Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 223

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A look at Aaron Bean’s accuser, Carlos Slay

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

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

But equally blockbuster is the source of the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did not address the domestic violence injunctions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it has under Bittel.

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

 

Sunburn for 3.21.17 – Chamber’s Capitol Days; CRC kicks-off; A-dot-Bean’s accuser; Big poll on gambling; Happy b’day Chuck Hinson!

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

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

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Happy birthday to Tampa Electric’s Chuck Hinson. You’ll be shocked (get it, shocked?) to learn that he turns 65 years-old today.

FLORIDA CHAMBER’S CAPITOL DAYS KICKS-OFF 

When the Legislature is in session, everyone has a day for advocacy and action.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has claimed the next two.

The statewide business lobby kicks off its 2017 Capitol Days at the Turnbull Conference Center at Florida State University today. The two-day event gives members a chance to hear from Chamber officials, as well as legislative and business leaders. It’s also a chance for members to advocate on behalf of issues important to them.

“The Florida Chamber’s Capitol Days connects Florida’s business community with members of the Florida Legislature, and the governor and Cabinet to help make Florida more competitive,” said Syd Kitson, the chairman of the board, in a video.

Kitson is among those who will welcome attendees to the annual event when the conference begins at 1 p.m. Attendees will also hear from Mark Wilson, the Chamber’s president and CEO, and Jerry Parrish, the Chamber’s director of research, who is expected to give a presentation about Florida’s scorecard.

Attendees will also hear from the Chamber’s legislative experts, including Frank Walker, the vice president of government affairs; Christopher Emmanuel, the director of infrastructure & governance policy; Brittney Hunt, the director of talent, education & quality of life policy; and Carolyn Johnson, the director of business, economic development & innovation policy. The first day will wrap up with a trip to the Capitol, where attendees will hear from members of the Florida Legislature before getting a chance to act as citizen lobbyists.

The conference continues Wednesday, with a panel discussion called “Is Florida Closed for Business?,” featuring Eric Silagy, the president and CEO of Florida Power & Light; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; and Mike Grissom, the interim president and CEO of Enterprise Florida.

Also on tap for Wednesday: A discussion on insurance and legal reform, a presentation about the Constitution Revision Commission, and a panel on regulatory reform. Ken Lawson, the president and CEO of Visit Florida, and Carol Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, will also be on hand for a discussion called “Florida’s Tourism Industry: Sunshine or Rainy Days Ahead?”

The final day of the conference is expected to wrap up with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but not before one last speech. CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leaving his post at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session (whenever that might be), is scheduled to give the keynote address around 4:05 p.m. Wednesday.

NEW FLA. CHAMBER POLL SHOWS CLEAR WINNERS & LOSERS

Floridians are down on the Koch brothers, but up on the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

They’re worried about healthcare and jobs, but are less concerned about immigration and global warming. They are so-so on President Donald Trump, split on Gov. Rick Scott and tepid on Sen. Bill Nelson.

Those are just some of the revelations of a new Chamber of Commerce statewide poll. The survey of 600 likely Florida voters was conducted from March 6 through March 14 by Cherry Communications. It has a margin of error of 4 percent.

The findings are expected to be presented to members of the Florida Chamber Political Institute when it meets at 9 a.m. today as part of  Capitol Days. Here’s 10 takeaways from the survey:

— Florida voters have mixed feelings about the new president. Overall, 43 percent of Florida voters said they have a favorable opinion of the New York Republican (and part-time Florida man), while 50 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion. Unsurprisingly, Republicans are giving him top marks with 79 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him. The survey found 81 percent of Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of him.

— Half of Florida voters approve of the job Scott is doing as governor, with 42 percent of voters disapproving. The poll fond 76 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents think he’s doing a good job; while 77 percent of Democrats still give the Naples Republican a thumbs-down.

— Nelson fared about the same when it came to his approval numbers, with 47 percent of Florida voters saying they approve of the work he was doing on behalf of his constituents in the U.S. Senate.

— Florida voters seem to be pleased with the direction of the state. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said they believe Florida is heading in the right direction. Republicans and no party affiliation voters, according to the polling memo, were “especially optimistic” with 72 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of no party affiliation voters saying things are heading in the right direction.

— A majority (81%) of voters say they are “about the same or better off financially” than they were a year ago. According to the polling memo, “party identification has virtually no effect on the attitudes about Floridians financial situation.”

— When it comes to the top concerns for Floridians, healthcare and the economy are No. 1. The survey found “Healthcare/Obamacare” and “Jobs and the Economy” were tied with 14 percent, followed by education. Immigration and global warming are issues that “still concern Florida voters,” according to the polling memo. The survey found 8 percent said immigration was their No. 1 concern, while 7 percent selected global warming.

— Just 13 percent of likely Florida voters have a favorable opinion of the Koch brothers. One-third of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the two men, who are tied to the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. According to the survey, 20 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of the two men.

— Personal injury lawyers don’t fare much better: 67 percent of Florida voters said trial attorneys benefit the most from a lawsuit, while 16 percent said the victim benefits the most. The survey found 72 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independent voters believed trial attorneys saw the most benefit from a lawsuit.

— Here’s another hit for trial attorneys: 71 percent of Floridians think “making money is the driving force for personal injury trial lawyers,” according to the polling memo. The survey found 80 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents said they thought personal injury lawyers were “just in it for the money.”

— Wondering if there was any good news? If you’re the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the answer is heck yeah! The survey found 54 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the statewide business association, compared to 11 percent percent who have an unfavorable view of the group.

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CARLOS BERUFF: CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION WON’T WASTE TAXPAYERS’ MONEY OR TIME via Florida Politics – The newly-formed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) won’t spend time on changes that can’t pass at the ballot box, its chairman said Monday. “If the public doesn’t feel overwhelmingly supportive of (a proposed amendment), then why do it?” said Beruff, the Manatee County homebuilder appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. The panel held an organizational meeting in the Capitol … The 37-member panel meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document, but its suggestions have to be approved by 60 percent of voters during the next statewide election. When asked if he’ll authorize polling to know what will make the cut and what won’t, he said, “That’ll probably be part of the plan but I’m not sure.”

RICHARD CORCORAN: ‘WE’RE READY’ FOR A SPECIAL SESSION via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – He made the remark to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club … in a luncheon speech about the House’s insistence that Enterprise Florida be abolished. He called EFI an “absolute cesspool” that’s “unreformable.” What’s needed, Corcoran said, is “a true and fair and just free market system,” a remark that brought applause from the audience of about 200 people. Here’s Corcoran, verbatim, on the need for a special session if necessary to abolish Enterprise Florida: “So last year, we zeroed them out. We said we’re not giving you any more incentive money and we thought that was the end of story. And this summer, we said OK, now that we’ve zeroed them out and we’ve said this is a horrendous program, why are we leaving the law on the books? Might as well delete that, too. And so we deleted that and now we’re in the current furor that you have. But I can assure you, they will be zeroed out again. And if we have to go to special session, we’re ready. Because we’re right.”

AFP-FL LAUNCHES DIRECT MAIL CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT LAWMAKERS WHO BACKED BILL TO KILL ENTERPRISE FLORIDA via Florida Politics — The statewide organization launched a direct mail campaign Monday in districts of state lawmakers who supported a proposal (HB 7005) Enterprise Florida and other economic incentive programs. The mailer, according to the organization, is meant to “educate citizens in the districts of legislators that voted to eliminate corporate welfare.” “Corporate welfare is the result of government, at any level, picking winners and losers by redistributing our hard-earned tax dollars to big business and special interests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The leaders of the Florida House that have voted for H.B. 7005, vote to level the playing field for Florida’s small businesses and taxpayers,” said Chris Hudson, the organization’s state director, in a statement.

FIRST ON #FLAPOL – DOROTHY HUKILL CANCER-FREE, WILL MISS REMAINDER OF 2017 SESSION OUT OF ‘ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION’ via Florida Politics — In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, the Port Orange Republican said her team of physicians informed her that “post treatment tests show no remaining cancer and they are optimistic of a cancer free full recovery.” While Hukill said she hoped that would signal the end of her treatment, her doctors recommended “one more round of radiation treatments in an abundance of caution.”… In her letter to Negron on Monday, she said additional radiation treatments will unfortunately mean she “will be unable to return to Tallahassee prior to the completion of the 2017 Regular Session. “During this time, I will continue to be part of the legislative process from the District and I look forward to returning to Tallahassee soon,” she wrote. … Negron said Hukill will continue to manager her “district offices, staff, bills, and committee responsibilities remotely during this time.”

KIM DANIELS ACCUSED OF USING CAMPAIGN FUNDS FOR PERSONAL EXPENSES via Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union – The allegations stem from 2015, when Daniels was running for re-election to the Jacksonville City Council. According to records obtained from the Elections Commission, an investigation was launched after a complaint was filed that year about a $4,000 expenditure listed on her campaign finance report. Daniels is accused of using the money to purchase a magazine advertisement promoting a book she wrote called “The Demon Dictionary.” The advertisement, published in Shofar Magazine alongside an article in which Daniels discussed Jacksonville politics, encouraged readers to purchase the book without any mention of her political campaign.

TWEET, TWEET: @AGGancarski: Campaign finance trouble bubbles up for Kim Daniels – This was “BREAKING NEWS” five days ago.

A LOOK AT AARON BEAN’S ACCUSER, CARLOS SLAY via Florida Politics – The Naples Daily News isn’t a usual go-to source on northeast Florida politics, but it dropped a blockbuster story about Sen. Bean … The claim: “Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically.” But equally blockbuster is the source of the story … Carlos Slay, a self-styled “public advocate” who lost a contentious race to Drew last year.

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

Slay is also a man with serious anger management issues. Slay has some credibility issues, and some with anger management as well, as multiple injunctions for protection against domestic violence suggest. Slay got thumped in his race for Tax Collector. But at least in terms of an ephemeral March 2017 news cycle, he scored a pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile, when it comes to the charges being levied against Bean: consider the original source.

TWEET, TWEET: @NateMonroeTU: Interesting. Details about the SAO report seem relevant here, at least to this Tallahassee neophyte.

TOUGH COLUMN – CUTTING FOOD STAMPS SOUNDS GOOD TO THE GUYS WEARING GUCCI via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times – Let’s start with the tax savings. There are none. At least none that will affect Florida’s budget. Other than administrative costs, the entire food stamp program is funded by the federal government. So, in essence, we are paying taxes to the IRS in Washington, D.C., and telling the agency to keep the change. If you are ideologically pure, you could applaud the idea that Florida is rejecting its federal allowance and saving money for America as a whole. But, somehow, I don’t think the rest of America cares. The great majority of Floridians will never notice if this bill passes or fails. It will not reduce their taxes, and it will not change their lives for better or worse. he only people who will care are the politicians who see this as an ideological victory. And the hungry children and seniors left in their wake.

BILL EXEMPTING CREDIT UNIONS FROM DECEPTIVE PRACTICES LAWS PASSES PANEL via Florida Politics – The committee substitute for House Bill 1347, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones, would exempt state or federal credit unions from Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act under the assumption that credit unions get all the regulation and oversight they need from other, mostly federal banking laws and regulations. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee unanimously approved it, after no one expressed any opposition. “The current statute provides exemptions for most regulated Florida industries… based on the idea that regulated industries are properly governed by their respective regulatory authorities and their respective corrective actions from those regulatory authorities,” said Democratic state Rep. Richard Stark, who presented the bill to the committee in Jones’ absence.

— “Autism law enforcement training heads to Florida House floor” via Sascha Cordner of WFSU

“DON’T FEAR THE DEBATE?” – Anders Croy, the Communications Director for the House Democrats, update: “In the spirit of transparency, the House Democratic Caucus would like to provide you with a quick update on the breakdown of bills that have been heard in committee as we kick off Session tomorrow morning. We’ll be keeping a running count each week as we proceed through Session. As of Tuesday, 537 bills have been placed on the calendar in the Florida House. Of those, 429 are sponsored by Republicans, 73 are sponsored by Democrats, and 35 bills have bi-partisan prime co-sponsors. To put that in a percentage, 79.9% of the bills that have been heard are Republican bills, 13.6% are Democratic, and 6.5% are bipartisan.

***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.***

LATEST LAKE OKEECHOBEE ALGAE BLOOM HAS SCIENTISTS CRYING FOWL via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm – A small blue-green algae bloom sighted in southern Lake Okeechobee had scientists wondering if another nasty, algae-choked summer could lie ahead for the St. Lucie River. A photo of the bloom along a boat ramp at Pahokee on the lake’s southern shore by Barry Rosen, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, was shared via email by numerous environmental scientists. Toxic algae from a massive bloom in the lake was discharged into the St. Lucie last summer, resulting in thick mats of noxious goo in the water at Stuart. “(It) looks like the mild winter is favoring early bloom formation on Lake O … or maybe this was happening at this time last year to this degree and was not observed,” James “Jim” Riley, an environmental engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, wrote in an email. “Would like to stay ahead of the news media on this situation.” Too late.

