brian Hughes, consigliere to legislative leaders and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and a bare-knuckled practitioner of the dark arts of public relations. It’s never a good thing to end up on the opposite side of Brian.

The truth is there is so much great talent in the public affairs sector that we literally ran out of space attempting to catalog all of it. From veterans like spokesman Craig Waters and reporter Rick Flagg to the tech whizzes at Sachs Media Group and spox-turned-blogger Brian Burgess, there is an entire section of this edition profiling the greatest of the great communicators.

We hope you notice this is our biggest issue yet, with almost thirty more pages in it than the last edition. There are just so many interesting aspects to this edition, including a very frank discussion with the state’s most outspoken lawmaker, Republican Jack Latvala. But there’s also great food writing, great travel writing — even a story about the intersection of influence and sports (written by reporter/bicycling enthusiast Alan Snel right before he was involved in a hit-and-run accident)!

A reminder that our once-every-two-years list of the most influential people in Florida politics — the INFLUENCE 100 — is being decided now and will be unveiled at the end of the year. We invite your nominations about who belongs on the list. Also, our choices for the “Golden Rotundas” — our annual awards for the governmental affairs industry — will be in the next edition.

Email your suggestions away!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE PRINT EDITION OF INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

A HIGHER AUTHORITY

Hours after state Rep. Cary Pigman bonded out of the St. Lucie County jail on a drunk driving charge, his Department of Damage Control weighed in with this half-baked, half-hearted, lame excuse for an apology:

“Last night I was pulled over by the Florida Highway Patrol on the Turnpike in St. Lucie County after a long drive back from Tallahassee. I was charged with driving under the influence. I want to apologize to my family, my constituents, and my colleagues in the Legislature, for the embarrassment this has caused me and them.”

Like everyone who ever cruised the Turnpike with a bottle of wine and a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, Pigman’s first concern is the embarrassment “this” has caused “him,” and feels that the “long drive back from Tallahassee” is some kind of mitigating factor. Pigman didn’t think to thank the motorists who called 911 to report his erratic driving, possibly saving his life and the lives of others in his path.

As an emergency room physician, Pigman certainly has the credentials to be a respected part of the solution to Florida’s problems. As an Army reservist with three recent overseas tours of duty, he may well have seen things that would cause anyone to want a bar in the car.

In public life, Pigman gained notoriety as the Torquemada of Marijuana, and for an ethics charge wrapped in a stupid soap-opera beef wrapped in an extramarital affair.

Now, this.

Alcohol abuse resulting in arrest is God’s way of telling a doctor, “Physician, heal thyself.”

For his sake, and his family’s let’s hope he does.

BACKGROUND via Will Greenlee of TCPalm.com – Pigman was arrested early Friday morning on a DUI charge after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted his Jeep drifting on Florida’s Turnpike late Thursday night, records show. The Republican lawmaker represents western St. Lucie County, as well as Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Breath tests measured Pigman’s blood alcohol content at 0.14 and 0.15 percent, which are above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. His arraignment is scheduled for March 31.

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DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 6; NFL Draft – 31; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 37; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 37; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 159; Election Day 2017 – 224; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 262; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 286.

HEALTH CARE BILL DEFEAT A LOSS FOR RICK SCOTT via Ledyard King of USA TODAY – Florida’s maverick Republican governor has spent years decrying the Affordable Care Act. And ever since his pal Donald Trump was elected president … Scott has paid several visits to Washington hoping to convince Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. But House Speaker Paul Ryan’s words — “the bottom line is Obamacare right now remains the law of the land” – must have stung Scott … the governor’s office declined to say much after the defeat.

ICYMI: FLORIDA JOBLESS RATE FLAT EVEN THOUGH STATE LOST JOBS via The Associated Press – Florida lost 5,000 jobs in February while the state’s overall unemployment rate remains unchanged … the jobless rate remained 5 percent last month. That’s higher than the overall national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. After leading the nation in job growth in January, however, Florida lost jobs. Still, Florida’s overall job growth rate in the past year has been among the highest in the nation. Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.1 percent.

NAACP URGES SCOTT TO RETURN CASE TO PROSECUTOR via The Associated Press – NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze said that the group’s members don’t support Gov. Scott‘s decision to take the Markeith Loyd case away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Television station WKMG reports Nweze spoke at a news conference at the group’s quarterly meeting in Orlando. “The death penalty, killing people, is not the way that we end crime in this state,” said Leon Russell, the chairman of the NAACP national board of directors. “Criminal justice spending is outstripping education spending throughout the nation, so why don’t we focus on those things that are actually building our community?” said Ngozi Ndulue, the NAACP national senior director of criminal justice.

ZIKA ISN’T OVER. MIAMI-DADE HAS ANOTHER LOCALLY ACQUIRED INFECTION, STATE SAYS via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald – Florida health officials reported one more locally acquired Zika infection in a person who felt no symptoms but who was tested for the virus in February. The person likely acquired Zika in Miami-Dade in 2016 after “multiple exposures” to areas where mosquitoes were spreading the virus, the Florida Department of Health reported, adding that the state had just received confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, Florida reported four new travel-related Zika infections, raising the total number of cases for 2017 to 29 people, including one locally acquired case from Miami-Dade. Among the 29 cases reported in Florida this year are 13 pregnant women and two people whose source of infection is undetermined after a health department investigation.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a roundtable with community leaders to discuss Zika preparedness ahead of the rainy season at 9:30 a.m. at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, 1350 NW 14th Street in Miami. At 2 p.m., Scott will honor veterans with a ceremony at 2 p.m. at Louie C. Wadsworth Armory, 1416 11th Street Southwest in Live Oak.

ADAM PUTNAM AND THE POLITICAL COMMITTEE DISCLOSURE THAT FAILS TO DISCLOSE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Putnam has raised more than $9.4 million for a 2018 governor’s race he has yet to announce and, in the last two years, spent $1.8 million of it on a Lakeland-based political consulting firm that has failed to disclose how the expenses were paid … 70 percent of the $2.6 million spent by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, went to Silloh Consulting, operated by Justin Hollis, the 36-year-old political consultant and real estate investor who manages Putnam’s political fund. Nearly $1.3 million in lump sum payments went for the purpose of political consulting, according to the reports. How much of that was used to compensate vendors, pollsters, fundraisers, advertisers, opposition researchers, media interests and others? His report doesn’t say, raising legal issues about whether the report is in compliance with state campaign finance law that requires all major expenditures to be reported, and federal tax law, which requires that political committees disclose the campaigns for which they are operating.

FIVE BUDGET FIGHTS TO WATCH AS SCOTT, LAWMAKERS COLLIDE ON SPENDING $83.5 BILLION via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – 1. HIGHER EDUCATION … Senate President Joe Negron wants this to be the year that the state’s 12 universities get $1 billion in new money to help the flagship state schools move “from good to great.” Not likely. 2. TAX CUTS … This is a difficult year to be pushing tax cuts because the state has little extra money. 3. PUBLIC SCHOOLS … A major clash is looming over how to pay for a boost in spending in public schools. 4. EVERGLADES …  Calling the pollution of Florida waters a catastrophe, Negron wants the Legislature to acquire 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to hold a massive amount of water. 5. STATE WORKERS … Employees have had just one across-the-board raise in the past decade, in 2013. With rampant turnover and dangerous staff shortages, a consensus has emerged to give correctional officers previously unheard-of raises of between 8.5 and 10 percent. Scott favors incentive bonuses for most state workers, not across-the-board raises.

HOUSE BUDGET VOTE TENTATIVELY SCHEDULED — The House announced last week it was tentatively scheduled to vote on its budget April 13. According to a report released Thursday, the Appropriations Committee will make budget documents available to members no later than 8 a.m. Friday. Members will then face a series of deadlines to submit amendments to the budget: Main amendments must be filed no later than 4 p.m. Monday, April 3. All amendments to amendments and substitute amendments must be filed no later than noon on April 4. The committee is expected to file and publish the General Appropriations bill, the implementing bill and conforming legislation, as amended, no late than 4 p.m. April 6. Members will then have until 4 p.m. April 10 to file main amendments on the floor; amendments to the main amendments or substitute amendments for main floor amendments must be requested by noon on April 11. Second reading is tentatively scheduled for April 12, with third reading scheduled for April 13.

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND: @UncleLukereal1: I’m finally in agreement with Rick Scott Florida as a tourist destination and this psychopathic majority leader is ruining our state

LEGISLATURE COULD OK ‘GROVELAND FOUR’ APOLOGY, RICHARD CORCORAN SAYS via the Orlando Sentinel – A legislative apology to the “Groveland Four,” a quartet of African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949, could pass the Legislature this year, House Speaker Corcoran says. But he also said the matter might have to wait for similar action for the victims of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a shuttered Jackson County site where dozens of boys were abused decades ago. Corcoran said his priority would be taking action on something dealing with Dozier. “To the extent that we can move forward on both would be great,” he said.

***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  COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Health Innovation Subcommittee will consider a bill (HB 1077) that would ease limits on the number of trauma centers in the state during its meeting at 12:30 p.m. in Mashburn Hall. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee will discuss a bill (HB 1063) that would repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance law at 12:30 p.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill (HB 83) that would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit types of violent crimes during a meeting at 12:30 p.m. in Morris Hall. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will discuss a bill (SB 650) that would require many retailers and shopping centers to set aside parking spots for expectant mothers and provide breastfeeding areas at 1:30 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will take up a bill that would direct the Department Health’s Children’s Medical Services program to develop one or more sexual-abuse treatment programs at 1:30 p.m. 401 Senate Office Building. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will discuss a bill to exempt credit unions from the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act at 4 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will discuss a bill (SB 596) that would set statewide rules for wireless carriers on the installation of “small wireless facilities” used for new technology at 4 p.m. in 401 Senate Office Building.

FEDS SAY ‘STAY THE COURSE’ WITH EVERGLADES, REJECTING JOE NEGRON’S LAND BUY via Florida Politics – Many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O. At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.” Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative … resists Negron’s plan … “Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful.” Another call to stick with the current federal plan is the Army Corps of Engineers … Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district said: “I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward.”

BATTLE OVER TRAUMA CENTERS CONTINUES WITH NEW LAWSUIT via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Another high-profile court fight over new trauma centers opening in Florida has begun in Tallahassee … As a pre-emptive strike, Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach and St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach last week sued the Florida Department of Health in Leon County Circuit Civil Court. They both operate Level 1 trauma centers—the higher level of trauma care. At issue is an application from JFK Medical Center in Atlantis to open a new Level 2 trauma center. Both trauma levels require round-the-clock availability to surgeons, for instance, but a Level 2 doesn’t have to engage in research or offer a medical residency program. If JFK opens a center, that will “divert patients and revenue away” from the plaintiffs, the complaint said, leaving them “irreparably harmed.” They’re now seeking an injunction against the department, saying it doesn’t have the authority to consider the JFK application.

CANDIDATES HELPING VOTERS VOTE? LEGISLATOR PUSHES TO MAKE IT ILLEGAL via Alexandra Seltzer, Lulu Ramadan and Lawrence Mower of the Palm Beach Post – State Rep. Emily Slosberg has proposed legislation to make it illegal for candidates to go into people’s homes and help them fill out their vote-by-mail ballot … Slosberg cited The Post’s story when she proposed an amendment to make the practice a third-degree felony. But she withdrew the amendment for the time being at the recommendation of a colleague. The freshman legislator said she was alarmed by Post stories that revealed that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet, both Democrats, won their seats after entering people’s homes and helping them fill out vote-by-mail ballots. Although their behavior drew condemnation from experts who believe it’s an improper campaign tactic, Florida’s laws did not make it illegal. After reading the stories, Slosberg said she walked into the office of the Republican chairing the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, of which she is a member, to find a way to ban the practice. Slosberg pointed to the Florida statute that bars someone from soliciting voters inside a polling place. “Why should a person’s home be different?” she said. “In fact, it should be more secure.”

