Peter Schorsch, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 204

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,,, 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.

Takeaways from Tallahassee – On and off the Court

National Review Online blogger Ed Whelan was in a lather this week over retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry “displac(ing)” new Justice C. Alan Lawson.

As many suspected he would, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an order last month allowing Perry to stay on as a senior justice to continue working on unresolved cases during his term.  

Whelan opined that he didn’t “see how Perry’s post-retirement participation in pending matters and his purported displacement of Lawson are compatible with the governing state laws.”

He added: “It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Labarga and Perry are liberals (part of the long-dominant liberal majority on the Florida Supreme Court) and that Lawson is a conservative.”

Political predilections aside, we asked longtime Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters for an explanation.

“The Court’s longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement unless they cannot do so due to death or a conflict of interest,” he said.

“Conflicts of interest can include the fact that they have become a judge on another court or have re-entered the practice of law and thus cannot simultaneously work as both a senior judge and a private attorney. At present, Justice Perry is not a judge on another court and has not gone to work in a law firm.”

Moreover, “there are serious workload issues involved in processing cases because the work is cumulative, much like studies in a law-school class,” Waters went on. “For example, you would not place a law student into a class on a complex aspect of the death penalty after that class is more than half complete.

“Doing so would have unfair results – slowing down the entire class so that the one student could get up to speed, or unfairly handicapping the one student who has not had the benefit of the first half of the class.”

In a similar way, he added, “asking a new justice to step in and get up to speed on work in individual cases that may be more than half completed can greatly slow decision-making in those cases – a result that would impose delay and additional expense on the parties to those cases, some of which are facing the death penalty.

“The Supreme Court always has taken the approach that avoids unnecessary delay and expense,” Waters said. 

As an historical sidenote, the last justice accorded a similar senior status was Charles T. Wells, the man Perry replaced on the high court.

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

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

Shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport — At least five people were killed and eight people were wounded after a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday afternoon. The Miami Herald reported the suspect was identified as Esteban Santiago, and on Friday it was believed he was a passenger on a flight from Canada who landed at the airport with a checked gun in his baggage. According to the Miami Herald, the suspect was “believed to to have gone into the bathroom and loaded the weapon,” before stepping back into the baggage-claim area and started shooting.

Fight against terror — Gov. Rick Scott announced this week he plans to include $5.8 million his 2017-18 budget for the Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents. Those agents, according to the Governor’s Office, would specialize in counterterrorism and intelligence, and would be stationed in each of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s seven regions. “Terror is a threat to our state and nation and we need specialists that are solely dedicated to identifying these terrorists and stopping them before they attack,” said Scott in a statement this week. “This recommended funding is a critical investment in our state’s counterterrorism operations that will work to ensure that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to curb this senseless violence.”

Gun bills — A pair of controversial gun bills in the Florida Senate will not be discussed during committee meetings next week. According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up bills aimed at open carry and the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Meanwhile, Sen. Linda Stewart and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced this week they had filed legislation in both the Senate and the House that would ban the sale of military-grade assault weapons in Florida. The bill would prevent the sale or transfer of assault weapons as well as owning them in general. “We are not trying to take away your guns,” said Stewart. “But it is also worth mentioning that the people killed by gun violence every day have rights too.

Bills, bills, bills — The countdown to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session is on, and lawmakers have filed dozens of bills ahead of the first full committee week. Among the bills recently filed: A House proposal that would add ‘Kratom’ to the controlled substance list; a bill expanding the use of service animals in courtrooms; and a bill that would make it more expensive for tobacco companies to appeal verdicts in liability cases filed by smokers made sick by the products. One more bill of note: Soon-to-be mom and state Sen. Lauren Book filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Bondi’s future — Attorney General Pam Bondi might be saying farewell to Tallahassee. Jennifer Jacobs with Bloomberg Politics reported this week that Bondi will likely take a job in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House. According to the report, it was not immediately clear what her title would be, and she wasn’t among a list of White House appointments announced earlier in the week. But Bondi is staying mum on her future, telling reporters this week she is “very happy being Attorney General of the state of Florida right now. … And, I’m also committed to the President of the United States — elect — to make our country a better country, and get back on track.”

You’re not seeing things, there’s a new optometrist on the board.

Gov. Scott recently appointed Lucille Turner to the state Board of Optometry. Turner, a 60-year-old Tallahassee resident, was appointed to the board for a term ending Oct. 31. She fills a vacant seat.

Scott also reappointed Dr. Stuart Kaplan, a 47-year-old Fort Myers resident. Kaplan, an optometrist at Tyson Eye of Cape Coral Eye Center, was reappointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

You won’t find any cattle on this ranch.

Carol Buckley, the founder of Elephant Aid International, announced in December she purchased Piergiovanni Cattle Ranch, an 846-acre cattle ranch located about 30 miles northwest from Tallahassee. The ranch will become a refuge for up to 10 captive-held elephants to recover from past traumas.

Buckley spent more than a year visiting dozens of farms and ranches in search of the perfect property for the refuge.

“I was starting to lose faith as this refuge was to be Tarra’s new home, my elephant of 42 years,” said Buckley.  “I felt an urgency to make this happen, so I considered a farm in Alabama; but just as I was about to make a serious offer, Walter (Hatchett, a broker with Jon Kohler & Associates) discovered this property.”

Buckley founded one of the country’s first elephant sanctuaries in 1996, creating a sanctuary on 100-acre property in rural Tennessee. She later grew it into a state-of-the-art, 2,700-acre natural habitat elephant refuge.

More jobs are headed to Cape Canaveral.

Gov. Scott announced recently that Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. will begin shifting operations from Virginia to Florida. The company, the Governor’s Office said, also plans to expand its headquarters in Cape Canaveral.

“I am proud to announce that Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. has chosen Florida over Virginia for their expansion, which will create 150 new jobs,” said Scott in a statement. “I look forward to seeing CHSi’s growth in Florida and we will continue to do all we can to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations so more businesses can succeed in our state.”

The company established its first office in Florida in in 1999 with only three employees in a 500-square-foot facility. Nearly two decades later, the firm has grown to more than 2,000 employees worldwide.

“I am excited that Comprehensive Health Solutions, Inc. joins a long list of companies that have recognized the future of their business is in Florida,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “The company’s expansion in Brevard County and its 150 new jobs will provide new opportunities for local job seekers searching for their dream job.”

A singer, guitarist, poet and entertainer are the newest Florida hall of famers.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced recently that Bill Dean, a singer and songwriter; Don Felder, a guitarist; Lee Bennett Hopkins, a poet and anthologist; and Jim Stafford, an entertainer have all been selected for induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

The foursome will be inducted in a ceremony on Feb. 23 at the annual Convening Culture Conference in Gainesville.

“Induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed upon artists by the State of Florida,” said Detzner. “We are fortunate to have these four artists that have brought tremendous distinction to our state through their careers and tireless devotion to their crafts. Their work has touched and inspired countless people, and it is fitting that we honor them for their influence and brilliance.”

Established in 1986, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame honors people who have made significant contributions to the arts in Florida either as performing or practicing artists in their disciplines. Inductees include writers Zora Neale Hurston and Tennessee Williams, musician Ray Charles, and artist Robert Rauschenberg.

Call her Madame Secretary.

Sen. Daphne Campbell was recently appointed as secretary of the Miami-Dade County legislative delegation.

“I look forward to serving my fellow members in the Miami-Dade Delegation as their Secretary,” she said in a statement. “This upcoming session we have a lot to accomplish and we have many new members, which I look forward to working with closely so that our legislative delegation grows in unity and strength.”

The Miami-Dade delegation represents one of the largest and most populated regions of the state. It also has one of the largest legislative delegations in the state.

Happy (belated) anniversary, 1000 Friends of Florida!

Founded in 1986, the nonprofit organization celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. And to celebrate, the organization released a special report highlighting the ways it “partnered with concerned Floridians to make (the) state a better place to live and work.”

The 24-page report is meant to take readers “on a journey through three decades of 1000 Friends of Florida’s history.” It features essays from conservationists, planners, environmental attorneys and nature photographers.

“Every year 1000 Friends engaged on legislation ranging from affordable housing to zoning and from springs protection to transportation housing. We take great pride that 1000 Friends is viewed by legislators, lobbyists, and our conservation partners alike as a foremost expert on planning and growth management,” wrote Ryan Smart, the organization’s president.

“But what makes 1000 Friends formidable is not only our expertise, but our commitment to further the long-term best interest of Floridians, regardless of the whims of politics and funders. We are the tip of the spear, but you, our dedicated and passionate Friends, are our driving force.”

Who were the real winners of 2016? Patricia Levesque says students.

Levesque, the CEO at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, told supporters last month that students across the nation came out on top in 2016. In an email to supporters, Levesque said states enacted more than 40 student-centered reforms, including programs to advance early literacy, college and career pathways, and school choice.

“We’re excited for this nationwide progress,” she wrote. “But best of all, these reforms translate into changed lives.”

Levesque said 670,000 additional students have educational choice and student achievement is rising in “states with strong accountability models.” More children are reading at grade level, and Levesque said in states where incentives are offered, more than 250,000 students have earned “an industry certification or passed an advanced placement course in readiness for college or a career.”

“We often think of education reform as policies written in legislation—as rules enacted by elected officials and appointed boards,” she said. “Rather, reform is a profound game changer in the lives of individual children, a gift that allows them to maximize their potential and explore meaningful futures. … Every child in America deserves access to the quality education that will empower him or her to succeed. And with your partnership, we will continue working toward that goal.”

Think of it as mad science — or maybe just breakfast.

The Florida Department of Agriculture recently released an educational video series called “The Science of Cooking.” The six video series is meant to teach students in grades 5 through 8 about the science of day-to-day activities, like cooking.

“Just about every activity we do can be broken down into some type of scientific equation, and cooking is no different,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “These videos are a fun way to learn about the science of cooking.”

The videos shift back and forth between a chef cooking kid-friendly recipes (with Florida grown products, of course) and a chemist who explains the science behind the meals. The science, according to Putnam’s office, incorporate basic chemistry concepts that align with the Florida State Standards.

The video series covers a variety of concepts, including the difference between physical and chemical changes, compounds and mixtures, and forms of energy. And here’s a bonus for parents: It also teaches your kiddos how to cook.