POLL: MOST VOTERS DOWN ON EXPANDING GAMBLING via Florida Politics – The vast majority of Florida voters—84 percent—“want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows. The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a press release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group. The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

TWEET, TWEET: @SLRoss528: this is an outlier from every credible poll I’ve seen in the last 7 years

HOUSE GAMBLING BILL SET FOR WAYS & MEANS TODAY via Florida Politics – The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this Tuesday [today], records show. The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday. Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5. The Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8) has cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

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

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill that would make changes to the state’s public assistance program when it meets at 8 a.m. in 404 House Office Building. The House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee will discuss a bill meant to crack down on “sanctuary cities” when it meets at 12:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building. The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to discuss a bill that would get rid of an insurance industry tax credit to pay for a cut in the state’s communications services tax when it meets at 9 a.m. in 401 Senate Office Building. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will discuss a bill preventing local governments from restricting the use of vacation rentals when it meets at 2 p.m. in 110 Senate Office Building. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee will discuss a proposal to require drug tests for public assistance applicants during its meeting at 4 p.m. in 401 Senate Office Building.

DOES AIRBNB DECREASE HOUSING VALUES, AS MIAMI BEACH MAYOR SAYS? via Amy Sherman of PolitiFact – Philip Levine went on a Facebook rant against Airbnb after a conservative publication criticized city officials for supporting fines against the short-term rental company. He said officials in New York, San Francisco and Miami also don’t support Airbnb. Why? “Because it destroys neighborhoods, buildings, decreases real estate values and increases costs for workforce housing!!!!!” he wrote in a March 2 Facebook comment … Some research and news articles have argued that Airbnb has decreased the rental supply and therefore is driving up prices, but it’s questionable whether all of those units can be described as “workforce housing” in already expensive areas with a lack of affordable housing. Levine did not point to evidence proving that Airbnb has decreased real estate values. It’s too soon to fully assess the impact of Airbnb on housing markets, and that’s difficult to do when it only represents a small fraction of the housing supply in any city or region. We rate this claim Mostly False.

PROPOSED ALL ABOARD FLORIDA REGULATIONS: DRIVEN BY SAFETY CONCERNS OR POLITICS? via Ed Dean of the Sunshine State News – State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, an opponent of the rail project, has introduced “The Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.” Mayfield’s proposal would make high-speed rail companies pay for the installation of safety measures, including fencing along certain areas of the track that could be dangerous for pedestrians. Mayfield’s bill also makes train companies develop safety measures focused on train engineers and gate malfunctions. The bill is gaining traction in Tallahassee as it cleared the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously. Weighing in on the safety issue, Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE) Chairman Brent Hanlon says Mayfield’s bill will ensure people will be safer at high speed rail crossings across the state. “This legislation will address public safety concerns in any community across the state,” Hanlon insisted. But some question the merit of this legislation. “Is this bill really about safety or is it about politics?” Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish asked. Parrish, who supports AAF, added, “enough is enough.”

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SETTLEMENT REACHED IN GULF POWER’S BID FOR $106.8 MILLION BASE RATE INCREASE via Florida Politics – Gulf Power Co. will settle for nearly $62 million per year in increased rates for its customers in Northwest Florida, rather than the $106.8 million it had planned to seek from the Public Service Commission, environmental groups announced Monday. The deal would guarantee the utility a return on investment to Gulf Power’s stockholders averaging 10.25 percent — more than the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the PSC, had argued was justified. …  The monthly fixed charge on residential would have climbed from the existing $18 to nearly $50. According to the company, the average monthly bill will climb from $144 to $151. … PSC Chairwoman Julie Immanuel Brown said the commission would hear arguments on the merits of the agreement on April 4, and could vote on it then.

RICK SCOTT DEFENDS AYALA DECISION, STILL ‘LOOKING AT OPTIONS’ via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “The first thing I did is I asked her to recuse herself, and I talked to her and she said she wasn’t going to so I moved the case to Brad King,” Scott told reporters in the Capitol. “Last week she said she was fine with that, today she’s changed her position. And so, the case has been assigned to Brad King and that was the right decision.” Some Central Florida lawmakers have called on Scott to suspend or remove Ayala from office because she declared she wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Scott, though, isn’t going that far yet, but he’s not ruling it out either. “With regard to her actions we’ll continue to look at our options. Right now I’m focused on Markeith Loyd,” Scott said.

BOB CORTES CALLS FOR SCOTT TO SUSPENDAYALA, REASSIGN ALL HER CAPITAL CASES via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Cortes, who was among the first critics of Ayala’s “no death penalty” policy announced last week, said in a letter to Scott that he has learned Ayala already is withdrawing death-penalty charges in other cases besides the one that has dominated news since her announcement that of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Among them, Cortes said, is that of Larry D. Perry, who faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse of his son in 2013. Cortes, whose District 30 includes Maitland and other parts of north Orange County in Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit, advised Scott that it is “obvious these cases will not be handled in the manner they should be by the current state attorney. “I respectfully ask that you suspend State Attorney Aramis Ayala from her position,” he wrote.

LAWMAKERS COULD CUT AYALA’S OFFICE BUDGET OVER DEATH PENALTY STANCE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Rep. Scott Plakon, a member of the House Judicial Appropriations Subcommittee, had previously recommended a 10 percent cut to all 20 judicial districts across the state as part of a budget exercise. Now, they could slash the Ninth Circuit even more. “In light of recently reported events taking place in the State Attorney’s office of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, our team feels it prudent to revisit our recommendation to the committee as regards to their budget,” Plakon told the committee. “Previously, we used more or less an across the board approach and now believe a more targeted approach might be more appropriate.” Plakon would only say he wants to take another look at the budget recommendations, and said he hasn’t looked at the specifics of how much he would cut or where.

MORE THAN 100 JUSTICES, JUDGES, LAW PROFESSORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR AYALA via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – They signed a letter to Gov. Scott expressing their support Orlando State Attorney Ayala‘s right to decide not to pursue death penalty cases and urging the governor to back off. The signatories include former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court Harry Lee Anstead and Gerald Kogan joined with three dozen current or former judges and prosecutors and approximately 90 law professors. “We are deeply troubled by your effort to relieve State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala of her constitutional and statutory duties in the Markeith Loyd case. We believe that this effort to remove State Attorney Ayala infringes on the vitally important independence of prosecutors, exceeds your authority, undermines the right of residents in Orange and Osceola counties to the services of their elected leaders, and sets a dangerous precedent,” the letter declares.

SOME NOT BUYING STATE ATTORNEY REPORT CALLING MENTALLY ILL INMATE’S DEATH ACCIDENTAL via Sascha Cordner of WFSU – Back in 2014, then Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews promised he’d fire anyone involved in the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution. Guards took Rainey to the showers after he’d smeared human waste all over himself. And, later, after multiple firings and resignations, Crews along with lawmakers spoke of the important need for reforms … now some five years after Rainey’s death, Miami Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has decided to close the investigation without filing any criminal charges. Fernandez-Rundle also deemed there was no malice or premeditated intent to kill on the part of the correctional officers. And, she further concluded the shower used in the Rainey incident has never proven to be unsafe, adding there were no burns on the body—according to the Medical Examiner. But, George Mallinckrodt calls that “flimsy.” The psychotherapist was a former mental health counselor at Dade CI. He says it also doesn’t add up—given reported accounts of some of the prison guards, medical personnel, and inmates who say Rainey’s skin was peeling off on contact.

COURT: FLORIDA DAIRY’S SKIM MILK IS SKIM MILK, NOT IMITATION via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press – A small, all-natural dairy isn’t being deceptive when it calls it’s skim milk “skim milk,” a federal appeals court ruled in a victory for the creamery that’s fighting the state’s demand to label the product “imitation” because vitamins aren’t added to it. The ruling overturns a decision … when a federal judge sided with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which said the Ocheesee Creamery couldn’t label it’s skim milk “skim milk” because the state defines the product as skim milk with vitamin A added. The state instead said that if the creamery wanted to sell the product, it should label it as “imitation” skim milk. But that didn’t sit well with a dairy whose whole philosophy is not to add ingredients to natural products. So instead of complying, the creamery has dumped thousands of gallons of skim milk down the drain rather than label it as an imitation milk product. “The State was unable to show that forbidding the Creamery from using the term ‘skim milk’ was reasonable,” the three-judge, Jacksonville-based panel wrote in its ruling.

***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.***

APPOINTEDPatti Ketcham to the Florida Real Estate Commission.

CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE ANNOUNCES NEW HIRE – Jake Stofan will be an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda’s Capitol News Service, the company said Monday. Stofan, a Jacksonville native, graduated from the University of North Florida last year with a multimedia journalism degree. He went on to work at KVRR in Fargo, North Dakota before accepting a job at Capitol News Service, starting next month. The self-described political junkie said he’s “incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to cover legislative matters that are shaping the future of his home state.”

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA — As Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s bold stand against the death penalty sparks outrage, Trimmel Gomes latest episode of The Rotunda features the man standing on both sides of the controversy, Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee. As Chairman of the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Bracy sponsored the bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law requiring a unanimous jury for the death sentence. But Bracy also criticizes Florida’s death penalty process as inconsistent and inadequate. Gomes then discusses Sen. Aaron Bean’s secret budget appropriation for a friend as reported by Arek Sarkissian of Naples Daily News. Plus a recap of the “sometimes” annual Press Skits with FloridaPolitics.com publisher, Peter Schorsch.

MUST-READ OP-EDTSO CONCERT PAYS TRIBUTE TO TEREZÍN VICTIMS via Steve Uhlfelder for the Tallahassee Democrat – Next Saturday night, the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, joined by FAMU Concert Choir, will tell the inspiring story of the historic performances by Nazi prisoners of Verdi’s “Requiem” at Terezín concentration camp. This event has special meaning to me, because Terezín is where my grandparents died. It was a terrible place where Jews from Europe were herded before being sent on to their death in other concentration camps. In Terezín itself, Jewish prisoners were killed or died of hunger, disease and despair. This place of genocide is located in a beautiful region of the Czech Republic, surrounded by green hills and quiet rivers. My grandparents were among the first group of Jews to be transported there from western Germany … I had been able to make the trip to Terezín that was too difficult for my father, and pay respects to his parents as he was never able to. My father would be comforted to know that the memory of his parents – and the lessons of the Holocaust – will never be forgotten.

SHARERS RATHER THAN AUTHORS MORE IMPORTANT ON SOCIAL MEDIA via David Bauder of The Associated Press – The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story’s actual source in determining whether readers believe it, a study by the Media Insight Project has found. In a previous study, consumers said they paid greater heed to where the story originated. But the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, set up an experiment that found something different. News organizations are keenly interested in research that tracks consumer habits in a rapidly changing media world. Facebook was the top non-television source for election news cited by both supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in last fall’s presidential campaign, according to the Pew Research Center. Businesses grew to churn out false stories that people would share online.

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here.***

GOVERNORS CLUB TUESDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – It’s All-American day at the Governors Club with a Tuesday lunch buffet that includes KC steak soup; egg salad; macaroni salad; seasonal greens; three dressing sections; fried chicken; meatloaf with brown gravy; garlic Yukon mashed potatoes; glazed carrots and green beans.

AFTER NCAA BERTH, FLORIDA ST. TOP SCORERS WEIGH DECISIONS via Joe Reedy of The Associated Press – Florida State made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, but whether the Seminoles (26-9) can return next season will depend on the decisions of their three leading scorers. Dwayne BaconJonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes said after Saturday’s 91-66 loss to Xavier in the second round that they had not reached a decision and had no timetable. All three though are expected to put their names into consideration for the NBA draft. If all three depart, sophomore Terance Mann would be the leading returning scorer (8.4 points). Even with Bacon and Isaac, coach Leonard Hamilton extolled his team’s depth throughout the year as he used 12 players per game. Freshmen guards Trent Forrest and CJ Walker each averaged over 12 minutes per game and will be counted on more next season.

WHERE’S THE LINE? THEME PARKS AIMING TO ELIMINATE THEM via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – At Universal Orlando Resort’s new “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” ride, waiting in line has been replaced by lounging on couches and listening to a racy barber shop quartet sing until it’s time to enter the ride. Universal is leading the theme-park charge into “virtual lines” that give visitors options for exploring a park or watching live entertainment instead of the tedium of looking at someone’s back as you inch forward step by step to the thrill ride … Later this year, when Universal opens its new Volcano Bay water park in Orlando, visitors will be given wristbands that will alert them when it’s their turn to get on a ride. “I think it represents the future of what we’re going to be doing in themed entertainment,” [Universal creative director JasonSurrell said. “I kind of joke that this is the first step on a journey that will eventually lead us to a generation that doesn’t even know about theme park lines. It will be ‘What do you mean, wait in a queue? What’s that, Grandpa?'”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to future Speaker Paul Renner (wait, did we just say that aloud?). Also celebrating are great Floridians, Fran Haasch, Richard Gonzmart, Mary Repper and Ken Walters.

#SuitsForSession clothing drive brings in more than 3,000 donations

Nearly 200 job seekers will be able to wear a new-to-them suit as they hunt for employment, thanks to a clothing donation drive put on by ridesharing company Uber and Volunteer Florida Wednesday.

The second annual “#SuitsForSession” campaign collected professional clothing donations at the Capitol and also sent out Uber drivers to pick up donations free of charge. The company said 75 bags of clothes were gathered through the app.

“Wednesday’s second annual #SuitsForSession Capitol service project was a tremendous success, and we are proud to have played a role in making the donation of items easy and convenient for Uber users. We are thankful for the generosity of those in Leon County, who came together to collect thousands of items,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber Florida general manager for Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Among the donations were 195 complete suits, as well as 2,072 pieces of women’s clothing and 1,013 pieces of men’s clothing. The #SuitsForSession drive also brought in just shy of 200 accessories, such as shoes and belts.

“Volunteer Florida is thrilled by the volume and quality of the donations we received through #SuitsForSession,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “We are grateful for our partnership with Uber, which made it possible for so many people to give.”

