Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 316

Peter Schorsch

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

Sixty Days for 1.16.18 — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session

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

The Last 24

Good Tuesday evening. In this edition, we talk to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith about medical marijuana (he’s for it) and dog racing (against). We also highlight a lobbying registration for a great cause. In other news:

Stormy weather: A House panel came up with 78 (!) recommendations on what to do before, during and after the next hurricane in Florida.

Irma expenses: State agencies spent $680.2 million after Hurricane Irma, with county government costs exceeding $1 billion.

No drilling: A Senate committee OK’d a resolution calling on Congress to keep a moratorium on oil exploration in the eastern part of the Gulf.

Home-sharing? Caring: Advocates say legislation to preempt local regulations will help owners of vacation rentals featured on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

Go away: The U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal by a Central Florida circuit judge, who was disciplined by the state Supreme Court for a misleading ad during a 2014 election campaign.

Exempting cops: A House panel advanced a bill that would exempt law enforcement officers, whether in marked or unmarked vehicles, from paying tolls.

Venezuela crackdown: A Senate committee pushed forward a measure that requires the state to divest from companies that do any business with the Nicolas Maduro regime.

Dear Congress: A Senate committee in a 3-2 vote cleared a memorial urging Congress to preserve DACA.

Say cheese: The Senate Health Policy Committee advanced a proposal allowing the state to help pay dental school loans for dentists who practice in rural, underserved communities.

No sweeps: The Senate Community Affairs Committee drew praise from the Sadowski Coalition after clearing a bill that prevents sweeps of the State and Local Housing Trust Fund.

Oh, and it was a bad day for Jack and not the best day for Pat.

Quote of the Day

“I had nothing to do with any — ANY — of the resignations in Tallahassee. Quite frankly, I’m tired of the innuendo and the press making me out to be the boogeyman.” —former state Sen. Frank Artiles, as reported by the Miami Herald.

Bill Day’s Latest

3 Questions

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, helped found and chairs the Florida Legislative Progressive Caucus. He talked about some of his and the caucus’ priorities for 2018.

FP: What are the top priorities in 2018 for the Progressive Caucus?

CGS: The top priorities for the Legislative Progressive Caucus during 2018 will be to broaden our membership to include the Florida Senate, to increase our policymaking influence on key issues AND to expand our visibility to social media platforms.

The LPC formed late during the 2017 Session, giving us little time to make a substantial impact. Our complete legislative agenda will be rolled out in the coming weeks and will include but not be limited to caucus positions on legislation addressing wage stagnation and income inequality, social and economic justice, and the dangerous privatization of our public schools.

FP: Will the Legislature have to revisit medical marijuana in 2018?

CGS: The legislature SHOULD revisit medical marijuana … but that doesn’t mean they will during the 2018 Session. The truth is that the state implementation of medical cannabis mandated by Florida voters has been such a train-wreck, it’s hard to say where we would even start fixing it.

The bureaucrat hired by Rick Scott to deliver ID cards to qualified patients missed critical statutory deadlines while terminal patients waited several months to access their medicine. The Legislature’s decision to revoke local control led to all-out bans on medical cannabis dispensaries in many cities and counties. For too many low-income patients, after expensive delivery fees were factored in, they simply could not afford medical cannabis as a result. Employees working under so-called “drug-free workplace” policies are still vulnerable to termination from their job even as qualified patients without protections from the Legislature. School districts were given no guidance on how to develop rules for K-12 students using medical cannabis during school hours.

All of these issues need legislative action and that’s without even mentioning the unconstitutional ban on whole flower and smokable product. Based on my conversations with Republican leadership, these issues will likely be ignored until the 2019 Session.

FP: Now that the court has found the state’s drug testing for greyhound racing dogs inadequate, what would you like to see happen?

CGS: What I would like to see happen is for the Legislature to finally come to its senses and realize that greyhound racing is a cruel and inhumane industry that must be shut down immediately. But since special interests protecting the industry donate heavily to both Democrats and Republicans, that’s not likely to happen.

In lieu of a statutory ban on greyhound racing, we must give the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering clear guidance on how to implement and enforce the state drug testing program. That starts with serious penalties for unlawful drug positives on cocaine as well as for anabolic steroids. These harmful race-fixing drugs must be strictly regulated to protect the animals as well as to protect the integrity of the industry. The dog-doping epidemic on Florida racetracks has reached a new the level of absurdity and must be dealt with during the 2018 Session.

Lobby Up

100 Black Men of Tallahassee will have a voice this Legislative Session.

Lobbyists Jasmyne Henderson and Sean Pittman, both of Tallahassee’s Pittman Law Group, registered to represent them before lawmakers this year.

The organization “helps to empower youth in our community to make positive life choices that enable them to maximize their potential,” according to its website.

A mentoring program “uses adult volunteers to commit to supporting, guiding, and being a friend to a young person for a period of at least one year,” it says.

“By becoming part of the social network … who care about the youth, the mentor can help youth develop and reach positive academic, career, and personal goals.”

Breakthrough Insights

The Next 24

No surprise—the usual potpourri of committee meetings. Oh, and this stuff:

The State Board of Education is slated to consider a proposed rule for the new “Schools of Hope” program, expected to lead to the creation of charter schools near low-performing traditional public schools. That’s at 9 a.m., Cabinet meeting room, the Capitol.

The Florida Citrus Commission will meet in Polk County at 9 a.m., Florida Department of Citrus, 605 East Main St., Bartow.

The Public Service Commission will hold a hearing about a plan by Florida Power & Light to build a new power plant in Broward County. The commission will decide whether to approve a “determination of need” for the plant. That starts at 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.

Rep. Joseph Geller of Aventura and Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr. of Orlando, both Democrats, will hold a press conference to discuss their legislation requiring Florida to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That’s at 12:45 p.m., outside the House Chamber, fourth floor, The Capitol.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is slated to take part in a question-and-answer session. It starts at 8 p.m., Fadó Irish Pub, 900 South Miami Ave., Miami.

FPL to pass federal tax cut onto customers instead of raising rates to pay for $1.3 billion Hurricane Irma restoration

Florida Power & Light says it’s dropping plans to charge customers for Hurricane Irma costs and will instead apply savings from the recently enacted Tax and Jobs Act to cover the cost.

For the average customer, this means savings of about $250. FPL also announced that the tax savings could allow it to continue operating for an additional two years under the 2016 base-rate agreement. That agreement has been scheduled to expire in 2020.

“The timing of federal tax reform, coming on the heels of the most expensive hurricane in Florida history, created an unusual and unprecedented opportunity,” FPL president Eric Silagy said in a news release. “Our current rate agreement provides the ability to use federal tax savings to entirely offset Hurricane Irma restoration costs, which delivers an immediate benefit to customers, and also the potential opportunity to avoid a general base rate increase for up to an additional two years.”

FPL’s response to Hurricane Irma has been lauded widely both in Florida and around the country for its unprecedented breadth and speed, but the $1.3 billion price tag was likely to be a point of contention with regulators.

FPL had previously said it would have to implement a surcharge to pay for Irma in March, after a year-long surcharge for 2016’s Hurricane Matthew ends in February, but announced shortly after the new year that it would wait to determine how the new tax law would impact its bottom line.

“While we were planning to file a cost recovery plan with the Public Service Commission by the end 2017, we now believe it is in the best interests of our customers to delay our filing to allow us time to have more accurate information and understand the complexities and implications of changes to the federal tax code that occurred at the end of December,” FPL spokesman Dave McDermitt said at the time.

Fellow utility companies Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Company asked the Public Service Commission last month to approve plans that would allow them to pass on to ratepayers a combined $600 million in costs related to Hurricane Irma and other storms.

Duke Energy customers would see their average bill jump by $5.20 a month for three years if their plan was approved, while Tampa Electric ratepayers would see a $4 a month increase through at least 2018. In contrast, FPL customers will now see their rates decrease in March. For a 1,000-kWh customer bill, the decrease will amount to $3.35 a month in savings.

FPL notes that its rates have decreased significantly in the past decade. FPL says the latest decrease will mean its rates will be nearly 30 percent below the national average.