REVENUE CONFERENCE PRICES SALES TAX EXEMPTION FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – HB 1397, by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues … would impose a number of restrictions on marijuana use — no smoking, vaping or edibles, for example, although a terminally ill patient could vape. The bill would take effect upon becoming law, and the state Revenue Estimating Conference concluded the state would have collected around $400,000 in pot taxes by that time. As more people become eligible to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, the cost to state revenues would hike up to $24.3 million by 2021. The Legislature could not use the money in the meantime to fund ongoing programs, although it would be available for one-time use each year, said Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

SCHOOL RECESS BILL STILL ALIVE IN HOUSE … BUT CHANGES COMING via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – Next week would have been make-or-break for this year’s efforts by the Florida Legislature to implement mandatory daily recess in public elementary schools. While the Senate bill (SB 78) sailed through committees and awaits a floor vote, the House bill had yet to move — and next week is the last week policy subcommittees are expected to meet. But “recess moms” are in luck … Rep. Chris Latvala has scheduled the recess bill (HB 67) to be heard Tuesday morning in his House Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee. However, Latvala’s committee is proposing some hefty changes, which might not leave all “recess moms” happy. The Innovation Subcommittee has filed a proposed amended bill that would … let schools count recess time toward physical education requirements for students in grades K-3 … and, would require district school boards to “provide free-play recess each week on days when physical education classes are not held” for grades K-3.

AUDREY BROWN: LONG-TERM CARE KEY TO QUALITY OF LIFE FOR FLORIDA MEDICAID SENIORS via Florida Politics – The fundamental strategy to allow Florida’s health plans to coordinate long-term care for our state’s most vulnerable and frail Medicaid beneficiaries was to enhance care in institutional settings, while simultaneously reducing the reliance on nursing homes by increasing the utilization of appropriate community-based alternatives. Since its implementation, the program has been successful, as the LTC program now works both in terms of achieving cost savings and expanding meaningful benefits. First and foremost, this program delivers the right amount and type of care to address individuals’ needs. Often this appropriate type of care is delivered through more cost-efficient, home-based care services, which not only offers a less-restrictive setting for those eligible, but has also resulted in more than $400 million in cost savings. Moreover, health plans have been able to leverage their resources to offer expanded benefits, such as support to transition to the community; emergency financial assistance; dental, hearing and vision services; transportation and many more. These expanded benefits were valued at $9.5 million in 2015 and are financed by the health plans — not taxpayers. Further demonstrating its success, 77.4 percent of Medicaid LTC recipients recently indicated in a survey that their quality of life has improved as a result of the SMMC LTC program.

DARRYL PAULSON: DO UNIVERSITIES DISCRIMINATE? THE ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH via Florida Politics – Most universities recruit students by offering specialized curricula, top quality faculty and promising to expose students to diverse views which will stimulate creative thinking and prepare the student for life after their university experience. Universities may be partially successful on the first two items, but dramatically fail in exposing students to diverse viewpoints. It is hard to think of a more close-minded institution than the American university. Groupthink and ideological orthodoxy are the standard practices on campuses. There are many professors, both liberals and conservatives, who excel at awakening students to new ideas and who maintain neutrality in expressing those views. Too many professors, dominated by the political left, push their political agenda as the correct approach to the exclusion of alternative viewpoints.

LEGAL NOTICES SYSTEM STILL NEEDS TO BE REFORMED via Peter Schorsch for Florida Politics – Frankly, the newspaper business has yet to recover from what Craigslist did to it, although one has to wonder if newspaper executives could have prevented what happened by building a better mousetrap on their own websites … One thing is for certain here in Florida. A sin of omission like what occurred with Craigslist would not be repeated with other newspaper revenue streams. Case in point is the legal/public notices system. Under state law, legal and public notices must run in a newspaper … published at least once a week and is considered the publication of record in the county. Local governments need to run public notices to give the community heads up to all public meetings, including adopting the budget. They’re also used to give notice of judicial sales and zoning changes… But Legal notices should no longer be required to be published in print, especially since many of the outlets printing legal notices exists (and profit handsomely from) solely from publishing legal notices. The GOP-led Florida Legislature recognizes this. This year, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Stark (HB 897) and Sen. Linda Stewart (SB 1444) would have allowed cities and counties to end newspaper print and newspaper website notice of various actions (e.g., budget amendments, construction contracts, etc.) and in place of the newspaper notice post the notices on city or county websites.

MUST-READ – ONE DAY, 10 OVERDOSE DEATHS: DRUG EPIDEMIC STRAINS MORGUES via the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Broward saw 10 deaths in one day over the summer. “At first, we thought five a day was a lot,” said Dr. Craig Mallak, chief medical examiner for Broward. “Then it went to six, seven. Then we had 10.” Ultra-potent synthetic heroin is driving much of the death, according to research by Jim Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University. “These deaths really occur in clusters when a bad batch of drugs hits the street,” Hall said. “We are seeing poison being sold.” Medical examiners say they are struggling to keep up with all of the bodies, and although it appears the rate could be slowing so far this year as overdose reversal drugs become more widely available, health officials are still seeing alarming numbers of death.

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

PERSONNEL NOTE: TREY PRICE TO HEAD FHFC via Florida Politics – Veteran lobbyist Harold “Trey” Price has been named executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Price announced his hiring on social media Friday. He will take over from interim Executive Director Ken Reecy, who’s been in charge since the resignation of Steve Auger, the previous executive director. Price has his work cut out for him. Auger stepped down after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

JIM BOXOLD HIRED TO LOBBY FOR TRI-RAIL AUTHORITY HE BLASTED AS TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Boxold has been hired as a lobbyist by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the same agency he bashed just before leaving the state. Boxold joined … Capital City Consulting and will provide “strategic counsel” as the authority fights with the Scott administration and some in the Legislature over a more than $500 million contract to operate Tri-Rail, a commuter rail service it operates. “Part of what I’m trying to do is find resolution for them,” he [said]. The board voted 5-2 to transfer $90,000 to beef up its lobbying and communications teams as it continues its fight over the controversial contract. … The decision was opposed by board chairman Tim Ryan and Gerry O’Reilly, the region’s FDOT district secretary.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATION

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: Orthodox Union

Brad Burleson, Ballard Partners: City Year

Jennings Lawton DePriest, Strategos Public Affairs: Crisis Prevention Institute

Michael HueyTy JacksonJessica LoveTodd Steibly, GrayRobinson: OneBlood

Ron LaFace, Capital Consulting: Whitaker Contracting Corporation

Sarah Niewold, Meenan PA: MetLife

Eli Nortelus, Nortelus Roberts Group: Florida Justice Association

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: International Code Council

APPOINTEDAlvaro “Al’ Hernandez and Col. Jeffrey Harrington to the Pasco-Hernando State College District board of trustees.

APPOINTEDKatie Cole to the St. Petersburg College District board of trustees.

APPOINTED: Frank Gernert, Donald Cuozzo, Carl Blow and Lynn Williams to the Florida Inland Navigation District.

MORE LEGISLATIVE HOPEFULS FILE TO RUN IN 2018 via Florida Politics — State election records show dozens of members of the House, Senate, and other legislative hopefuls have filed to run in 2018. Rep. Shevrin Jones filed to run for re-election in House District 101 in 2018. The 33-year-old West Park Democrat filed to run for re-election March 6. …  Rep. Roy Hardemon also filed to run for re-election in 2018.  The Miami Democrat was first elected to his District 108 seat in 2016, and filed to run for re-election on March 7. Ray Guillory is looking for a rematch in House District 2. Guillory filed to run against Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican. Republican George Agovino is eyeing the seat currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. …State records show Democrat Christopher Smutko, a teacher from the Tampa Bay area, filed to run against Rep. Jamie Grant. … A Democrat has jumped in the House District 71 race to replace Rep. Jim Boyd. Bradenton Democrat Randy Cooper filed to run for the seat on March 10. … Rubin Anderson is looking to give it another try, challenging Sen. Bobby Powell in Senate District 30 in 2018.

POLITICOS CELEBRATE AT TAMPA PRIDE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “When Carrie (West) said we want to bring the Pride Parade to Tampa, I said let’s roll!” yelled an exuberant Bob Buckhorn in kicking off the festivities. West and longtime partner Mark Bias are founding members of Tampa Pride and helped create the GaYBOR District Coalition in the aughts. He was inspired to bring the event back to Tampa after the Hillsborough County Commission repealed their infamous ban on gay pride events back in June 2013. While Senator Bill Nelson was not there, Digna Alvarez, his Tampa aide, read a statement from her boss … Luis Viera, the newest member of the Tampa City Council, said he looks at the issue of LGBT rights as a father. Councilman Guido Maniscalco was also there; he had recently introduced an ordinance banning conversion therapy in Tampa. That’s the controversial practice used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

DISNEY CEO: ‘LAST JEDI’ NOT CHANGED DUE TO CARRIE FISHER’S DEATH via The Associated Press – Bob Iger says the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel has not been changed due to the death of Carrie Fisher. Fisher completed filming her role as Princess Leia in “The Last Jedi” before her death following a heart attack in December. Iger said in an interview at a University of Southern California tech conference Thursday that Fisher “appears throughout” the film and her performance “remains as it was.” Iger says Disney is discussing “what could be another decade and a half of Star Wars stories.”

JUSTICE LEAGUE TRAILER UNITES ZACK SNYDER’S SUPERGROUP via The Verge – In the first full trailer for Justice League, the world faces a new threat, and it’s up to Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince to bring together the various heroes to save the day.  In the trailer, Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne tells Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman that there’s a threat coming, and that they have to be ready. They bring together Aquaman (Jason Momoa) The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) for what looks a movie loaded with plenty of action. There’s also some glimpses of Amy Adam’s Lois Lane and J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

The Delegation – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State – 3.30.17

The climate is not changing. No one can argue that it is.

No, that is not a scientific pronouncement. Instead, those facts apply only to the atmosphere on Capitol Hill. The political climate created by both parties is as heated as ever and has now settled in.

Last week’s major skirmish in the 21st century civil war was fought over health care. Unified Democrats munched on popcorn and lobbed a few grenades while watching Republicans shoot at each other.

This week, the Democratic artillery came out after President Donald Trump issued his executive order rolling back some of the Obama environmental protections under the banner of protecting manufacturing or coal mining jobs.

Ted Deutch humorously envisioned Mar-a-Lago underwater in the future as a result of the Trump policy. Former Rep. Gwen Graham referred to “Donald Trump” (instead of President Trump) working to “dismantle President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.”

The institution of the Clean Power Plan mentioned by Graham was actually halted by the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote on February 9, 2016, just four days before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Which leads to the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to replace Scalia on the court. With Bill Nelson now joining the filibuster against Gorsuch, it is becoming more likely that Gorsuch, who would have easily been confirmed a few short years ago (Scalia was confirmed 98-0), will need a rule change to sit on the bench.

That rule change, which would require a nominee to acquire only 51 votes instead of the current level of 60, is known as the “nuclear option.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has all-but-assured that bomb will be dropped if necessary.