Spellman said Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly, Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Department of Economic Opportunity Director Cissy Proctor and Surgeon General and Department of Health Secretary Celeste Philip, M.D., were among those stopping by the Capitol donation drop off with some of their clothing items.

“It was an honor to sponsor #SuitsForSession 2017,” Simpson said. “I had a chance to visit the #SuitsForSession display at the Capitol, and the amount of donations was remarkable! I am proud of those who came together to provide donations for job-seekers statewide.”

More than 30 organizations joined Uber and Volunteer Florida to put on the one-day drive, which entered donors into a contest to win a suit from Nic’s Toggery, a gift certificate from women’s clothing store Narcissus, and a custom sports coat from Arron’s Fine Custom Clothing.

The donated items will be distributed over the coming days to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, various locations of Bridges of America, as well as and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee.

Sunburn for 3.20.17 – Budget realities; A-dot-Bean’s papers; Jeb vs. Charlie on Everglades; CRC’s first meeting today

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

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

FLORIDA’S ECONOMY STILL GROWING, BUT BUDGET CUTS STILL LOOM

State economists say Florida’s economy is growing, but it won’t be enough to dissuade legislators from cutting state spending.

State officials met Friday to draw up new forecasts to predict how much the state will collect in taxes over the next few years. The forecasts will be used by state legislators to draw up this year’s budget.

Economists predict the state’s main budget account will grow by 4.4 percent during the fiscal year that ends in June. Those forecasts estimate growth of nearly 4 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The changes are projected to add $115 million to state accounts.

But that’s a small adjustment given the size of the $82 billion state budget. Citing a potential shortfall over the next few years, House Republicans are planning to cut $1.4 billion.

— “Florida’s revenue picture improves a little — but not enough to really matter” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics

“IF WE ARE GOING TO WIN THIS YEAR, IT’S BECAUSE OF SEN. JACK LATVALA.” via Gary Fineout of The Fine Print – It’s no secret that Latvala … now the Senate budget chief – has had up and down relationships with a lot of people in the political process, including the current governor. But Latvala … is now becoming more and more aligned with Scott in his ongoing feud with House Republicans over the fate of the state’s tourism marketing program and the state’s economic development agency. Latvala has already sounded off that he does not agree with the House approach – which is to completely eliminate Enterprise Florida and place tight restrictions on Visit Florida.

This ongoing disagreement threatens to prevent the GOP-controlled Legislature from passing a new state budget. But it was still a tad surprising to see Scott – caught on camera last week – showering Latvala with effusive praise …  “If we’re going to win this year, it’s because of Sen Jack Latvala,” Scott said. “He’s going to stand with us all the way through. And he’s going to take a lot of arrows for doing it. I’m going to tell you he’s got broad shoulders and he can do it.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will host a Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable with business owners, economic development leaders, tourism leaders, and community members to discuss the local economic impact of VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida. Roundtable begins 10:30 a.m. at Harbinger Sign, 5300 Shad Road in Jacksonville.

RICHARD CORCORAN DEFENDS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES TO PENSACOLA GROUP via Joseph Baucum of the Pensacola News-Journal – “What they’re talking about is an unfair system where they get to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and when that happens the entire marketplace loses,” Corcoran argued of Enterprise Florida proponents, while speaking to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club. As part of its functions, the agency recruits outside businesses to the state through administering and doling out incentives to companies such as tax breaks and funding. “Instead of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, which does more on its own to lift people out of poverty, they ought to be using that money for education, for infrastructure, for giving back taxes to the people or broad-based, fair tax cuts in the business marketplace, which is why people move here more than any other reason,” he continued.

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DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 13; NFL Draft – 38; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 45; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 45; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 166; Election Day 2017 – 231; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 269.

DOCUMENTS: AARON BEAN HELPED FRIEND WITH SECRET $1 MILLION STATE PAYMENT via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – A state senator helped a friend’s business obtain $1 million hidden in the state budget after the two discussed how the lawmaker would promote the business, budget documents and emails show. Sen. Aaron Bean helped secure a $1 million special appropriation in this year’s budget for an early mental health screening program run by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. Bean and John Drew have been friends for more than a decade and have supported each other politically. The Drews operate Florida Psychological Associates in Fernandina Beach in northeastern Florida. They used the state money to start a pilot program that conducts early mental health assessments for schoolchildren and criminal defendants. Part of the program includes the development of a web application named “Celphie.” Bean … initially asked legislative leaders to add nearly $700,000 as a line item in the state budget for the program, but that request was knocked down to $100,000 and eventually rejected by House members, records show.

>>>Couldn’t an alt headline for this story be, “Senator helps secure funding for program he supports”

SENATE TAX CUT PROPOSAL, AS IS, MAY BE ON THE ROPES via Florida Politics – A tax cut that’s a priority of Senate President Negron is running into resistance from his fellow senators. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Negron’s right hand in the chamber, is running the bill (SB 378) to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers. On Friday evening, Flores said “there have been conversations” among some senators—she didn’t say whom—who want to  restructure the bill, still taking the tax credits from the insurance industry but instead applying them to another cost driver … When asked if a compromise could be struck, Flores said she wanted the legislation “to be a collaborative bill, so right now this is a work in progress.”

SOUTH FLORIDA JEWISH PROGRAMS COULD BE HIT BY BUDGET CUTS via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – A Jewish Family Services caretaking program for survivors in southeast Palm Beach County could lose $92,946 from its annual $2.5 million budget, while the Federation Transportation Services, which provides transportation for low-income seniors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, could lose $143,640 from its $922,000 budget. State Sen. Kevin Rader … who represents the area covered by the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program, called the cuts “meshugganah,” meaning crazy. The money is part of a $20 million budget cut proposed by state Sen. Anitere Flores … the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. She did not respond to multiple interview requests. Rader is also on the committee.

WHY DO HOUSE REPUBLICANS KEEP DRIVING MONEY INTO THE WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME? via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – The House voted March 10 by a 87-28 vote to kill 24 tax credits — but saved the one paid to the Hall of Fame. [The] hard line against incentives makes the golf museum a curious outlier. World Golf Hall of Fame president Jack Peter said the facility has never come close to hitting 300,000 in annual attendance, but it has increased marketing to attract golfers to Florida. The facility frequently advertises the Hall of Fame during PGA Tour events. He said the promotional value was $6.5 million just last year. Peter said he would like the attendance to grow, but insists the facility is still benefiting the state in promotional value. For every $1 the state invests in the Hall of Fame, it loses every dollar. And the state still incurs other costs, meaning for every dollar the state invests it gets nothing back and loses an additional 8 cents for every dollar invested. That translates to a loss of $4 million over the life of the 1998 agreement in addition to the $50 million the state paid in tax credits.

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JOE NEGRON MEETS WITH ABOUT 400 IN PAHOKEE via TCPalm.com –  Kamara Woodson, of Belle Glade, was one of about 400 in the audience during a discussion with Senate President Negron and other area politicians at Pahokee Middle/High School in Pahokee. Many Glades residents are upset by the proposal of Senate Bill 10, headed by Negron, that would take 60,000 acres out of production in order to minimize Lake Okeechobee water being discharged to the east and west. “Every community has a responsibility,” Negron told the crowd.

LAKE O LAND BUY WILL KILL JOBS, RUIN GLADES, RESIDENTS TELL STATE via Susan Salisbury of the Palm Beach Post – Dozens of machinists union members wore black T-shirts emblazoned with “Save our Jobs” in white letters. Sugar cane and vegetable farmers bore green-and-white “Stop the land grab,” and “Hands off my tractor,” signs. Others hung toilet seats around their necks, stating, “Clean up your own septic mess,” a reference to the estimated 250,000 to 600,000 septic tanks draining into Lake Okeechobee from the north. The auditorium was filled to its capacity of 400, and several hundred people who quietly waited outside were turned away. Police estimated the total number of people who turned out at 1,000. “We cannot, do not and will not support SB 10 as it is today,” said Lynda Moss, a Pahokee resident whose family owns and operates Moss Towing and Trucking in South Bay. “The devastation from the loss of jobs is unimaginable at this point.” Years ago, farmers were mandated to clean up Lake Okeechobee and have exceeded their goals, Moss said.

SHOT: “Charlie Crist pushed for Everglades restoration plan he scrapped in 2008” via Sunshine State News

CHASER: “Charlie Crist stood in the way of Everglades restoration” via Jeb Bush for Sunshine State News

CHRIS SPROWLS SEEKS TO SAVE CHILDREN’S INSURANCE PLAN via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times – The plan, known as Sunshine Health Stars Plus, covered nearly 10,000 children across the state, some of whom had special needs and were unable to get coverage elsewhere. Despite its popularity, the plan was canceled last year, after the public-private organization Florida Healthy Kids said it had become too expensive to offer. Plan administrators blamed the Affordable Care Act, which ushered in regulations that mandated more benefits and abolished spending limits on essential health benefits for children. Last week, Sprowls sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, explaining what had happened to the Stars Plus plan. In the letter, he asked Price to consider exempting the plan from some of ACA’s requirements so that Healthy Kids could “continue to offer quality, affordable care to the children of Florida.”

LEGISLATORS FOCUS ON HOSPITAL COSTS, COMPETITION via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News – The House speaker and the Governor have clashed often and early in this year’s legislative session. But they agree the certificate-of-need law that governs how many hospitals can be built should be repealed. This year, lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills to repeal certificate-of-need laws for hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. The governor has publicly supported the concept. But many lawmakers think hospitals, which are under financial fire from all sides this year, are the biggest priority. If anything passes, it probably will be a modified version that excludes hospices and nursing homes, said Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican nurse and hospital administrator from Sebring. “I think the current discussion is being geared to focus on hospitals,” Grimsley said.

LAWMAKERS SHIFT COURSE ON IMMIGRATION POLICY via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Trump has realigned the state’s immigration debate and GOP lawmakers are moving in the opposition direction … The heated immigration rhetoric from the presidential campaign is echoing across Florida’s Capitol as state officials debate legislation designed to crack down on immigrants who do not have legal status. “At the end of the day Donald Trump won and he won on a strong immigration platform,” said state Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is sponsoring one of the immigration bills and co-sponsoring two others. “We’re a nation of laws and here in Florida we’re no different; people have to respect the rule of law.” GOP lawmakers are proposing harsher penalties for immigrants in the country illegally who commit violent crimes, punishing local governments that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, rolling back the college tuition benefit approved in 2014, forcing businesses to verify the legal status of their employees and a range of other immigration proposals.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS DECRY BILL THAT WOULD LIMIT REGULATIONS via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel – A bill in the Legislature that would limit the authority of cities and counties to regulate businesses has Central Florida governments worried they could lose control over everything from noise restrictions to strip clubs. The legislation (HB 17) proposed by Rep. Randy Fine would prohibit local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses, professions or occupations unless the restrictions are specifically authorized by state law. Fine said his bill would help businesses thrive in Florida, by making regulations more consistent across the state. Currently, they can vary greatly from city to city and county to county. But city and county officials across the state argue the bill would upend Florida’s decades-old tradition of home rule, taking decisions away from the local politicians who know their communities best.

RAY RODRIGUES STANCE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA ANGERS AMENDMENT 2 ADVOCATES via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot. “Here’s what we know … Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent. However, … The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.” SENATE’S ‘WHISKEY & WHEATIES’ BILL TEED UP FOR FLOOR via Florida Politics – The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday … Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice. A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

HOUSE SEEKS TO END CONTROVERSIAL STATE EMPLOYEE CHARITY PROGRAM via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics –  A bill to end the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign comes after a yearslong slump due partly to a drop in participation and controversy surrounding its management, according to a new bill proposed by a House lawmaker and unanimously favored in committee … The bill, CS/HB 1141, is sponsored by Rep. Clay Yarborough through the House Government Accountability Committee. The measure would end the FSECC, which offers a way for employees on Florida’s payroll to give to charities of their choice. If they choose to take part in the program, they are encouraged to authorize payroll deductions divided incrementally from their annual salary. The FSECC is the only authorized form of workplace solicitation of state employees permitted during work hours, according to the of the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS), which administers and channels the funds collected from employees to a third party for distribution to the actual charities. Participation in the program is voluntary.

HOUSE TO TAKE UP RED-LIGHT CAMERA REPEAL via The Associated Press – The bill (HB 6007), which has easily passed House committees and is slated for a Wednesday floor session, would repeal a law that allows cities and counties to install and use red-light cameras. The ban would take effect July 1, 2020 … But the issue has stalled this year in the Senate. A repeal bill (SB 178) failed to get approval last month from the Senate Transportation Committee, which deadlocked 2-2 on the heavily lobbied issue.

ORLANDO TRUST COALITION URGES LEGISLATORS PASS PROTECTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS via Terry Roen of Florida Politics – Carmen Torres, wife of Senator Victor Torres, and Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, spoke on the steps of Orlando City Hall urging passage of House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 1674. “Florida is home to 925,000 undocumented immigrants, and 110,000 live in the Orlando Metropolitan area,” said Smith, whose parents were immigrants. “This is very urgent legislation that will protect our hardworking immigrants.” The bills would protect the constitutional rights of immigrants and prevent harassment from law enforcement without a court order. It would also prohibit Florida’s public schools and universities from releasing information about immigrant families to federal officials. Smith conceded that the bills might be difficult to pass. “It will be really challenging,” said Smith. “But we need to send a message that there are leaders that have their (immigrants) back.”