FPL did not release details about its future plans. FPL said its current rate agreement, which was negotiated with the Office of Public Counsel and other customer groups and approved unanimously by the Florida Public Service Commission in 2016, set parameters for base rates and storm surcharges from 2017 through at least 2020.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

The Delegation for 1.16.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Hostile atmosphere surrounds MLK Day 2018

Each year since 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed as a federal and state holiday. It wasn’t easy getting there, but President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law on November 2, 1983.

The intended effect of the national holiday has in many ways been accomplished. There is no question respect and admiration for Dr. King has grown among all races during the past three decades.

The holiday we celebrated Monday was intended to honor not only its namesake but the progress made in race relations. Rereading the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a poignant reminder.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018 still comes with controversy.

Leading up to Monday, much of that was overshadowed by reports of comments uttered by President Donald Trump during a recent meeting in the Oval Office.

Following the firestorm, few discussed the purpose of the meeting, which was a proposal to settle the status of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age. Instead, the debate centered on whether or not Trump is a racist.

“(Trump’s) words further illustrate his attitude toward race, and it is unfortunate that our children must hear this type of language spoken by the President,” Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said in a statement.

“Donald Trump’s reported bigoted remarks are disgraceful and embarrassing,” said West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel.

“The President says a lot of stuff, but racism is still the ghost in the room and now it, unfortunately, is the ghost in the White House,” Orlando Democrat Val Demings said on MSNBC.

Monday brought comments highlighting the message of the holiday and the man. At least for a day, King’s dream and the current divide were side-by-side.

Three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson issued a statement on Monday that sought to preserve the legacy of Dr. King. That legacy “lives on in every man, woman and child who grows up believing they can do anything they put their mind to, regardless of race, creed, or color.”

In a Monday statement, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said: “I urge everyone to reflect on the principles that Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully defended to that as a nation we can continue to embody his dream of opportunity and equality for all.”

Veteran Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings said via Twitter: “Honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today. We must never stop challenging ourselves to do better for all Americans.”

With the enormous political divisions existing not only in Washington, but in states and communities, the challenge seems a bit tougher.

Did Nelson praise Scott for Puerto Rico efforts or was that fake news?

On Friday, the three-term Democrat was in Orlando for a news conference that featured Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who took the opportunity to blast the federal government’s response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria. Rossello lamented what he described as unequal treatment between aid for the island commonwealth and that for states like Florida, Texas and California.

“One hundred years of U.S. citizenship, but not quite equal,” Rossello said at the news conference.

Did Bill Nelson really praise Rick Scott, his potential Senate rival?

Democratic Sen. Nelson, who was at the news conference along with Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, continued his advocacy for significant aid for Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico is out of funds,” he said. “And how are people going to get the health care that they need? We can’t just put dribs and drabs in. We’ve got to put a lot of money in.”

Also at the conference was Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who touted the state’s efforts to assist displaced Puerto Ricans that fled to the state. It included $1 million to help more than 7,000 refugees find employment.

The Associated Press story said, “Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson praised the Republican governor for his efforts and urged federal lawmakers to do more.”

It seemed strange to read of Nelson’s saluting a likely opponent to his bid for a fourth term in November. Upon further review, AP acknowledged that is not what Nelson did. It would not qualify, as some might say, as a piece of fake news.

By Saturday, AP had issued a correction, saying they should have made it clear Nelson was referring to Rossello’s efforts, not those of Scott.

The corrected story reads Nelson “praised the Republican Rossello….” While Rossello is officially aligned with the New Progressive Party, the party is more in step with conservatives than liberals.

Rubio celebrates renaming of D.C. street in honor of murdered Russian dissident

The two-term Republican saluted the District of Columbia City Council for honoring a Russian dissident in the nation’s capital. With the council’s decision to rename a street by the Russian Embassy as Boris Nemtsov Plaza, the name of a murdered opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin will be seen daily by his diplomats.

Rubio worked with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to bring the issue before the council.

Marco Rubio celebrates renaming a D.C. street after Russian dissident Boris Nemtsov.

“After prominent Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was brazenly murdered outside the Kremlin in February 2015, I worked to honor his legacy by renaming the block outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” Rubio said in a news release. “Because this legislation faced an uncertain path in the Senate, Senator Coons and I looked outside the halls of Congress and enlisted the help of the D.C. City Council to implement this proposal as quickly as possible.”

Rubio began his efforts nearly three years ago shortly after Nemtsov’s murder. One the second anniversary of the assassination 11 months ago, he called for renaming the street in Nemtsov’s honor with a bill in the Senate.

Last month, the D.C. City Council agreed to take up the measure and approved the change last week. Nemtsov was a former Deputy Prime Minister.

“I am proud that the D.C. City Council has approved plans to rename the street ‘Boris Nemtsov Plaza,’ and I thank Chairman (Phil) Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh for their leadership. Starting on the third anniversary of Mr. Nemtsov’s assassination, there will be a sign in front of the Russian Embassy to remind Vladimir Putin and his cronies that they cannot use murder, violence, and intimidation to silence dissent.”

Nelson, Rubio want prompt action on disaster aid

With the House-approved $81 billion in disaster aid languishing in the Senate, both Florida Senators urged Senate leadership to get things moving. In a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, Rubio and Nelson asked to “consider this much-needed appropriations measure on the floor as soon as possible.”

After the House approved the funding before the Christmas recess, which would include assistance to Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry, the Senate adjourned before taking it up. Now that Congress is again dealing with spending bill to keep the government open, other issues such as the disaster aid are caught in the middle.

Florida’s senators urge Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to get moving on disaster aid.

“The House of Representatives passed a disaster supplemental, and while it did not fully encompass what is needed, it is past time for the Senate to act,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, Congress has delayed providing this aid for too long while our communities face the consequences of our inaction.”

Most members of the Florida and Texas delegation have pledged to vote against the overall government funding bill if action is not taking on disaster aid. Once the appropriations bill is taken up by the Senate, it is expected to grow larger than the House version. Schumer says it does not do enough to help Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and wildfires in western states.

“It is imperative that Americans nationwide know the federal government is both ready and willing to direct resources needed to help them in the recovery, process. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter,” the letter concludes.

Also signing the letter was Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy.

White House: Taking Florida ‘off the table’ not a political favor

The fallout following taking Florida “off the table” as it relates to offshore oil and gas drilling was still going strong days after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee to announce the change while standing next to Gov. Scott. Scott is widely expected to challenge Democratic Sen. Nelson for Nelson’s Senate seat in November.

The manner in which Florida was removed from the list visibly perturbed Nelson.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke insists taking Florida off the oil-drilling list was not political.

 

Nelson and other Democrats accused President Trump and Zinke of delivering a pre-announcement gift to Scott. The governor, after announcing opposition to the plan to open up Florida to more drilling, had sought a meeting with Zinke.

Was it a political favor?

At Thursday’s White House briefing, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that abandoned plans for drilling for oil off Florida’s coast were not a political favor to Gov. Scott.

“I am not aware of any political favor that would have been part of,” she said.

In response to questions from Florida Politics, Scott also rejected the idea that there was a prearranged capitulation on oil exploration off the Florida coast.

“This proposal came out of the Trump administration. I opposed it. I let them know before they came out with it,” Scott asserted.

The Governor made the policy change seem as a result of hard-won negotiation, not political gamesmanship.

Scott noted that he “met and talked … multiple times” with Zinke over the last year, and “was very clear” that he didn’t want to see offshore drilling off our coast.

“When he came out with the proposal a week and a half ago,” Scott continued, “I asked to meet with him as soon as I could … we had the opportunity to meet, and he took Florida off the table.”

Reassurances aside, this will not be the last word on the matter.

Gaetz announces next Open Gaetz Day

The Fort Walton Beach Republican will hold his next day-long interaction with constituents on Monday. Open Gaetz Day will feature events in the Cantonment and conclude in Pensacola.

Time for another ‘Open Gaetz Day,’ a day-long interaction between Matt Gaetz and constituents.

Beginning with a visit to Tate High School in Cantonment, Gaetz will hold mobile office hours at the PenAir Federal Credit Union. After visiting two businesses, he will then go door-to-door to visit with residents in Cantonment and Ensley.

The day concludes with a town hall meeting at the Navy Federal Credit Union on Heritage Oaks Drive in Pensacola.

The media is invited to attend all events.

House passes Yoho bill to restore Taiwan’s status with WHO

Thanks to a bill sponsored by the Gainesville Republican, Taiwan is one step closer to becoming recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). With the House’s passing of HR 3320, Taiwan would regain its observer status with the WHO.