Climate change, and lots of it, would be a welcome phenomenon inside the House and Senate chambers. Don’t hold your breath

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

Democrats rip Trump executive order — Florida Democrats wasted little time blasting President Trump’s latest executive order that rolls back some of his predecessor’s efforts to combat climate change. Trump told several coal miners standing with him they were “going back to work” and domestic energy can be produced in ways that are “affordable, reliable, safe, secure and clean.”

Florida Democrats chose to focus on the environmental aspect.

Donald Trump’s order to dismantle President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and allow more carbon pollution is a step in the wrong direction that threatens our very way of life as Floridians,” said former Congresswoman, and likely governor candidate, Gwen Graham.

Ted Deutch brought some comic relief. “I hope the president invested in flood insurance, because when Mar-a-Lago is underwater, he will have himself to blame,” said the Boca Raton Democrat.

“Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot” in higher insurance costs, said Kathy Castor of Tampa.  West Palm Beach’s Lois Frankel said “there is no potential job killer greater than ignoring the growing consequences of climate change.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Ft. Lauderdale responded directly to the core of Trump’s message by saying the order “will not bring back a flood of coal jobs, nor will it move America closer to energy independence.” She also termed the order as “another dangerous action.”

Wealthy Trump donors spend big money on media blitz — Making America Great, a nonprofit run by Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s most influential donors, began airing $1 million in television ads this week, reports Joshua Green with Bloomberg Politics.

The ad blitz is set to air in 10 states Trump carried and where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018, including Florida and Ohio. The TV campaign will be supplemented by a $300,000 digital media campaign, also focused on voters in the state.

The 30-second spot highlights some of the things Trump has done during his first few months in office, including greenlighting the Keystone XL pipeline, reducing EPA regulations, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“We are here to promote successes and hold accountable broken promises — not just to those who voted for Trump, but to all Americans,” said Emily Cornell, who is taking over operations at Making America Great.

The campaign comes at a key time for the president. A recent Gallup poll reported his job approval fell to a new low of 36 percent.

Boca Raton event for ill and disabled children forced to move by Trump – An aviation kids’ day planned for Saturday at the Boca Raton airport is relocating to Miami-Dade County due to restrictions when President Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago resort, reports Eliot Kleinberg with the Palm Beach Post.

Secret Service flight restrictions shut down Lantana‘s airport and hamstring the West Palm Beach airport when Trump is at Mar-a-Lago. Among the restrictions is a 30 nautical mile ban on sightseeing flights.

Organizers for the “Special Day for Special Kids” event said in February that they would have to move or cancel the event unless Trump committed to not coming to his Palm Beach resort during the event.

Trump will not be at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, though the lack of communication led event organizers to pull the trigger and move the event to Miami-Dade.

The move may have boosted attendance for the event, which had 25 percent more applicants this year than last year.

Bondi’s D.C. trips fuel speculation she’s White House bound — The Attorney General’s decision to make a quick jaunt to Washington, D.C. this week once again fueled speculation she could be in the running for a White House gig.

Bondi was in the nation’s capital on Monday with Floridians and football greats Tony Dungy and Derrick Brooks in tow, reported Marc Caputo with POLITICO Florida. Bondi and her crew reportedly met with President Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

AG Bondi poses for a picture with President Trump during a trip to D.C. this week.

On Monday, Bondi told POLITICO Florida she was “working on some special projects with the White House,” but declined to elaborate more.

Bondi stuck around D.C., moderating a “women’s empowerment panel” featuring to women in the Trump administration, including DeVos, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Small Business Administration Chief Linda McMahon.

“As Florida’s first female attorney general, I am honored to moderate this panel with such remarkable and accomplished leaders,” she said in a statement.

Bondi was also appointed to the President’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, headed up by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In a statement, Bondi said she was honored to be chosen and thanked Trump, Christie and many others for caring about this deadly epidemic.”

SPOTTED: Carol Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and Dawn Sweeney, the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, with Kellyanne Conway at the White House earlier this week.

NASA looking at spaceport in lunar orbit as deep space gateway to Mars — NASA hasn’t officially scrapped its mission to use an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars, but it’s taking steps to chart a new approach that instead would rely on a spaceport circling the moon, reports Ledyard King of USA Today

Under a program dubbed Deep Space Gateway, agency officials Tuesday said they still plan to use the lunar orbit as a staging platform to build and test the infrastructure and the systems needed to send astronauts to Mars.

But instead of breaking off a chunk of asteroid and dragging it to the moon, NASA’s new plan calls for building an orbiting spaceport that could have even more uses.

“I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions,”  said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, in a news release Tuesday.

He said the gateway could support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit “to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system.”

DNC asks entire staff for resignation letters — The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has asked its staff to submit resignation letters as the party goes through a shakeup after a rough 2016 election cycle, reports Ben Kamisar of The Hill.

Shortly after former Labor Secretary Tom Perez became the party’s chair in late February, the DNC requested resignation letters to be dated April 15, giving Perez the ability — should he choose — to launch a large-scale reorganization.

Democrats suffered a damaging loss in 2016, with Donald Trump‘s stunning defeat of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the White House race and the party failing to recapture a majority in the Senate.

The DNC faced heavy criticism over the leadership of former Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as the large role Clinton’s campaign had in running the party last year.

Earlier this month, Perez announced a transition committee that has been tasked with advising him on all aspects of that transition, including staffing.

Paul Ryan to meet with top GOP donors in Palm Beach — House Speaker Paul Ryan will touchdown in Florida this week to spend two days meeting with big-money Republican donors in Palm Beach.

The meetings will be held at the swanky Breakers resort and will focus on the path forward following the House of Representative’s failure to pass the American Health Care Act – sometimes called RyanCare.

“I will explain how it all still works, and how we’re still moving forward on health care with other ideas and plans,” Ryan said in a call with donors. “So please make sure that if you can come, you come — it will be good to look at what can feasibly get done and where things currently stand. But know this: We are not giving up.”

Without Tampa office, Rubio goes mobile –  Rubio, still without a Tampa office after protesters forced the property owner to not renew his lease, is holding office hours at a variety of remote locations in the Tampa Bay region.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Rubio staffers are meeting constituents “at coffee shops and libraries.”

Pulling the lease poses a challenge for Rubio’s staff, since Tampa is in what real estate experts call a “landlord’s market” for Tampa Bay office space. “Leasing fees are at a high-water mark and vacancy rates are low,” said Chris Butter of the commercial real estate firm Franklin Street. “So, landlords can afford to be picky.”

Rubio, bipartisan Senate group call for U.S. help for starving North Africa — After a hearing on a humanitarian crisis with millions of lives at stake in northeast Africa, the Miami Republican joined a bipartisan group of senators in asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene by leading an “urgent and comprehensive” diplomatic effort, reported Scott Powers with SaintPetersBlog.

Rubio signed a letter to President Donald Trump’s secretary of state saying that political obstacles in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are significantly to blame for humanitarian aid from getting in, and consequently millions of people now are starving to death.

“The scale and complexity of these crises might lead some to say the situation is hopeless,” reads the senators’ letter to Tillerson. “We reject such a response as U.S. leadership can make an enormous difference, and we believe the Department of State can and should lead a diplomatic effort now to reduce the political barriers that are hindering the delivery of food to millions of starving people. The U.S. government has a strategic and moral imperative to do nothing less.”

Rubio was joined by Republicans Todd Young of Indiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Jeff Flake of Arizona; and Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Chris Coons of Delaware.

Nelson to join filibuster against Gorsuch — Florida’s senior Senator has made up his mind on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. To the surprise of almost no one, Nelson announced he would not support President Trump’s choice to serve on the court.

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

Gorsuch supporters held out some hope Nelson would at least be amenable to allowing Gorsuch an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. In 2006, he voted to end the filibuster against Samuel Alito.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), who is expected to spend a good deal of capital to defeat Nelson’s re-election bid in 2018, was quick to react.

“Clearly Nelson has been in Washington way too long and is forgetting he represents Florida, not Washington liberals,” said a statement issued by the NRSC.

Gorsuch was set to be approved by majority Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee this Friday, but Democrats forced a one-week postponement. The full Senate will take up the nomination in early to mid-April.

Florida Why Courts Matter Coalition backs Nelson’s opposition to Gorsuch — The Orlando Democrat’s declaration he would filibuster to prevent Gorsuch from getting on the high court doesn’t seem very Nelson-like, but it’s drawing some support from the Florida Why Courts Matter coalition.

“Having a common-sense, often bi-partisan senator like Bill Nelson come out against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee sends a clear signal about just how out of step Neil Gorsuch is with mainstream American values,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo on behalf of the coalition.

“We agree wholeheartedly with Sen. Nelson that Judge Gorsuch’s track record on voting rights, the corrosive influence of money in elections and siding with corporations over hardworking Americans should disqualify him from sitting on the highest court in the land,” he continued.

Nelson is up for re-election next year, and it’s speculated he joined the anti-Gorsuch train in order to avoid drawing a primary challenger.

2018 U.S. Senate race could be a nail biter — Sen. Nelson might be in for a closer race than once predicted, according to a new survey commissioned by Florida Hospital Association.

The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, showed Nelson led Gov. Rick Scott 46 percent to 44 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head 2018 match-up. The survey of 600 registered voters has a margin of error of 4 percent.

That 2 percent margin is the slimmest margin between the two men in any of the recent polls looking at the 2018 U.S. Senate race. A poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce released last week showed Nelson had a 6-point lead over Scott, 48 percent to 42 percent. That margin mirrored one predicted in a UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey released earlier in the month that found Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. A Mason-Dixon survey showed Nelson with a 5-point edge over Scott, 46 percent to 41 percent.

The Florida Hospital Association poll shows both men have strong support among their base. The poll found 79 percent of Republicans said they would pick back Scott, while 81 percent of Democrats said they would pick Nelson.

Nelson, an Orlando Democrat, has a slight lead among independent voters, with 44 percent saying they would support him in a hypothetical election; while 38 percent backed Scott.

The survey also showed Floridians are clearly divided when it comes to President Trump, with just 45 percent of Floridians saying they approved of the job he was doing as president. The poll found 79 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of independents disapproved of his job.

He received a 79 percent approval rating from Florida Republicans.

Happening Friday:

Paulson’s Principles via Dr. Darryl Paulson

After the 2016 congressional races, Republicans controlled the US House 241 to 194 and the Senate 52 to 48. In Florida, Republicans lost a couple of seats, but still control the House delegation 16 to 11. Each party holds one Senate seat.

Looking forward to 2018, Democrats will have to pick up 24 House seats and three Senate seats to win a majority. Right now, Democratic chances to accomplish this are unlikely.

In 2016, the Democrats had a great opportunity to regain majority control of the Senate because Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 contested seats. Democrats fell flat, only picking up two seats.

In 2018, it will be the Democrats who must defend a preponderance of Senate seats. Democrats must defend 25 of the 33 contested seats, and 10 of the 25 seats are in states that Donald Trump won.

Of the 27 Florida congressional districts, eight were decided by five points or less in 2016. By Florida standards, the election was very competitive.

What will happen in 2018? In all likelihood, those who experienced close races will face strong challenges. Both parties know that unless a candidate is defeated in their first reelection campaign, there is little chance of defeating them in the future.

Both Larry Sabato and Charlie Cook, two of the best political prognosticators, pick two Democrats and two Republicans from Florida to have close races. Both pick newly elected Democrat Charlie Crist to “likely” win reelection and see another first-timer, Stephanie Murphy, to have a closer contest.