Addressing water need, expanding learning options, and encouraging innovation are among the top priorities for the James Madison Institute in 2017.

The Tallahassee think tank released its 2017 policy priorities this week, focusing on economic prosperity, property rights and educational opportunities. The annual list of priorities addresses several issues important to the organization and the state as a whole.

“These principles are the reason more than two billion people around the world have found their way out of poverty over the past 30 years,” said Bob McClure, the organization’s president, in a statement. “And they must continue to find their way into decisions made by policy makers at the local, state and federal levels. We look forward to all that will be done during 2017 to make Florida’s future brighter for years to come.”

The 2017 priorities include encouraging innovation and entrepreneurialism in the marketplace, opposing regulations that seek to restrict competition, addressing Florida’s water future, and expanding learning options for all K-12 students.

Stakeholders in Florida’s workers’ compensation system lack confidence it achieves its stated goal of balancing the interests of injured workers and keeping costs under control.

In a survey released by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, nearly 66 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the system strikes the right balance. At nearly 40 percent, “strongly disagree” got more votes than any other category.

“The words ‘complex,’ ‘litigious,’ ‘outdated,’ and ‘overregulated’ were most often used in describing the system,” division assistant director Andrew Sabolic said.

The division surveyed 4,468 people on its electronic notification list, including representatives of carriers; attorneys for workers, employers, or carriers; and health care providers or facilities.

The survey presented a list of words and asked respondents to pick the one that best describes the workers’ compensation system. The top pick was “complex,” at 20.8 percent.

Only 5.3 percent thought the system “fair to all parties.”

A state workers’ compensation advisory panel voted this to ask the Legislature to consider letting regulators establish a drug formulary in hopes of keeping medical costs under control.

The panel also recommended changes to the way Florida’s workers’ compensation system reimburses facilities that treat injured workers, and to tighten the guidelines for authorizing medical care.

Although formally named the Three-Member Panel, the group contains only two members at present — Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Tamela Perdue, a senior vice president for Sunshine Health, who represents employers. Gov. Rick Scott has not filled a vacant seat representing workers.

The panel sets reimbursement policies and payment levels for health care providers, pharmacists, and medical suppliers working with workers’ compensation claimants.

The panel will pass its recommendations along to the leaders of the House and Senate for adoption through legislation or — if lawmakers demur — possibly through regulations.

Donald Polmann attended his first meeting as a member of the Public Service Commission this week, promising to seek a balance between sustaining Florida’s public utilities and the needs of their customers.

“I am truly grateful for the warm welcome that I’ve received from everyone here at the Public Service Commission,” Polmann said.

“I know that we have very important work to do, and I intend to make significant contributions with the benefit of my background, experience and expertise. My focus will be on service to Florida.”

Polmann said he hopes to help ensure “consistent, reliable service at a fair and reasonable cost” to customers, at rates that will allow utilities “to maintain as well as plan and grow for the future, in an effective and efficient manner.”

Gov. Scott selected Polmann to replace former Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who decided not to apply for a fourth term. She has been named as the new chief of the Florida Parks Service.

Polmann is a registered professional engineer with three degrees, including a doctorate in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a senior manager at Atkins, a design and engineering firm that specializes in water projects.

Tip your hat to Judge Virginia Baker Norton.

Norton, an administrative judge with the Civil Division of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Duval County, is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Judicial Service Award. The award honors outstanding and sustained service to the public, especially as it relates to pro-bono work.

Norton has worked with inmates in the jail’s one-room schoolhouse, reviewing topics like job strategies and patriotism. She is currently working with the city of Jacksonville and the Sheriff’s Office to expand the program.

Norton earned her law degree in 1997 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. An active participate and leader in Jacksonville Legal Aid since graduating from law school, she has become the go-to person in Duval County when a bar association needs a judge to encourage pro bono legal service.

She will be presented with the award during a ceremony on Jan. 19 by Chief Justice Labarga.

During the same ceremony, Labarga will present Judge Laurel Myerson Isicoff, the chief judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of Florida, with the Chief Justice’s Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Award.

A native New Yorker, Isicoff came to Florida to finish her law degree, which she earned from the University of Miami School of Law in 1982. She was sworn in as the first female bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of Florida in 2006, and has been a leader in pro bono representation over the years.

Nearly two dozen attorneys will be honored for their work on behalf of the poor later this month.

The Florida Bar will present 21 lawyers with pro bono awards during a ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court on Jan. 19. Established in 1981, the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award aim to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor. The awards recognize attorney who make public service commitments and raise awareness of volunteer opportunities provided by Florida lawyers to those who can’t afford legal fees.

The 2017 honorees are Joseph D. Lorenz, David H. Abrams, Christina Nieto Seifert, Laura K. Boeckman, Samuel Pennington, Lyn Katz Hanshaw, Jay. S. Grife, Peggy-Anne O’Connor, Brenda L. London, Kristie Hatcher-Bolin, Brett Alan Barfield, Michele S. Stephan, Katherine Earle Yanes, Steven Lawrence Applebaum, Holly Tabernilla, David L. Manz, Richard Francis Hussey, Brigitta Hawkins, Mark Miller, Jonathan I. Tolentino, Laura Thayer Wagner.

Florida Bar President William J. Schifino, Jr. will present the 2017 awards.

Florida attorneys will have a lot to celebrate later this month.

The Florida Bar is also expected to present St. Petersburg attorney Jennifer Edwards with the 2017 Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. The award recognizes public service or legal aid performed by a lawyer who is younger than 36 and who has not practiced for more than five years. It

Edwards is being honored for her work as a guardian ad litem and court-appointed advocate for children in Pinellas County.

Mark Olive, a Tallahassee attorney, is also scheduled to be awarded the 2017 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, the highest statewide pro bono award. The award is intended to encourage and recognize extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers in making legal services available to people who otherwise could not afford them, and to focus public awareness on the substantial voluntary services rendered by Florida lawyers.

And finally, the Immigration Law Group of Florida, based out of St. Petersburg, will receive the 2017 Law Firm Commendation at the annual Pro Bono Awards Ceremony. The commendation honors significant contributions in the delivery of legal services to individuals or groups on a pro bono basis.

Chief Justice Labarga will present Olive and the Immigration Law Group of Florida with the awards.

Call it a victory for nurse practitioners.

Advanced registered nurse practitioners can now prescribed controlled drugs under a newly enacted state law. The legislation, passed by state lawmakers last year, makes Florida the final state in the nation to allow to allow ARNPs to prescribe controlled drugs.

“Removing the barriers of practice for ARNPs and PAs is one of the many cost-effective ways that Florida can move its healthcare system into the 21st century and ensure that our residents are receiving the care they need,” said Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “We applaud the efforts of the Legislature during the 2016 Legislative Session in expanding scope of practice for ARNPs and PAs. It was an excellent session for these healthcare issues.”

Florida TaxWatch has led the charge for expanding the scope of practice for ARNP’s and physician assistants. And while several bills have passed to expand the scope of practice, the organization said it will continue to push for changes to “move Florida’s archaic health care system into the 21st century.”

First Responder Appreciation Week begins Monday in Florida, under a proclamation signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“The bravery displayed by Florida’s first responders in 2016 was inspiring,” Scott said Friday in a written statement.

“From placing their lives in the line of danger when a terrorist killed 49 innocent people at Pulse Night Club, to helping Florida families stay safe during hurricanes, we are so proud of all first responders throughout our state.”

Scott recognized five law enforcement officers killed on the job during 2016: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila Jr., state Department of Corrections Sergeant Jorge Ramos, Taylor County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Williams, Miami Police Department Officer Jorge Sanchez, and Nassau County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Oliver.

Officials plan to mark the week through programs in Florida’s public schools, colleges, and universities, and have offered suggestions for how best to do that.

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

Jacksonville Bold for 1.7.17 — A time for choosing

Nearly five years have passed since the first attempt to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.

This time, there is reason for optimism.

For starters, we hear that Shad Khan — owner of the Jaguars, as you may recall — has “made some calls.”

Khan is worried that the amphitheater may have a hard time drawing big league acts in light of Jacksonville’s small-ball approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

After a couple of calls to Councilmembers, made before the end of the year, Khan exclaimed that he couldn’t believe LGBT rights in Jacksonville are even up for debate.

That’s what he told us, also, early in 2016 when we asked him about the HRO introduced earlier that year.

The goal is to get up to 13 votes — a magical supermajority that would render moot the verdict of Mayor Lenny Curry, as it would become veto-proof.

We understand that certain power brokers have been charged with making the sale to individual Councilmembers.

Mike Hightower, we are told, is impressing on Republican Sam Newby the importance of moving forward on legislation. Bob Shircliff, we hear, is making the pitch likewise to Matt Schellenberg (both are Catholic).

And Paul Harden? Who doesn’t he talk to when it’s time to move a bill?

After a well-publicized meeting Wednesday introducing the bill, Councilman Aaron Bowman — another Republican, and one who voted for the President-elect — noted that the City Council is about as nonpartisan as a political body can get.

Indeed, that’s the case. In part, that reflects the coalition-building needed in a city as big and diverse as Jacksonville. And, in part, that reflects a disconnect between Councilmembers of both parties and the local parties themselves.

With that in mind, the sales pitch — specifically, the personal touch from political mentors in some cases, patrons in others — is essential.

A big question going into the HRO process, which is expected to culminate at the council meeting on Valentine’s Day: was enough time allotted for the personal touch approach to work?

Councilmembers like bill co-sponsor Tommy Hazouri were fired up and ready to go. Those with less of a personal investment in the bill getting passed and becoming part of the ordinance code wanted a cooler, more calculating approach.

The gap there denotes a potential place where what momentum exists — a lot of it driven by the donor class — could be diffused.

Some councilmembers will say they support the measure — but won’t go on the record. This is in part because of the volume and the ferocity of the negative reaction they get from churches — specifically preachers.

The time to go on the record is nigh.

The committee process will compel that before the floor vote. And in that context, board meetings during the week of Feb. 6 will be must-see TV.

The HRO bill will be paralleled in committees by a measure from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who seeks to add some teeth to the city’s Equal Opportunity/Equal Access program.

The program, launched in 2004, hasn’t had to fund a director for many years.

Dennis’ proposal: To provide that funding and to give that director oversight over diversity initiatives, to ensure that the city and independent authorities work toward the goal of a discrimination-free workplace.