— “A week on the ground in Tallahassee with PolitiFact Florida” via Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact Florida

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

— OPINIONS GALORE —

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. Students believe that speech that offends others should be punished. Who will judge what is offensive? Unpopular speech should be challenged, not censored.

AARON BEAN, JENNIFER SULLIVAN: FOSTER CARE PROGRAM FOR TEEN DRIVERS DESERVES SUPPORT via Florida Politics – Florida legislators unanimously passed the Keys to Independence Act, an innovative three-year pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and managed by Community Based Care of Central Florida. The program, which launched in 2014, helps children as young as 15 get a learner’s permit by enrolling them in driver’s education courses and monitoring their progress until they earn a license … Keys to Independence has been a resounding success. In just a short time, the number of teens in foster care who have a driver’s license has almost tripled, and 1,035 participants are currently enrolled, including more than 330 in Tampa and Sarasota … why we are sponsoring a companion bill during the upcoming legislative session to make this program a permanent fixture for Florida’s youth. We urge our fellow lawmakers to once again give Keys to Independence their full support. We have seen how it has improved lives, and we look forward to its continued success far into the future.

GLENN BURHANS, JR.: #CASHMEOUTSIDE – ANOTHER FLORIDA POL TRIPPED UP BY CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS via Florida Politics – Former state Rep. Dwayne Taylor was recently indicted on nine counts of wire fraud stemming from the alleged embezzlement of campaign funds … also accused of submitting fraudulent campaign expenditure reports to cover up the alleged embezzlement. Here a few tips to avoid some common miscues: Contributions and expenditures can only be made for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election – do not use them for any other purpose. Campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses, except for costs incurred by a candidate or family member for transportation, meals and lodging during campaign travel. When in doubt, ask your campaign attorney. Candidates should not serve as their own campaign treasurer; instead, appoint someone that is independent and experienced in campaign accounting, preferably a CPA. Keep campaign and personal accounts segregated. The law is complex and the cost of non-compliance can be significant. When in doubt, consult your friendly neighborhood campaign finance professional to avoid costly consequences.

SERVING UP BEER THE RIGHT WAY IN FLORIDA via Matt Thompson for Florida Politics – At the three local Tallahassee establishments I own, Madison Social, Township and Centrale, we serve more than 30 types of beer from breweries all across the country. But in my establishments, like most bars and restaurants, we sometimes don’t have access to one key element that would improve the beer-drinking experience for customers — the right glassware … This glassware serves a real purpose, because the glass a beer is served in can draw out that beer’s unique quality and flavor profile … the beer industry would often like to supply us with their branded glassware in an effort to elevate consumers’ experience as they enjoy their product. Yet, due to a current Florida law, the industry is prevented from giving retailers, including bars and restaurants, their appropriate branded glassware at no cost … House Bill 853, by Representative Goodson and Senate Bill 1040, by Senator Artiles, that would allow the industry to provide the appropriate glassware to accompany their beers to Florida bars and restaurants.

***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.***

HAPPENING TODAY – COMMITTEE MEETINGS TO WATCH — The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss a bill to broaden a law that makes it a crime for people that know they have an STD to have sex without informing their partners when it meets at noon in Morris Hall. The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee will discuss a bill to require the education commissioner to post the tests that students have taken in previous years when it meets at noon in Reed Hall. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee will discuss legislation to exempt credit unions from regulations under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act when it meets at noon in 404 House Office Building. The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee will discuss a bill to help children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation when it meets at 3:30 p.m. in 12 House Office Building.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK — 2017 FLORIDA CHAMBER CAPITOL DAYS – The Florida Chamber of Commerce will host its 2017 Capitol Days this week at the Turnbull Conference Center at Florida State University. The two-day event kicks off on Tuesday, with welcome addresses from Syd Kitson, the chairman of the board; Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber; and Jerry Parrish, the organization’s chief economist and director of research. Attendees will also hear from the government affairs team, before heading over to the Capitol to meet with members of the Legislature. The conference continues Wednesday, with presentations on insurance reform, the Constitution Revision Commission, economic development and tourism. CFO Jeff Atwater is slated to give the keynote address on Wednesday, followed by a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

SAVE THE DATEVance Aloupis is holding a fundraising reception Thursday, March 23, in his bid for House District 115. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Sachs Media Group offices, 114 S. Duval St. in Tallahassee. RSVP at rsvp@vancealoupis.com.

SAVE THE DATE: Gov. Scott is the special guest Thursday, March 23, at a fundraiser for James Buchanan in his bid for House District 71. Event begins 6 p.m. at the home of Col. John and Denise Saputo, 10 Lighthouse Point Dr. in Longboat Key. RSVP with Lea Buchanan (941) 685-1245 or info@BuchananForFlorida.com.

BOB BUESING CONTEMPLATES 2018 REMATCH VERSUS DANA YOUNG via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – One of the most bitter races in all of Florida politics last year took place in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democrat Buesing faced Republican state Rep. Dana Young and independent Joe Redner. With redistricting, half the state’s 40 Senate seats are up for re-election again next year, and Buesing said Friday he is considering another run against Young in 2018. “It’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the community,” said the 63-year-old Buesing, a longtime attorney with the law firm of Trenam Kemker who before last year had never run for public office. “I’ll make a very reasoned decision, and once I talk to a lot of people, try to do what’s best for the community and if nobody else on the team is going to do this, and somebody needs to do [it], then I’ll think about it.” Buesing figures to improve his performance in 2018, especially if Redner is not part of the equation. “I met with Joe Redner and he looked me in the eye and said he’d be proud to endorse me,” Buesing said. “And said he’s not going to run.”

STRONG FEBRUARY PUT FRANCIS SUAREZ CAMPAIGN FOR MIAMI MAYOR OVER THE $2 MILLION MARK via David Smiley of the Miami Herald – Campaign records for February show that Suarez — who has yet to draw an opponent with a single dollar to his name — has cracked the $2 million mark. Despite the lack of moneyed competition, he says he’ll keep raising money, continuing with a $1,000-a-plate breakfast at the Riviera Country Club with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. “We’re going to have a very strong March, a very strong April, and it’s looking like we’ll have a very strong May, as well,” he said.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian Bautista, Impact GR: American Compliance Technologies

Travis BlantonJon Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: American Council of Life Insurers

Taylor Biehl, Capitol Alliance Group: ClickAClinic

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: The Martinique Club of Naples

Ron BookKelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: City of Miami Gardens

David Custin, David R. Custin & Associates: Beach Towing Services; Tremont Towing

Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Olympus Insurance Company; Transamerica Life Insurance Company

Nicole GraganellaTrevor MaskKatherine Webb, Colodny Fass: Easter Seals South West Florida, Inc.

Nick IarossiAshley KallifehAndrew KetchelRon LaFaceScott RossChristopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: MiMedx Group

Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: Transamerica Life Insurance Company

Eli NortelusDavid Roberts, Nortelus Roberts Group: Florida Independent Spirits Association

Marlene Quintana, GrayRobinson: City of Hollywood

Margaret Timmins, Timmins Consulting: South Central Florida Express; Southern Gardens Citrus Groves Corporation; Southern Gardens Citrus Holding Corporation

STATE STUDY PROPOSES HUGE REDUCTION OF DOWNTOWN OFFICE SPACE via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat – A report is calling for the state to sell off almost half of its buildings between the Capitol and Cascades Park – a move that would radically change downtown Tallahassee and create significant opportunities for private development. Many of those are landmark buildings that date back to the Hoover and Eisenhower administrations and include the headquarters for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of Corrections. The recommendations are part of a 258-page report from Savills Studley Occupational Services, commissioned by the Department of Management Services, to address the state’s long-range office space needs in Leon County, where the largest concentration of state employees live and work. The Legislature approved funding for the $772,655 study. Those strategies would open up sites for private sector development that could create jobs, infill urban blight and boost tax revenues, said Jay Revell, vice president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here.***

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION QUIETLY GEARS UP FOR ITS FIRST SESSION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The group is scheduled to meet Monday between 2 and 4 p.m. in the Florida Senate chamber to go over ethics and adopt the group’s rules. It will then launch a series of public hearings around the state, said the group’s chairman Carlos Beruff. The outstanding question is what will the rules be? Word is they are using the rules adopted by the 1998 CRC as a starting point. Members of that commission credit the rules — which established effective procedures for building consensus in the political diverse group — as contributing to the successful passage of the recommended amendments by voters in 1998. Another question: will the practices of the notoriously open-records averse Governor rub off on the commission and Beruff? At least one member of the commission is an expert on the state’s Sunshine laws and the Governor’s views. Senate President Joe Negron‘s appointee, Martin County Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann, served briefly as Scott’s director of open government.

ABORTION, SCHOOL ISSUES COULD ROIL CONSTITUTION PANEL via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – … (P)rogressive activists are poised for potential fireworks this year over abortion and public schools. At the heart of the concern from progressive groups is the appointment of John Stemberger, a lawyer and president of the Orlando-based conservative activist group Florida Family Policy Council. He was named to the 37-member commission by Speaker Corcoran … Actually changing the constitution to give more legal standing to abortion restriction laws could be difficult to accomplish, he admits. The commission must agree to put it on the ballot, and 60 percent of voters must approve it for it to become law.

SANDY D’ALEMBERTE: CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION SHOULD OPERATE IN THE SUNSHINE via the Tallahassee Democrat – Just as we end national Sunshine Week, recognizing the importance of open government to a democracy, Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission begins work with its first meeting … The Commission will examine the Florida Constitution and make recommendations to voters. In that examination, the Commission will understand there is much that is unique to the Florida Constitution – including the provision for the Commission itself. The Commission will begin adopting its own rules. Of particular interest is whether the Commission will operate according to the principles of openness that characterize Florida government. In addressing this issue, Commission members will want to look at the Constitution and consider the Declaration of Rights, which guarantees access to public meetings and public records. This provision also is unique to Florida.

FLORIDA INSURERS KEEP A GRADES AFTER CONSOLIDATION, DEMOTECH SAYS via Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post – Ratings agency Demotech Inc. said several Florida insurers kept A grades amid a flurry of moves to shore up their financial strength but warned future downgrades remain possible. Insurers under pressure added about $200 million in loss reserves and $155 million in capital contributions … The Ohio-based ratings company warned in the aftermath of 2016 storms and continuing problems with Florida claims where contractors and attorneys control benefits that it remains “likely that insurers may face downgrades in the future.” In February, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged U.S. Treasury officials to take any actions necessary to prevent a “disaster” if thousands of Florida homeowners go into default because Demotech lowered safety grades on several property insurers.

LOTTERY RAKES IN CASH BUT FEWER STUDENTS, PARTICULARLY POOR ONES, MAKE CUT FOR SCHOLARSHIPS via Kyra Gurney of the Miami Herald – Since the Florida Legislature started instituting tougher standards tied to higher test scores beginning in 2011, Miami-Dade schools with large populations of low-income and African-American and Hispanic students have seen a drastic decrease in the number of students who qualify for what has long been billed as the Lottery’s primary payout for education. When lawmakers changed the scholarship standards, they said the goal was to control spiraling costs in the wake of Florida’s foreclosure crisis and plummeting government revenue. Now, the economy is again humming, revenue has rebounded and the Florida Lottery has seen record-breaking sales for five years in a row, earning more than $6 billion last year. But the Bright Futures program last year dropped to the lowest level of funding since 2003. Money paid out for scholarships has been cut nearly in half over seven years and the number of incoming freshmen awarded last year was almost as low as when the program was created in 1997. And, along with hiking the standards, lawmakers have cut the size of the awards.

RISE OF THE (PRE-REVEAL) MACHINES: THE COMING BATTLE IN FLORIDA GAMBLING? via Florida Politics – A recent ruling by a Tallahassee judge could result in Florida being inundated by a slot machine-style entertainment device in bars, arcades and even dog and horse tracks. It’s also not yet clear whether the decision could trigger a violation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s exclusivity rights in its gambling “compact” with the state. That would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue. Circuit Judge John Cooper earlier this month issued a declaratory judgment that a specific kind of game, usually called a “pre-reveal” game, was “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Cooper limited his opinion to a specific kind of game, “Version 67,” provided by Gator Coin II in Jacksonville. Other states, such as North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, however. “I tried to rationalize to myself why people would play this game when they knew they were going to lose,” Cooper said in court, according to a transcript.

FOR YBOR CITY IN FLORIDA, A HISTORIC CIGAR TOWN FACES A CLOUDY FUTURE via Jason Wilson of The Washington Post – Yet even with all cigar connoisseurship happening up and down Seventh Avenue, it was hard to ignore that Ybor City — a National Historic Landmark District — had seen better days. In the early 20th century, Tampa had been the undisputed cigar capital of the world, outproducing even Havana. In its heyday, the city had more than 150 factories, employing about 10,000 workers and rolling more than 500 million cigars each year. Now, beyond the small storefront producers still rolling premium handmade cigars, only one large cigar factory remains. A major reason for the decline of the cigar business — and one largely unspoken in the telling of Ybor City’s history — is, of course, our society’s realization that smoking of any kind is not a healthy pastime. For decades, and for good reason, smoking has been targeted by the government. Premium cigars, however, have largely skirted the same kind of strict regulation faced by cigarettes because of the assumption that cigars are much less addictive, they’re not to be inhaled and, since good cigars are expensive, they are never marketed to kids and sold mostly in adults-only artisan shops. But several large cigar companies ruined this narrative by selling cheap flavored cigars — strawberry, vanilla, tropical fruit, chocolate, Irish cream, etc. — targeted at young consumers, and these products opened the door for a crackdown by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

ARAMIS AYALA’S ANTI-DEATH PENALTY STAND SURPRISES MANY via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – Even some of Ayala‘s supporters said they were taken aback by her decision. Lawson Lamar, a former state attorney and sheriff, who backed her run for office, said: “Anyone who raises their hand and takes the oath to be state attorney must be able to go with the death penalty even if they feel it’s distasteful.” Ayala’s campaign was helped by a Washington-based political action committee with ties to liberal Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros. The committee gave Ayala’s campaign almost $1 million, as well as millions of dollars to candidates in local races around the nation. When asked if the donations influenced her decision, she said it did not. Florida has 381 inmates on death and shows no sign of slowing down future prosecutions. The other state attorneys in Florida issued a statement Friday saying they would continue to seek the death penalty.