Republican Carlos Curbelo‘s Miami district barely favors his reelection, while Ileana Ros-Lehtinen‘s district is viewed as “likely” Republican.

Success or failure for both parties is likely to depend on whether Democrats can maintain their anti-Trump and town hall momentum, or whether Trump and the Republicans can deliver on their “repeal and replace” promise on health care.

The Republicans appear more fractured at this point, especially after their defeat on health care, and the Democrats more united on defeating their common enemy: the Republicans

But, like the 2016 Senate races and the presidential campaign, Democrats have disappointed their supporters before.

Gaetz seeks talented young artists — The Panhandle Republican is seeking entrants for the 2017 Congressional Art Competition. Gaetz is promoting entrants within the 1st Congressional District through the Northwest Florida Congressional Art Competition and Show.

The local winner will become a finalist in the national completion (among other Congressional districts) and have their work displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol. A panel of judges will select the top three before the finalist is announced at a reception on Friday, April 21 at the Pensacola Museum of Art.

Nearly 100 pieces of art have been submitted so far. The deadline for submission is 4:00 p.m. Thursday.

Gaetz advises proactive strategy regarding BRAC

The Fort Walton Beach Republican wants the region’s military installations to go after more missions when the next round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions are made. Instead of waiting and hoping selected missions are not removed, or worse, Gaetz wants local military leaders to pursue adding to the overall missions of the bases located in his First Congressional District.

“I don’t think that it’s all that productive to wring our hands about the fears of BRAC,” Gaetz told WUWF radio. “I think we should be preparing right now to win BRAC and attract mission to northwest Florida.”

BRAC has trimmed military bases six times since 1988. On two occasions it negatively affected the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Gaetz expects “a BRAC to occur during Donald Trump’s presidency.”

At a recent meeting of the House Armed Services Committee, of which Gaetz (and Stephanie Murphy) is a member, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Stephen Wilson testified about “a 25 percent excess capacity at our bases.”

Rutherford’s first bill passes unanimously — The Jacksonville Republican not only got his first bill passed, it passed unanimously. The Reducing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acquisition Cost Growth Act called for preventing wasteful spending by many of the agencies under the DHS umbrella. It would provide greater accountability at the agencies and more Congressional oversight over troubled programs.

“The passing of H.R. 1294 is great news for preventing wasteful spending at the Department of Homeland Security,” Rutherford said in a statement. “I thank the House of Representatives for voting to stop wasteful spending.”

The finally vote tally was 408-0.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose – A sympathetic profile of the three Florida members of the Republican Freedom Caucus Ted YohoRon DeSantis, and Bill Posey – surfaced this week in the Tampa Bay Times.

The Freedom Caucus, wrote Alex Leary, was “little known outside Washington — a small, raucous coalition of far-right conservatives” before proving to be the deciding factor in the Trump Administration pulling its health care bill.

Leary got one victory lap quote, via North Florida’s Yoho.

“I don’t work for Donald Trump. I work with him. I work for the people who sent me up here. He ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Those people that put him and me in office expect us to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Despite pressure from outside groups and the administration, the Freedom Caucus recoiled against a bill that wasn’t pure enough. They won the day, and got a rare tribute: a favorable writeup in a major paper.

Yoho pushing missile defense system for South Korea — The Gainesville Republican said he wants to equip South Korea with an advanced missile defense system to protect the American ally from North Korea’s growing missile inventory.

Yoho, the vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the chairman of the Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee, also urged the Chinese government not to stand in the way of South Korean missile defense efforts.

“With the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s visit to the United States, it is important, through this resolution, that we support the timely deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea and urge China to cease its unwarranted retaliation against South Korea in response to the deployment,” Yoho said. “China has done little to stop North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing behavior that has included nuclear tests, ballistic missile launches and chemical weapons use like the VX nerve agent.”

Yoho also commended the South Korean government for its commitment to missile defense and thanked the U.S. armed forces stationed in South Korea for defending the nation against North Korean aggression.

Yoho: Tax reform will be easier than health care   After a mighty struggle over the American Health Care Act (AHCA) left Republicans a bit bruised and bloodied, the representative from Florida’s Third Congressional District offered some encouraging words for fellow Republicans and all Americans weary of the combat. As the House takes up tax reform, Yoho does not anticipate nearly as many problems.

“I think this will be easier than (repeal of) the Affordable Care Act,” he told CNN’s John Berman. When Brennan brought up the possible controversy surrounding the Border Adjustment Tax, the Freedom Caucus member may have raised a few eyebrows in conservative circles.

“I am not averse to the Border Adjustment Tax,” he told Berman. “The Republicans, Democrats and Independents want tax reform and I think it will be an easier push than health care.”

If a large number of conservatives hold the same view as Yoho, he is probably onto something. If not, stand by to report to battle stations.

‘Curbelo, Rutherford played it safe’ – In the Tampa Bay Times, writer Alex Leary noted that of Florida’s Congressional Delegation, two Republicans – Carlos Curbelo and John Rutherford – didn’t give a position on the AHCA.

Rutherford, wrote Leary, refused to give a yes or no answer – simply offering the same statement above.

That’s ironic, as Rutherford was a featured speaker at a Jacksonville pep rally for the Trump health care bill.

Our A.G. Gancarski covered the event, and Rutherford’s comments were vague and closer to talk radio red meat than policy specifics.

Rutherford said “the American dream is being damaged by Obamacare … a policy that drives up costs and strangles small businesses.”

“We need a better way … we must repeal and replace Obamacare with a market-based health care policy that will reduce costs and increase consumer access to health care,” Rutherford added.

Murphy’s first bill attracts large numbers of co-sponsors — The Winter Park freshman Democrat has attracted 179 co-sponsors for her first bill submitted in Congress. She introduced H.R. 804, a three-page bill known as the “Protecting the National Security Council from Political Interference Act,” on Feb. 1, just three days after President Trump’s appointment of chief strategist Steve Bannon to a seat on the National Security Council.

“Although Bannon may be a controversial figure, particularly among my fellow Democrats, this bill is not about his personal character or party affiliation,” Murphy wrote in a recent Orlando Sentinel op-ed. “It is about fidelity to a principle – the separation of national security policy and politics – that is both deeply American and, in light of my background, profoundly personal.”

Murphy and her family escaped Viet Nam in 1979. Following 9/11, she served at the Pentagon.

Not surprisingly, all co-sponsors are Democrats. Each of Florida’s Congressional Democrats has signed on.

Demings and Murphy to speak at Central Florida Tiger Bay — The two Democratic U.S. Congresswomen are slated to speak at the April 7 Central Florida Tiger Bay Club meeting.

The pair will give their insights and views from their first three months in Washington during the noon am meeting at The Country Club of Orlando.

Those wishing to attend will need to RSVP to the Central Florida Tiger Bay Club. The event is free for club members, but will cost $40 for guests and non-members.

Buchanan to new Interior Secretary: Drilling off Florida a no-no — The Sarasota Republican has weighed in on one of the rare issues where the Florida delegation shows a strong consensus. He wants to make it clear that oil drilling off the Florida coast is a significant threat to his region and to the state’s, economy.

In a letter to Ryan Zinke, the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Buchanan warned “drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy.” Last week, the federal government sold oil and gas leases covering 913,542 acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We expect that as our nation’s newest Interior Secretary, you will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law that currently bans drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and we strongly urge you to heed the recommendations of the Department of Defense and coastal communities by keeping offshore rigs out of the area,” wrote Buchanan.

Florida was not involved in last week’s lease sale because, as Buchanan stated, drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s coast is prohibited until 2022. While waters off Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are fair game, Buchanan wishes to extend Florida’s protection for an additional five years by co-sponsoring the Preserving Florida’s Coast Communities Act launched in the previous Congress by former Rep. David Jolly.

Among the bill’s originator and four bi-partisan co-sponsors, (former Reps. Patrick Murphy, Gwen Graham, and Curt Clawson) Buchanan is the only one remaining in Congress.

Buchanan meets with Jewish leaders to talk Israeli-US relations – The Sarasota Republican met up with a group of Sarasota Jewish Leaders this week to talk about ways to combat anti-Semitism and Israeli-US relations.

The visit was part of a policy conference put together by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and saw about two dozen members of the committee head to Buchanan’s office in Washington.

Buchanan, far right, talks to 24 local AIPAC supporters

“Israel is the only free democracy in the Middle East and deserves our support,” Buchanan said. “As terrorist organizations like ISIS carry out violent attacks against the West, the strong U.S.-Israel alliance is critical in defending democracy and promoting peace at home and abroad.”

Buchanan told the group about his recent trip to Israel and assured them he was fighting against rising anti-Semitism through his membership in a congressional task force aimed at fighting it.

Mast’s independence could be daunting in 2018 – The freshman Palm City Republican tells Roll Call he wants to “do his own way.” And, if he is successful, Mast’s independent streak could stymie Democratic efforts to unseat him in 2018.

“Mast’s independence is becoming part of his political brand,” writes Simone Pathé. “He drops terms like ‘maverick approach,’ when describing his differences with his party on climate change.”

Mast – who is a “product of his military background” — has bucked Republican orthodoxy by supporting the Environmental Protection Agency and calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign if he did not recuse himself over investigations of the 2016 campaign. Democrats’ best shot at beating Mast in 2018 — CD 18 is a swing district – could be to portray him as close to the Republican Party and play against his moderation.

Hastings asks Trump to extend protections for Haitian immigrants – Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings wants an extension to the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, designation extended to Haitian immigrants after the Caribbean country was hit with an earthquake in 2011.

Haiti’s TPS designation covers about 50,000 people in the U.S., and late last year the Obama administration extended it through July 22, 2017.

In a letter to Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly, Hastings said the country needs an extension because of the cholera outbreak after the earthquake, and the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew last year.

Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio signed on to the letter, as well as House Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted DeutchDebbie Wasserman SchultzFrederica Wilson and Lois Frankel; and, Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana RosLehtinenMario DiazBalart and Carlos Curbelo.

Frankel seeking reimbursement for Trump visits to mansion — The Palm Beach County Democrat wants the federal government to pay up for local costs incurred when President Trump makes one of his frequent visits to his Mar-a-Lago mansion. Costs for police and firefighter overtime, in addition to cyber security, can put a dent in local budgets, she says.

“We understand why the President wants to be here. We understand that. This is paradise, right?” she said at a Monday news conference with Trump’s mansion looming in the background. “But what we’re asking for is reimbursement for this county and the city.”

The news conference, also attended by West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Palm Beach County Assistant Administrator Jon Van Arnam, repeated the concerns and the costs laid out in a recent letter to the President led by Frankel. Also signing the letter were  Reps. Hastings and Deutch, members of the Palm Beach delegation.

Frankel and local officials estimate the cost to local government will amount to between $3.3 million and $5.8 million for the year, including $400,000 to thwart cyber attackers now going after the city of West Palm Beach’s computers.

“The reality is these are federal expenses the local taxpayers are burdened with,” said Van Arnam.

Diaz-Balart, Curbelo targeted in DCCC ads — The failure of the American Health Care Act (ACHA) even before it come up for a full vote in the House is not stopping the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) from going after the two south Florida Republicans. Both are being dinged in digital ads that say both “voted for” the bill, leading to the ad’s final three words: “you deserve better.”

“This targeted ad campaign makes clear that Representatives Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s vote for this devastating Republican repeal bill will not be forgotten,” said DCCC Chairman Benjamin Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Congressman.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart are two of 15 Republicans from swing districts on the receiving end of the five-figure digital ad buy. While the bill never received a vote on the House floor, both voted for the bill in committee.