Dennis strikes some observers as enigmatic; they expect more bluster. But he’s a careful, smart politician who wins key battles while avoiding running into ambushes.

Already in his term, Dennis collaborated across party lines with Curry and Sen. Marco Rubio to remedy the horror show conditions at Eureka Gardens.

On this issue, Dennis — chair of the Rules Committee — will use some political capital, build some more political capital, and restore the intent of a program previously eviscerated by budget cuts.

Worth watching: if this bill links up with the HRO — as both are intended as remedies against the kind of institutionalized discrimination that simply doesn’t jibe with the way Jacksonville markets itself to the world.

***Southern Strategy Group is Florida’s powerhouse lobbying firm with a dedicated Jacksonville office, as well as locations in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee. Our nearly 25 lobbyists work daily to get our clients and their issues in front of key local and state elected officials. Whether in City Hall, the State Capitol or somewhere in between, we’ll work with you to create and execute a strategy that moves your agenda from the starting point through the finish line. Every industry. Every interest. Powerful advocacy begins here. Call us today at 904-425-8765 or visit to learn more.***

Downtown Friction: Before the television news had its first fragmentary reports of the once unthinkable gunshots fired at Jacksonville’s ArtWalk, social media was lit with tweets about the subject.

The fascinating thing about the tweets and Facebook posts, in aggregate: they were first-person accounts of what was going down, in real time, without the framing provided by reporters or the JSO investigation.

More than a few of the tweets — none of them from anyone famous, or even FFJ (famous for Jacksonville) — expressed dismay about the future of ArtWalk.

Some folks said they won’t be attending ArtWalk anymore. Others speculated that the monthly event might be canceled altogether.

And others pointed to changes in the composition of those attending the event.

More kids were in attendance — a function of school being out.

And those kids weren’t there for the art or the vendors, particularly; they were there to stunt, to see and be seen.

And one other tweeter noted, correctly, that not too far from ArtWalk’s nexus in Hemming Park, gunshots and sirens soundtracked many an evening.

ArtWalk has grown over the last decade, and become a draw for a downtown subject to perpetual Sisyphean attempts at gentrification. And with that increased draw of people outside Jacksonville’s perpetually underpaid community of artists and craftspeople, it follows that the event would draw more people with no interest in art, per se — much like shopping malls did during their heyday.

In other words, if ArtWalk weren’t a successful event, it wouldn’t have drawn the kind of crowd density that makes gunplay more likely.

But “success” doesn’t justify gunshots to most of those from the burbs who roll in to attend.

The city has to consider how to address security at these events.

More police? Probably a necessity.

An earlier shutdown in the winter months? May need to be considered also.

While these shots are an anomaly in the history of the event, the reality is that policy makers in council, the mayor’s office, and Downtown Vision can’t function as if they won’t happen again.

For better or worse, the era of innocence for this event is over.

“Jacksonville City Council panel backs three local bills in Tallahassee” via Florida Politics — One local bill, “J-2,” asks for “special zones” in older neighborhoods, such as Murray Hill, Springfield and San Marco, to lower the required seating for a restaurant serving liquor from 150 to 100. Legislative bill J-3 would amend the Florida Statute chapters regulating beer and wine sales and consumption to provide that for purposes of the application of the state law, the open container law exemption in Jacksonville’s special events district shall apply to “premises” licensed for “consumption on premises” that are either within or located contiguously to the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District. “J-1” was presented also, affecting the school board. Resolution 2016-782, sponsored by Councilman Aaron Bowman, would express support for a J-Bill that would amend the Florida statute so that the vote of the Duval County School Board chair would not break a tie. In 2006, the Legislature adopted a measure for Orange County that dictated that, in counties with between 800,000 and 900,000 people, the school board chair’s vote breaks the tie. All of these bills were unanimously approved and will undoubtedly be approved next Tuesday by the full council.

“How to work the press” by Florida Politics — The Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney stories have some commonalities: Both are Democrats on the City Council, and both find themselves occasionally going against the grain of the rest of the body. Also a commonality is that neither of them gave real thought toward crafting a damage control narrative until the damage could no longer be controlled, thus hazarding unnecessary risk to political capital they otherwise might have had. Smart politicians avoid these pitfalls. They get ahead of narratives before they hit the front pages, cultivating members of the media to present them in sympathetic ways. Consider Jacksonville’s mayor, whose political operation is active and separate from the policy operation inside City Hall. Other smart politicians hire the best and the brightest from the local press corps to handle their messaging.

“Drug OD ‘epidemic’ worries Bill Gulliford” via Florida Politics — An email from Duval County’s Medical Examiner’s office laid it out: from the beginning of January until mid-November, Jacksonville experienced 345 drug overdose deaths. In terms of casualties, whites and males are the most vulnerable, dying in numbers outsized compared to their proportion of the population. Of the 345 deaths, 214 decedents were male. And 299 — or 86.67 percent — are white. Almost 30 percent of those who perished during the period of tabulation were in their thirties. People in their fifties comprised another 23 percent of those who passed on.

“Renee Hunter tapped as Jax real estate chief” via Florida Politics — Hunter, an alumna of the University of Wisconsin’s journalism school and of the Florida Coastal School of Law, will be “official” pending confirmation by the city council. Hunter is no stranger to work in the public sector. She served as an assistant state attorney from 2007 to 2013, with a tenure spanning the end of the Harry Shorstein era and the bulk of the Angela Corey epoch. Hunter’s specialty in that capacity: land use and zoning issues and property law. From there, Hunter moved into the private sector, where she continued her work with property law, including issues with deeds, titles and other real estate issues.

“Fred Newbill clears panel on way to JEA Board” via Florida Politics — A prominent Jacksonville pastor who teamed up with pastor Ken Adkins to oppose the 2016 version of the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance expansion was cleared by the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee to serve on the JEA Board … Despite two of the HRO co-sponsors, Jim Love and Tommy Hazouri, serving on Rules, no questions were asked of Newbill about the inconsistency of his anti-HRO stance with the anti-discrimination guidelines under which JEA and the city’s other independent authorities operate. Multiple council members, including Love and Hazouri, lauded Newbill, with Hazouri saying that Newbill has “seen the light on the HRO.”

“Rob Bradley files bill earmarking Amendment 1 money for St. Johns, tributaries” via Florida Politics — Bradley introduced Senate Bill 234, which is intended to change the appropriations formula of 2014’s Water and Land Constitutional Amendment. Specifically, Bradley wants to ensure that the St. Johns River Water Management District gets its share. And as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, the Clay County Republican is well-positioned to get this bill through. The bill would annually earmark $35 million, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries and the Keystone Lake region. Included among those projects: land management and acquisition, and recreational opportunity and public access improvements. For Bradley, this is personal.

“New PD to review contracts, including lobbyist deal” via Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union — On his second day in office, Public Defender Charlie Cofer said he’s doing what he can to bring the office’s budget and salaries under control. He’s already brought in seven new employees to replace 14 outgoing ones, saving about $26,346 a month due to the lower salary costs. And he said he is examining salaries in the office to determine whose pay may need to be cut and whose might need to be raised. Once he feels comfortable with the budget, he said, he hopes to hire more investigators or information technology staff. Former Public Defender Matt Shirk’s pay structure was the subject of a Times-Union story this week that examined how he had paid friends and political allies high salaries while attorneys had the lowest average salaries in the state. Cofer said he wants to look at all contracts the office has

“Florida Bar to review former PD’s conduct” via Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union — After eight scandal-plagued years, former public defender Matt Shirk has said he’s hoping for some quiet. He may be disappointed. Shirk has been protected from Florida Bar complaints by state rules that say the Bar doesn’t have jurisdiction over constitutional officers. Now that he’s left office, the Bar and the Florida Supreme Court may hear arguments that he violated attorneys’ code of conduct. “We do have information about Mr. Shirk’s conduct,” Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said … “We are reviewing it. We will take appropriate actions.”

“Two gunshot victims at first 2017 ArtWalk” via The Florida Times-Union — Two teenagers were shot at the First Wednesday Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville Wednesday night, police said. Witnesses said there were large crowds of young people loitering 15 deep along both sides of North Laura Street between The Jacksonville Landing and Hemming Park about 9:30 p.m. when gunfire erupted. Off-duty officers responding to a report of shots fired near Bay and Laura streets found one shooting victim at the scene and located a second victim at the Landing, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The victims were taken to UF Health Jacksonville with injuries to their lower bodies, but they are expected to survive, Sgt. C. Jones said.

Central Florida dispensary makes first medical marijuana delivery in Jacksonville” via Ryan Benk of WJCT — … the same day a constitutional amendment goes into effect that will make more types of medical cannabis available to Floridians. Knox Medical is one of a handful of Florida dispensaries that have been allowed to open under a 2014 law. The state awarded Knox the license for Central Florida, and it was finally given the go-ahead in December to sell its product after an extended court battle. Growers challenged the state as it made rules governing who can grow and sell non-smoked, non-high-inducing marijuana, starting in 2014. The state has decided on a maximum of six facilities, four including Knox are already doing business, while two more are awaiting licenses.

“Medicare slashes funding for unsafe Duval hospitals” via Andrew Pantazi and Tessa Duvall of The Florida Times-Union — The federal government cut payments to four Jacksonville hospitals because they are among the worst-performing hospitals when it comes to patient safety. The list includes the Baptist Medical Center hospitals downtown and at the Beaches, Memorial Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville. This is the third year the federal government has reduced pay to hospitals that have high rates of patient injury, also known as hospital-acquired conditions. Memorial and UF Health, along with Macclenny’s Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital, have been dinged by the federal government each of those years. In addition, Baptist Medical Center-Nassau, Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine and Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka were each in the bottom quarter this year.

UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville welcomes new dean” — Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., the new dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine, formally took the helm on Tuesday. “I am thrilled to be a part of one of Northeast Florida’s premier medical and academic organizations,” he said in a statement. “The University of Florida is regarded throughout the country as one of the leaders in educating physicians and providing cutting-edge research, and UF Health has become a symbol for providing the best, most compassionate health care to everyone who needs it. I am proud to now be a part of both organizations.” Before joining UF College of Medicine, Haley rose up the ranks as a professor of emergency medicine and an executive associate dean for the Emory University School of Medicine and as a key administrator at Grady Memorial Hospital, the city’s safety-net hospital. He received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan.