REST OF FLORIDA PROSECUTORS VOW TO SEEK DEATH SENTENCES via the Palm Beach Post – A day after a newly elected prosecutor said she would not seek the death penalty in capital cases, the remainder of Florida’s 20 state attorneys affirmed Friday they intend to pursue death sentences when appropriate. The statement by the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association came as a number of African-American leaders declared their support for 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ayala, who sparked an outcry from several of the state’s elected officials over her decision not to seek the death penalty in the case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd — or in any other case. “Throughout 19 of the 20 circuits of Florida, the death penalty will continue to be sought in those cases which qualify for its implementation,” the association said in a statement … “The victims’ families of Florida deserve our dedication to implement all the laws of Florida. That is why the people of Florida have elected us.” What picture you which one Jesus Christ all doing what I can like two different things what points just frustrated I cannot see I’m having trouble my eyes today.

— “Aramis Ayala should follow law in death penalty case, not try to make it” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics

— “Buddy Dyer: ‘What Markeith Loyd did deserves the death penalty’” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Julianne Holt expresses concerns about Rick Scott’s benching of Aramis Ayala” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

— “Markeith Loyd: The ugly politics of life and death” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

— “Police union head John Rivera calls Aramis Ayala coward” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

PROSECUTORS: NO CRIME IN INMATE’S HOT-SHOWER DEATH via The Associated Press – Prosecutors in Florida have found no evidence of a crime in the death of a prison inmate left for nearly two hours in a hot shower, concluding that he died accidentally in part because of undiagnosed heart disease and suffered no burn injuries. The memo by the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle ends a lengthy criminal probe into the 2012 death of 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally troubled man serving a two-year sentence on a cocaine charge. An attorney for Rainey’s family, Milton Grimes of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the family is “disappointed and heartbroken” no charges will be brought.

STATE DROPS CHARGES IN CASE THAT SHOOK FLORIDA POLITICS via The Associated Press – Florida is dropping charges against an attorney once accused of being at the center of a $300 million gambling ring that led to the 2013 resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis was convicted of 103 counts of racketeering, possessing slot machines and other charges and sentenced to six years in prison. But an appeals court last year ruled that Mathis deserved a new trial because his attorneys were not allowed to call witnesses that could have bolstered his defense against the charges. The Florida Supreme Court in February declined to take up the case. The legal setback meant Florida either had to start over with a new trial or drop the charges.

***Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur are fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala and Rep. Brodeur that you support them and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at ProtectFLBusiness.com.***

TWEET, TWEET: @HalseyBeshears: What a shame FSU is knocked out this early with this much talent. No coaching. #hehastogo

EX-FLORIDA STATE DB MYRON ROLLE TO BEGIN HARVARD MEDICAL RESIDENCY via ESPN.com – Rolle, who was a Rhodes scholar and then enrolled in medical school, will begin a neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston …  Rolle, 30, played three seasons as a defensive back for the Seminoles, graduating early in 2008. He deferred an NFL career for a year to earn a master’s degree in medical anthropology at Oxford. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010 but never played a regular-season game in the NFL. In 2013, he returned to Tallahassee and entered FSU’s medical school.

36 HOURS IN ST. PETE BEACH, FLA. (AND ENVIRONS) via Colleen Creamer of the New York Times — Not far from downtown St. Petersburg lies a string of barrier islands edged with a perfect seam of white sugar sand beaches. The main town of what is often referred to as the “Gulf beaches” is bustling St. Pete Beach. Neighboring communities like Indian Shores, Madeira Beach and Treasure Island are more “Mad Men” than “Miami Vice” — charming specimens of an older era, studded with midcentury gems like the Bon-Aire Resort Motelthe Algiers Beach Motel and the Postcard Inn. The pace is much calmer than, say, Miami Beach, or Fort Lauderdale. Early morning walks along the water can be blessedly solitary. The nights, however, are hopping. Each community has its own coterie of tiki and beach bars, often within a stroll of one another along the sand. … The beaches have more than enough activity to fill a few days; if possible, head inland to visit St. Petersburg, with its seven arts districts; the splendid Salvador Dalí Museum, which attracts visitors from around the globe; or Haslam’s Book Store, a mecca for book lovers and writers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly Allison North Jones and Justin York. Celebrating today are Reps. Shawn Harrison and Larry Metz, as well as Jacob Engels, Bill Helmich, Sal Nuzzo, and Aakash Patel.

Thousands show for Vern Buchanan town hall

Congressman Vern Buchanan was greeted with a huge turnout – and chants, boos and cheers – during a town hall meeting.

The Herald-Tribune reports that critics of President Donald Trump and the GOP agenda in Congress packed the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and peppered Buchanan for more than an hour with sharp questions Saturday. Nearly 1,800 people attended the event.

The event mirrored town halls held by GOP lawmakers across the country, which have drawn large, boisterous crowds of people unhappy with the direction of the federal government.

Most of the questions focused on Trump and the GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, but the audience also brought up issues ranging from gun control to climate change and means testing Social Security.

Marco Rubio hitting the slopes this weekend to raise money

Still trying to think of a spring break getaway?

How about a ski trip with Marco Rubio?

As first reported by the Montana Cowgirl Blog, the Miami Republican is one of the several federal lawmakers taking part in a two-day fundraiser at Big Sky Resort in Montana to benefit Daines Big Sky Committee, a joint fundraising committee that benefits Sen. Steve Daines and Big Sky Opportunity PAC.

The $3,000 a person fundraiser is billed as a “weekend in the Montana mountains” with Daines, Rubio, and Sens. John Hoeven, and Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Luke Messer.

The fundraiser is scheduled for today through Sunday.

The Delegation – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State – 3.17.17

Next month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars trans-generational blockbuster. While the setup for the George Lucas classic points to a time and place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” present day Washington is ripe for comparisons.

Democrats in the Florida Delegation have joined their colleagues from other states by fully deploying their verbal Lightsabers in the vitriolic debate surrounding the American Health Care Act (a.k.a. Trumpcare, Ryancare, whatever). Not so long ago, and not so far away, Republicans did the same during conception of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare and for the next three election cycles after that.

Back in our galaxy, the fear that NASA would see big budget cuts was not well-founded. This week’s proposal from the Trump Administration should please supporters of the space program, especially Florida’s rocket man, Senator Bill Nelson. Despite the Administration’s decision to cancel direct flights from Cape Canaveral to an asteroid, future shuttle service to Mars is still in the mix.

Nelson likes to remind people about his trip to the stratosphere years ago, but back home he apparently needs to re-introduce himself to several Florida voters, according to recent polling. That’s what campaigns are for.

More wars are coming starting Monday. Nelson and Marco Rubio will be watching and commenting as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Neither are members of that committee.

Donald Trump planning another weekend at Mar-a-Lago – President Trump is planning to spend this weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach per White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Though Spicer didn’t say how long the president was planning to stay, a Federal Aviation Administration advisory gave away that Trump will arrive Friday and leave Sunday.

The trip will mark the fifth weekend Trump has spent at the resort since he took office in January.

Palm Beach County commissioner mulling over ‘Trump Tax’ – President Trump has spent a good deal of time at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, causing the county to spend millions on security and road management befitting a presidential visit.

In mid-February, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said security costs alone for the presidential visits had hit the $1.4 million mark, and commissioners’ attempts to get the federal government moving on reimbursing that money are at a standstill.

The costs have led county Commissioner Dave Kerner, also a former Democratic state representative, to explore a tax on the value of any “special benefit” doled out to Mar-a-Lago.

Kerner is looking into having the resort classified as a “municipal service benefit unit” in order to make up some of the outlay, and has instructed County Attorney Denise Nieman to look into how to go about with the plan.

In addition to county services, the Lantana airport has been forced to shut down during Trump’s visits, which the owner said has already caused a $27 million economic impact.

Florida Man’s ad highlights Trump’s ties to Russia — Stand Up Republic launched a new television and digital ad campaign this week urging Congress to conduct a comprehensive investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. The 30-second spot — called “Sunlight” — was produced with the help of Tallahassee-based GOP consultant Rick Wilson of Intrepid Media, and will initially air for two weeks on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN in D.C., and on social media and digital platforms nationwide.

“Since the inauguration, not a week has gone by without new, troubling revelations regarding the possible Russian compromise of President Trump and his closest advisors,” said Evan McMullin, the co-founder of Stand Up Republic and a former 2016 presidential candidate, whom Wilson worked with. “Russia’s multifaceted attack on our democracy is a matter of grave national security concern and requires a serious congressional investigation. The standing intelligence committees currently conducting the investigation have neither the resources nor scope of jurisdiction to execute an adequate investigation of this matter.” (Click on the image below to watch the video.)

Trump’s NASA budget preserves Mars mission, cuts Earth science, asteroid trip, education via Ledyard King of USA Today – POTUS is proposing a $19.1 billion budget for NASA in 2018 that is about the same as the current year’s $19.3 billion allocation – not bad considering the president is proposing deep cuts in many non-Defense programs. EPA alone would see a 31% reduction.

But Trump’s vision for NASA calls for some dramatic shifts from the priorities the space agency pursued under President Obama, according to a broad budget outline the White House released Thursday. Line-item details on the administration’s proposed spending plan for NASA and other executive branch agencies are expected in the coming weeks.

“The budget increases cooperation with industry through the use of public-private partnerships, focuses on the nation’s efforts on deep space exploration rather than Earth-centric research, and develops technologies that would achieve U.S. space goals and benefit the economy,” the outline reads.

What the Trump budget would not do is continue development of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, that NASA has been pitching as a fruitful and relatively low-cost steppingstone to Mars. Many Republicans, who did not like how Obama scrapped a return to the moon under the Constellationprogram, never bought into the asteroid mission.

VPOTUS could be visiting Jacksonville – Mike Pence could be back in Jacksonville Saturday, a new Federal Aviation Administration notice suggests. Announced flight restrictions match – three nautical miles around, 3,000 feet up —  correspond to Pence’s travel restrictions. Thirty nautical mile restrictions, and up to 18,000 feet, are normally used for Trump.

Micro-op-ed via Dr. Darryl Paulson – If U.S. Senator Bill Nelson walked into the Cheers bar, nobody would shout his name. Despite a four- decades long political career in Florida, a full one-third of Floridians are neutral or have never heard of Nelson.

“Offend no one” has long been a key to Nelson’s political success. Very few Floridians could name a single political issue where Nelson has assumed a leadership position.

Nelson served in the Florida House (1972-78), the U.S. House (1978-91), served as Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner (1995-2001) and has served as U.S. Senator since winning election in 2000.

The only political defeat suffered by Nelson was not at the hands of a Republican, but was a loss to Democratic icon Lawton Chiles in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Chiles, a late entrant in the race, trounced Nelson 69.5 to 30.5%.

Nelson’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in 2000 was his only close campaign. Even though George W. Bush carried Florida by 538 votes, Nelson defeated Republican Bill McCollum 52.1 to 47.2%.

Six years later, Nelson easily defeated Republican Katherine Harris 60.3 to 38.1%.  Harris, widely criticized for her partisan role in the 2000 Florida presidential race, was never able to unite Republicans behind her candidacy.

In 2012, Nelson defeated Connie Mack IV, the son of the senator who retired his position in 2000 allowing Nelson to win. Mack was beset by both political and personal issues which undermined his campaign. Nelson won by 13%.

Some call Nelson the luckiest politician in Florida. He has consistently faced one weak Republican opponent after another in winning the senate seat. Will Nelson’s political magic continue in 2018, or will Nelson once again face defeat within the Democratic Party?

Some Democrats believe that Nelson, who will be 76 in 2018, needs to be “primaried.” Many Democrats believe that Republican Governor Rick Scott would be a difficult opponent for Nelson. One Democratic activist said Nelson “just doesn’t look fresh–he doesn’t appeal to young Democrats.”

Other Democrats see a potential Democratic primary battle as pure lunacy. Nelson, after all, is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida. Democratic fundraiser Ben Pollara commented, “If Democrats are lining up to primary Bill Nelson, it’s less a sign that Bill Nelson is weak and more a sign that Democrats are inherently cannibals.”

Will Nelson’s political magic continue, or has he pulled the last rabbit from his hat?