After the committee votes, the bill was amended to attract more support from conservatives. Through this action, Curbelo’s spokesperson claimed her boss was undecided how he would have voted had the bill not crashed and burned last week.

DCCC wants to know Ros-Lehtinen’s position on latest Obamacare repeal effort — It appears the GOP is not done with healthcare, which encourages some Democrats to try and force the veteran Miami Republican to again go on the record on the majority’s attempts to repeal/replace Obamacare. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) wants to do just that.

With the filing of a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act by Alabama Republican and Freedom Caucus member Mo Brooks, the DCCC wants to know where Ros-Lehtinen stands on the matter. She was the first Republican member of the House of Representatives to publicly say she would vote “no” on the American Health Care Act.

 “Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has voted repeatedly to recklessly tear health care away from millions of Americans with absolutely no plan to replace it,” said DCCC spokesperson Cole Leiter, referring to 12 occasions in prior Congresses where she voted for repeal.

Any concrete action is at least 30 days away as Brooks must obtain significant signatures for a discharge petition to bring the matter up for a vote, Politico reports. Currently, there does not appear to be consensus, even within the Freedom Caucus, on the effectiveness of the repeal-only maneuver.

Jimmy Patronis learned a valuable lesson recently: Always answer a blocked number, you never know who will be on the other end. The 44-year-old former state House member and member of the Public Service Commission recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Greek Independence Day Celebration at the White House. We caught up with Patronis to hear more about his trip, and why the annual celebration is important to the Greek community.

FP: When did you find out you were invited to the White House for the Greek Independence Day celebration and what was it like to receive that phone call?

JP: I got the call on Tuesday, it was from a blocked number.  Something told me to answer the call, I’m glad I did.  I have to admit, I am a notorious practical joker, so I was suspect that it was someone pulling my leg.

FP:  You brought your mom, Helen, with you. Why did you decide to bring her?

JP: Mom immigrated from Patmos, Greece in 1946 when she was 11 years old.  She had not met her father (until) she came to the U.S.A.  Once the war broke out, her father couldn’t return to Greece. She was more engaged in this last election cycle, more than any other that I have witnessed (even more than cycles when I was on the ballot).  So the combination of the two made it the perfect event to take her to.

Jimmy Patronis and his mom, Helen, outside the White House.

FP: I know you’ve been to the White House before a bill signing, how was this trip different?

JP: The bill signing was very special, but it was outside on the lawn, lots of protocol, formal.  The Independence Day Reception, well, It was like an authentic Greek wedding reception, live music, lots of Greek food and very happy Greeks. I felt like how history describes how Andrew Jackson invited the public to the White House, make yourself at home, this is the People’s House.  I never imaged it would have been so lively.

FP: The White House has celebrating Greek Independence Day for more than three decades. Why do you think it’s important for the president and elected officials to mark this day?

JP: It was definitely a way to strengthen his standing in Greek Circles. He had almost 400 folks there, including the Archbishop Demetrios of North and South America. President Trump has a lot of Greeks on Staff: Reince Priebus his Chief of Staff; George Gigicos his Director of Advance to name a couple. The acknowledgment of Greek Independence Day has been a tradition since President Reagan. Trump even said in his comments, “How can’t you love the Greeks?” I was thrilled to be included.

Brown says corruption charges against her are ‘BS’ – Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is a month away from her trial on federal corruption charges and she insists the claims are baloney.

The former lawmaker said the charges are “bull—-. That’s what it is. Or BS. That’s a better word. Either way, I am looking forward to my day in court and clearing my name.”

Browns stands accused of operating a fake education charity, One Door Education, that took in $800,000 in donations but offered only one scholarship for about $1,000.

Brown said she plans to testify at the trial and added that while she isn’t afraid of going to prison, she isn’t planning on that outcome.

“I’ve been to federal prisons all the time. They doing some good things,” Brown said. “I don’t plan on being a part of no federal prison. They try to give me 28 prisons in my district (during last year’s redistricting). Now they trying to put me in it. I’m not going.”

Radel releases memoir, kicks off book tour — Former Rep. Trey Radel released his first book — “Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness and Finger Food” — this week. The book, according to his publisher, recounts “his early days as a TV news reporter and radio show host before running for Congress in 2012, a decision that would launch the new, infamous chapter in his life.”

A Fort Myers Republican, Radel was elected to Florida’s 19th Congressional District in 2012, defeating several well-known Southwest Florida Republicans in the primary. But in November 2013, he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession charges in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. He was accused of buying $250 worth of cocaine from an undercover officer — an act that earned him the nickname “cocaine congressman.”

Radel took a leave of absence, returning to work in January 2014 — only to resign a few days later. He kept a low profile in the months immediately following his resignation, but last year he began doing more television and radio appearances. And in September, Radel returned to host “Daybreak,” a morning talk show on 92.5 Fox News in Southwest Florida, which he hosted before he ran for Congress.

Radel’s celebrating the release of his memoir with a book tour that kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Barnes & Noble, 5377 U.S. 41 N. in Naples. A second stop is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 4 at Books-A-Million, 4125 S. Cleveland Ave in Fort Myers. Radel is scheduled to hold a book signing in at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, his hometown, on April 12.

In case you were wondering, both Florida stops are located in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, but don’t look for Radel to run for office again. The 40-year-old told Ben Terris with the Washington Post he doesn’t plan to run again. His exact words: “Nope. Nope, nope, nope. No, I’m not getting involved in — I’m not doing it. I’m not running again, ever.”

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Jacksonville Bold for 3.26.17 – Focal Point

In the last seven days, Jacksonville has been — if not the center of the political world — at least a focal point.

The Vice President came through to sell health care reform.

The Governor came with him and came back two days later to upbraid local members of the Florida House for Enterprise Florida.

And a candidate for Governor, Andrew Gillum, came to town — and FloridaPolitics.com had the exclusive story on that visit, in which he attempted a herculean task of appealing to Jacksonville’s entire Democratic base.

Enough preamble — let’s get to it.

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford on Marine 1

VP Pence, local and state leaders against Obamacare

Saturday saw Vice-President Mike Pence in town with Rep. John Rutherford, Gov. Scott, and Mayor Lenny Curry (just before Hizzoner took the kids on a spring break trip).

The message was unified: repeal and replace Obamacare with the Affordable Health Care Act.

“Florida’s actually a textbook example of what’s wrong with Obamacare,” Pence said, citing premiums up 19 percent year over year.

“Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore,” Pence said, drawing applause.

Referring to the business hosting the event, Pence noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent was spent otherwise trying to comply with this “failed” law.

“The core flaw of Obamacare was this notion … you could order every American to buy health insurance whether they need it or not,” Pence said.

Pence advocated block grants to the states, a Scott proposal, while also discussing tying a work requirement to health insurance.

Rick Scott in Jacksonville Monday.

Rick Scott disses Duval delegation

Vote against Enterprise Florida or Visit Florida, and bet that the governor will make you famous.

This happened Monday in Jacksonville when Scott came to town to upbraid five members of the Duval Delegation for voting against Enterprise Florida in the House.

“You’ve got House members in this part of the state that said they want to completely shut down Enterprise Florida. Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough, Kimberly Daniels, Cord Byrd, Tracie Davis — they want to shut down Enterprise Florida after all that success. And all those members — except Davis — want to change Visit Florida so it doesn’t work, tie its hands,” Scott said.

Scott has a political committee he can use to make these points if he wants to. And he might. Those familiar with his thinking suggest that any race for Senate won’t even have to launch this year.

After all, he’s already on TV.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is sending out mailers thanking legislators for their votes against letting “government pick winners and losers.”

A Jacksonville mail drop is scheduled, we hear.

What we’re hearing

On a scale of 1-10 — with 10 being the highest — unease in Jacksonville’s City Hall over the performance of the Duval Delegation this session is around an 8.

Despite an aggressive push from local leaders, including Curry, all but one member of the House Delegation voted against Enterprise Florida this month.

And that one member, Jay Fant, isn’t carrying appropriations bills … and appears to be more interested in running for Attorney General than in running for re-election.

The biggest ask this session for Jacksonville comes from Travis Cummings.

The Orange Park Republican wants $15M for a septic tank phaseout.

Even if it gets through the legislature, expect a Rick Scott veto.

Recall that Scott buried Cummings for voting to spike Enterprise Florida earlier in the month.

On the bright side, at least Kim Daniels is getting her bill to protect “religious expression in public schools” through the House, having passed another panel Thursday.

A question worth asking: will prayer fill potholes, phase out septic tanks, or rework the off ramps from the Hart Bridge?

Hasn’t worked yet.

Rob Bradley gets lobbied by the Tampa Bay Lightning mascot.

Sunday in Jacksonville for Andrew Gillum

Perhaps his bracket was already busted. Or he just wants to be Florida’s next governor. In any event, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum spent Sunday in Jacksonville.

Gillum made several stops: Bethel Baptist, a local church; and a fundraiser toward the end of the day.

However, his best quotes came from an afternoon stop at an “urban farm” in New Town, when he got real about felon re-enfranchisement.

“I’ve got brothers who have lost their rights. They’ve committed wrongs, and they have to pay the penalty for that. When they got back out and started trying to reintegrate into society, it was very difficult for them to find a job,” Gillum said.

“I’ve got some real entrepreneurial brothers. But actually, it’s survival. If they had a choice, they’d probably be working somewhere with somebody making a decent, honorable wage to take care of themselves and their families. But because door after door after door got shut to them, they had to create a way for themselves,” Gillum said.

“And that meant, for my brother Chuck who lives here in town, opening up a car wash. And going around with his mobile detailing unit and power-washing businesses and cars and sidewalks, and hiring other former felons,” Gillum said, emotion driving his voice.

Andrew Gillum in Jacksonville Sunday.

Governor touts Jacksonville jobs numbers

The Jacksonville area added 17,900 private sector jobs between January 2016 and January 2017, earning praise from Gov. Scott.

“Our work to create a business-friendly environment has paid off in Jacksonville as nearly 18,000 new jobs have been added in the last year. We will continue fighting to grow business and strengthen Florida’s economy so that every Floridian can find a great job in our state.”

The jobs data are part of a cooperative release between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The numbers show Jacksonville’s labor force grew by 22,000 workers over the year to 736,550, while total employment grew by 17,900 jobs to 698,589.

Education and health services added 4,800 of the new jobs, followed by the transportation, trade and utilities sector with 3,100 new jobs.

That leaves the area with a 5.2 percent unemployment rate at the beginning of 2017, compared to a 4.9 percent rate a year ago. Duval County had a 5.4 percent unemployment rate, while Nassau had a 5.1 percent rate and St. Johns had a 4.3 percent rate.

Jacksonville is a Prime location

Even with existential worries about the potential death of Enterprise Florida, there is still some good job creation news via the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Amazon seeks to open a third fulfillment center in Duval, adding to its delivery station.

This is a win for Jacksonville job seekers. A win for Amazon Prime members. And a win, in aggregate, for the local economy.

“Upon the completion of the four centers, including the sortation operation, Amazon would be using 3.7 million square feet of space in Jacksonville,” the Daily Record reports, creating 2,900 jobs starting this fall.

Jax councilman Aaron Bowman at Jollibee grand opening

Curry’s homeless problem

Will Curry attend the ICARE Nehemiah Assembly Monday? The answer is no.