“Acosta Bridge ‘blue-light special’ won’t come cheap” via First Coast News — An effort is underway by city leaders to restore the Acosta Bridge’s neon lights that once illuminated the downtown structure. The lights, which were installed in 1999, were reportedly turned off by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority because of concerns about the malfunctioning system. The Acosta was one of 7 bridges that gained attention when the city skyline was highlighted in national coverage of Super Bowl XXXIX. Emails show city leaders are engaged in a potential proposal to restore the aesthetic blue lights on the bridge. An email sent to Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer suggests that the city will consider upgrading the lighting system to LED technology. A 2015 estimate provided to First Coast News listed the potential fix costing between $1.6 to $2.1 million.

Workers at JAXPORT’s Talleyrand Marine Terminal move massive trucks bound for The Bahamas” — Stevedores at JAXPORT Talleyrand Marine Terminal recently moved four Caterpillar 770 specialty dump trucks onto a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship bound for a Morton Salt facility in the southern Bahamas. The trucks will be used to haul salt harvested for water softening and road de-icing. A100-ton multipurpose whirly crane was used to lift the vehicles — each weighing 35 tons, standing 14 feet tall and measuring 30 feet in length — onto the chartered vessel VI-NAIS. The four trucks were transported to Jacksonville via individual flatbed tractor trailers from a heavy equipment dealer in St. Augustine, Fla., where they had been refurbished.

All Aboard: Jacksonville Zoo hosts “Train Days” — Love a good train ride? The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has you covered. Round-trip tickets on the zoo train will be $1 on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29. The trains, according to the zoo, will be operated by CSX employees.

LEGOs are coming to the Jacksonville Zoo — The award-winning Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks exhibition by artist Sean Kinney will be on display at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens from Jan. 13 through May 7. The exhibition, which is free with Zoo admission, features 13 LEGO sculptures with over 300,000 bricks.

“PGA wants to move TPC back to March” via Matthew Head of First Coast News — If the PGA takes a swing on this proposal, some Ponte Vedra businesses say they fear it could alter their game. “I’m probably about 400 years as the crows fly to the 17th green,” says Wally Monnig, the owner of Down South Barbecue. “They go together.” And when Ponte Vedra’s busiest week of the year hits the greenway, Monnig says he knows the perfect order for his most famous customers. “Ribs through and through — the guys like home-cooked food,” he says. But Monnig is worried the PGA could be messing with his recipe. PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan wants to restructure the tournament schedule to avoid conflicting the more popular PGA tournaments with NFL games. The decision to move TPC to March would leave Monnig feeling bittersweet.

Could Ken Lawson next be tapped to head VISIT FLORIDA?

Is Ken Lawson the right man to right the state’s beleaguered tourism agency?

Lawson, Ken (DBPR secretary)

The smart money in Tallahassee now is betting on Gov. Rick Scott to move Lawson, his secretary of Business and Professional Regulation, to head VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s “official tourism marketing corporation.”

As you’ll recall, Scott called on former CEO Will Seccombe to quit, continuing a bloodbath at the organization that saw two other top executives fired. That was from the fallout over how it handled a secret marketing contract with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull.

The Governor still believes in its mission, even as House Speaker Richard Corcoran questions its continued existence.

At a November event in Jacksonville, Scott lauded the agency for helping drive up Florida’s tourism and creating jobs.

“That would not be happening,” Scott said, were it not for “Visit Florida, Visit Jacksonville, and great attractions like the Jacksonville Zoo,” according to an Associated Press article.

But Scott also has called for an overhaul of how VISIT FLORIDA does business—and Lawson, a former federal prosecutor and Marine Corps captain, just might be the man for the job.

First, he’s a loyal Scott soldier, and has “has held numerous regulatory positions within the private sector and federal government,” according to his official bio.

He also knows how to take hits: Bulldog reporter Gary Fineout of the AP shellacked him with questions in October on the last day of trial on whether the Seminole Tribe of Florida should keep offering blackjack at its casinos.

Lawson, who had been in the courtroom, was even asked if he planned to resign should the judge rule for the tribe. (The department also regulates gambling.) He smiled but didn’t answer. The state lost—and Lawson’s still in his job.

All that said, Lawson—a lawyer by trade—seemingly has no experience in tourism or marketing.

He’s been Assistant Secretary of Enforcement for the U.S. Department of Treasury, and Assistant Chief Counsel for Field Operations at the Transportation Security Administration, his bio says.

Lawson also was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Criminal Division for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

“In the private sector, he spent two years with Booz Allen Hamilton as a consultant, including a year as Chief of Party for the Financial Crimes Prevention Project in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he directed international anti-money laundering, anticorruption, and counterterrorist financing projects,” according to the bio.

And he was vice president for compliance at nFinanSe Inc., a financial services company in Tampa.

Lawson is paid $141,000 a year as DBPR secretary; Seccombe was paid $293,000 a year, plus bonuses, records show.

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Actually, crash data shows mixed bag

When it comes to crashes at Florida’s controversial red-light camera intersections, all may not be what it seems.

As Florida lawmakers gear up for battle once again over the use of red light cameras statewide, a new report by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles offers a decidedly mixed bag for both sides of the debate.

On the one hand, the DHSMV released data Dec. 31 showing automobile accidents are up across Florida in the 2015-16 fiscal year, including those in the surrounding area of intersections with the contentious traffic control devices – a tidbit quickly scooped up by many media outlets.

Nevertheless, a (slightly) deeper dive into the numbers reveals something a little different. According to the figures, the rate of accidents is actually down at the red-light camera intersections themselves.

And while we may not be the biggest cheerleaders for the red-light camera program, numbers don’t lie – as long as they are presented in the right context. That’s the foundation of credibility.

To explain, the DHSMV report gathered data by pulling crash reports from a statewide database – and importantly – from within 250 feet of RLC intersections, which pulls in a lot of accidents unrelated to real red light running.

This 250-foot radius would include accidents unrelated to RLC’s: For example, those from a car pulling out onto the road from an adjacent McDonalds, or switching lanes while approaching the intersection, etc.

When further breaking down trends in reported crashes, only red-light running crashes and those involving pedestrians – which are both down – are the accidents certain to occur in an actual intersection/crosswalk; these are most likely attributable to running a signal light.

A recent article by the News Service of Florida – with the title “Crashes up at Red-Light Camera Intersections” – does indeed mention an increase in vehicle miles traveled statewide. More people are driving, so they are (unsurprisingly) more crashes.

But the piece misses a major point made by the DHSMV: Although crashes are up statewide during the reporting period, along with other increased crash numbers, many of those may have occurred 100-200 feet away from the intersection, and therefore not directly related to RLC’s.

Another missed point is that the report refined crash analysis to just include crashes that occurred on roadway – last year’s report (which is mentioned as a trend line for this year, thereby justifying a somewhat sensational headline) took in account accidents happening in adjacent parking lots to an intersection.

The main takeaway is that this report needs a little more work before it can be a truly accurate representation of crashes resulting from running red lights.

As the DHSMV cautions: “The crash analysis should be put into context of the overall complexity of the issue at hand, as many factors may contribute to the change in number of crashes outlined in this report.”

Among those factors: Red light cameras can be made increasingly noticeable with the use of signs, fixed so that drivers will indeed change behavior and safely enter and exit those intersections.

So, the only true value of this report will come when crash data shows what really occurs at an intersection, not a couple of hundred feet away. Because context is everything.


Ed Hooper to launch campaign for Jack Latvala’s Senate seat February 1

As hard as it will be to fill the shoes of Jack Latvala in the Florida Senate, Ed Hooper believes he’s up for the task.

Hooper, the former Republican state Representative and Clearwater City Commissioner, will officially launch is campaign to succeed Latvala on February 1st with a kickoff event at Marina Cantina in Clearwater Beach.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

Hooper filed paperwork a year ago to run for what is now Senate District 16 after backroom maneuvering tied to the redistricting process created a situation in which Pasco County’s John Legg would not run in a primary against a powerful colleague in exchange for support for a possible 2018 bid for the Latvala seat.

Legg was drawn into the same district as Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, who is slated to become Senate President in 2020. Legg agreed not to challenge Simpson.

That someone not from Pinellas might takeover the seat held by the lawmaker known for his “Pinellas first” attitude did not sit well with Hooper.

“It just upset me … that a deal had been cut for a lifelong Pasco guy,” Hooper told

“John Legg is a nice man and I respect him very much, but over two thirds of this seat is located in Pinellas County,” Hooper said. “I just think that a deal ought not be cut to just hand it to him.”

Hooper said he is surprised that after the redistricting imbroglio that has gripped state politics this decade that the Florida Senate – and not the electorate – is still trying to pick its members.

“I think the voters of Pinellas and western Pasco ought to have a say,” Hooper said.

A former firefighter who served four terms in the Legislature before being term-limited from the House, Hooper, 68, lost a contentious race in 2014 for the Pinellas County Commission to Democrat Pat Gerard, but since then has maintained a public profile.

During his final year in the Legislature, Hooper was chair of the Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee. He also received numerous “A” ratings from the Florida Chamber of Commerce Honor Roll, Florida Education Association, and the Florida Home Builders Association.

Throughout most of his political career, Hooper has been seen as a strong ally of Latvala, the veteran lawmaker he hopes to succeed. But so too has been Legg, so it will be very interesting to see who, if anyone, Latvala supports.

Of course, this all assumes Legg runs for Latvala’s seat in 2018. In extended conversations with, Legg has indicated that the north Pinellas state Senate seat is just one of several options he is considering.

Sunburn for 1.6.17; The AG guessing game; Bam in Jax; Bob Buckhorn on the clock?; Lauren Book’s diaper bill

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

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


Let’s play Tallahassee’s favorite parlor game (for now): “Who Wants to be Attorney General?”

The capital’s Twitterati was all a-twitter Thursday after Bloomberg’s White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs teased that, no kidding this time, Pam Bondi is heading for D.C.

“Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will be named to a post in the Trump White House, sources tell me,” she wrote. “Trump aides finalizing her role.”

After rumors she might be U.S. Attorney General (nope), White House counsel (sorry, Pam) and even the nation’s drug czar (hey, it’s still open!), Bondi hadn’t committed – at least in public – up to then.