“Taiwan is an important democratic partner for the United States, and this legislation will advance our mutual interests by ensuring that the U.S. plan to support Taiwan’s involvement in global health is responsive to recent challenges,” Yoho said in a statement. “Taiwan has proven time and again that it is a model contributor to world health.”

Ted Yoho is helping Taiwan become recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Yoho, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, pointed to the $6 billion in aid invested by Taiwan for international medical and humanitarian efforts. He also highlighted their contributions to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

“Taiwan is a benevolent actor on the international stage and deserves to keep the place it has earned,” he said.

The bill, co-sponsored by 29 other members, was unanimously approved by voice vote. Included among the co-sponsors were Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel.

Two more years for Rutherford

Rep. Rutherford confirmed to Florida Politics that he does, in fact, plan to run for re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve my fellow Northeast Floridians in Congress,” Rutherford asserted, “and I am proud of all our hard work over the last year fighting for jobs, veterans, a renewed military, and secure borders.”

“But a great deal of work remains ahead,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to seeking re-election to continue this work on behalf of the fine people I am so humbled to serve.”

Two more years for John Rutherford.

This confirmation is a prelude to a formal announcement later in the primary season.

There were those in Northeast Florida Republican circles who speculated that Rutherford would stand down, setting off decision-making for local Republicans — current incumbents in other offices and otherwise — who might seek to replicate the very expensive and occasionally fractious 2016 primary.

However, Rutherford has never given any indication that he wouldn’t run to serve at least one more term. And now it is clear that any shaking of the #jaxpol snow globe will wait until at least 2020.

Rutherford faces a clear path to re-election in what Congressional Quarterly calls a solidly Republican district.

Demings picks up primary challenger

The first-term Democrat from Orlando will face a primary election this year after Orlando businessman Wade Darius filed to run against her. Darius claims Demings has neither been sufficiently aggressive in opposing President Trump nor able to bring home sufficient grant money to the constituents of District 10.

Darius also said he is concerned about criminal justice issues, notably prison reform, which he said is needed, and police brutality, which he alleged Demings did not address when she was police chief.

Orlando businessman Wade Darius is challenging Val Demings for Congress.

A Haitian immigrant to Miami as a child, Darius said immigration policy was his primary concern, especially considering the very large Haitian and El Salvadoran communities in CD 10, two communities facing mass deportations under Trump’s plans.

“We know our district is vastly populated by immigrants,” he said. “You must be on the side of the people.”

Darius said his campaign would refuse to raise any money from corporations because he believes there is a required quid pro quo response to all such donations. He said his campaign would be funded by himself and his family. He started that off by donating $500 to start a Go-Fund-Me account for his campaign.

Republican Thuy Lowe, whom Demings defeated in 2016, has filed to run again.

Buchanan: Florida not out of the woods on oil drilling

The Longboat Key Republican may disagree on several issues with Democratic Sen. Nelson, but on the topic of oil drilling, the two are in lockstep Nelson challenged Interior Secretary Zinke’s proclamation that Florida was “off the table” regarding drilling, Buchanan offered a similar assessment.

“Although I’m pleased the Trump Administration has backed off plans to expand drilling off Florida’s coasts for now, we need to pass my bill extending the drilling moratorium until 2027,” Buchanan said. “Without legislation extending and codifying the ban in law, any future administration could change that policy. We need to put it in law.”

Vern Buchanan warns that Florida isn’t ‘out of the woods’ on offshore oil drilling.

Buchanan and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced the Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act in May that was designed to extend the drilling moratorium from 2022 to 2027. Before Zinke’s declaration, the moratorium would have expired next year (instead of 2022) according to the Trump Administration’s proposal.

As co-chair of the Florida congressional delegation, Buchanan and South Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings crafted a letter from a bipartisan group of 21 members of the state’s congressional delegation last week calling on the Interior to oppose any rollback of safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon blast in 2010.

An Interior Department bureau recently said some of the regulations adopted in response to the tragedy created “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” on oil and gas operators. The proposal to roll back safety rules was published in the Federal Register at the end of 2017.

Not all were happy with Zinke’s move.

“This announcement is premature,” American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said last week. “Americans support increased domestic energy production, and the administration and policymakers should follow the established process before making any decisions or conclusions that would undermine our nation’s energy security.”

Among the bill’s co-sponsors are delegation Democrats Charlie Crist, Demings, Ted Deutch, Hastings, Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Soto, Frederica Wilson and Frankel. Two Republicans, Brian Mast and Francis Rooney, were co-sponsors.

Nelson is the sponsor of the companion Senate bill.

Mast releases first ad in re-election bid

The Palm City Republican released “Promises Kept,” his first ad of the 2018 re-election campaign in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

The 30-second spot highlights three bipartisan legislative achievements that fulfill Mast’s major campaign promises: protecting seniors from fraud, preventing critical veterans’ programs from expiring and passing new funding to combat harmful algal blooms.

Also, the campaign announced that after raising $419,000 during the fourth quarter of 2017, the Mast for Congress campaign now has $1,039,000 cash on hand.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Frankel, Deutch join with Ted Cruz to combat human trafficking

The South Florida Democrats have teamed up with the conservative Republican Texas Senator to file legislation designed to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Along with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act will bring more sunlight to the foreign temporary worker visa process.

Late last week, the four lawmakers participated in a national media conference call to announce the legislation and comment on the issue. Joining them was trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntru.

Members of the Florida delegation team up with Ted Cruz on a bipartisan human trafficking bill.

“Too many foreign workers are being exploited, forced into sex trade and abusive labor practices,” said Frankel. “This bill will increase the transparency of workers’ activity and whereabouts, allowing human rights organizations to spot patterns of human trafficking and assist law enforcement in stopping what amounts to modern day slavery.”

Over the past 10 years, nearly 40,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Of those, more than 4,500 came from Florida.

“Right under our noses, human traffickers are exploiting major gaps in our visa program,” said Deutch. “With so many different government agencies processing visas, our immigration system is failing to detect human traffickers who are abusing the system. By sharing the data between agencies and with the public, we can build a coalition to crack down on human trafficking and save trafficking victims from this modern form of slavery.”

The proposal would take information the government now collects about the temporary work visa applicants, the people who help them apply, and their employers, and make it much more widely available. Right now, Cruz and Deutch said, the information is tightly held, and not even law enforcement can comb through the data to figure out patterns: who’s disappearing, which unscrupulous employment services brought them to the country, which employers were involved.

“I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution,” said Woworuntu. “We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the U.S., and the Visa Transparency Anti Trafficking Act will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me.”

Teachers’ union ad goes after South Florida Republicans

The nation’s second largest educators union is targeting the two South Florida Republicans over their position on DACA. It comes as the clock continues to count down for Congress to find a solution for the young immigrants known as “Dreamers” before Trump will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Action).

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is launching an advertising campaign around the issue demanding Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen, along with 32 other Republican members of Congress, sign a letter saying they would vote for a DACA bill. The ads call on these 34 members to demand Speaker Paul Ryan hold a vote.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

The ad is disingenuous and is obviously designed to mislead people,” said Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez. “No one in Congress — Republican or Democrat — has done more to force a compromise to help Dreamers than Congressman Curbelo. AFT should stop using teachers’ membership dues ‎to spread lies.”

Trump and House Republicans are seeking enhanced border security (including some funding for a border wall) and an end to what they call “chain migration” and the diversity (a.k.a. lottery) visa program.

“We, all along, were going along with what the president said: He supports the Dreamers … and he wants to have some border security,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Then this week it emerged that he wanted to change immigration policy [by] addressing family unification initiatives … and ending the diversity visa [program].”

Trump gave Congress until March to come up with a solution or he would end the DACA program.

Paulson’s Politics:  The demographics of Florida’s congressional districts

Florida’s congressional districts have undergone more change than any of the 50 states. Beginning with its lone member of Congress at statehood in 1845, Florida now has 27 members and the third largest delegation of the 50 states.

The growth of the Florida congressional delegation is one of the most dramatic changes to occur among the 50 states. At the time of World War II, Florida’s congressional delegation had only grown to six members.

After the 1960 census, Florida added four more members to Congress increasing the size of the delegation to 12. It would grow by three after the 1970 census and by four more after both the 1980 and 1990 census. That 15-seat gain was more than any of the 50 states.