There is strong evidence that ICARE’s strong-arm tactics irk the mayor, where the group essentially implores politicians to do something until they relent.

Last year, Curry told the group that he couldn’t fund a homeless day resource center, because without pension reform in the books, the budget was too tight.

Since then, changes: the August referendum passed, allowing access to a future sales tax to fund the current unfunded pension liability, pending unions signing off on new pension plans.

Verily, that has come to pass.

Curry has been getting pressure from the likes of Gary Chartrand, a key supporter, to fund the center.

Curry won’t be there to hear ICARE’s arguments, however, casting the future of the facility in doubt for the next budget cycle.

Jacksonville Zoo ‘ExZOOberation’

The Jacksonville Zoo will hold a fundraiser April 8 that will include food, dancing, a silent auction, and other activities.

The casual, adult fundraiser kicks off at 7 p.m., with a VIP experience including keeper talks, music, cocktails, and appetizers to be held an hour before the main event.

VIP tickets start at $125 for the 35-and-under crowd and are partially tax deductible. Funds raised during ‘ExZOOberation’ will benefit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Ticket and event organization, including a preview of items up for grabs during the silent auction, is available on the Zoo’s website.

JAXPORT gets visit from newest vehicle carrier, awards scholarship to UNF student

JAXPORT served as a stopping point for the newest U.S.-flagged pure car and truck carrier, the Liberty Passion, last week.

The 450-car capacity vessel, operated by Liberty Global Logistics of Lake Success, New York, stopped to load cargo from Blount Island and other ports for transport to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Far East.

Also, JAXPORT awarded University of North Florida student Beatrize Gomez a $2,500 scholarship for logistics studies at UNF’s Coggin College of Business.

“A skilled workforce is one of our strengths in attracting top companies to do business through Jacksonville,” said JAXPORT interim CEO Eric Green during a personal visit with the scholarship winner. “By investing in future, dynamic transportation and logistics leaders such as Beatrize, we are ensuring the region’s continued economic vitality and competitiveness.”

Beatrize, who was born and raised in Belize, came to Jacksonville in 2014 to study at UNF. During her time at the university, she has distinguished herself academically and has stood for UNF at the 2016 Intermodal Association of North America Expo and Student Challenge.

Spotted:

$11M airport maintenance facility, $8M Greyhound terminal ready for permitting 

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is ready to start building an $11 million maintenance facility this fall at the Jacksonville International Airport.

“The new facility will bring much-needed upgrades and capabilities for the maintenance department that are not being met in the current building, which was constructed in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s,” said spokeswoman Debbie Jones.

The city is reviewing the permit for the new building, which is planned to be a 47,410-square-foot enclosed building with 20,368 square feet of unenclosed space at 14201 Pecan Park Road.

The city is also reviewing an application for Balfour Beatty Construction to build an $8 million, 9,661-square-foot intercity bus terminal new Greyhound Bus Lines terminal downtown.

When built, the Greyhound facilities at Bay and Pearl streets will move. The new terminal is the first part of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s $33 million Regional Transportation Center.

JU submits plans for campus at SunTrust Tower

Jacksonville University has submitted plans for renovating the 18th floor of the SunTrust Tower for use as a downtown campus.

According to a permit application filed last week, the 12,280-square-foot floor will include four classrooms, offices, conference space, collaboration rooms, open cubicles, IT workspace and a kitchen.

Emerald C’s Development Inc. will helm the $120,000 renovation.

JU spokesman Philip Milano says the new space will be used for graduate-level classes in the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences, and in the future, it may also be used for classes in the Davis College of Business.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Stuck in committee with you

During debate on the Senate’s ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill this week, Rene Garcia bemoaned it was “inconsequential” and boggled at all the other legislation that hasn’t even seen the florescent light of a committee room.

“It’s amazing to me that here in the Senate we have a bill that’s been fast-tracked, and in the House it’s been fast-tracked,” the Hialeah Republican said. “And yet we have bills … that have had three and four references and are still stuck in committee.”

Some of the missing-in-action legislation is arguably more important than others.

An overhaul of state alimony law wasn’t heard in committee weeks, and hasn’t been discussed as of the close of the third week of session.

The proposal, filed in both chambers, would toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. Unsurprisingly, it’s also created strife every year it’s filed.

During debate on the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill this week, Sen. Garcia said he worried about the message the Legislature was sending by passing this bill, while others are stuck.

Also hanging fire in both chambers is a bill “to approve replacement of the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in the (U.S. Capitol’s) National Statuary Hall with a statue of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

Douglas was “Florida’s most eminent environmentalist” and author of “The Everglades: River of Grass.”

But Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, was the top public choice to replace the Smith statue. Students, faculty, and alumni plan to lobby for Bethune during next Wednesday’s “Wildcat (BCU’s mascot) Day at the Capitol.”

Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, filed competing legislation to approve Bethune as the subject of the new statue. That bill also hasn’t been heard yet.

Garcia mentioned still others: “Juvenile justice reform by Sen. (Anitere) Flores, education accountability by Sen. (Bill) Montford, hospice care by Sen. (Denise) Grimsley.”

Those bills “have a direct impact on people’s lives,” Garcia told the chamber. “That’s what we got elected to do up here: Try to make people’s lives at least a little bit better.

“…What’s the message we’re sending to voters when we have all these bills still stuck in committee in Week 3?” he asked. Hmmm, maybe the lobbyists can answer that one. (And by the way, Garcia was a ‘yes’ vote on the booze bill.)

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.

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

Tear down that wall — The Senate voted 21-17 to approve a bill that would allow big box retailers and grocery stores to sell liquor in the same space as other products. The so-called “whiskey and Wheaties” bill passed after significant debate, which included references of Al Capone and suggestions that the proposal would lead to increased alcohol abuse among young adults. If signed into law, the earliest stores like Wal-Mart and Target could add liquor would be 2018. The Florida House is expected to take up the bill next week.

Pot shop talk — Senators began discussions this week about medical marijuana bills, holding a workshop to begin discussions bills to implement Amendment 2. The workshop marked the upper chamber’s first steps toward implementing the 2016 medical marijuana medical amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote. With five bills filed in the Senate and one bill in the House, there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus on a framework for what implementation could look like. Sen. Dana Young, the Tampa Republican who chairs the Senate Health Policy Committee, said her committee is at least two weeks away from voting on a medical marijuana bill.

Roll the dice — The House gambling bill is on the move, with the House Ways & Means Committee voting 11-7 to approve the measure. The House proposal authorizes Gov. Rick Scott to renew the existing compact with the tribe, and increases the minimum guarantee from $250 million a year to at least $325 million. The Senate proposal is primed for a vote, but there’s a wide gulf between the two. But don’t expect a reckoning anytime soon: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee and has been the point man on gambling, said gambling is one of the bills that will be left until the end. “Even in a best case scenario, if there’s some reasonable middle ground, if it exists, and the Seminoles would sign off on it, it’s not going to pass next week,” said Diaz. “It’s too important to too many people, and it has too many repercussions for the budget. There’s a lot of money at stake.”

Misdirected complaints — The third week of the legislative session is in the books, and the fight between Gov. Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran continues to drag on. During a press conference this week, the Land O’Lakes Republican said Scott was spending too much energy on trying to save Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. Instead, Corcoran said Scott should “start talking about workers’ comp and assignment of benefits which have far more effect than Enterprise and Visit Florida on jobs.” The comments came as Scott once spent the week traveling the state hosting roundtables with business, economic development and tourism leaders to talk about the need for Enterprise and Visit Florida.

Gov. Scott was in Jacksonville for a round table discussion about Enterprise Florida at Harbinger Sign earlier this week.

Death penalty fall-out — Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus slammed Gov. Scott this week for his decision to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case because she wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Lawmakers called the decision a “dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters” who put her in the office. The comments came as Scott said he was still weighing his options, and hadn’t ruled out suspending her from office. House Speaker Corcoran said this week Scott should suspend Ayala, saying her position is in violation of the Constitution.

The Senate Health Policy Committee might not be using Skype anytime soon if Sen. Young has anything to say about it.

During a two-and-a-half-hour workshop this week, the committee was scheduled to hear testimony from Dr. Robert Winchell with the American College of Surgeons during a workshop on the trauma system. Winchell was phoning in using Skype, but technical difficulties appeared to delay his call. Once he was able to tap into the meeting, the connection was garbled, making his speech unintelligible.

Viewers on the Florida Channel could see someone trying to get Winchell’s attention, but Winchell didn’t appear to notice. And after nearly nine minutes, Winchell was cut off mid-sentence.

“We were trying to talk to Dr. Winchell, but he couldn’t hear us,” the Tampa Republican and committee chairwoman told the crowd.

“I will stop at nothing to keep this meeting on time,” she then said to chuckles from members and the audience.

Take that, Texas.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Florida added more private sector jobs than any other state in January. The Sunshine State, according to the Governor’s Office, created 50,700 new private sector jobs during the one-month period, resulting in a year-over-year growth rate of 3.6 percent.

“As more and more companies choose to invest in our state, we also continue to see improvements in other parts of the economy, such as the housing market,” said Scott in a statement. “Even though our economy continues to grow, we have to keep making sure more businesses move to and expand in Florida.

January also marked the 21st consecutive month that Florida created more jobs private sector jobs than over-the-year than Texas. That’s a big win for Scott, who has made it clear the Lone Star State is Florida’s main rival when it comes to job creation.

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Patti Ketcham to the Florida Real Estate Commission. Ketcham, a Tallahassee resident, is the owner of Ketcham Realty Group. She succeeds Darla Furst, and serves a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Scott reappointed Antonett Munchalfen and Michelino Nibaldi to the Barbers’ Board.

Munchalfen, a 62-year-old Tampa resident, is a barber instructor for the Hillsborough County School District. Nibaldi is a 37-year-old master barber at Acqua Di Parma in Miami. Both were reappointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

The governor named Ronald Lieberman to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The 70-year-old Ocala resident is the president of Steel Structures of Florida, and succeeds Leonard Tylka for a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

He also announced this week Tracy Knight, Richard Dorfman, and Dominic DiMaio will join the District Board of Trustees for the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

Knight, a 51-year-old Venice resident, is the managing director of Knight Marketing. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, and will serve a term ending May 31, 2019.

Dorfman, a 65-year-old from Sarasota, is a former international sports executive with a bachelor’s degree from American University. DiMaio, a 51-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident, Is a divisional CEO of Synovus Bank who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Widener University. Both men serve a term ending May 31, 2020.

All of the appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

The Jackson County Hospital Distirct has four new members.

Scott appointed John Miton, a 57-year-old Mariana business owner and real estate investor; Shareta Wright, the 43-year director of the Wright Foundation; Kelly Connolly; the 47-year-old vice president of finance for Tri State Automotive Warehouse; and Dr. Robert Hoff, an 82-year-old retired family praticioner to the board.

The governor also reappointed Vijay “Vic” Narang to the Board of Commissioners for the South Broward Hospital District. The 51-year-old Davie resident is the chief executive officer of GDK Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from VRCE in Nagpur, India, and master’s degree from the University of Detroit. He was reappointed to a term ending June 30, 2020.

You don’t look a day over 25, Greenberg Traurig.

More than 600 South Florida business, government and nonprofit leaders joined GT to celebrate the firm’s 50th anniversary at an event at the Perez Art Museum Miami earlier this month.