Her spokesman’s swift non-denial denial only stoked the story.

“Attorney General Bondi has absolutely no news to report at this time and is unaware of who the source of this information is,” communications director Whitney Ray said.

Then, the guessing game began in earnest. But first, that nagging question of succession.

The state constitution provides “the governor shall fill by appointment any vacancy in state or county office … for the remainder of the term of an elective office if less than twenty-eight months, otherwise until the first Tuesday after the first Monday following the next general election.”

“She has less than 28 months in office, so I think (Gov. Rick Scott) gets to appoint,” one attorney said.

With that settled, let’s name names. For the sake of argument, let’s assume neither Senate President Joe Negron or House Speaker Richard Corcoran would be on the list or be interested.

So … does Scott ‘look backward,’ with a safe, reliable pick like Pete Antonacci, his former general counsel and now head of South Florida Water Management District? Or former House Speaker Dean Cannon, a lawyer-lobbyist at GrayRobinson?

Does he go with his former Department of Economic Opportunity director, Jesse Panuccio, now in private practice?

Does he think a bit outside the box by tapping state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House Commerce Committee chair?

But wait, there’s more. How about state Sen. David Simmons, formerly the Senate Rules chair? He’s said to be interested. Or state Rep. Larry Metz, who unsuccessfully applied to become a state Supreme Court justice?

— “Amid White House job rumors, Pam Bondi spokesman says “absolutely no news to report’” via Daniel Ducassi of POLITICO Florida

— “Bondi’ White House Call Close; Who Will Be Florida’s Next AG?” via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

— “The Unofficial Rick Scott Short List to Replace Pam Bondi” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Bondi will hold a press conference to announced a new human trafficking awareness effort at 10 a.m. in the Aviation Authority Boardroom at the Tampa International Airport, 4100 George J. Bean Parkway in Tampa. She’ll be joined by Rep. Ross Spano and Chief Paul Sireci, the director of public safety and security for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

FLORIDA’S CAROLINE WILES GETS DONALD TRUMP WHITE HOUSE JOB via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Wiles, daughter of Jacksonville-based lobbyist and political consultant Susie Wiles, will serve as Trump’s White House director of scheduling, the transition team announced this morning. Wiles served in that role for the campaign since July 2016 and had done a similar job on Rick Scott’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Trump shook up his campaign in September by replacing Florida director Karen Giorno with Susie Wiles, who had been doing campaign communications from New York.

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BARACK OBAMA TO VISIT FIRST COAST SATURDAY via First Coast News – Obama is expected to visit the Jacksonville area Saturday, sources confirm … The Jacksonville Aviation Authority told First Coast News that they are aware of the president visiting. At this time, it isn’t known where he is going to stop or what he plans to talk about.

CHARLIE CRIST MISSES VOTE CONDEMNING UN RESOLUTION ON ISRAEL SETTLEMENTS via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Crist tonight missed a key House vote condemning a UN resolution seen as anti-Israel, and issued a statement quoting another lawmaker, an usual move, to say the least.

BOB BUCKHORN IS ON THE CLOCK via Peter Schorsch – Tampa Mayor Buckhorn is the Florida politician now on the clock when it comes to who will run for what in 2018 … Will Weatherford is not running for governor … Gwen GrahamPhil Levine, and Adam Putnam have all but declared; it’s simply a matter of how they launch their campaigns, not if they will run … Bill Nelson is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Rick Scott will probably challenge him, but the governor — because he can self-fund — does not have to make a decision until next year. Richard Corcoran is a question mark about wanting to run for governor in 2018, but if he does, he would not announce until next year, either before or after the 2018 session. Jack Latvala‘s another possible candidate, but if he gets in it won’t be until later this summer, at the earliest. Certainly, there are other possible candidates out there – Rick BakerCarlos BeruffAndrew GillumMike Huckabee – but none are as clearly defined as a potential contender as Buckhorn. Seriously, Mayor Buckhorn, you are on the clock. Of course, if Buckhorn could have his way, he would run for a third term as Mayor. And a fourth. And probably a fifth. He must look at his friend, Buddy Dyer, with envy because the Mayor of Orlando is not subject to term limits. So, if there is to be a next chapter to Buckhorn’s political career, it will have to be in Tallahassee, not Tampa. And he’ll need to make a decision sooner rather than later … Buckhorn does have a compelling story to tell about how he led his city to a new level of success. And he is a helluva retail politician who probably is more comfortable than others in the current ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ political environment. But before he can tell the Tampa success story and demonstrate what a great retail pol he is, Buckhorn has to make a decision. And soon.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY AHEAD OF CHAIR ELECTION via Steve Schale — The Chair race has devolved into the usual: a fight between party activists over personalities. This is the nature of these things. On its best day, these races are adult-versions of high school elections. On their worst, they are pure circular firing squads. To me, what is less important than who occupies the Chair, is that the people running, the activists voting, and those observing, understand what that job is, and isn’t. … This isn’t a race about who has the best ideology, or who supported who in the primary. it is about basic management. You are hiring a CEO. Find someone who is realistic about the job, capable of putting together the resources, and laser focused on the things they can actually control, namely candidate recruitment and organizing. There is nothing symbolic about who holds the job — no regular voter actually casts a vote based on who sits in the party chair, or has any idea who chairs their state party. … So it boils down to this: if you want the party to do more, pick up a shovel. God knows political parties and candidates don’t need more opinions, they need more doers. I banged on doors in 2016, did you? And if you don’t like the party, go find a candidate or issue to support, or pick up Bob Graham and Chris Hand’s new book on ways you can be more civically engaged. Just do something.

IS FLORIDA ON ITS WAY TO BEING A RED STATE? via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s Republican Party leader says if he is re-elected next week, he will put a full court press on increasing the GOP voter registration numbers with hopes of officially giving Florida more registered Republicans than Democrats for the first time in history … Blaise Ingoglia said it likely cannot be done in two years, but by the next presidential election, he said Florida could finally be majority Republican. “Today, I would like to formally announce Project Majority Red – our next big aspirational goal,” Ingoglia said in an email blast to Republican activists this morning. “It will have one singular purpose, as we continue to win elections up and down the ballot, to make Florida a ‘majority red’ state by not only overtaking the Democrats in voter registrations, but keeping it that way for future elections.” Currently, Democrats have 4.9 million voters, Republicans have 4.6 million. Another 3.5 million voters are registered with neither political party.


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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a press conference to highlight his proposed $5.8 million request to add 46 counterterrorism agents at noon at the Fort Myers Regional Operations Center, 4700 Terminal Drive, Suite 1 in Fort Myers.

RICK SCOTT DEFENDS FUNDING TOURISM MARKETING AGENCY WHILE CALLING FOR REFORMS via Jeremy Wallace of the Miami Herald – Scott has called for a series of reforms to Visit Florida and is pushing for the quasi-governmental agency’s leader to resign. Scott made clear … that he still supports marketing the state for tourism. Scott said Visit Florida has been successful and to continue to grow tourism, the state needs “to continue to market and anybody who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand how the economy works” … in Orlando, Visit Florida’s board of directors will meet to discuss Scott’s letter from December that called for the agency to enact reforms to insure more transparency of public money and called for the resignation of Will Seccombe, who has led the agency for more than four years – a stretch that has seen record tourism numbers every year.

>>>Anyone else hearing Ken Lawson as the next chief of Visit Florida?

HIGH TURNOVER RATE, LOW SALARIES CREATE VACANCIES AT FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS via Mike Vasilinda of WJHG – Governor Rick Scott is the jobs governor, claiming more than 1.2 million new jobs since taking office. But as many as 2,500 jobs remain open in one state agency with no takers … the agency has a vacancy rate of 10 percent, forcing officers to work long hours. The problem, a $29,000 starting salary. “Right now, they are working 12-hour shifts plus another four,” Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said. “We are working them to death because of the vacancy rate. I don’t have time to train them.” It’s not just vacancies, but sky-high turnover as well. Jones told lawmakers the turnover rate was just under 30 percent this year.

HEARING ON GUN BILLS POSTPONED AFTER SENATE CANCELS JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEETING via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics — According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up two gun bills during the two-hour meeting. Steube’s open carry bill — Senate Bill 140 — was one of the two bills scheduled to be discussed. Under that proposal, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to openly carry a handgun. … A second bill — Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley — was also on the agenda. That bill aims to clarify that prosecutors have the burden of proving that shootings are unjustified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: If a mtg is cancelled bc a senator can’t attend it may mean there aren’t enough votes to pass bill. #FLLeg math

LAUREN BOOK WANTS DIAPERS EXEMPT FROM SALES TAX via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Book, who’s eight months pregnant with twins, has filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax … The 32-year-old lawmaker, elected in November, said the idea came to her as she attended pregnancy classes. Book is having a boy and a girl, due in February. “For many families, buying diapers can be a (financial) burden,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s not a luxury item.”

BILL WOULD KEEP FLORIDA FROM BUILDING MORE EXPRESS TOLL LANES via Kristina Webb of the Palm Beach Post – The measure, SB 250, was filed Thursday by state Sen. Frank Artiles. If the bill is made law during the upcoming Florida legislative session, which begins March 7, it would ban state officials from creating any new express lanes after July 1. Money collected from tolls on existing express lanes could only be used to pay off bonds used to create the projects. Once those bonds are paid off, the bill proposes that those express lanes would become general-use lanes.

PANEL SEEKS CHANGES TO WORKERS’ COMP BILLING AND NEW DRUG FORMULARY via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – A state workers’ compensation advisory panel voted to ask the Legislature to consider letting regulators establish a drug formulary in hopes of keeping medical costs under control. The panel also recommended changes to the way Florida’s workers’ compensation system reimburses facilities that treat injured workers, and to tighten the guidelines for authorizing medical care. Although formally named the Three-Member Panel, the group contains only two members at present — Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Tamela Perdue, a senior vice president for Sunshine Health, who represents employers. Gov. Scott has not filled a vacant seat representing workers. The panel sets reimbursement policies and payment levels for health care providers, pharmacists, and medical suppliers working with workers’ compensation claimants.

APPOINTEDDottie PeoplesBen GirtmanDrexel CollinsJanice AncrumKerry MarsalekLarry PowellLance JarvisKathleen RiceKelly WilsonWilliam EdelsteinEdeline Mondestin and Rick Davis to the Department of Elderly Affairs Advisory Council.