Florida Democrats sound off ahead of Supreme Court nomination hearings — For Our Future joined representatives from Emerge USA, Sierra Club, SEIU 32BJ and New Florida Majority to denounce Neil Gorsuch ahead of his confirmation hearing on Monday. Leaders expressed concern that Gorsuch would prioritize he interests of corporations at the expense of everyday Americans and threaten the safety, stability and rights of Muslim, immigrant, black, and middle class communities. Dwight Bullard, political director of the New Florida Majority: “One of my greatest concerns of Judge Gorsuch sits in the realm of criminal justice. Judge Gorsuch has been scored as too conservative in his previous role in the court of appeals and it’s a serious concern of mine as a black male that someone who has such a checkered past as it relates to racial justice would be sitting on the Supreme Court.” Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club: “If you care about environmental issues in Florida, you should be very concerned about Neil Gorsuch. The Sierra Club is urging all of our members to contact their Senators right now and say ‘reject Neil Gorsuch.’ Why is he bad for Florida? He has consistently pushed polluter rights over public rights.” Khurrum Wahid, criminal rights attorney and national board co-chair of EmergeUSA: “Popular law is not always right law, and we have to make sure that we have a backstop in place. That backstop is our judiciary. We have seen over the last several months how lawyers and judges have been able to uphold the constitution against an executive order or orders that our bad for the country and are unconstitutional. If we do not hold fast and make that sure our Supreme Court nominee is similarly someone who will uphold the constitution and uphold the values of America, then we have collectively lost what we value as Americans.”

Nelson to support Alex Acosta for Labor Secretary – Florida’s senior Democratic senator plans to support Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, according to a Nelson spokesman. Acosta is a Miami native and the dean of Florida International University’s law school. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for next week.

Happening today – Communication Workers of America health care workers and their allies will protest Rubio and Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Rally begins 11 a.m. at the plaza outside Rubio’s Orlando office, 201 S Orange Ave.

Rubio meets with Costa Rican president — The Miami Republican met with Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis and Foreign Affairs Minister Manuel Gonzalez Sanz this week to discuss transnational drug trafficking, Cuban migration across Central America, and the ongoing political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

“The United States and Costa Rica have long been united by our shared democratic values, and it was my honor to welcome their president to Washington today,” said Rubio, the chairman of the Senate’s western hemisphere subcommittee. “While Costa Rica’s neutrality in foreign affairs has made it an oasis of stability in the region, it has nonetheless been affected by illicit trafficking, violence and migratory crises that spill across its borders.

In a statement, Rubio said he urged the men to make sure the Costa Rican government works closely with “U.S., international relief agencies and non-profits to ensure Cuban migrants stranded in their territory are treated humanely and given an opportunity to make their asylum claims.” He also stressed the importance of all democracies in the Western Hemisphere speaking in one voice to call on “the Organization of American States to invoke the democratic charter against the Maduro regime.”

“I will continue pushing to make sure our allies and partners throughout the region understand the urgency of dealing with the political and humanitarian crisis Maduro has imposed on Venezuela, and I will continue to stand on the side of the Venezuelan people,” said Rubio

Rubio accepting applications for service academy nominations — Students looking to attend one of the four service academies can apply through the website of Sen. Rubio, he announced this week.

In order to attend the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy or U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, prospective students need a nomination from a member of congress.

“Each year, I am honored to have the opportunity to nominate young men and women from across Florida who demonstrate leadership, commitment and integrity, the qualities required to pursue the top military training our nation has to offer,” Rubio said. “I encourage all interested students to apply, and I wish applicants the best of luck as they go through the admission process to our service academies.”

Students looking to enroll in the fall of 2018 need to have their applications in by Sept. 6. Rubio also encouraged students to apply with Sen. Bill Nelson and their U.S. Representative.

Rubio not cool with Snoop Dogg video — Who figured that Florida’s junior senator and the rapper Snoop Dogg could wind up in the same story? Rubio had words of warning and a mild admonishment for the hip hop entertainer upon the release of a new video containing a scene of the Dogfather firing a replica gun at the head of a clown looking like Trump.

“I think people can disagree on policy, but we gotta be very careful about that kinda thing,” Rubio told TMZ, “because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea and you can have a real problem, so I’m not sure what Snoop was thinking.”

Trump responded wondered on Twitter what would happen if Snoop Dogg, “failing career and all,” had done such a video involving President Obama. “Jail time” was the answer to his own question.

In a Roll Call story about the video, Rubio is described as being a “long time hip hop fan.” (Click on the image below to watch the video under debate.)

Rubio gets visit from CLC – Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera met with  Sen. Rubio during a trip to Washington D.C. Wednesday, according to his official schedule.

The visit came before CLC was set to attend the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association federal-state relations meeting, and details of the meeting between two of Florida’s top Republican officials were not made available.

When asked for comment on the meeting, a Rubio spokeswoman said the pair “are personal friends and Senator Rubio always enjoys seeing him when he is in D.C‎.”

Lopez-Cantera spent part of last year campaigning to take over for his pal in the U.S. Senate, but backed out of the race after Rubio reneged on his plan to not run for re-election.

CBO says Republican health plan is bad for Florida — The newly revealed Republican health care plan could spell trouble for Florida, which already has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that most of the 1.74 million Floridians who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange will not be able to afford their premiums under the Republican plan, while an additional 4.3 million children, pregnant women, low-income elderly and disabled Floridians would see cuts in care through Medicaid.

Those who manage to hang onto their health care plans will likely see a spike in premiums, too, especially those who buy their own coverage outside of work.

The CBO predicts that prices could spike for such plans by as much as 20 percent before finally starting to go down in price around 2020.

In addition to the drop in the number of insured Floridians, the Republican plan’s proposed cuts to Medicaid could do a number on Florida hospitals.

“To go back to that,” Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben said, “at the very time that the federal government would also cut funding to the states for Medicaid means you have double jeopardy here. … It’s going back to the way it was, only worse, potentially.”

American Action Network launches 1 million robocalls to support American Health Care Act — Constituents in three Florida districts could be getting calls from the advocacy organization encouraging them to contact their representative about the American Health Care Act.

The American Action Network launched the robocall campaign in 30 congressional districts, including Reps. Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, and Bill Posey. The campaign comes on the heels of a TV ad buy launched last week, and is meant to encourage voters to call lawmakers to tell them to support repealing the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and replace it with the American Health Care Act, which is backed by President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.

“Obamacare has been a nightmare for millions of Americans. We are calling activists across the country to urge them to call their member of Congress to ensure they do the right thing and stand with President Trump and Speaker Ryan in repealing this failed law,” said Corry Bliss, the group’s executive director. “The American Health Care Act will lower costs, increase competition, and reduce the deficit, while protecting those with pre-existing conditions. These conservative reforms will make health care truly affordable and patient-centered – that’s what all Americans deserve.”

The effort is part of an issue advocacy campaign worth about $10 million, according to the organization.

 

Florida Democrats pounce on CBO health care report — As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings. Democrats in the Florida delegation were quick to jump on the report from the Congressional Budget Office, while Republicans…not so much.

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote Bill Nelson, while Charlie Crist used the Bible to say “the Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

Val Demmings stated “the GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and the Republicans know it.” Ted Deutch posted on Facebook that “this bill does not make good on the claims that Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, and others have made to try and sell it.”

Debbie Wasserman-Schulz pledged to “do everything I can to stop this train wreck.” Among the calmest statements came from Stephanie Murphy who said “we need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

Scott silent on Republican health care plan –  The Naples Republican has been one of the Affordable Care Act’s chief opponents, but he has yet to weigh in on whether he thinks Republicans are moving in the right direction with the newly unveiled American Health Care Act.

The Republican governor has so far sidestepped questions about the bill, including how he views the Congressional Budget Office report that estimates Florida’s uninsured rate could spike back up to pre-ACA levels.

“I’m encouraged that there’s a real good conservation going on up in D.C.,” Scott said. “I know there’s a debate about all the numbers, I’m going to continue to work on getting a good bill.”

Scott made his opinion heard during Donald Trump’s campaign, and has been one of the more vocal advocates for repealing and replacing the ACA.

His 2010 campaign for governor, his first step into politics, was marked by his staunch opposition to the ACA. During that run, he started a group called Conservatives for Patient Rights that blasted the law in television ads.

Gaetz votes for health care bill to “continue the conversation” — Despite a lack of enthusiasm, the Panhandle Republican cast another vote for the Republican health care bill on Thursday. As expected the House Budget Committee passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 19-17.  Mario Diaz-Balart also voted in favor with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz voting against. Three Republican members from the House Freedom Caucus also voted no.

Before the vote committee meeting and vote on the bill, Gaetz wrote to his constituents saying he “wanted to like it, especially after hearing from Obamacare’s victims.” He then seemed to take a subtle swipe at the Freedom Caucus.

“It’s easy to vote ‘no’ and blame others for not bending to my will,” he wrote. “It’s harder to

persuade others the conservative way is the Better Way.”

The measure now goes to the House Committee on Rules, where it will likely then move on to the full House. Among committee members are nine Republicans and four Democrats, including Alcee Hastings.

Op-ed: “Keep working to repeal and replace Obamacare” via Matt Gaetz for Florida Politics

Gaetz visits with middle school students — Pryor Middle School students in D.C. last week for a field trip got a little face-to-face time with their congressman. Gaetz took some time to snap photos with the class, who stopped by his office during a trip to the nation’s capital. The Fort Walton Beach Republican also encouraged constituents to reach out to his office if they need help planning a trip to D.C. In an email to constituents, Gaetz said constituents can visit his House website to “reserve tours of the Capitol, White House, Library of Congress or to attend a Supreme Court Lecture.”

Matt Gaetz with Pryor Middle School students during their visit to DC.

Murphy, Demings, Sotoannounce funds for Pulse shooting victims —The Florida Democrats announced an award of nearly $8.5 million to assist victims of last year’s terrorist shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The funds, which come through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, will help victims, witnesses, and first responders.

In addition, the funds will reimburse local agencies for the costs incurred in operating the Family Assistance Center. Hundreds of people were helped by the center in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“After the Pulse nightclub shooting our community stepped up to take care of the victims, their families and the first responders through the Family Assistance Center,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “We could not be more proud of Central Florida’s response to this tragedy.”

The funds will be allocated to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, who will distribute them as appropriate.

“I am thrilled that my office will receive additional funding to help victims of the Orlando attack,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice for awarding us the funds we requested so that we can continue to make payments and assist victims in any way possible.”

Tough column: “Bilirakis sees only what he wants to on health care law” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

Steny Hoyer returns to Florida for Crist fundraiserThe Maryland Democrat will be back in Florida March 24 as special guest at a fundraiser for the St. Petersburg Democrat.

Hoyer represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, and served as House Majority Leader from 2007 until 2011. Prior to that, he served as House Majority Whip from 2003 until 2007. In October, Hoyer was in Sanford to stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Crist, the freshman lawmaker representing Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, sits on the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.

Buchanan tours Sarasota bandage factory – Headquartered in Sarasota, ASO Corp. is the world’s second largest bandage manufacturer and has added 85 jobs since 2011, partly due to investments by mega retailer Wal-Mart.

“ASO has a world-class facility here in Sarasota,” said Buchanan, who toured the facility Tuesday. “This is a true manufacturing success story.”

Rep. Buchanan meets with ASO officials during a recent tour of Sarasota facility.

Buchanan was led around the facility by ASO vice president of sales and marketing Charles Hart, who praised the congressman and credited Wal-Mart for the company’s growth.

“I’d like to thank Congressman Buchanan for his commitment to jobs and for visiting us today,” he said. “Our partnership with Wal-Mart is a major contributor of ASO’s growth in employment and infrastructure for the U.S and more specifically Sarasota.”

Buchanan to host town hall in larger venue — The Sarasota Republican will hold a town hall on Saturday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. The event was originally scheduled for an auditorium at New College. Van Wezel has a seating capacity of over 1,700 people.

“We moved the event to a new location to accommodate a larger audience,” said Buchanan spokeswoman Gretchen Andersen, “We want to make sure everybody gets a chance to attend and is not turned away for lack of seats.”

The press release announcing the switch carried a bold-face sub-headline “Same day, BIGGER Venue,” obviously a reference to complaints of venues deemed too small. For example, Ted Yoho’s recent town hall was civil among the 300 inside, but violence erupted outside among agitators unable to get in.

Liberal activists have complained that Buchanan hasn’t had a town hall yet this year, but the release states that Saturday’s event will be his 75th since being elected to Congress in 2006.

In op-ed, Francis Rooney says Venezuelan regime is on its last legs — The first-term Republican from Naples says the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is ready to collapse, which should be of great interest to the United States. In an op-ed penned this week titled Time for Change in Venezuela, Rooney wrote “time is running out” for Maduro and “the only question that remains is how long it can last.”

He points out that Venezuela has “links to terrorist groups in the Middle East” which is why what happens in Venezuela and Latin America “should be a major focus of U.S. policy makers.”

Rooney, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and expresses both political and humanitarian concern for the people of the South American country. “Unfortunately, the humanitarian crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is escalating.” He pointed to a recent study showing “starvation has caused Venezuelans to lose an average of 19 pounds over the last year.”

Rooney calls on the U.S., the Organization of American States and regional leaders to help “hasten the end of Maduro’s desperate attempt to hold onto power.”

Mast linked to company accused of million-dollar marketing scam — The freshman lawmaker has been linked to a Florida marketing company under investigation by federal regulators for allegedly pocketing millions of dollars in a patent scam, reported Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan with POLITICO.

According to the report, World Patent Marketing and its owner, Scott Cooper, are accused by the Federal Trade Commission of defrauding thousands of clients of several years to the tune of millions of dollars and then harassing customers who threatened to report the scam.

Mast was appointed as a member to the company’s advisory board in February 2016, shortly before Cooper donated more than $5,000 to Mast’s election campaign. In an interview, Mast said he only met Cooper face-to-face twice — including a party celebrating his victory.

The Treasure Coast Republican has said he will return the $5,400 in donations from Cooper.