“In so many ways the clients and community leaders who celebrated with us represent our legacy because it was their support that nurtured us and helped us to grow,” said Matt Gorson, senior chairman of Greenberg Traurig, in a statement. “We are beyond grateful for the trust they have placed in us, as their business partners and friends. This is a reflection of the commitment to community and client service that our founding partners instilled in the firm – one that still defines Greenberg Traurig to this day.”

Founded in Miami in 1967 by three attorney — Mel Greenberg, Robert Traurig and Larry Hoffman — the firm now has more than 2,000 attorneys in 38 offices in the United States, and around the world.

See you, screwworm.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it lifted the animal quarantine for Monroe County and the Animal Health Check Point was closed on March 18. The announcement came after months of aggressive response efforts to combat the spread of the New World screwworm.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of New World screwworm in Key deer in September 2016. It was the first local infestation in the United States in 30 years. Commissioner Adam Putnam declared an agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County in response to the infestation, and established an animal health check point zone from mile marker 91 south.

Since the check point was established, inspectors checked more than 16,000 animals with no detections of screwworm. According to the agency, there have been no new screwworm infestations found since Jan. 10.

Residents who have warm-blooded animals should continue to watch their animals carefully and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA.

Anyone got a couple million dollars to spare?

State economists estimate the fund that pays for school construction will be $36 million shy of the $373 million requested by state education officials this year.

The fund — the Public Education Capital Outlay Program, or PECO — pays for construction and maintenance projects in state schools, colleges and universities. Economists estimated last week that the program would generate $337 million without issuing bonds, placing the available funds well below what education officials requested. It’s possible, however, the gap could be made up using funds from another revenue source.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he is against issuing bonds to fill the funding gap, though Senate President Joe Negron has said he is open to a “reasonable” amount of bonding.

Thank you for your service.

Gov. Scott extended a big “thank you” to the Florida National Guard, issuing a proclamation to honor the 450-year-old organization this week during a ceremony at the Capitol.

Gov. Scott salutes service members during “Florida National Guard Day” at the Capitol

“I am proud to dedicate today to the brave members of Florida’s National Guard. These men and women stand ready to serve our country and respond to the needs of our communities during natural disasters and emergencies,” he said in a statement. “The State of Florida is forever grateful to these heroes and their families who make countless sacrifices in defense of our freedom.”

Currently about 12,000 men and women serve as soldiers and airmen in the Florida National Guard.

Scott also awarded more than 50 veterans with the Governors Veterans Service Medal during National Guard Day at the Capitol.

The break in negotiations over Gulf Power Co.’s bid for a $106.8 million base rate increase came via a congratulatory telephone call.

The talks had broken down, so the Public Service Commission was set to launch five days of highly technical hearings on the request, which a broad range of consumer, environmental, and business interests opposed.

“It was dead,” said Charles Rehwinkle, of the Office of Public Counsel.

Then, at about 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon, Gulf Power attorney Jeffrey Stone called to congratulate Rehwinkle on a legal victory before the Florida Supreme Court.

“Jeff and I talked about the Supreme Court case. That led to, ‘Can we try one more time’ to resolve the rate case?” said Rehwinkle. “And we did.”

They reached an agreement in principle at around 2:30 p.m. last Friday and, by the wee hours of Saturday morning, had written terms. They talked all the next day and evening, and around midnight had a formal agreement to cut the increase roughly in half.

Cutting thing close, perhaps. “It’s better than filing after the meeting,” he said.

Get ready, Session 2018 is just around the corner.

No, really.

The Florida Senate released the dates of the 2018 Legislative Session this week. The annual 60-day session is scheduled to kick-off on Jan. 9 and will end (hopefully) on March 9.

Why the earlier than normal start? In 2016, Gov. Scott signed into law a measure that followed the same timeline as the 2016 Legislative Session. While the Florida Constitution requires the Legislature to begin on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March in even number years, it allows the Legislature to set the date odd number years.

In case you were wondering: This year it was 56 degrees in Tallahassee on Jan. 9. The low? A blustery 23 degrees.

Rep. Sean Shaw just wants to help.

The Tampa Democrat is pushing legislation (HB 421) that would extend self-insurance funds to for-profit and not-for-profit corporations with interest in public housing investments.

The bill would allow companies that are partially or fully owned by a public housing authority to join the same self-insurance fund as the authority that owns or governs them.

Self-insurance funds exist for the purpose of pooling and spreading liabilities for those who provide public housing. The bill would also allow such entities to purchase reinsurance.

“Promoting investment in our public housing system is a win for businesses who want to invest in our communities and for Floridians in need of affordable housing,” Shaw said. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that Florida’s less fortunate and our most vulnerable citizens have access to housing at a reasonable cost.”

Just think of it as a bit light reading: The Office of Demographic Research released its annual Florida Tax Handbook this week, estimating about $30 billion in general revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The bulk of that money, about $23 billion, came from sales tax, $15.6 billion of which was spent on education.

The report also details the state-federal split in trust fund dollars, which in the current fiscal year add up to $24 billion from the state and $28 billion from the federal government.

The state is working with a total budget of $82.29 billion this year.

The time to act is now, according to supporters of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

The proposal — sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens in the Senate and Reps. Ben Diamond and Rene Plasencia in the House — has the backing of 50 members of the House and Senate. The bills prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“There are 50 members in support of FCWA in the legislature and over 70% of Floridians support this legislation,” said John Tonnison, the president of Florida Competes. “It is overdue for our legislative process to catch up with this kind of respectful and inclusive thinking, and hear the bill.  Silence on this issue speaks volumes.”

Tonnison, the president and CIO of Tech Data Corporation, met with lawmakers recently to talk about the need to pass the proposal, saying “Florida needs to embrace the best practice of the largest employers in the country, for the state’s own economic and strategic planning.”

Neither measure has been scheduled for its first committee hearing.

Mandatory minimums are a waste of money unless officials take steps to improve public safety.

Those were the finding of a new report from the James Madison Institute. Released this week, the report highlights the low amount of hydrocodone or oxycodone pills police need to find before a person can be charged with drug trafficking. Currently, 14 hydrocodone pills or 7 oxycodones can land someone in jail for 3 years.

According to the report, 2,310 Florida inmates – roughly 42 percent of those incarcerated for drug offenses – are serving time for selling oxycodone or hydrocodone, and 83 percent of those individuals have no history of violent crime.

“By inflicting inflexible, harsh minimum sentences on non-violent, often first-time offenders, Florida not only wastes millions of taxpayer dollars, but also disintegrates families, destroys lives and does nothing to address the addiction that led to the initial offense,” said Robert McClure, the conservative think tank’s president and CEO, in a statement. ““Justice must be swift and sure, but it must also be just.”

JMI recommends Florida adopt “safety valve” laws, which would keep the mandatory minimums in place, but allow judges to break from them in cases where the defendant is not a threat to the public.

“By implementing a ‘safety valve,’ like many other states have and like what exists for other offenses in Florida, we would allow a judge to do their job and take into account all of the mitigating factors that may be unique to each offense,” said McClure.

Floridians want lawmakers to say “frack no” to fracking.

Hundreds of Floridians — including members of ReThink Energy Florida, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters — gathered at the Florida Capitol this week to encourage elected officials to pass a fracking ban.

“Banning fracking in Florida is one of the best things we can do to protect our treasured waterways, public health, and economy,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “I stand with the 90 cities and counties in Florida that have passed ordinances or resolutions calling on us, the State Legislature, to pass this important legislation.”

Sen. Young and Rep. Mike Miller have filed bills calling for a ban on fracking. Young’s bill cleared the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on a 5-0 vote earlier this month.

“The time has finally come to end this dangerous practice,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, a co-sponsor of the Senate ban bill. “This bill represents the now bipartisan recognition that Florida’s unique geological makeup leaves our water supply particularly vulnerable and must be protected.”

Kudos, Joseph Joyner!

Joyner, the former superintendent of schools in St. Johns County, was named the 2016 Lavan Dukes District Data Leader of the Year during the State Board of Education meeting this week.

“I am pleased to recognize Dr. Joyner with this prestigious award for his hard work and dedication to Florida students,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in a statement. “He cultivated a student-focused environment that used data to guide instruction and ultimately helped the district’s students achieve outstanding academic results.”

During the 14 years Joyner has been at the helm of the school district, St. Johns County has been one of the top-performing districts in the state. Joyner emphasized the use of data to help ensure all students had the information they needed to embark on a path to help them become well-rounded graduated.

David Altmaier, sans beard, roaming the halls of the Capitol this week

Spotted in the Capitol: A beardless David Altmaier.

Florida’s insurance commissioner was clean shaven while making the rounds this week.

“I shaved it on a whim, and my 3-year-old came home that afternoon and asked to put my beard back on,” he said. “My wife has been very nice about it, but I can tell she prefers the bearded look.”

He’d worn the beard for about one year.

“It was beard No. 2 — version 2.0,” he said.

CFO Jeff Atwater has fraud on the brain.

No, he isn’t pondering which stapler he’ll swipe when he leaves his post later this year. Instead, the chief financial officer is urging Floridians to be on the lookout for insurance fraud.

In his weekly newsletter to Floridians, Atwater said crooks “seem to seem to find a way to cheat the system” and highlighted a recent case insurance and arson investigators from his office recently ran across.

The case involves Michael Abrams, 43, who has been charged with arson, insurance fraud, filing a false insurance claim, false reports in the commission of a crime and grand theft. He is accused devising a plan to have his 2016 Toyota Camry stolen and destroyed so that he could collect an insurance payout totaling $10,000.

“Why would anyone do that? Maybe he was tired of making car payments or perhaps he wanted a different car to drive,” wrote Atwater in his weekly newsletter. “Whatever the reason, the fact remains: By stealing from his insurance company, he’s causing all of our insurance rates to rise.”

Atwater encouraged Floridians to “say something” if they see something that look suspicious.

“Our investigators are doing a great job, but they can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said

Go, Panthers!

Sen. Anitere Flores welcomed the Florida International University community to the Florida Capitol this week to celebrate FIU Day at the state Capitol. The annual day gives students and school officials a chance to meet with lawmakers and advocate on behalf of issues important to them.

Sen. Flores shows Panther Pride on FIU Day at the Capitol.

Flores, a 1997 FIU graduate and the university’s former director of state relations, said she was honored to welcome members of the Board of Trustees and President Mark Rosenberg to the capital to discuss “funding and key legislation aimed at providing FIU with the necessary tools to continue their steady growth and success through campus expansion, entrepreneurial workforce initiatives and high skilled/high adaptable programs.”

Florida International University is a pillar of higher education serving the people of Miami-Dade County, and students from all walks of life and throughout the globe,” she said in a statement. “As an FIU Alumna, I couldn’t be prouder to be in a position where I can serve my former university, as they have served countless students and faculty throughout the years.”

Senators unanimously backed a bill (SB 60) this week that would help foster kids get a set of wheels by chipping in on insurance and other driving costs.

The proposal makes permanent a 2014 pilot program to help foster kids get licenses and Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill’s sponsor, said the money to pay for the plan is already in the state budget.

Bill backers say foster kids don’t get the same family support when it’s time to get a license, so they need help from the state.

“Foster care kids are our kids,” said Sen. Kevin Rader. “They are our kids.”

The Senate is expected to vote on a bill (SB 80) next week that would disallow winners of public records lawsuits from collecting attorney fees.

Local governments say they are being bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an in for requesters taking them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

The Senate has mulled over a few different solutions to the problem, including giving judges the choice in whether to award fees, but the bill ready for the Senate floor would keep the requirement that agencies pay fees if they improperly held back public records.