CHANTA COMBS SETS UP SHOP AS HEALTH POLICY PARTNERS via Marc Caputo of POLITICO  – Combs, former policy director for former Gov. Charlie Crist, and deputy policy director and associate general counsel for former Gov. Jeb Bush, started Health Policy Partners, which will focus on issue such as “federal funding and regulatory oversight; State political, budgetary and policy positions; relevant competitive intelligence and economic trends; value based, integrated and tailored whole-person care delivery models; population health management; data analytics, predictive modeling, technology and administrative modernization products and services.”

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ORLANDO CITY SOCCER STADIUM UNVEILS 49 RAINBOW-COLORED SEATS AS TRIBUTE TO PULSE VICTIMS via Larry Griffin of Florida Politics – The soon-to-open Orlando City Soccer stadium will have a section of seats painted in bright, proud rainbow colors to celebrate and memorialize the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. There will be 49 seats painted that way in total – one for each person lost in the shooting. They’ll all be emblazoned with the hashtag “Orlando United,” and they’re placed in section 12, as the shooting happened June 12 last year. The rest of the seats are purple and white. The club chose to do this to celebrate further and acknowledge Orlando’s status as an “inclusive, diverse and welcoming community.”

FLORIDA BOWLS SEEING DECLINE IN ATTENDANCE via Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union – When the Outback Bowl in Tampa announced an attendance of 51,119 … it became the sixth college bowl game among the eight in Florida to have a decline in attendance from the previous year. Only the Russell Athletic in Orlando (an increase of 8,207 to watch Miami beat West Virginia) and the St. Petersburg Bowl (1,065 more to watch Mississippi State beat Miami of Ohio showed increases and in the case of the latter, it might not be bragging to claim your game went up to 15,717. The TaxSlayer Bowl attendance was 43,102 … down from 58,212 for Georgia-Penn State the previous year but still ahead of the national average for this season … a bit more than 40,000 per game. The Outback Bowl declined by slightly more than 2,000 … the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl tumbled the most, going from 63,113 for last year’s Florida-Michigan game to 46,063 … The Orange Bowl had a negligible decline of 183 fans as 67,432 watched Florida State edge Michigan 33-32. But that was compared to a College Football Playoff semifinal last year … Orange Bowl TV ratings were up 68 percent (6.7 overnight) over the first New Year’s Day Six game last season, the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Still, it was systemic of the overall decline in attendance for bowl games (the Sugar, Cotton, Liberty, Alamo and Texas bowls were among those experiencing lower crowds — the Cotton going down 23,197 and the Sugar 18,040).

LOCALS IN TAMPA BAY HOPING TO CASH IN ON LAST MINUTE FOOTBALL FANS THROUGH AIRBNB via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times – Hotel rooms in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties began booking up months in advance. Most of the hotels in downtown Tampa and the West Shore area have been reserved for the teams, officials, corporate sponsors and media … More than 15 beachfront hotels in Pinellas County have sold out completely, including the Sand Pearl Resort, the Opal Sands Resort, TradeWinds Island Resorts and the Vinoy Hotel. One Alabama alumni group booked 50 rooms for three nights at the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach about a month before the big game. “We expect that hotel occupancy will be at the 90 percent rate, if not higher, for the game,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. But there are still dozens of accommodations options available on Airbnb, ranging from rooms in residents’ Carrollwood and West Tampa homes for $30 a night to entire houses for rent in South Tampa for $2,000 a night. The Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office signed a voluntary collection agreement with Airbnb last month to collect tourism development taxes and sales taxes on rooms booked through the service beginning Feb. 1. So while the county won’t get an extra boost from the 700-plus Airbnb rentals listed in Tampa this month, Hillsborough County projects the deal will bring in an extra $250,000 in new annual tax revenue to Hillsborough County if bookings at least match 2016 levels.

WHAT JOE YORK IS READING – AT&T BOOSTS TAMPA BAY MOBILE COVERAGE FOR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP via Kelly Bazzle of WFTS – The company has made permanent and temporary upgrades throughout Tampa Bay to keep their customers connected all weekend. Two Cell on Wheels have been deployed to keep fans connected. They help improve reliability and data speeds. The Distributed Antenna System has been upgraded at Raymond James Stadium to help manage the wireless capacity in heavily-trafficked areas. They have done a 400 percent boost in LTE capacity to improve speeds so that you can post all the selfies, photos, videos and share the experience with your network.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to HCA’s Bryan Anderson. Celebrating this weekend is the Florida Association of Counties’ Cragin Mosteller, the great Diane Roberts and Jonny Torres.

Charlie Crist praises imminent buyback agreement between St. Petersburg, Jordan Park

Congressman Charlie Crist is applauding the imminent return of the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex back to the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

“Having heard the concerns from Jordan Park residents firsthand this past summer, it was clear urgent action was needed on their behalf,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said in a statement Thursday.

Inhabitants of the 237-unit complex have brought a steady stream of complaints over the past few years including broken appliances, mold, mildew, rodent infestation, poor maintenance and landscaping.

Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which includes Midtown St. Petersburg, is encouraging the federal government to work with the city of St. Petersburg to approve the agreement quickly, which would help make much-needed improvements to the living conditions of residents

The final agreement, which has been reported to be “any day now,” must be approved by both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

The complex, at Ninth Avenue South in 22nd Street in St. Petersburg’s historic African-American district, is currently owned by Jordan Park Development, a partnership of the Richman Group of Florida and Landex of Jacksonville.

Winn­Residential, the firm hired by Jordan Park Development to manage the property, has been accused of being unresponsive to resident complaints.

Crist sees the pending agreement as a significant step forward for residents of Jordan Park.

“I am happy to see the city moving forward with plans to take over this complex, which has been lacking oversight and standards enforcement to the detriment of its tenants,” Crist said. “I encourage the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to do all they can to see this deal through to help better the lives of those living in this community.”


Jordan Park buyback by St. Pete Housing Authority a win-win for city, residents

St. Petersburg’s Jordan Park will soon get some much-needed attention.

In a win-win for both the city of St. Petersburg and Midtown residents, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority is nearing an agreement to buy back control of the troubled public housing complex.

The Tampa Bay Times reports agency officials were hoping to finalize a deal on the 24-acre property by fall 2016, but a purchase agreement could be signed “any day now.”

Final details still require approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

At first, the Housing Authority was to pay the current owners — Jordan Park Development Partners — $400,000 for the property on Ninth Ave. South and 22nd Street. However, the city struck a better deal, according to the Times. Jordan Park Development is a partnership of the Richman Group of Florida and Landex of Jacksonville.

“Although we don’t have a final signed purchase agreement yet, the seller reduced the purchase price to zero several months ago,” attorney Sandy MacLennan, who represents the Housing Authority, told reporters this week. “The only condition was that the $400,000 that the Housing Authority would have paid to the seller would now be required to be used to pay for repairs and improvement at Jordan Park.”

The city of St. Petersburg also agreed to forgive a $3.1 million loan to the Housing Authority.

Jordan Park, a 237-unit complex located in the heart of the city’s African-American district, has been plagued by a series of issues over the past few years. Residents have complained over a range of problems such as broken appliances, mold, mildew, poor maintenance and landscaping. Boston-based Winn­Residential, the management company Jordan Park Development Partners employs to oversee the property, has been accused of unresponsiveness to complaints.

Throughout customer concerns, the Housing Authority had been regularly frustrated, saying there was little the agency can do at the time. A new agreement will give the Authority the ability to maintain housing standards at Jordan Park. Residents will not face repercussions for complaints.

“Jordan Park is an important part of the history of St. Petersburg,” Tony Love, the Housing Authority’s chief executive officer, said in a statement to the Times.

The Authority “wants to be sure that the development is managed and maintained to the same standards” as other properties under its umbrella, Love added.

“The best way to do that is for the Housing Authority to buy back the development.”


Sunburn for 1.5.16 – Jeb skipping inaugural; Andrew Gillum’s new project; Lee Constantine for CFO?; Ambassador Carlos Trujillo?; Big change at the FJA

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

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

THANK YOU for all of the kind and considerate well-wishes on my birthday. It was a great day, spent with Michelle and Ella Joyce. Our dinner at Cafe Ponte was pitch-perfect. And the Lego-themed cake Michelle had made was delicious.

If only the political gods had blessed me with a slow news day…

WE’RE ONLY HIGHLIGHTING THIS STORY BECAUSE WE WANT TO HIGHLIGHT FREDERICA WILSON’S HAT – Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was at President Obama‘s side Wednesday morning as he arrived on Capitol Hill to strategize with Democrats how to protect the Affordable Care Act, reports Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times. More Floridians have enrolled in Obamacare than any other state and South Florida is a big driver of that. But that hasn’t stopped criticism of the cost and Donald Trump won the state in November, vowing to “repeal and replace” the law. Gov. Rick Scott has said he wants to play a role in the dismantling, serving as a bridge between Washington and the states.

JEB BUSH WON’T ATTEND DONALD TRUMP INAUGURATION via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – George W. and Laura Bush will attend, as will Bill and Hillary ClintonJeb Bush has had positive things to say about Trump’s personnel moves and has taken some heat online. But there is some context. Some, including Scott Pruitt (EPA) and Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State) supported Bush during the presidential primary. Others, such as Betsy DeVos (Education) Andy Puzder (Labor) have personal ties to Bush.

— “Bush to give speech in Texas same night as Obama’s farewell address” via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald

MARCO RUBIO LANDS APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE SPOT via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Rubio, sworn in this afternoon to a second term, has taken on two new committees: Appropriations and the Special Committee on Aging. He retains his posts on the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. He will no longer serve on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which had oversight on space issues.

CARLOS CUBELO GETS SEAT ON POWERFUL HOUSE TAX-WRITING COMMITTEE via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Curbelo … was rewarded Wednesday with an appointment to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax law. “This new position will allow me to advocate for many issues of importance to my constituents and our South Florida community, such as strengthening Social Security and Medicare by reducing fraud and making these programs sustainable for all generations of Americans and also the promotion of free and fair trade — a major economic driver in our community,” Curbelo said in a statement.