The only thing that stays the same in Florida is growth; congressional districts could reflect that, if politics doesn’t get in the way.

Florida added two more members after both the 2000 and 2010 census bringing the delegation total to 27. Projections are that Florida will gain at least one (and possibly two) more seats after the 2020 census increasing the delegation to 28 or 29 members.

From 2010 to July 1, 2017, Florida’s population grew from 18,804,594 to 20,984,400, a gain of 1.6 percent.

That 1.6 percent growth rate was the third most of the 50 states and reflected the addition of 327,811 people.

A second major change in the Florida congressional delegation is the partisan makeup. The Florida delegation was almost entirely made up of Democrats from statehood until 1954. In 1950, Democrats held all seven congressional seats in Florida. Republican Congressman Bill Cramer broke the Democratic dominance when he won a District in the Tampa Bay-area centered in Pinellas County.

Republicans would hold three of the 12 seats in the 1960s, five of 15 in the 1970s, and they would gain control of the delegation by a 10-9 margin in the 1980s. Republican control would continue in the decades that followed growing to a 19 to six advantage after the 2000 census. Currently, Republicans hold 16 of the 27 Florida congressional seats.

The Florida congressional elections are likely to increase in partisan competitiveness due to the 2010 passage of the Fair District Amendment pushed by the League of Women Voters and Democratic organizations. Fair Districts requires that Districts be compact and contiguous, and ignore partisan data or favor incumbents.

The districts drawn by the legislature after the 2010 census were first challenged in 2014. Judge Terry Lewis, who gained fame in the aftermath of the virtual tie in the Florida 2000 presidential election, ruled that the legislature violated Fair Districts and altered the boundaries of seven of the 27 congressional districts.

In July 2015, critics took their case to the Florida Supreme Court. They found that the legislature violated Fair Districts and the legislature was forced to redraw virtually all the districts. The redraw led to Democrats picking up two seats in the Orlando area and one seat in Pinellas County in the seat that Republicans has held since Cramer’s 1954 victory.

Republicans picked up one seat in Tallahassee and one seat in the Treasure Coast. The Democrats had a net gain of one seat.

The only thing that stays the same in Florida is growth. How that will play out politically remains to be seen.

Wilson will skip State of the Union

Trump will deliver his second State of the Union address in the House Chamber on January 30 before a national television audience and the assembled members of Congress. The Democrat from Miami Gardens will not be one of them.

“For the first time since I began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, I will not be attending the president’s State of the Union address,” Wilson said in a statement. “I have no doubt that instead of delivering a message of inclusivity and an agenda that benefits all Americans, President Trump’s address will be full of innuendo, empty promises, and lies.”

Frederica Wilson takes a hard pass on the State of the Union.

Wilson and Trump have a history. They engaged in political warfare after the death in Niger of Sgt. La David Johnson, her constituent, and the subsequent condolence call from Trump to Johnson’s widow.

Wilson pointed to recent remarks attributed to Trump that described countries such as Haiti in vulgar terms. She used the term “racist” to describe those comments.

“It would be an embarrassment to be seen with him at a forum that under any other president would be an honor to attend,” she stated.

In addition to Wilson, fellow Democrats John Lewis of Georgia, Maxine Waters of California, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and  Pramila Jayapal of Washington have announced they would not attend. That number is likely to grow.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. 

America honors Martin Luther King, Jr., the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America.

 

Personnel note: Jose Felix Diaz joins Ballard Partners

What a birthday president for Jose Felix Diaz, the former state representative who last year lost a high-profile special election for the Florida Senate.

Diaz, who turns 38 Tuesday, is joining Ballard Partners, the governmental affairs firm led by Brian Ballard.

A well-respected name in Miami-Dade County, Diaz most recently served seven years representing Districts 115 and 116 in the Florida House.

Later during his time in Tallahassee, Diaz—a Cuban-American known throughout the Capitol as “Pepi”—led the Commerce Committee, overseeing gaming, economic development, regulated industries, and tourism.

He also served as chairman of the powerful Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and “helped unite his bipartisan colleagues while taking the caucus to a new level of cooperation,” according to a release.

“We are thrilled to welcome Pepi to the firm,” Ballard said in a statement. “He brings a unique combination of integrity, experience and accomplishment that takes our Miami practice to new heights. He will be a critical asset guiding our clients’ efforts in south Florida as well as assisting our expansion in Latin America.”

Diaz’s hiring may also give Ballard the one thing the super-lobbyist has, to date, not been able to have: A definitive “No. 2” who could one day take over the firm (or just the Florida office) if and when Ballard decides to step away from lobbying and/or moves to be closer President Donald Trump, with whom the firm has a close relationship.

Before this move, Diaz worked out of the Miami office of Akerman LLP, one of the state’s largest law firms, since 2005.

Ballard believes Diaz’s expertise in land development, procurement, public private partnerships and local government consulting will complement his Miami office’s already well-established team.

“Ballard Partners is an exceptional institution whose lobbyists deliver unmatched results for their clients,” Diaz said. “I am looking forward to working with Brian and his team in developing solutions that will help our clients meet their difficult challenges.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

New crop of not-ready-for-primetimers launch congressional campaigns

There’s more than a few key races heating up among Florida’s congressional seats, but for every true competitor in a 2018 battleground district there are a dozen head-scratchers who’ve mounted hopeless House campaigns.

No, none of these candidates have sacrificed a goat as part of a pagan ritual, but it likely wouldn’t make their long-shot odds any worse if they had.

In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, there’s Republican Judson Sapp who billed himself as a “New Republican” when he announced Friday he would challenge incumbent Ted Yoho for the Gainesville-based seat.

“He represents a bold, new path forward and a rebirth of the Republican Party as one that represents all people – not just special interests or the elites,” his campaign said in an email.

That bold new path?

He wants “to end bipartisan obstructionism and to bring integrity and accountability back to our government.”

So far, so good. How does he plan to do it?

“He plans to use his business experience to make deals…”

Next!

The race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District might actually be competitive this year.

In 2016, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy scored a 3-point win over longtime Republican lawmaker John Mica, and the GOP is looking to win it back even if new district lines make that somewhat of an uphill battle.

Enter Vennia Francois, an Orlando Republican who announced last week she would run against state Rep. Mike Miller, businessman Scott Sturgil and a couple others in the Republican Primary for the seat.

She’s got some political experience, having worked for former Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux, but man if her message isn’t a bit dusty.

“I believe in the American Dream because I have seen so many achieve it, both in my immediate family and all across Central Florida,” she said. “But there’s much more we need to do to ensure its legacy, especially for those still struggling in the wake of the Recession of 2008-2009, and I want to lead those efforts,” Francois said in her campaign’s opening message.

If Francois wants to lead the post-recession recovery, she might need to grab a time machine and head back a decade.

Moving on to her actual policy positions, she wants spearhead efforts to close tax loopholes and enact economic policies that help small businesses create even more jobs.

Oh my.

Actually, forget going back a decade. She needs to figure out who traveled to the future and stole her idea for the Republican tax plan.

Also in Central Florida, CD 10 Democratic Rep. Val Demings picked up a primary challenger this week in Wade Darius, a 36-year-old Haitian-born businessman.

Darius runs his own company, TD Homes Marketing, and claims to have helped more than 200 people get down-payment assistance for homes last year. Citing the district’s large immigrant population, the he  said his primary goal as a congressman would be helping reshape U.S. immigration policy.

Not a bad start.

Still, he managed to hamstring himself in record time by saying he wouldn’t take corporate campaign contributions and by bashing Demings’ record on police brutality. Maybe he should have asked Bob Poe how that one played out for him in 2016.

The answer: 57-17.

Then there’s Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist was running unopposed until Wednesday, when Republican George Buck declared for the seat.

“George Buck, is a father of two; a son who is a professional firefighter, and daughter-in law who is a nurse. His daughter is currently studying to be a middle school math teacher at USFSP. George is a Veteran (Four years active duty and Florida National Guard), Firefighter (Ret), Professor/Author.”