The bill would change the time frame agencies have to respond by forcing plaintiffs to give at least a five-day notice before they file suit.

Florida mayors have a message to legislators: Stay in your own lane.

The League of Mayors held a press conference this week to oppose legislation that takes aim at local governments’ home rule authority, saying they were concerned about bills that do everything from set local business standards to regulating vacation rentals and telecommunications equipment.

“How can somebody in Tallahassee tell us that we don’t know what’s best for our own community,” said Mayor Carol McCormack, the president of the Florida League of Mayors. “Each individual city – 412 of us – all have unique and individual problems, and we need to be able to address those without coming up the Legislature once a year and asking for relief.”

McCormack, who serves as the mayor of Palm Shores, was joined by mayors from across the state to oppose the measures. Several big-city mayors — including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer — have also spoken out against proposals to remove home-rule.

CFO Atwater went to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Capitol Days to give a speech.

Turns out, he was duped.

Chamber leaders lured Atwater to the annual event under false pretenses. As David Hart, the executive vice president of government affairs and political relations, pointed out, it was last time Atwater would attend the event before leaving his post for a new gig at Florida Atlantic University.

You’ll be back for the Florida State Fair, right?

So instead of a speech from Atwater, attendees heard fond — and funny — testimonials from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and former House Speaker Larry Cretul, who was Speaker when Atwater was Senate President.

Cretul recalled the time Atwater persuaded him to climb up through the rafters in the Old Capitol cupola to watch the sun come up and raise the state flag.

“The sun comes up, and I say, ‘This is great,’” said Cretul. “(And) he said, ‘It’s a new day in the state of Florida!”

Speaking of Atwater: The CFO didn’t stay quiet while his colleagues were heaping praise on him.

In fact, he even uttered something that sounded a little like an endorsement about one his Cabinet-mates.

“I don’t know that I have ever been around anyone who has the capacity to grasp the potential of the people of this state, and to be able to articulate it in a way that it is the positive message of the possibilities that we can face together,” he said about Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. “I feel that we are all enriched that your family has made the sacrifice for you to be participating. And I hope in many ways to come.”

Putnam is widely expected to run for governor in 2018.

The Florida Department of Education is mourning the loss of one of their own.

Brian Dassler, the 38-year-old deputy chancellor of education, died early this week of natural causes, according to the Tallahassee Police Department. Dassler came to the state education department from New Orleans, where he was the founding principal of a charter school and the chief academic officer for Louisiana’s Arts Conservancy.

“I am heartbroken over the loss of our dear friend and colleague,” said Education Commissioner Stewart. “He joined the Florida Department of Education in 2013 and brought with him an unrivaled passion for students, educators and the field of education as a whole.”

Dassler had been scheduled to be recognized during the State Board of Education meeting for volunteering 50 hours as a mentor between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2016. Stewart said Dassler spent his free time mentoring a student at Godby High School.

“Brian was one of a kind. He was always the first to highlight the positive in any situation, and through his inherent goodness and relentless drive, he inspired others to go the extra mile and believe they too could make a difference,” she said. “I believe he was able to achieve so much in his short 38 years because he never lost his desire to learn. Brian earned bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida where he has twice been named an outstanding young alumnus. We are truly heartbroken. His loss will be deeply felt throughout the nation, and he will never be forgotten.”

Get them while you can.

The spiny lobster recreational and commercial lobster season closes to harvest in state and federal waters starting April 1. The season will be closed until Aug. 6, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Recreational fishermen (and women) won’t have to wait until then to get some of the tasty treats, though. A two-day recreational sport season is scheduled for July 26 and July 27.

The Florida Department of State wants to help you tap into your inner Indiana Jones this month.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced this week the Department of State will celebrate Archaeology Month this weekend with behind-the-scenes events at two popular Tallahassee locations. The events are meant to promote the state’s cultural heritage and showcase the state’s archaeological collections.

“I am proud to recognize the important work done by our state archaeologists every day on the ground and underwater, to ensure that we protect, interpret and preserve our state’s precious archaeological heritage,” said Detzner in a statement.

Events include a behind-the-scenes tour of the archaeological conservation lab at the R.A. Gray Building, 500 South Bronough Street. The 20-minute tours will take place every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and participants will get to see the techniques and process used to preserve state artifacts. Due to the presence of artifacts and chemicals on open tables, children under 10 are not permitted.

On Wednesday, folks can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the archeological collection at Mission San Luis. That tour is scheduled for 11 a.m.

For more information, visit here.

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

 

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Joe Henderson: GOP’s only option now on health care could be to work with Democrats

Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is in a position that must have seemed unthinkable after November’s election mandate. The only way they’re going to make good now on their 7-year crusade to repeal and replace Obamacare is if Democrats help them.

For that to happen, Republicans will have surrender any notion of gutting the current health care law and actually work with the opposition party to craft something that makes people happy on both sides of the political divide. Otherwise, it’s status quo.

If it wasn’t clear before Friday afternoon when the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act collapsed, it should be now. This what happens when the party in power can’t reach consensus and gets its butt kicked on a high-profile issue.

Republicans are a house divided on this issue and it won’t be bridged without help from Democrats. Good luck with that, right? Minority leader Nancy Pelosi was smirking and giddy in remarks after Speaker Paul Ryan admitted this was “a setback, no two ways about it.”

President Trump, even with his art of the deal skills, couldn’t convince members of the Freedom Caucus to stop drinking the tea of an all-or-nothing, no-compromise bill. And guess what? That won’t change. The Freedom folk don’t believe in compromise, especially on something like this.

And when polls showed Americans were getting extremely concerned about the proposed bill would to gut benefits they have come to rely upon, Ryan realized he had to make some concessions to keep the public from full revolt.

The problem for him is, the Freedom Caucus doesn’t concede, no matter the political cost. It wanted to get rid of Obamacare taxes and let states run their own Medicaid programs. In some places that could have included requiring work in exchange for Medicaid benefits.

Equally damaging was a widely-held belief that rooms filled with white Republican men were deciding what women’s health care would look like under the new plan.

It was a colossal mess and the plan died an ugly death.

So now what?

Short of allowing Obamacare to continue indefinitely, thus failing to deliver on a central campaign promise to repeal/replace it, Republicans need reach across the aisle. Democrats have to be involved, and that means compromise on multiple issues.

Why?

Because as tough as it might be to negotiate with Democrats on changes to President Obama’s signature achievement, there’s probably a better chance of reaching consensus there between moderate Republicans and the Freedom Caucus.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland seemed to offer that olive branch to the GOP leadership.

“I hope we can work with the administration and with the other side and not just abandon this effort,” he said, “and not make an effort (going forward) to destroy indirectly what we did not destroy directly today.

“That’s our responsibility as Republicans, as Democrats, sent here by our people to make their lives better.”

It’s an opening if Ryan and GOP leaders are willing to take it. That could be humiliating, but it may be the only move they have left.

Health care defeat is a brutal loss for Speaker Paul Ryan

House Speaker Paul Ryan guaranteed a win on the Republican plan to dismantle Barack Obama‘s health care law. Instead, he suffered a brutal defeat, cancelling a vote and admitting “we’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Friday’s painful rebuke is an ominous sign for President Donald Trump‘s agenda, from taxes to infrastructure to the budget. Looming in a few weeks is the need to agree on a bill to keep the government open. After the health care debacle, Trump told Republican leaders he’s moving on.

The episode is a danger point for the relationship between Trump and Ryan, who had an awkward pairing during the campaign but worked in tandem on the GOP health measure.

“I like Speaker Ryan,” Trump said. “I think Paul really worked hard.”

Virtually every congressional Republican won election promising to repeal Obamacare. With a Republican in the White House, passage seemed almost guaranteed.

Ryan was steeped in the details, even at one point replicating for a nationwide cable news audience a detailed PowerPoint presentation he delivered to his members.

Earlier this month, he said flatly, “We’ll have 218 (votes) when this thing comes to the floor, I can guarantee you that.”

Ryan was thrust into the speaker’s chair after the stunning 2015 resignation of John Boehner, R-Ohio, and a failed bid by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. At the time, Ryan held his dream job — chairman of the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee — but took the job as the last viable option to lead a fractured House GOP.

While Ryan eased comfortably into the job, he’s not the schmoozer Boehner was, a key skill in delivering like-minded but reluctant lawmakers. He lacked the steel and seasoning of Democratic rival Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who delivered Obamacare in the first place — and that took months, not weeks.

Even before the bill went down, Pelosi was piling on, taunting Trump and, by implication, Ryan, for rushing the bill to the floor too early.

“You build your consensus in your caucus, and when you’re ready, you set the date to bring it to the floor,” Pelosi said. “Rookie’s error, Donald Trump. You may be a great negotiator. Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”

Ryan entered the health care debate without the experience of having ever managed a situation of such magnitude.

“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.”

During former President Barack Obama’s tenure, Ryan had always been able to lean on Democrats to pass legislation Obama would sign.

On health care, however, Ryan could only count on Republicans, inheriting a fractious group that was schooled in opposing Obama, but lacking in the required team spirit to be a functioning, governing party.

It’s a far different situation facing Ryan than he witnessed when joining the House in 1999. Then, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and legendary Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, ran the House with a five-vote majority, instilling a team spirit that is wholly lacking today. Ryan also lacks the tools available to prior leaders, like hometown earmarks.

“It’s sometimes easier to do things with a smaller majority, because you all realize you’ve got to stick together or you won’t get anything done,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. “When you get a bigger majority you have factions. And then the challenge is dealing with the different factions.”

Ryan struggled — and failed — to thread the needle between conservative hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus and moderate lawmakers worried that the GOP measure would harm their constituents — and their political prospects in midterm elections that promise to be bruising for Republicans.

While Trump focused on winning over the Freedom Caucus, Ryan failed to keep more pragmatic lawmakers like Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, in line. When Young announced his opposition, a superPAC affiliated with Ryan, the Congressional Leadership Fund, announced it would pull its support from Young.

To be sure, several factors conspired against Ryan.

Trump sometimes sent mixed signals about how solidly he was behind the effort. The White House is short-handed and its staff is inexperienced in the art of legislating.

And Ryan’s vote-counting team failed at basic tasks like keeping lawmakers, including the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., from issuing public statements promising to oppose the bill.

“We don’t browbeat our folks,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga. “That’s why it’s harder to keep Republicans in line.”

Ryan’s stature appears secure. And even if Trump and his allies were upset with Ryan, there’s no obvious replacement, given the party’s short leadership roster.

“I don’t think this will impact Speaker Ryan because everyone in our conference, whether you’re voting yes or no, does know he put his heart and soul into this,” said Rep. Chris Collins, a Trump ally. “I am certainly not blaming Paul Ryan in the least.”

“He’s highly respected. He worked very hard on this,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. “He went in for the right reasons.”

Carlos Beruff already playing calendar games with Constitution Revision Commission

(This post has been updated, below.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

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

Did you catch it? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

Updated Thursday — House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he had not spoken to Beruff about the public hearing schedule.

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

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

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

Jim Rosica, Tallahassee correspondent

*          *          *

Updated Friday — CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice issued a response to Corcoran:

“As a commission which meets just once every 20 years, commissioners have a responsibility to be accountable to the people of Florida and accomplish as much as we can in the short time we have. The work before this commission is incredibly important. We will be working with all commissioners on additional public hearings to ensure the best possible outcome for families in our state. It is very important commissioners participate and hear from the public. That is why we only released a few dates, more will be scheduled soon. Videos of the meetings will also be posted online.”

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