— “Congressman Darren Soto leases historic downtown Kissimmee building for district office” via

— “Tom Rooney looks ahead to new congressional session as 2018 looms” via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

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RICK SCOTT WANTS TO HIRE COUNTERTERRORISM AGENTS via The Associated Press – Scott wants to spend nearly $6 million to boost the number of state agents dedicated to counterterrorism efforts … Scott will ask legislators to include enough money in the annual budget to hire agents who will be stationed in seven regions across the state. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen last fall first recommended hiring 46 additional agents.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Scott will hold a press conference to highlight his proposal to add $5.8 million to the budget for 46 counterterrorism agents at 10 a.m. at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 4211 North Lois Avenue in Tampa.

IS RICK SCOTT CO-OPTING FLORIDA’S JUDICIAL NOMINATING PROCESS? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Christian D. Searcy doesn’t consider himself “the most political person” but suggests you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing on Florida’s judicial nominating panels. Searcy, president of the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley personal-injury law firm, reacted to Tuesday’s news about the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs). Gov. Scott had summarily rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several JNCs, the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships. Searcy once was on a slate of three people recommended by the Bar to serve on West Palm Beach’s 4th District Court of Appeal nominating commission. They were rejected by Scott in November 2015, according to Bar records. He was never given a reason why, Searcy said. “It would seem to any fair-minded person (that) what’s happening to these slates is just plain wrong,” he said. “It seems as though this governor aims to make the judiciary just another branch of the Governor’s Office.”

SCOTT TO HOST INAUGURAL BALL IN D.C. via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Scott and his wife, Ann, will host an inaugural ball to be held in Washington D.C. two days before Trump is sworn in as president. … Though state political parties often organize inaugural balls, this one is being put together by Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work.

2018 WATCH – ANDREW GILLUM, POSSIBLE 2018 GOVERNOR CANDIDATE, LAUNCHES ‘CAMPAIGN TO DEFEND LOCAL SOLUTIONS’ via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is fighting for local rights, announcing this week he’s launched a statewide campaign to “defend local solutions.” A rising star in the Democratic Party, Gillum has been mentioned as possible 2018 gubernatorial contender. He announced today he’s launched the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a nonpartisan, grassroots effort aimed at bringing together “individuals, organizations, and elected officials concerned about the erosion of local rights.” And this new organization could help boost his profile across the state, especially when it comes to red meat issues for Democrats. “This effort …  will send a message to state lawmakers, and give citizens around the country the tools to push back against special interest groups and large corporations, and maintain their right to put forward local solutions to the issues facing their community,” said Gillum. Among other things, Gillum said the group will “hold events to rise against looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices, and water quality.” … The announcement comes just days before the 1st District Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in a case involving Gillum and the city of Tallahassee after the City Commission decided not to repeal city codes regulating firearms.

CENTRAL FLORIDA’S LEE CONSTANTINE COULD RUN FOR CFO via Jacob Engels of the Seminole County Post – As the sun sets on Jeff Atwater‘s reign as Florida’s most visible and successful Chief Financial Officer … Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine may be a leading contender to replace him. Constantine, who has held varying public offices during his 36-year career in public service, spent time as a State Representative and State Senator, representing locales in both Seminole and Orange County. During his time in the state legislator, Constantine was a fiscal hawk and crafted important legislation tackling high interest rates from predatory fly-by-night pay-day lenders … He also protected consumers with a piece of legislation that stopped gift card providers from charging monthly fees … Before that, he served as Mayor and Commissioner in the City of Altamonte Springs, also located in the all important I-4 corridor.

FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR FEUD ERUPTS OVER RESIDENCY via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – With the race for Florida Democratic Party chair less than two weeks away, activists are fighting over who is eligible to remain in the running. An activist filed a challenge with the party alleging that Alan Clendenin, who moved counties to keep his chair bid alive, is ineligible to run. When Clendenin lost a race for state committeeman in Hillsborough, he then rented a mobile home in Bradford County and won a similar position there. Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, wrote in the Dec. 30 complaint that Clendenin has homestead exemptions in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and doesn’t actually live in Bradford. Clendenin called the complaint “petty gamesmanship.”

ALAN CLENDENIN DISMISSES COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST HIM AS ‘BASELESS’ via Florida Politics – “Instead of making the case for why he’s the best person for the job, it appears as though this candidate is trying to win by clearing the field using baseless and unfounded complaints to disqualify his opponents,” Clendenin says about Bittel. “I want to be clear – the complaint filed today with Chair Tant is baseless,” Clendenin continued.

13 MEMBERS OF MIAMI-DADE DEC FILE COMPLAINT OVER STEPHEN BITTEL’S ELECTION AS STATE COMMITTEEMAN via Florida Politics – Thirteen members of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee filed a complaint to the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) regarding the special election held on Dec. 20 during which Bittel was voted as Miami-Dade State Committeeman, defeating former state Sen. Dwight Bullard. Bittel’s election made his eligible to run for the state party chair position next week in Orlando. The complaint charges Miami-Dade DEC Chair Juan Cuba with violating the bylaws of the Miami-Dade DEC, the bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party, and rules of parliamentary procedure “in order to conspire with several known and unknown individuals to bend and break the rules regarding the Special Election held on Dec. 20 and the events leading up to the aforementioned election.”

STEVE SCHALE blog post on the Florida Democratic Party here.

— “Florida Democrats and the State Senate in 2016 – a massive missed opportunity” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of the Florida Squeeze

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AMBASSADOR CARLOS TRUJILLO? TRUMP IS RECRUITING MIAMI STATE LEGISLATOR FOR FOREIGN POST via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Trujillo, 33, the son of Cuban immigrants, is … being recruited by the Trump administration to serve as ambassador to a Latin American country somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the details of which are still being negotiated. “It’s a great opportunity to serve your country,” Trujillo told the Herald/Times. “It’s humbling. But it has to be the right country and the right time.” Trujillo, who is a member of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s inner circle, was recently named to the powerful post of House Appropriations Committee chairman. He expects an announcement from the Trump administration in early February and, if it happens. he will remain in office long enough to serve through this legislative session because of the lengthy vetting and Senate confirmation process.

LAWMAKERS HEADING TO ARIZONA FOR GAMBLING CONFERENCE via Florida Politics –Eight Florida lawmakers have signed up to attend this weekend’s meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States in Scottsdale, Arizona. On the RSVP list: State Rep. Halsey Beshears … State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz … He chairs the House Commerce Committee, which oversees gambling policy. State Sen. Bill Galvano … Galvano has long been involved in gambling issues … State Rep. Joe Geller … the Democratic Ranking Member of the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. State Sen. Audrey Gibson … a member of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling-related legislation. State Rep. Mike LaRosa … chairs the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. State Rep. David Richardson … State Sen. Perry Thurston … also a member of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, and is chair of the Council’s Committee on State-Federal Relations … the conference is “organized and produced” by New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group.

FANTASY SPORTS BILL FILED AGAIN IN LEGISLATURE via Florida Politics – A bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation has again been filed in the Florida Legislature. State Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, filed the measure on Wednesday. The bill would clarify that fantasy contests “reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants” and are not games of chance – and thus potentially illegal gambling. (Similar bills didn’t move last year.) … “The millions of Floridians who play fantasy games deserve to know that what they’re doing is not a crime,” Brodeur said in a phone interview.

JUDGE SAYS NO TO GRETNA TRACK IN GAMBLING DISPUTE via Florida Politics – A federal judge has turned down a request by a North Florida race track to alter his ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to keep blackjack at its casinos. But the loss turned out to be a win for the track’s own card games. Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said … “(t)he judgment in this case has no binding effect on Gretna.” His decision, then, in the Tribe’s case has no effect on Gretna’s or other tracks’ card game operations. “We are certainly appreciative of the judge’s consideration,” (attorney Marc) Dunbar said.

PEDIATRIC CARDIAC CARE BILL COULD PUT FORMER AHCA SECRETARY-TURNED-LOBBYIST AT ODDS WITH GOVERNOR via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida — Former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek may find herself at odds with her former boss, Gov Rick Scott, this session and working alongside people in her past life she often opposed: pediatric cardiologists. Now a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig, Dudek has been hired by the Nemours Foundation to help secure passage of SB 62, filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican. The bill would re-establish a pediatric cardiac advisory council within the state Department of Health and authorize the department, along with the agency that Dudek once headed, to coordinate and develop rules related to pediatric cardiac facilities participating in the Children’s Medical Services Network, a Medicaid program for children with complex health care needs.

HOUSE BILL WOULD AFFECT PUBLIC RECORDS LAWSUITS via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – State Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican and lawyer, filed the measure (HB 163) … It would require a judge to determine that a public agency “unlawfully refused to permit a public record to be inspected or copied” and that the complainant “provided written notice identifying the public record request to the agency’s custodian … at least five business days before filing the civil action.” The bill also says attorney fees can’t be awarded if the court finds “the request to inspect or copy the public record was made primarily to harass the agency.”

HAPPENING TODAY – LEGISLATIVE DELEGATIONS ACROSS THE STATE MEET — The Martin, Lafayette, Gilchrist, St. Lucie, Dixie, Nassau, Gulf and Franklin legislative delegations will meet ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session. The Martin County legislative delegation will meet at 9 a.m. at Stuart City Hall, 121 SW Flagler Ave. in Stuart. At 10 a.m., the Lafayette County legislative delegation will hold its meeting in the County Commission Chamber at the Lafayette County Courthouse, 120 W. Main Street in Mayor. The Gilchrist County legislative delegation will hold its meeting at the County Commission room at the County Commission Meeting Facility, 209 SE 1st Street in Trenton; while the St. Lucie County legislative delegation will hold its meeting at 2 p.m. at Indian River State College, 3209 Virginia Ave. in Fort Pierce. The Dixie County legislative delegation will hold its meeting in the county commission chamber at the courthouse, 214 Northeast Highway 351 in Cross City. The Nassau County delegation will also meet at 2 p.m. in Nassau County Commission chambers at the James S. Page Governmental Complex, 96135 Nassau Place in Yulee. The Gulf County legislative delegation is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. at the Robert M. Moore Administrative Building, 1000 Cecil G. Costin Sr. Blvd. in Port St. Joe. At 7 p.m., the Franklin County legislative delegation will meet at the Franklin County Courthouse Annex, 37 Forbes Street in Apalachicola.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Sen. Linda Stewart, both Orlando Democrats, will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. at the Orange County Courthouse, 425 N. Orange Ave. in Orlando to announce proposed gun safety legislation. The two lawmakers will be joined by members of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and survivors of the Pulse shooting. Members of the media should RSVP to

SUPREME COURT RESCINDS ORDER BLOCKING DEATH SENTENCES IN FLORIDA via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – The court took an unusual step in rescinding an order that said Florida’s death sentencing laws, ruled unconstitutional in October because they did not require a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty, could not be used to prosecute cases. The court also deleted the earlier order from its website. The … ruling was vacated because of a “clerical error,” said Craig Waters, a spokesman for the court. It’s not clear what that error is. However, Public Defender Rex Dimmig, who serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, said the court referenced the wrong statute in its earlier ruling. He does not know for certain why the court rescinded its order, but he says he has one idea: Instead of writing that death penalty laws in section 921.141 of Florida Statutes was unconstitutional, the court identified section 941.141 — a statute which does not exist.