Thank you for your service, George, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you or somebody close to you needs to pick up a copy of When Words Collide. There’s an impressive resume somewhere under that punctuation soup, especially when looking past the ambiguity on whether the daughter and daughter-in-law are the same person,

Also, maybe take a long, hard look at whether CD 13 is the place to run. Even well-liked former U.S. Rep. David Jolly is having a hard time seeing a path to victory for a Republican in the Pinellas-based seat.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida releases priority list for 2018 Legislative Session

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida released its priority list for the 2018 Legislative Session, giving favorable marks to legislation that would cut “corporate welfare” and regulations and voicing strong opposition to proposals that would add new regulations or incentives silos.

“We believe that Florida lawmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to push through policy objectives that can deliver more open, transparent, and efficient government. Our staff and volunteers are eager to engage on policies that will help make Florida the best state to raise a family and start a business,” said AFP-FL Director Chris Hudson in a press release.

“As Congress has just passed historic tax reform, Florida lawmakers should also seek to reduce the tax burden on citizens and businesses. We should also pursue commonsense solutions to our critical health care needs. Lawmakers should repeal certificate of need (CON) laws once and for all, and pass meaningful reforms to expand scope of practice and direct primary care. And, both chambers should pursue a clear vision to cut red tape and free Florida entrepreneurs to pursue their American Dream.”

AFP-FL gave it’s opinion on dozens of bills filed for 2018, and plans to update it regularly through session as bills change during the legislative process.

A sampling of the “support” column of the 97-bill priority list: Rep. Danny Burgess and Sen. Tom Lee’s plan to stop direct primary care agreements from being regulated as insurance (HB 37/SB 80); another of Lee’s bills, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila in the House, that would ban pro sports teams from building stadiums on public land (HB 13/SB 352); and a proposal from Rep. Manny Diaz and Sen. Keith Perry that would add a “one-in, one-out” rule when it comes to new rules in the Florida Administrative Code (HB 791/SB 1268).

And a handful from the “oppose” list: Rep. David Silvers’ and Sen. Annette Taddeo’s bills to create a new film incentives program (HB 341/SB 1606); A measure by Sen. Lauren Book that would require 75% of the students in a “School of Hope” to come in from a low-performing school (SB 216); and Sen. Kevin Rader’s “Florida Teacher Fair Pay Act,” which would bump the minimum salary for teachers up to $50,000 a year (SB 586).

Hudson said that AFP-FL “is looking forward to engaging in meaningful debate with lawmakers, and hope that we can continue to serve as a valuable source for how to propel policies that can make Florida a more open and free society.”

When the 2018 Legislative Session comes to a close, AFP-FL will tally up lawmakers votes and publish score cards grading how individual lawmakers fared.

ABMS urges Senate committee to pass bill fighting Florida opioid crisis

Today, the Senate Health Policy Committee will take up Senate Bill 8, from Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto, which seeks to give medical professionals further training in ways to stem Florida’s worsening opioid crisis.

The American Board of Medical Specialties, the leading not-for-profit organization overseeing physician certification in the U.S., is applauding the measure.

In a statement Monday, ABMS is urging the committee to pass SB 8, which recognizes “the important role that specialty training and certification play in assuring that patients receive high-quality care.”

Benacquisto’s bill, in part, mandates added training for all Florida physicians in the proper use of pain management.

According to the ABMS statement: “Keeping physicians up-to-date on the most effective treatments and therapies is critical to high-quality care, and is central to the mission of the ABMS.”

ABMS also commends the bill’s protection of patient access to critical specialty care.

Physicians certified by ABMS Member Boards regularly assess and expand medical knowledge and skills. ABMS believes SB 8 is crucial for Floridians to continue receiving high-level health care from physician specialists.

“The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is pleased that SB 8 recognizes the importance of specialty certification in ensuring that patients receive up-to-date medical care,” said Dr. Richard Hawkins, ABMS President and CEO. “Protecting the care delivered by physicians with specialty training and certification, including subspecialty certification by one of our 24 Member Boards, is a testament to the confidence that patients, physicians and hospitals have in board-certified physicians.”

Recognizing how specialty physicians are on the front lines in deterring opioid dependency, Hawkins said SB 8 joins ongoing efforts within the ABMS Boards Community, which offer subspecialty certificates in pain medicine:  Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Psychiatry/Neurology.

The Senate Health Policy Committee meets at 4 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building of The Capitol.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.16.18

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

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

Another week, another House member wants to be Florida’s chief legal officer.

Today at 11 a.m., state Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, “will hold a news conference outside the Florida Supreme Court to make an announcement,” he said in a Friday.

Shaw didn’t say what the “announcement” was about, but it’s a sure bet he too is running for Attorney General.

Sean Shaw could make it official today.

That will bring to six the number of candidates, and add to the three state representatives already running: Pensacola Republican Frank White, Jacksonville Republican Jay Fant and Dover Republican Ross Spano.

Shaw, son of the late Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr., is the first Democrat in the House to declare an AG candidacy and the second Democrat: Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens filed last May.

He will also be the first African-American in the race. Former Hillsborough circuit judge Ashley Moody is arguably the leading Republican in the field.

Sean’s entry in the race is not happening in a vacuum, coming after months of courting by high-profile donors and politicos, including a recent (very positive) encounter with Orlando attorney John Morgan, a longtime Democratic donor.

In addition, Shaw’s candidacy should provide a boost to the other statewide Democratic candidates, particularly Bill Nelson, Gwen Graham and Phil Levine (sure to generate a sigh of relief at the DSCC and DGA) and Jeremy Ring, who will now have a young, charismatic, African-American candidate to campaign with this fall.

Not only can Shaw help with African-American turnout in a gubernatorial cycle, he’s extraordinarily well-suited to capture the energy and excitement of the Democratic electorate.

Another key factor in Shaw’s entry in the A.G. race is his relationships with the donor community. He a former member of the Florida Justice Association board, and close with the South Florida federal donors who rarely get involved in state-level races.

For Shaw to be successful, both groups need to be fully engaged in the race.

In an election cycle in which both parties are fractured — and the Florida Democratic Party is in a tough situation, struggling to find its footing — Shaw presents a real opportunity to offer a unifying campaign across all factions of donors, elected officials, and activists.

When Shaw jumps in the race, he would also be able to bring about $41,000 with him from his HD 61 re-election campaign.

He’s a lawyer and former state insurance consumer advocate, who ran for and lost the House District 61 seat in 2014 to fellow Democrat Ed Narain. Narain later left the House to run for a Senate seat, which he lost, and Shaw took his seat in 2016.

Amid speculation that Shaw would declare, another Democrat — Byron Keith Henry — has opened a campaign account to run in Shaw’s House district.

Tuesday’s announcement is on the Duval street side of the Court in Tallahassee.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

— @Salon: Pope Francis warns that nuclear war is on the horizon

— @FrankLuntz: In 1966, just 33% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Martin Luther King. Today, more than 90% do.

— @RealDonaldTrump: Senator Dicky [Dick] Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.

— @JebBush: Mitt would make a phenomenal addition to the U.S. Senate. I hope he runs.

— @VernBuchanan: Florida is not out of the woods yet when it comes to preventing another catastrophic oil spill. We need to pass my bipartisan bill extending the current offshore drilling moratorium.

— @AGlorios: The Florida Senate simply gives zero Fs this week. No committee meetings? No problem.

— @Fineout: So after seeing the news about Times-Union, that means in about last 2 years 4 news organizations in Fla have gotten rid of full-time reporting positions in Tallahassee. 1 of those organizations is no longer in existence. 1 has decided to have a reporter during Session.

— @FLDEO: Florida was selected to be a part of the #ApprenticeshipUSA initiative which aims to close the talent gap. Apprenticeships are ideal for teaching workers the skills they need to succeed.

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

Days until: Florida Capitol Press Corps Skits — 6; Super Bowl LII — 19; Pyeongchang Winter Olympics — 23; Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training — 27; Valentine’s Day — 28; Sine Die (maybe) — 51; Major League Baseball Opening Day — 71; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 128; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 156; Primary Election Day — 223; NFL Draft — 259; General Election Day — 293.

— DAY OF A THOUSAND PRESS CONFERENCES —

Assignment editors — For National Religious Freedom Day, legislators in at least 30 state capitols and many congressional leaders will be gathering throughout the day to stand in a unified voice declaring we must “Keep Faith in America.” News conferences and gatherings will be aired on Facebook: /Keep Faith in America from Noon — 8 p.m. ET. Rep. Mel Ponder and Sen. Dennis Baxley, joined by other legislators for a news conference on why we must stand for religious freedom beginning 9 a.m. at the Florida State Capitol on the 4th Floor Rotunda.