Mast, a paraplegic veteran, raised nearly $3 million through his campaign account for the 2016 cycle. He bested Democrat Randy Perkins on Election Day with 53 percent of the vote to Perkins’ 43 percent.

According to POLITICO, the Federal Trade Commission alleges Cooper, through his two companies World Patent Marketing and Desa Industries, charged customers thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions. Customers were initially charged $1,300 for a research report from the marketing company. Weeks later, salespeople would pitch the same clients on patent protection and invention promotion packages.

Mast, Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen co-sponsor resolution acknowledging climate change — The Treasure Coast Republican joined fellow Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to co-sponsor a resolution calling on the House to commit to working on economically-viable solutions to address the risks of climate change.

“If we’re going to make progress to protect our environment, it’s critical that people on both sides of the aisle speak out about the serious impact that climate change will have on our environment and our economy,” said Mast, a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, in a statement. “Treasure Coast residents know all too well about the crippling impact on both the quality-of-life and economy when environmental disaster strikes. We must act now to find economically-viable solutions to address the risk of climate change.”

The resolution calls for better environmental stewardship through “economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates,” according to Mast’s office.

“We cannot ignore these challenges and every Member of Congress has a responsibility to our constituents and future generations to support market-based solutions, investments, and innovations that could alleviate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient,” said Curbelo in a statement. “Our goal with this resolution is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real toward the tangible efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate its effects.”

The trio were joined by 14 other members of Congress.

“These leaders understand that there’s a Republican climate solution and that America’s birds and people don’t have time for more political trench warfare,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. We need bipartisan solutions to our changing climate, and we need them now. It took guts for these Republicans to step forward today, and we welcome their ideas. Climate change threatens the birds we love, the places they and we need, and the legacy we’ll leave our kids—all values that lead us to say that conservation doesn’t have a party.”

Tweet, tweet:

Rundown of delegation bills filed:

Nelson, Rubio, Chris Coons and Debbie Stabenow introduce legislation to improve bankruptcy court system – Bankruptcy Judgeship Act

Rubio, Ben Cardin introduce bill targeting Chinese aggression in South China Sea – The South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act

Rubio, colleagues propose legislation to protect young athletes from sexual abuse – Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017

Rubio, Tom Cotton and Mike Lee introduce legislation that would save Social Security Disability Insurance from bankruptcy – Return to Work Act of 2017

Rubio-sponsored NASA bill supporting Space Launch System and Orion programs heads to president’s desk – S 442

Rubio, Ted Cruz, Robert Menendez introduce bill renaming street in front of Cuban embassy in honor of murdered dissident – S 539

Rubio, Tim Kaine, John McCain, Chris Murphy introduce bipartisan resolution recognizing sixth anniversary of Syrian Civil War

Curbelo, Crist introduce legislation to expand National Flood Insurance Program – Flood Insurance Fairness Act

Deutch, Lamar Smith of Texas reintroduced legislation to criminalize certain acts of animal cruelty – Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act

Ross introduces bill to encourage companies to compete for federal construction projects – Fair and Open Competition Act

Ross introduces legislation to account for federal employees use of official time – HR 1293

Florida may turn to Congress if Supreme Court favors Georgia in water dispute – The decades-old water dispute between Florida and Georgia could be going to Capitol Hill, reports Shelley Sigo of BondBuyer.com. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled for a closed-door conference on a report by its appointed special master, Maine attorney Ralph Lancaster, who presided over a suit filed by Florida against Georgia in 2014. The report’s conclusion was favorable to Georgia in the dispute over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, a significant source drinking, marine and agricultural water in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. If the high court agrees with Lancaster, there will be no relief to Florida, which has spent more than $40 million on legal fees on the case. Lancaster’s report would give authority for water allocation to the Army Corps of Engineers through its dams and reservoirs. The report has also spurred Florida’s Congressional Delegation to action, including a bill filed by Nelson requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to send more freshwater from Georgia into Apalachicola Bay. Republican Neal Dunn, who represents Northwest Florida including Apalachicola Bay, has also filed a Congressional review act resolution to prevent the Corps from implementing the “harmful” rule.

Florida scientists urge Trump to keep funding for NASA and NOAA – A group of Sunshine State scientists sent a letter to President Trump Monday asking him to maintain funding for NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association.

The letter leads off telling the president that “American scientists have historically been at the forefront of scientific discoveries and innovation” and that the country “should invest heavily” in NASA and NOAA programs.

The scientists focus on funding for earth science research, preserving scientific integrity and recognizing coastal properties at risk. The group points out Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago resort as vulnerable to sea level rise.

“Climate change can be viewed as a threat or as an opportunity,” the group concludes in the letter. “NOAA and NASA both play a crucial role in helping us to understand those risks. We are confident that the many discoveries accomplished thus far are only the beginning. With continued research, Americans can better understand future challenges and find ways to solve them.”

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump’s proposed budget would put coastal communities at risk. NOAA acting administrator Benjamin Friedman did not deny the claim, although he said that the cuts were only proposed.

Spotted: Jon Adrabi with LSN Partners in New York Post story about rumblings Gov. Andrew Cuomo is gearing up for a 2020 run.

Personnel note: Florida State University hires new federal relations director  D.C. veteran Jonathan Nurse has joined Florida State University as the new director of federal relations, Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander.

Nurse will serve as the university’s liaison to federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation as well as the state’s congressional delegation. He will be based out of Washington, D.C., and travel to Tallahassee monthly.

Chester Spellman, the organization’s chief executive officer, and Sam Seevers, the organization’s chairman, traveled to the nation’s capital last week to meet with members of Congress and their staffers. The duo chatted with Sen. Marco Rubio, and Reps. Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Francis Rooney, and Daniel Webster. They also met with the staffs of Sen. Bill Nelson, and Reps. Carlos Curbleo and Tom Rooney. Spellman and Seevers talked with officials about the importance of federal funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the impact it has on Florida.

Are DC’s beloved cherry blossoms doomed? – After a late-winter cold wave, combined with a Nor’easter that hit Washington Monday night, Benjamin Freed of the Washingtonian reports that  cherry-blossom watchers are bracing for the possibility of the first spring where the city’s celebrated crop of Japanese cherry trees fails to reach peak bloom. More than that, even if the trees manage to endure a week of freezing temperatures, snow and ice, the sheer number of visitors and a collapsing tidal basin could bring a “more perilous future.”

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Sunburn for 3.17.17 – Happy St. Patrick’s Day

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Jim Rosica and the Associated Press’ Mike Schneider.

GOVERNOR REASSIGNS CASE AFTER PROSECUTOR REFUSES DEATH PENALTY

The unusual and firm stance against capital punishment by State Attorney Aramis Ayala in Orlando surprised and angered many law enforcement officials, including the city’s police chief, who believed suspect Markeith Loyd should face the possibility of execution. Civil liberties groups, though, praised Ayala’s position.

Sending a clear signal that he wanted Loyd prosecuted in a capital case, Gov. Rick Scott signed an order to transfer Loyd’s first-degree murder to State Attorney Brad King in a neighboring district northwest of Orlando.

Loyd is charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

Ayala said she would follow the Governor’s order.

Ayala said she made the decision after conducting a review and concluding that there is no evidence to show that imposing the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement. She added that such cases are costly and drag on for years.

After Ayala announced her decision, Scott asked her to recuse herself from the case, but she refused. The reassignment applies only to Loyd’s case and not Ayala’s other duties since under Florida law, a governor can only suspend an elected official for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence, or permanent inability to perform official duties.”

Florida law allows a Governor to reassign a case for “good and sufficient” reasons.

“She has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case,” Scott said in a statement.

Ayala’s decision ignited condemnation from some law enforcement leaders.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a statement that he was “extremely upset.”

IN HER OWN WORDS: “At approximately 3:20pm today, I spoke to Governor Scott. I offered to have a full conversation with him regarding my decision about death penalty. He declined to explorer my reasoning. I have since learned he issued an Order removing my office from any cases related to Markeith Loyd. Upon receipt of any lawful order, my office will follow that Order and fully cooperate to ensure the successful prosecution of Markeith Loyd.”

GET SMART FAST – Read Scott Powers’ stories on Ayala’s election: “Aramis Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit state attorney run could be historic”; “Aramis Ayala becomes first black state attorney in Florida’s history

REAX

Attorney General Pam Bondi: “State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision today sends a dangerous message to residents and visitors of the greater Orlando area—furthermore, it is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer.”

Sen. Jack Latvala: “I think she ought to be thrown out of office.”

Florida Police Benevolent Association: “In life there are cowards, and then there are cowards with titles. Orange-Osceola State Attorney Ayala is a coward with a title.”

Florida Sheriffs Association: “The Florida Sheriffs will not stand idly by and watch as Lloyd is not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law after executing a hero, Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton, and murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend. Orange County Deputy Norman Lewis was also tragically killed during the manhunt.”

— “Jeff Ashton: Aramis Ayala may not have legal grounds to ban death penalties” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

— “Bob Cortes looking into possible violations following Aramis Ayala not seeking death penalty in Markeith Loyd case” via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer

— “Pinellas Sheriff: no death penalty for Markeith Loyd ‘reprehensible’” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times

TWEET, TWEET:

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RICK SCOTT LAUNCES TV AD ATTACK IN FEUD WITH HOUSE via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press – A new spot that will air statewide features Scott warning that “Tallahassee politicians don’t get it” and that the move will cost the state jobs.  “If the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state, and we lose tourists, then we’re gonna lose jobs,” said Scott in the ad. Let’s Get to Work has not disclosed how much will be spent on the ads, which will start airing next week. (Click on the image below to watch the ad.)

HOUSE DEMOCRATS DEMAND SCOTT SPEAK UP ON CBO’S SCORING OF GOP HEALTH CARE PLAN via Florida Politics – Since the Congressional Budget Office said the Republican health care plan would raise the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year earlier this week, Scott has been silent. Florida House Democrats now say it’s time for him to speak up. “Rather than acting as a leader, the Governor took the path of a typical politician and ducked the question entirely,” says House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “If Governor Scott isn’t prepared to defend ‘Trumpcare,’ he at least owes Floridians an explanation about what exactly he’s been discussing with Republican leadership during his taxpayer funded trips to Washington DC” … “Trumpcare would rip the rug out from under the millions of Floridians who have gained access to quality, affordable health care under the ACA,” says Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez.

HOUSE SPENDNG REDUCTION TARGETS WOULD SPREAD PLENTY OF PAIN via Florida Politics – The House released its bad-case and worst-case scenarios for the next state budget Thursday. Neither is very pretty. Florida faces would pay hospital less to treat poor people. The state would build less affordable housing. There’d be fewer prosecutors and public defenders.  Museums, historical preservation and economic development would be slashed. … All told, the budget subcommittees were instructed to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon. Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has also discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts. House leaders are worried about the prospect for more or less flat revenues during the new budget year. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference will meet Friday to update the forecast.

HOUSE COMMITTEE OK’S PROPOSAL TO KEEP BP OIL FUNDS IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA via Florida Politics – The House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast passed a proposed committee bill that, among other things, requires 75 percent of all payments that Florida receives from the settlement agreement between the five gulf states and BP be transferred from the general fund to the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund. Under the proposal, Triumph can award funding for several things including: Public infrastructure projects to enhance economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement in the disproportionately affected counties; Grants to local governments in the counties to establish and maintain equipment and trained personnel for local action plans to respond to disasters; Early childhood development and educational programs; and Grants to support programs to prepare students for future occupations and careers at K-20 institutions that have campuses in the communities.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Speaker Corcoran is expected to speak at noon at the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club, New World Landing, 600 South Palafox Street in Pensacola.

***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.***

DREAMING FONDLY OF PLAYTIMES (AND CRUSHES) PAST, SENATORS BACK MANDATORY RECESS via Louis Jacobson of the Tampa Bay Times – The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores would require each district school board to provide students between kindergarten and fifth grade with 20 minutes of daily recess. Some districts already do that, but others do not. This was the bill’s second committee stop. “Imagine being the teacher in charge of 25 7-year-olds sitting in the same chair for six hours,” Flores said. “That would be a challenge.” During the brief debate over the bill, Sen. Audrey Gibson … garnered chuckles with a reminiscence from her own school days. “I remember recess — it was when I developed a crush on many little boys,” she told the committee.

SENATE PANEL OKS BEER BILL — THAT BEER COMPANIES HATE via Florida Politics – A bill that—as one beer-company insider put it—could allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars out of them cleared a Senate panel this week. The legislation (SB 388), which would allow beer companies to advertise in theme parks, was OK’d unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with scant attention. It chips away at the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. And ironically, the companies don’t want the law changed.

 

DANA YOUNG TO BOB BUCKHORN: YOU SHOULD SUPPORT NEXT GENERATION UTILITY LEGISLATION via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Buckhorn and Young are waging a war of words over newly filed legislation allowing wireless equipment in public rights of way. Tampa’s Democratic mayor argues the measure removes local control of public spaces. No, says the South Tampa Republican senator, Buckhorn is completely off-base with his concerns on what the bill will actually do. In a recent op-ed … Buckhorn made his case: “Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look.” Young says that the legislation only addresses wireless equipment that would be installed in “existing rights of way where utility infrastructure exists today … The bill does nothing to change a local government’s ability to preserve historic areas like our own Ybor City, nor does it affect the power of cities and counties to regulate siting of new infrastructure and equipment as they do now.”