FLORIDA BOARD OF EDUCATION EXPECTED TO SET RULES ON NEW PRINCIPAL PROGRAM via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – A new school leadership program aimed at giving more flexibility to principals running some of Florida’s most struggling schools could soon have more defined guidelines for its operations. The State Board of Education is poised to consider a new rule for the “principal autonomy pilot” that Rep. Manny Diaz, incoming chairman of the House PreK-12 Appropriations committee, pushed through the Legislature in 2016. The Pinellas County school district is one of seven set forth in law as eligible to participate.

FLORIDA-GEORGIA WATER CASE OFFICIAL ORDERS SETTLEMENT TALKS via Kathleen Foody of The Associated Press – Special Master Ralph Lancaster gave the states until Jan. 24 to meet and encouraged them to use a mediator. He also ordered the states to file a confidential report to him by Jan. 26 summarizing their efforts to reach a settlement. The dispute focuses on a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay. Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use. After Florida filed the suit against Georgia, Lancaster was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make a recommendation. The Supreme Court has the final say.

FLORIDA PANTHER DEATHS STILL AT RECORD HIGH via The Associated Press – A record number of endangered Florida panthers died again last year – 42 of the remaining big cats were killed, matching the 2015 record. Thirty-four were hit by vehicles in southwest Florida, where development is shrinking what’s left of their habitat. The tally kept by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission includes six new litters, with a total of 14 cubs born in 2016. But the state estimates that only 100 to 180 of the big cats remain in the wild.

MAJOR FLAW IN FLORIDA’S NEWEST RED LIGHT CAM ANALYSIS via Noah Pransky of WTSP – Despite 108 fewer cameras at 48 fewer intersections statewide, the number of violations issued has actually climbed for a second straight year, according to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). The 1,227,927 violations issued in FY16 represent a 22 percent increase from FY15 … the increase could either be interpreted as proof red-light running requires more resources to eradicate; or, it could show the cameras aren’t doing their job in reducing violations. However, a major flaw in the DHSMV report appears to be an assessment that only 12 percent of citations last year went to repeat offenders. A 10Investigates analysis of the state’s raw data suggests the repeat offender figure could be drastically undercounted since the state’s 12 percent calculation only includes offenders who are ticketed twice in the same municipality. So, if a driver receives a red-light camera ticket by cameras in both Tampa and Hillsborough County, he or she would not be counted as a “repeat offender.”

OP-ED: HOME SHARING HELPS BOLSTER OUR FAMILY FRIENDLY TOURIST BRAND via Tom Martinelli for the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Home sharing helps our community cast a wider net to prospective travelers whose budgets simply cannot accommodate higher hotel rates. It also allows visitors to authentically experience Broward as we locals do, while driving tourist dollars and activating economies in neighborhoods that lack hotels. Ultimately, the power of the Airbnb platform is that it motivates guests to blend into neighborhoods, belong anywhere and live like locals. Our mission is to welcome visitors while maintaining the fabric of what makes these communities so special. Our Airbnb hosts want to serve as steadfast partners to bolster Broward’s family friendly tourist brand. The home sharing movement has already instilled community economic development while offering visitors a genuine — if temporary — home away from home. A collaborative partnership between Airbnb, our hosts and policymakers will promote responsible tourism consistent with Broward’s brand and values.

WHAT JACK LATVALA IS READING – PSTA, HART TAKE STEPS TO FORMAL WORKING PARTNERSHIP via Anne Lindberg of Florida Politics – The general goal is to streamline services to save money and provide better service for transit riders, PSTA CEO Brad Miller said. The agreement sets out areas in which the two agencies already collaborate, such as a regional fare collection that uses one informational app that applies whether the customer is in Pinellas or Hillsborough. The regional fare collection app includes not only PSTA and HART, the Hillsborough transit authority, but Sarasota, Pasco and Hernando counties as well. PSTA and HART are also partnering on such items as the purchase of some equipment and on goal-setting and legislative priorities. The two would continue collaborating on those items and would research areas that could benefit from joint ventures. That could eventually mean the merger of some departments, Miller said.

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BRIAN BURGESS: MY POLITICAL PREDICTIONS FOR 2017 via The Capitolist — If there’s one thing about Florida politics that is utterly predictable, it’s the utterly unpredictable nature of Florida politics. … What follows are predictions based on the best available information we have as of January 4th, 2017Adam Putnam won’t be Bill McCollum … Putnam’s team is smart – if a bit overly cautious – and they are well aware of the whispering going on in Tallahassee comparing the 2010 cycle to how things are shaping up for 2018. They are aware of the similarities, they are aware of McCollum’s mistakes, and they are aware of just how radically different the 2017-2018 cycle will be compared with how things were in 2009-2010. … Putnam isn’t going to take anything for granted, nor should he. And he’s better funded, better informed, and better equipped as a candidate than McCollum ever was. Gwen Graham and John Morgan will negotiate a deal – both are media darlings, neither wants to engage in the sort of trench warfare necessary for one of them to emerge as the Democratic nominee for Florida governor in 2018. … Rick Scott won’t announce a run for Senate in 2017 – Scott has mastered the art of the talking point, and he can easily push off questions about his political future until the week before the filing deadline in the spring of 2018. …There’s nothing to be gained by making it widely known that he has ambitions beyond the governor’s office.

One Burgess prediction we’re fond of: Strapped for funds, some Florida newspapers will strike a syndication deal with Peter Schorch’s … While some people in Tallahassee (the press corps included) can’t get past the fact that Schorsch’s operation started as a blog, it has long since evolved away from that. He employs a number of experienced political reporters and he gives them free reign over the beats they cover. He produces more free content than most of the rest of the capital press corps combined. And it’s effective, too.


SHOT: “Doesn’t the City of St. Pete have better things to do than mess around with Uber & Lyft?” via Florida Politics

SHOT #2: “… And another thing about the City of St. Pete’s efforts to regulate Uber and Lyft” via Florida Politics

CHASER: “St. Pete vote on new Uber rules canceled, for now” via Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal

HELP WANTED: CONTRIBUTION LINK IS HIRING — Contribution Link is looking to immediately fill up to three part-time positions. The detail-oriented support positions are based in Tallahassee and assist account coordinators with client servicing, research, data base maintenance and graphic design. Compensation is based on individual skill; $10 an hour and up. Each position allows for 15-25 hours per week with the possibility of more and can reasonably accommodate school schedules. Requirements include working well with others, reliability and discretion with information. Ideally, applicants would have experience/ proficiency in one or more of the following areas: MS excel, statistics, social media or graphic design. Interested? Email Brittney Prahlow at

FACEBOOK AGAIN HIRES SEBASTIAN ALEKSANDER FOR 2017 SESSION via Florida Politics – This makes the third year in a row that Aleksander will have represented the social media behemoth, based in Menlo Park, California. Among other major websites, he also represents Yahoo! Inc., records show. Facebook’s last significant interest in Florida legislation was a “digital assets” bill backed by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican. Facebook at first was against the bill because, the company said, it conflicted with federal online privacy laws. Hukill later amended the measure so that someone has to give “explicit consent” to someone else to access and control a particular account. The digital assets legislation (SB 494) became law earlier this year.

PERSONNEL NOTE: CHRIS SMITH JOINS TRIPP SCOTT via Florida Politics – Smith has joined Tripp Scott, the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm announced this week. “We’re so excited to have you here,” said Edward J. Pozzuoli, the president of Tripp Scott, in a video interview with Smith. The 46-year-old Fort Lauderdale Democrat got his start at Tripp Scott, working as a law clerk at the firm for two summers. He later joined the firm, working in the contract department writing leases and doing other contract work. In a video announcing his hire, Smith said his decision to join Tripp Scott brings him “back to where I started, back to where I got my roots, my legal roots especially.”

PERSONNEL NOTE: DEBRA HENLEY OUT AT FJA, PAUL JESS IN via Florida Politics – Henley left her job as executive director of the Florida Justice Association last month and is temporarily being replaced by her deputy, Jess … Jess, who was called a “veteran association executive and attorney,” is now interim executive director … Florida Justice Association President Jimmy Gustafson is calling Jess “an outstanding leader who has a deep understanding of the important issues facing civil justice in Florida.” Jess, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been with the association for 28 years, serving as deputy executive director and general counsel.

RIDE UBER FREE DURING COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND via WFLA – Here’s how it works: Riders can open the Uber app and request “FOOTBALL” from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. SaturdaySunday and Monday as Tampa celebrates the College Football Championship weekend … Select riders will be given the ability to watch live football action via onboard Samsung tablets powered by the AT&T network. Be patient. Demand is expected to be high and availability to be limited. The service is available to anyone, not just AT&T customers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to former state Rep. Doc Renuart, Bruce Cotton, and Christie Pontis of Century Link.

Murray, Peter F.

Personnel note: Pete Murray to Colodny Fass

Colodny Fass has snagged another “policy and legislative strategy veteran” with the hire of Peter F. Murray, the firm announced Tuesday.

Murray was Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Commission on Offender Review, formerly the Florida Parole Commission.

He also was Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Corrections, and has worked in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget.

Before that, Murray was a Senior Program Analyst under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, focusing on energy and climate issues.

Early on, he was a property insurance claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual Group, and that experience will assist “Colodny Fass’ many property and casualty insurance company clients,” the firm said.

Murray has a Master of Public Administration degree from Florida State University, where he also got his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology.

He will be based in Tallahassee.

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