Assignment editors — Reps. Tom Leek and Katie Edwards-Walpole will be joined by industry associations for a news conference to roll out an educational campaign on ‘drive-by lawsuits,’ which critics call “an abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act by law firms.” The presser will take place at 10:30 a.m., in the House Media Room (333 The Capitol).

Tom Leek is behind a campaign on ‘drive-by ADA lawsuits.’

Assignment editors — Right on Crime and the Charles Koch Institute will host a news conference in front of the Florida Senate Chamber on the fourth floor of The Capitol. The conference will highlight the recent release of the Reforming Criminal Justice report by the Academy for Justice, a consortium of more than 100 top criminal justice scholars in the country. Among those expected to attend are Chelsea Murphy, Florida State Director of Right on Crime; Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican; and Greg Newburn, State Policy Director for Families Against Mandatory Minimum.  Right on Crime is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy — reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government and save taxpayers money, a news release said. The Charles Koch Institute is an educational organization focused on the importance of free societies and how they increase well-being for the overwhelming majority of people. The presser begins at 11:00 a.m.

Assignment editors — Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, and Rep. Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, will hold a news conference today at 11 a.m. on the west side of the Capitol (think ‘dolphin fountain’) to discuss SB 1400 and HB 773.  “The bills’ intent is to protect private property rights of vacation rental owners who have been unfairly targeted—and often illegally—by a growing number of local regulations,” a news release said. Members of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association, the Airbnb host community and HomeAway and their owners also expect to be present.

Assignment editors — Democratic Sen. Lauren Book and GOP Sen. Dana Young will hold a news conference to discuss their bill related to workers’ compensation benefits for first responders who suffer from PTSD as a result of the trauma they experienced in their jobs. That’s at noon, Senate Media Room, 304 The Capitol.

— CAPITOL INSIGHT  —

Jack Latvala’s latest accuser: ‘He unbuttoned my jacket and he felt me up.” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The woman whose testimony led to the resignation of one of Florida’s most powerful politicians did not plan to speak out. Even after McLeod read the Nov. 3 Politico account of the six anonymous women who accused Latvala, 66, of sexual harassment — and noted that the claims were strikingly similar to her own experiences — the long-time lobbyist and now legislative aide remained quiet. … Latvala was re-elected to the Senate for his second eight-year tenure in 2010, but it wasn’t until he chaired Senate committees that held power over McLeod’s clients, from January 2015 to April of last year, that he pursued her for sex, she said. Feeling trapped, she agreed. McLeod recalled having sex two times in 2015 and once in 2016, and said he groped her dozens of times more. Now their complicated relationship, and Latvala’s treatment of a woman he considered “one of my best friends,” may have become the kill shot in the Senate investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. “I knew it was true,” she recalled in an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald. “It was like, yeah, yeah and oh, yeah. I hated when we were in an elevator by ourselves.”

Jimmy Patronis backs expanding PTSD benefits for first responders” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Patronis, the head of the state agency that ensures businesses have workers’ compensation coverage for employees, is backing a bill that would give first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder workers’ compensation benefits even if they don’t have physical injuries. The proposed legislation would benefit first responded who suffer from PTSD due to a work-related event. “I’m putting the full weight of my office to increase benefits this legislative session,” Patronis said. The bill’s sponsors and supporters will hold a news conference on Tuesday to advocate for the proposal.

Danny Burgess falls in the Americans For Prosperity ‘support’ column.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida releases priority list for 2018 Legislative Session” via Florida Politics — A sampling of the “support” column of the 97-bill priority list: Rep. Danny Burgess and Sen. Tom Lee’s plan to stop direct primary care agreements from being regulated as insurance (HB 37/SB 80); another of Lee’s bills, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila in the House, that would ban pro sports teams from building stadiums on public land (HB 13/SB 352); and a proposal from Rep. Manny Diaz and Sen. Keith Perry that would add a “one-in, one-out” rule when it comes to new rules in the Florida Administrative Code (HB 791/SB 1268). And a handful from the “oppose” list: Rep. David Silvers’ and Sen. Annette Taddeo’s bills to create a new film incentives program (HB 341/SB 1606); A measure by Sen. Lauren Book that would require 75 percent of the students in a “School of Hope” to come in from a low-performing school (SB 216); and Sen. Kevin Rader’s “Florida Teacher Fair Pay Act,” which would bump the minimum salary for teachers up to $50,000 a year (SB 586).

Tobacco bond cap bill clears House panel—but is it fair? — A bill to repeal the state’s tobacco bond cap is moving in the Florida House. Whether it’s fair is another story. The measure (HB 6017), carried by GOP Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach, cleared its first committee last week by a unanimous 14-0 vote and moves to Appropriations. A companion bill (SB 124) is in the Senate. The aim is to do away with the limit in state law on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds after trial-jury verdicts. Tobacco companies have opposed a repeal; the state’s trial lawyers back it. An attempt last year died during the committee weeks leading up to the 2017 Legislative Session.

Senate panel to consider juvenile ‘Fight Club’ reforms” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Two measures that would provide more oversight to the state’s juvenile justice system, which is under scrutiny for its widespread use of unnecessary and excessive force on youth detainees. Sen. Brandes, the Pinellas County Republican, is sponsoring both bills. One that would expand responsibilities of the Florida Correctional Operations Oversight Council to include monitoring daily operations of correctional and juvenile facilities, and another one that would give lawmakers the power to the visit any of the 21 state youth detention centers “at their pleasure.” The proposals come in the wake of the Miami Herald “Fight Club” series that found systemic problems over a 10 year period.

Key committees to watch:

House considers hurricane report — The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness will consider the final 12-page report with dozens of recommendations. Meeting begins 9 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

Senate debates disaster preparation tax holiday — The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a proposal for a sales tax holiday in early June for disaster preparedness purchases (SB 620), filed by Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo. Meeting begins 10 a.m. in Room 401 of the Senate Office building.

Senate eyes offshore drilling moratorium — On the agenda for the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee is SR 550, from Gulf Breeze Republican Doug Broxson, which extends the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, areas the military uses for air and sea training. Meeting starts 10 a.m. in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

House targets human trafficking — a bill in front of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee (PCB CRJ 18-03) seeks to set minimum mandatory sentences for human-trafficking crimes. Meeting begins 11:30 a.m. in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

House considers expanding pharmacist powers — The House Health Quality Subcommittee will discuss HB 431, filed by Naples Republican Byron Donalds an Orlando Republican Rene Plasencia to allow pharmacists the ability to test and treat patients for influenza and Streptococcus. Meeting starts 11:30 a.m. in Room 306 of the House Office Building.

Senate committee talks workers’ comp expansion — The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will discuss SB 376, from Plantation Democrat Book to expand workers’ compensation insurance benefits for first responders, addressing issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Meeting begins 1:30 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

Lawmakers look to close fireworks loophole — The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee will consider closing a long-standing loophole in Florida fireworks sales HB 6037, from Tampa Republican James Grant, would end the prohibition on fireworks sales. Consumers have circumvented the ban through a loophole that allows the purchase of fireworks for agricultural purposes and frightening birds. Meeting starts Tuesday, 3 p.m. In Room 216 of the Capitol.

House considers changing laws on commercial vehicles — The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee will consider HB 1189, from Palatka Republican Bobby Payne, to make several changes to laws regulating commercial motor vehicles. Meeting begins 3 p.m. in Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

Senate talks windshield damage rules — The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will consider a proposal (SB 396) from Port Orange Republican Dorothy Hukill that seeks to require required inspections before damaged auto windshields are repaired or replaced. The bill is one element of “assignment of benefits” insurance reform. Meeting starts 4 p.m. in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

Senate seeks to ban Venezuela investments — A bill (SB 538) scheduled for the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee from Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia would ban state investments in companies doing business with Venezuela’s govenrment. Meeting begins 4 p.m. in Room 401 of the Senate Office Building.

Senate committee debates opioid epidemic — The Senate Health Policy Committee will debate a bill (SB 8) from Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto which tries to curb the state’s worsening opioid crisis. Meeting starts 4 p.m. in Room 412 of the Knott Building.