EDUCATION GROUPS KNOCK ‘MISLEADING’ FEWER, BETTER TESTS LEGISLATION via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News –  Florida lawmakers might be calling HB 773 the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, but parent groups say the bill’s title is totally misleading and isn’t actually doing anything to eliminate standardized testing in the Sunshine State. State Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., and Chris Sprowls and Sen. Anitere Flores are all touting the legislation as a way to scale back standardized testing in Florida. Not so fast, parents say. “First of all, this [title] is a misnomer,” [said] Beth Overholt of education advocacy group Common Ground … composed of representatives from six education groups like Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and Fund Education Now. Overholt [said] the legislation doesn’t actually eliminate tests, but just alters how long students would be taking tests at the end of the school year — so the title, she said, is totally misleading. “They’re not fewer and they’re not better tests,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

FIX WATER QUALITY OR FLORIDA TOURISM WILL SUFFER, FISHING AND BOATING INDUSTRIES WARN via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times – The leaders of one of the nation’s largest outdoors companies, a major boat manufacturer, and tourism industry officials met with Gov. Scott and legislators Wednesday to make the case that urgent action is needed to end the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee. They detailed how their industries suffered from the impact of the guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms and state of emergency last year. They offered statistics on how Florida is losing business to other states, warned about the social media buzz over Florida’s bad water and suggested that if things don’t turn now, it may take years to reverse. “If Florida is known as a destination of subpar water quality or bad water, it would absolutely crush our local economy,” said John Lai, representing the Lee County Development Association and the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce. He said that one in five jobs in his region relies heavily on tourism but, in the last 30 years, he has watched “the complete degradation of Florida estuaries and water quality.”

ASSINGMENT EDITORS: Senate President Joe Negron and Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon will take part in a community discussion at 5 p.m. at Pahokee High School, 900 Larrimore Road.

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

TRI-RAIL DOESN’T DESERVE TALLAHASSEE’S TOUGH TACTICS via the South Florida Sun Sentinel – The likely source of that Tallahassee controversy was companies that lost out in January on the $511-million, seven-year contract for all of Tri-Rail’s operations, maintenance and dispatch. Tri-Rail’s rules eliminated every bidder except one, Herzog Transit Services. As we said in an earlier editorial, however, there are good reasons why Tri-Rail bundled several contracts into one and chose the winner. Herzog was not the low bidder, but Tri-Rail asked for fixed contracts, to avoid change orders that could allow any low bidder to drive the cost much higher. Only Herzog submitted such a contract. Tri-Rail also based the contract on performance, not just price. A Broward County judge rejected a challenge from the losing companies. Tri-Rail is essential to South Florida’s transportation future. The Legislature should work with the agency, not against it.

SPEAKING OF TRI-RAIL — WHAT JEFF BRANDES SHOULD BE READING – Bombardier employee arrested, others questioned in Swedish bribery probe via CBC News – A Bombardier Transportation employee in Sweden has been arrested and others questioned by police in connection with contracts for a railway modernization project in Azerbaijan. Swedish prosecutor Thomas Forsberg said the employee who was arrested is a Russian national who works for Bombardier Transportation in Sweden. According to Forsberg, the investigation is based on allegations that bribes were given to Azerbaijan officials “in order to adapt a contract” to fit Bombardier.

***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.***

DMS SECRETARY CHAD POPPELL RESIGNS via the Tallahassee Democrat – … to pursue interests in the private sector, the DMS office said. Poppell has been the secretary since December 2014. His resignation will be effective March 31. “Chad Poppell has done an outstanding job as Secretary of DMS and I want to thank him for his hard work to improve efficiency and foster innovation in state government,” Scott said in a release. “Under his leadership, Florida has remained a leader in government efficiency and provided the critical support to our state agencies to ensure Florida families and businesses receive the services and support they need. Chad has been a valued member of my team since 2013 and I am proud of the great work he has done for Florida families.”

CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION TO HOLD FIRST MEETING via Florida Politics – The Constitution Revision Commission has launched a website and announced an organizational meeting next Monday. The meeting will be 2-4 p.m. in the Capitol’s Senate chamber, with a brief agenda of “Welcoming Remarks, Oath of Office, Rules of the Commission, Ethics Briefing.” Its newest hire is Meredith Beatrice, who was spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and is now the CRC’s “external affairs” director. The 37-member board is chaired by Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016. The panel, which convenes every 20 years, will review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document after holding public meetings across the state. The commission’s website address is here.

SUNSHINE WEEK: FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION GOES TO BAT FOR FLORIDA’S RIGHT TO KNOW via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – True to form, the First Amendment Foundation has been busy at the Florida Capitol battling to ensure the public’s right to know … helped restructure a bill this week that would have severely limited access to information if the government decided not to comply with public records laws. Florida’s “sunshine” law says that “it is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person.” But the only real recourse against a government officer or agency that refuses to hand over public information is to challenge them in court. That can be expensive. As a safeguard, if a judge rules that the government violated public records laws, then the government must pay the record requester’s attorney’s fees. The mandatory provision “creates a level playing field for someone who can afford to pay for an attorney and those who cannot,” according to the First Amendment Foundation … a new bill would have made the mandatory fee provision optional. By changing the word “must” to “shall,” a judge could deny fees even if the court rules in favor of the citizen. The potential consequences are enormous.

SPOTTED AT THE GOVERNORS CLUB: THE LAST TROUBADOUR OF REAL FLORIDA via Florence Snyder of Florida Politics – Jeff Klinkenberg is not the kind of guy who does “luncheons,” but there he was at the Governors Club Tuesday, entertaining Friends of the First Amendment — some real, some fake — at the First Amendment Foundation’s annual fundraiser. He looked a lot more comfortable later that day at Sally Bradshaw’s bookstore, telling true tales about things that “make Florida unique” to an appreciative audience of people who like to choose their reading material in a venue that does not sell toilet paper and tampons. Klinkenberg coined the term Real Florida and cornered the knowledge market on everything worth knowing about people who do not need Disney to fire their imaginations or casinos to pump their adrenaline. To people genuinely committed to Florida, Klinkenberg is the Scheherazade of storytelling, revered by regular folks and by fellow A-list writers. One of them, FSU professor and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis showed up at Klinkenberg’s book signing to pay his respects. It was like watching Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page trade licks.

TASK FORCE WANTS MONEY TO FIGHT ENCROACHMENT ON FLORIDA MILITARY BASES via Florida Politics – Florida would place its military installations at risk of commercial encroachment — and, possibly, closure — without adequate funding for land acquisition through the Florida Forever land acquisition program, a military support organization warned Thursday. Some $3 million from U.S. Department of Defense funds will be lost at the end of 2018 unless the state provides matching funds, said Bruce Grant, Enterprise Florida vice president for military programs, told the Florida Defense Support Task Force during a meeting in Tallahassee. …  “Most legislators may not connect (Florida Forever) with military land buffering,” Grant said. “But there is a connection.” … With the federal government expected to review bases for closure in 2019 or 2021, “now is not the time to pull back and pause,” said Kellie Jo Kilberg, of the Florida Defense Alliance.

DO UNIVERSITIES DISCRIMINATE IN HIRING? via Darryl Paulson for Florida Politics – Universities are touted as bastions of diversity whose prime role is to encourage students to engage in critical thinking, ask tough questions and expose themselves to a diversity of ideas and opinions. If that is the mission of the university, they have dismally failed. Diversity is respected, up to a point, as long as it doesn’t include ideological diversity. As liberal commentator Nicholas Kristof observed in a recent New York Times op-ed, “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservative.” Welcome to the modern American university, where almost every type of diversity is encouraged, except for ideological diversity. Try challenging liberal dogma as a student or professor, and you will likely find yourself facing counseling and academic discipline.

MOM OF NAIKA VENANT: I THOUGHT HANGING MIGHT HAVE BEEN STUNT via Carol Marbin Miller and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – It is the dead of night in a parked car somewhere in the city of Miami, and Venant’s mother is awakened by a torrent of Facebook messages, indicating her daughter is committing suicide online. Gina Alexis calls a foster care caseworker, she says, and gets no answer. She calls the state’s child abuse hotline. She scans her daughter’s Facebook feed for any evidence of the unfathomable claims her friends are making. “Oh, my God,” one friend tells her. “Run to the bathroom. Your daughter. Your daughter, she’s hanging.” But the bathroom is miles away in a Miami Gardens foster home. However, in real time, the speculation online is that Naika is faking the suicide, and Alexis believed — or perhaps wanted to believe — that her actions were a stunt. In any event, it is possible Naika was already gone before Alexis began what she describes as a fruitless effort to save the girl.

***The 2017 Florida Blue Foundation Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards are coming to Kissimmee April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center. The two-day event – with the theme “Creating a Culture of Health” – will feature several Florida-based, regional and national health professionals. The symposium will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about health care culture, purpose built communities and communities of health. Discussions will center on health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Network with 400+ executives from a range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more. To view agenda and register, click here***

HAPPENING SATURDAY – GILLUM TO ADDRESS DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS OF FLORIDA CAUCUS — The Tallahassee Democrat is scheduled to speak at the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida conference at noon at the Hillsborough Teachers Association, 3102 North Habana Ave.

SAVE THE DATEVance Aloupis is holding a fundraising reception Thursday, March 23, in his bid for House District 115. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Sachs Media Group offices, 114 S. Duval St. in Tallahassee. RSVP at rsvp@vancealoupis.com.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Brian BallardWansley Walters, Ballard Partners: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Dean CannonKirk PepperJoseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: Town of Longboat Key

Michael Cantens, Flagler Strategies: Correct Care Solutions

Erin Lee Deady, Erin L. Deady PA: Renew Financial

Mercer Fearington, Southern Strategy Group: Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society

Jeffrey Greene, Jeff Greene & Associates: Green Roads West

James Harries Jr., James E. Harris Jr: American Ambulance

Paul Hawkes, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Bradford County School Board; Watershed Technologies, LLC

Todd Lewis, Lewis Consulting: Latin Chamber of Commerce of the United States

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Jeff Sharkey, Capitol Alliance Group: ClickAClinic

Stephanie Zauder, Ballard Partners: Bequest, Inc.

SPOTTED at the Red Dog Blue Dog charity celebrity bartender event in Tallahassee hosted by Sara ClementsJoe ClementsAngela DrzwieckiKate MacFallSandi Poreda and Erin VanSickleEvan Jenne (Blue Dog), Dana Young (Red Dog), Anna AlexopolousJosh AubuchonBryan AvilaMichael AyersAmy BiscegliaRob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, Caitlyn Brongel, Dave BrowningChristian CameraChris CarmodyErin and Matthey ChoyCarlecia CollinsRobert Coker (senior), Chris DawsonNick DuranMatt FarrarCesar FernandezChris FlackKatie FluryBill GalvanoBillie Anne GayCorey GuzzoJeff Hartley, Jack LatvalaSeth McKeelMike MillerThomas Philpot, Casey ReedMarc ReichelderferTara Reid, Andrea ReillySydney RidleyDavid RiveraSteve SchaleLeva SchmidtWilton SimpsonClark SmithStephanie Smith, Chris Spencer, and Cam Yarborough.

WEEKEND TV

Florida This Week  on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: This week’s episode features moderator Rob Lorei discussing Florida issues with Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith, former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder, and USF St. Pete emeritus professor of government Darryl Paulson.

Political Connections on Bay News 9: The 11 a.m. Sunday show will feature an interview with U.S. Sen. Nelson.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: The 11 am Sunday show will feature an interview with Democratic U.S. Sen. Nelson, followed by a ‘Common Grounds’ segment on the ongoing debate over whether Enterpise Florida and Visit Florida should get the axe. The show will also take a look at the Politifact Scott-o-Meter to see whether the second-term Republican governor has lived up to his campaign promise to push for the repeal of the ACA.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC):  Hosts Steve Vancore and Gary Yordon will chat with Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and Florida politico emeritus Sandy D’Alemberte.

***Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur are fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala and Rep. Brodeur that you support them and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at ProtectFLBusiness.com.***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to our good friend Eric Johnson, as well as Carey Baker, John French, Jan Gorrie, Mike Haridopolos, Chip LaMarca, Kristen McDonald, Alexander Pantinakis, and Joe Salzverg. Celebrating today is our dear friend Christian Minor, as well as Rep. Sean Shaw, Kelsey Frouge, St. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell, and Rob Weissert.

RETAIL FEDERATION EXPECTS RECORD-BREAKING ST. PATRICK’S DAY SPENDING IN 2017 via Florida Politics — St. Patrick’s Day revelers won’t be the only one’s seeing green this year according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation. The retail trade group estimates those celebrating the Irish holiday will spend $37.92 a piece this year, with total spending expected to top $5.3 billion — a significant jump from last year’s $4.4 billion and good enough for a record. “We continue to see spending on holidays and celebrations reaching or exceeding record highs, which reinforces the strength of our economy and the confidence that consumers feel,” said Florida Retail Federation President & CEO Scott Shalley. “Even though St. Patrick’s Day isn’t one of the bigger spending holidays, we still expect Florida retailers to see a nice bump in sales, particularly those who offer additional discounts and sales to attract customers.” Though St. Patrick is revered for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, his holiday is better known for bringing lots of people to bars. According to NRF, 27 percent of those polled will head to watering hole or restaurant, while 15 percent will head to a private party. The most popular way to celebrate the occasion, however, is wearing green. More than four-fifths of those polled said they plan to dress accordingly, while 31 percent said they would make a special dinner, such as corned beef and cabbage.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Hillsborough River goes green for Mayor’s River O’Green Fest Saturday starting 11 a.m. at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (near Riverwalk), 600 N. Ashley Dr. in Tampa.

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