Governors Club Tuesday buffet menuTuesday’s lunch menu includes mixed green salad with assorted dressings, grilled vegetable salad, cucumber lime and cilantro salad, tomato basil soup, wild mushroom ravioli with Bolognese sauce, fried chicken, rosemary pork loin, grilled salmon Puttanesca, “Risi Bisi” rice, Tuscan white beans, Italian squash and Panna Cotta flan for dessert.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

Poll: GOP satisfaction with U.S. direction highest in 10 years” via Khorri Atkinson of Axios — 61 percent of Republicans are satisfied with the direction of the country, the highest level of satisfaction in a decade, according to a new Gallup Poll … 1 in 4 Republicans are “very satisfied” with how things are going. Overall, 29 percent of Americans are satisfied, including 9 percent “very satisfied” and almost 7 in 10 Americans (or 69 percent) dissatisfied. 7 percent of Democrats are satisfied; less than 1 percent “very satisfied.” 7 percent of Independents are “very satisfied” while 38 percent “very dissatisfied.” The poll was conducted between Jan. 2 and 7 among 1,024 adults. Gallup noted that it was done after the passage of the GOP’s sweeping tax overall bill, which it says appeased the Donald Trump base.

Bill Nelson is raking it in, to the tune of $8M, for his re-election bid.

Bill Nelson raises $2.4 million in fourth quarter 2017; $8 million on hand — The $2.4 million fourth-quarter haul means the state’s senior senator now has more than $8 million in the bank heading into the election year. Nelson received more than 30,600 contributions from more than 21,500 donors during the last three months of 2017 alone. Nelson’s campaign also picked up another key endorsement earlier this month when the League of Conservation Voters announced its endorsement of the Florida Democrat for re-election … In announcing its endorsement of Nelson, LCV noted Nelson’s long-standing opposition to offshore drilling near Florida’s coast and his effort to ensure clean air and water for all.

— “Nelson believes Trump administration trying to help propel Rick Scott toward Senate run” via John Rogers of WFLA-TV

Assignment editors — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King will take part in a Broward County Democratic Executive Committee meeting and townhall event. Meeting begins 1 p.m. at the Edwin F. Deicke Auditorium, 5701 Cypress Road in Plantation. Townhall begins 2 p.m. at the Wynmoor Village, 1310 Avenue of the Stars in Coconut Creek.

— “Val Demings picks up Democratic primary challenger in CD 10” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Elected officials and local leaders endorse Lauren Baer for Congress Baer was endorsed by state Sen. Kevin Rader, state Rep. Matt Willhite, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, and former Congressional Candidate Jonathan Chane. “True leaders find solutions, work with people from all backgrounds to get things done, and fight for what they believe in. Lauren Baer is a true leader. I trust that she will take her experience and fight every day for the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.” Rader said. “I trust that Lauren is the best candidate to represent this District’s values in Washington. She has spent her career fighting for others and not only does she have the experience, but she has the passion to advocate for the residents of CD 18 in Congress. I look forward to working closely with her to best serve our constituents,” Willhite added.

Jason Brodeur continues to lead Central Florida state Senate candidates in fundraising” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Brodeur raised more than $21,000 in December for his official, 2020 campaign for the Florida Senate, and another $59,000 for his unofficial Friends of Jason Brodeur political committee. Brodeur’s hauls bring his official fund to about $217,000 raised, with $141,000 left in the bank at the end of December; and Friends of Jason Brodeur to nearly $1.20 million raised and about $353,500 in the bank. He does have an opponent, Frederick Ashby, an Oviedo Democrat who did not report any campaign finance activity in December. Ashby’s state senate campaign had about $300 in it at the end of the year.

— “Bernie Fensterwald: Democrat wants to be true ‘citizen legislator’” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— STATEWIDE —

Mario Diaz-Balart won’t say if Trump disparaged immigrants in White House meeting” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald —  A high-stakes White House immigration meeting has devolved into a debate on whether Trump used the terms “shithole” or “shithouse” to refer to immigrants, and Rep. Diaz-Balart isn’t offering his version of the meeting, even though he was in the room. Diaz-Balart hasn’t said whether he sides with Sens. Durbin and Lindsey Graham, who say Trump used disparaging language, or Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who said they didn’t hear it. The Miami Republican has not confirmed or denied either of the accounts.

Mario Diaz-Balart remains tight-lipped about Donald Trump.

Airbnb touts El Salvador, Haiti, Africa; speaks out against discrimination” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — “2.7M guests from Airbnb decided that countries in Africa, El Salvador, and Haiti were beautiful enough to visit. When we embrace the world, we see its beauty,” tweeted Brian Chesky, co-founder and chief executive officer of Airbnb. “We want to empower the Airbnb hosts who call these communities home and encourage more travelers to visit these special and beautiful places,” the company stated in a news release. “At Airbnb, we believe in an open society and the power of connecting people from different communities and cultures,” the company stated. “We have opposed discriminatory policies that would limit travel and have urged Congress to protect Dreamers. Going forward, we will continue to advocate for policies that open the world and bring us all together.”

Rick Scott announces funding to help Puerto Rican Hurricane Maria refugees find work in Florida” via Drew Dixon of the Florida Times-Union —  Scott said a $1 million “investment” has been established for 12 state workforce development organizations to help some of the nearly 300,000 Puerto Ricans enter the Florida workforce after they relocated to the state following Maria … Much of the money is distributed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and will go to CareerSource Florida, which is a job development agency. Multiple CareerSource bureaus in the state will receive the funds to assist Puerto Rican refugees, including CareerSource in Flagler County.

Anti-smoking campaign could be trimmed” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — By a 3-2 vote, the Finance and Tax Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission backed a proposal that would cut from the state constitution a requirement that 15 percent of the funds from a landmark tobacco settlement be used for Tobacco Free Florida. The proposal would instead direct money toward cancer research. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association testified against the proposal, offered by state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican who serves on the Constitution Revision Commission. Chris Smith, a Constitution Revision Commission member and former state lawmaker … said he didn’t think it was appropriate to place spending requirements for an advertising and education campaigns in the state constitution. Smith said he considers each proposed constitutional amendment by asking himself the question: “Can this be done legislatively?”

An anti-smoking proposal from Jeanette Nunez could be trimmed by the CRC.

Controversial CRC environmental proposal is dead” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — After drawing widespread opposition from business and agriculture groups, a proposal to redefine legal standing for Floridians on environmental issues won’t go before voters in November. The Judicial Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission unanimously rejected the proposal (P 23), filed by commission member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, with opponents saying it was too broad. Thurlow-Lippisch, a former mayor of Sewall’s Point, acknowledged after the meeting that while the proposal may be “a little extreme,” she will continue to work on improving it as a citizens’ initiative. Under the proposal, “any person” would have a right to clean air and water, which includes the ability to “enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.” The “any person” language is what raised hackles of critics.

Assignment editors — A Florida Economic Estimating Conference will analyze the state’s economic issues starting 11:30 a.m. in Room 117 of the Knott Building of The Capitol.

Lee County sees alarming increase in opioid overdoses” via The Associated Press — Lee County saw 955 overdose cases in 2017, eight times more than the 171 overdoses reported in 2013, according to medical provider Lee Health … heroin and fentanyl deaths accounted for 61 deaths in 2016 in the Fort Myers area, while in Naples, they accounted for 27 deaths. Nearby Port Charlotte had eight deaths. Throughout Florida, the opioid epidemic claimed 5,725 lives in 2016, a 35 percent increase from the 4,242 Florida deaths in 2015, according to a Florida Medical Examiners report.

Red tide reemerges along Florida’s southwest coast” via The Associated Press — Medium counts of red tide organism were recorded in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties last week. Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Rick Bartleson says he found 700,000 cells per liter near a preserve west of Fort Myers although he said he hasn’t heard of any fish kills there … scientists have counted high levels of the algae linked to red tide in recent weeks along southwest Florida beaches.

— IN THE CABINET — 

With two term-limited members looking to leave legacies and one up for reelection, the state Cabinet will be active in pushing a few priorities this Legislative Session.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Patronis are tackling some tough problems, too, according to recent Associated Press interviews.

Opioids, wildfires and PTSD are among the issues prioritized by the Cabinet. Though the body cannot craft legislation themselves, their leadership in state government makes them a powerful and pragmatic voice, helping to guide legislators through the 60-day lawmaking process.

The Florida Cabinet has a number of irons in the fire this Session.

Here are some bits of each member’s agenda:

Bondi: The state’s top cop wants to make sexual misconduct, intimidation and harassment by state officials an ethical violation — a provision absent from current statutes. She’ll also continue her fight against the opioid crisis by supporting legislation that slaps more regulations on opioid prescriptions.

Putnam: The ag commissioner has a hot take — literally. Putnam believes Hurricane Irma’s wreckage could lead to more wildfires in the upcoming dry season. He says the leftover brush will be dried out and vulnerable to blazes. He’ll champion wage increases for firefighters this Session, along with equipment upgrades and money for preserving agricultural lands. He’s also asking for funds to research citrus-greening and taking steps to foil credit card skimmers.

Patronis: Also the state’s fire marshal, Patronis wants to expand workers’ compensation benefits to cover PTSD for firefighters and police officers. He also wants to help veterans with firefighting experience transition to related careers post-military service.

Dream team: Patronis and Putnam are working together to prevent companies from charging credit-freezing fees.

— OPINIONS —

Kasha Bornstein, Austin Coye: Expand syringe exchange; all Florida deserves Miami miracle” via Florida Politics — The 2016 IDEA bill allowed for only a single pilot program in Miami-Dade County … Nevertheless, in this short time, we’ve seen veritable miracles occur at the IDEA Syringe Exchange. Each case of HIV we prevent saves the state and taxpayers more than the cost of running a single syringe exchange in one year; and saves another family from untold anguish. However, the opioid crisis is not limited to Miami-Dade. Families throughout the state have lost parents, children, siblings and spouses to this scourge. Our results at the Miami IDEA Exchange reflect a basic tenet of public health policy: harm reduction saves lives. The rest of Florida deserves the results we’ve seen work in Miami. We need our legislators in Tallahassee to do the right thing and make syringe exchange available for the people of Florida.

— MOVEMENTS —

Marine Le Pen worked with Trump’s campaign pollster in the closing days of the French election” via Jules Darmanin of BuzzFeed — Le Pen hired Tony Fabrizio, a renowned pollster who worked on famously poll-obsessed Trump’s presidential run … Fabrizio exchanged ideas with Damien Philippot and Philippe Vardon, two members of Le Pen’s official campaign staff, as well as Frédéric Chatillon and Paul-Alexandre Martin, two other campaign aides. Vincent Harris, a U.S. campaign strategist that Le Pen had also brought onboard, also took part in the emails. One thread Fabrizio participated in took place in April 2017, just after a terrorist attack on the Champs-Elysées killed a police officer, days before the first round of voting opened. “Was he an immigrant?” Fabrizio asked in the email. “If he was an immigrant and committed crimes, had he been deported he couldn’t have attacked last night.” The day before, Fabrizio and Harris discussed conservative François Fillon‘s end-of-campaign strategy and the appropriate Le Pen response.

— ALOE —

FSU sold fewer bowl tickets than USF” via Noah Pransky of Shadow of the Stadium — A post-bowl report by Florida State University reveals the Seminoles’ disappointing football season resulted in the school having to “buy out” the overwhelming majority of tickets it was tasked with selling ahead of its Independence Bowl appearance. According to the FSU report, the school sold just 1,132 of the 6,000-plus tickets it was required to sell to the Dec. 27 game in Shreveport, La. — fewer than the disappointing number of tickets the University of South Florida sold to the Birmingham Bowl, held four days earlier. FSU’s total allotment for the game was 6,064 tickets, so the school gave 2,126 tickets away to local charities and members of the armed forces; 2,438 tickets went unused, and the remaining 400 or so were used by the university … poor showings at a bowl box office, where ticket guarantees can sometimes climb north of 10,000 tickets, can still eat away at hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue a school would have otherwise been able to put back into its programs.

Happy birthday to a great leader who is sure to have a second act, Jose Felix Diaz.

Tobacco bond cap bill clears House panel—but is it fair?

A bill to repeal the state’s tobacco bond cap is moving in the Florida House. Whether it’s fair is another story.

The measure (HB 6017), carried by GOP Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach, cleared its first committee last week by a unanimous 14-0 vote and moves to Appropriations.

A companion bill (SB 124) is in the Senate. The aim is to do away with the limit in state law on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds after trial-jury verdicts. 

Tobacco companies have opposed a repeal; the state’s trial lawyers back it. An attempt last year died during the committee weeks leading up to the 2017 Legislative Session.

Here’s how it works: Tobacco companies are required to put up bonds before they appeal unfavorable damages awarded to former smokers, but the state places limits on how much those bonds are.

The tobacco companies have said a repeal would be unfair because, in part, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule without a cap. And with some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they say.

The state’s trial lawyers, however, have supported a bond cap repeal. They say it will force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.

But again, the repeal seems to be a “solution in search of a problem” since no settling tobacco company has ever failed to pay a judgment.

One argument made was that these bond cap protections don’t benefit any other Florida business. And while that’s technically true, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

When it comes to the thousands of Engle progeny cases, the tobacco companies don’t get the benefit of a punitive damages caps on these lawsuits that any other company sued today would be protected by.

That means there can be awards in the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. And there have been. The bond cap legislation was implemented to keep the companies from having to post these huge bond numbers, which can be 100 percent of the verdict plus interest.

In 2014, these same companies came to the Legislature and pointed out there was an unlevel playing field because every other group that did business in the state was under one punitive damage statute and tobacco was under another.

The trial bar didn’t seem to think that was unfair.

Here’s the good news: The Senate version, filed in August by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing, suggesting the House bill – should it pass – will die on indifferent ears in the other chamber.

Top Republican lawmakers added major cash in December

Top Republican lawmakers posted big fundraising reports for their political committees in December, with future Senate President Wilton Simpson leading the pack at $427,000 raised last month.

Simpson’s committee, Jobs for Florida, took in 31 contributions from Dec. 1 through New Year’s Eve and a pair of committees chaired by Ryan Tyson – Floridians for a Stronger Democracy and Floridians United for Our Children’s Future – combined to give the Trilby senator $100,000 during the reporting period.

Simpson, who is set to take over as Senate President after the 2020 elections, also received $50,000 contributions from U.S. Sugar and JM Family Enterprises, with $25,000 a piece coming from Anheuser Busch and Trifoliata Development.

Spending came in at $58,000 for the month, including nearly $45,000 for Capitol Finance Consulting, leaving Simpson with about $2.74 million on hand at the start of 2018.

Following Simpson was Senate President Designate Bill Galvano, who tacked on $304,550 and spent $72,842 through his political committee, Innovate Florida.

His top donor was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which chipped in $50,000 through a pair of political committees, followed by five more donors at the $25,000 level, including public employee workers group AFSCME, Cardroom Tech, Teco Energy and Florida Power & Light.

Spending included nearly $30,000 in payments to Ground Game Solutions for fundraising consulting work, with another $25,000 heading to the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. After spending, Innovate Florida had $790,000 on hand.

Miami Lakes Rep. Jose Oliva, who will take over as House Speaker after the 2018 elections, added $190,000 to his Conservative Principles for Florida political committee in December.

Insurance company Florida Blue gave the HD 110 Republican a whopping $75,000 across three checks, followed by Publix and FPL at $25,000 each. Businessman Greg Lindberg chipped in $20,000 and Anheuser Busch added a $15,000 check on Dec. 8.

Oliva’s committee spent just $9,000 for the month, including $5,600 for a pair of consulting invoices and a $2,500 contribution to the Orange County Republican Executive Committee. Conservative Principles for Florida started 2018 with about $802,000 in the bank.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, who is set to become speaker in 2021, also posted a six-figure haul through his his political committee, Floridians for Economic Freedom.

The Palm Harbor Republican took in $148,000 across 28 contributions, and Florida Blue was his top donor as well after giving four checks that combined to $40,000. Floridians for a Stronger Democracy and Lindberg took the No. 2 spot at $15,000 a piece, followed by the Florida Prosperity Fund at $10,000.

Sprowls spent an even $50,000 last month leaving the committee with just under $820,000 in the bank to start the year.

Spending included $33,000 in payments to Strategic Image Management for Research and Consulting and a $15,000 contribution to Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy, a political committee chaired by political consultant Anthony Pedicini.

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